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The Top Five Changes In Truck Technology

It's the end of the truck world as we know it. Computers, electronic controls, radios and some futuristic devices are propelling the truck industry into the 21st Century. Although the wave of change is escalating costs of truck operation, the new technology can also save money in certain areas.

Following are the top five trends influencing the truck industry today: 1 If it's electronic, it's a hot item in the truck industry these days. Automated diagnosis of faulty components with electronic controls has replaced trouble-shooting by human mechanics. Prognostics - using computerized artificial intelligence to forecast component failure - have become popular.

Just as KW and other truck makers are meeting calls for increased power, variable power concepts are showing up in several lines. One of the latest is the Variable Power Drivetrain or VPD, developed jointly by the Navistar truck line and Cummins Engine Co. The drivetrain is fitted with a computerized "brain" that senses when extra power is needed to climb a hill and then adjusts the engine output.

Another positive change can be seen in the developed abilities of electronic component producers. Detroit Diesel Corp., the first manufacturer to offer an engine with electronic controls, has just moved into its third generation of such controls. The ability of the line's engines to change their horsepower output when they move from the original owner to a second owner has been enhanced.

Other electronic developments include remote-controlled outside mirrors; increased power in electrical systems to as much as 48 volts; and checks on driver drowsiness or impairment from drugs or alcohol.

2 While some veteran truck drivers are resisting it, automatic transmissions are gaining popularity in big trucks. Experts attrib-ute this trend to the lack of drivers who can manage complex manual transmissions in big trucks.

To combat the problem, Spicer Transmission Division of Dana Corp. has introduced gear boxes that automatically shift themselves in the top two gears. The competition is also adding easy-to-shift models.

While the Allison line is the only entry in the U.S. big truck automatic market right now, potential competitors, some from overseas, are jumping in. Allison is promoting the automatic concept in its recently in troduced World Transmissions.

3 Communication systems that send signals from the truck to a satellite in space and then back to fleet headquarters are the most advanced devices in this area. Satellite systems assist in tracking the load and its expected delivery time.

Some high-tech communications systems can have unexpected benefits. For example, an Arizona fleet was using its satellite system to track its trucks when highjackers seized one of its rigs in the Los Angeles area. The thieves weren't able to get the rig unloaded before the police, using the tracking information, arrived to arrest them.

4 Intelligent Vehicle/Highway System (IV/HS) is a plan promoted by the federal government and private interests that envisions all vehicles operating with top efficiency on electronic superhighways.

The Society of Automotive Engineers recently discussed a program that will have trucks operating almost nonstop on Interstate 75 from Florida to Michigan and then on Canadian Route 401 to Toronto.

After one stop for clearance and electronic approval, trucks can bypass 22 weigh stations in the United States and eight in Canada by identifying themselves electronically with a transponder about the size of a pack of cigarettes.

While IV/HS is aimed at cars and trucks alike, its money-saving features are expected to make it most popular with owners of commercial trucks. For example, ve-hicles can be issued barcode-like badges that enable them to use toll roads or bridges without stopping to pay. The operator gets a bill in the mail.

Radar-based collision avoidance systems like those produced by Vorad Technologies, a unit of Eaton Corp., are drawing extra attention in engineering circles.

Other IV/HS efforts include communication plans that avoid traffic delays with radio warnings and radio-based, efficient truck routing programs. In a recent National Private Truck Council meeting, a Georgia-Pacific official complained that, due to traffic congestion, the firm must dispatch shipments well before the appointed delivery times in order to avoid late arrivals. IV/HS seeks to eliminate these kinds of problems.

Because companies that operate trucks can be held liable for many accidents that result in workman's compensation cases, injury claims and damage suits, truck operators are always looking for ways to lessen their risk.

Simple back-up alarms don't seem to be good enough anymore. Companies such as Intec, Clarion Rear Vision Systems, KG Rearvision and Sony supply alarms that put "eyes" on the backs of trucks.

Other IV/HS efforts include checking truck defects with sensors embedded in the pavement and systems that protect engines from harm when affected by such problems as a loss of coolant. Other plans call for systems that weigh trucks while they are in motion.

5 Truck hardware changes have resulted from perceived problems. Manufacturers are making big trucks more powerful to accommodate heavy work loads. A prime example is the recently introduced Heavy Hauler version of the T800 conventional truck from Ken-worth.

Setting it up for diesels above 500 horsepower called for a big cooling system, which the producer delivered by installing a huge, 1,520-square-inch cross-flow radiator. Pressure for safety improvements led to changes for improved visibility from the driver's seat and a front-facing power takeoff.

Communication is clearly important to today's drivers. Because they don't like to work alone in their cabs, vehicle equipment has changed. Some of the communication devices in trucks cater to the drivers' desires to be heard.

However, a good bit of it will benefit truck operators. AM/FM radios with tape players and two-way radios are popular, as well as compact disc players and cellular phones.

Keeping your drivers happy, your trucks running smoothly and your operation efficient isn't an easy job, but these improvements can make it less painful.

Fleet managers of varying sizes and specialties suggest the following to maintain your fleet. * A fleet should handle its own routine maintenance and adjustments. Regular vehicle checks will ensure safe operating conditions. More complex work should be handled only when it justifies the investment in labor, garage space, tools and parts.

* Few truck fleets handle their own body repairs and repainting. These projects require a lot of space and can be hazardous.

* Many fleets send out engine and transmission repair work because it requires specialized help, can take a long time and ties up shop space. Send these repairs to a distributor's shop.

* If the specifications match and the fleet is large enough, stock a replacement engine or transmission or have one available at the distributorship to reduce replacement time.

* Refuse haulers make regular use of hydraulic systems and put them under great stress. Service them in-house to save time and money.

* Swap specialty service work. For example, a refuse hauler that can do hydraulic system work might partake in an exchange for body and paint repairs.

* Typically, a selling truck dealer handles warranty repair work. Under special circumstances, fleets are authorized to do their own warranty repairs.

* All factories make a "policy adjustment" when a relatively new vehicle has an unusual problem - ask for one.