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“Electrification, use of batteries, use of alternative powertrains are all tools in our toolbox for developing powertrain systems which are reliable and efficient,” said Dr. Phil Stephenson, General Manager of PACCAR Technical Center.

GHG Phase 2 regs, autonomous vehicles present challenges, opportunities

PACCAR Technical Center works closely with all of the company’s truck divisions—DAF in Europe, Peterbilt and Kenworth in North America and globally—and has two major missions, according to Dr. Phil Stephenson, General Manager of the division, and co-chairman for the SAE 2015 Commercial Vehicle Engineering Congress (ComVEC). One is to serve as the central testing and validation center for Kenworth and Peterbilt to ensure products meet customer requirements before released into production. The other major activity involves being “a big part” of PACCAR’s powertrain organization, together with DAF in Europe. “We’re involved in all aspects of engine and powertrain development, from advanced engineering to validation and even to support of product in the field in customer vehicles,” he said. The “we” he refers to is about 220 engineers out of a total staff of approximately 320, representing a range of engineering disciplines: mechanical, electrical, chemical, controls engineering, as well as other subspecialties within those areas. In addition to its main location in Mount Vernon, WA, the division has a satellite office in southeast Michigan that focuses on embedded software, controls and diagnostics for powertrain; he noted that the company is “actively hiring” in that location. Dr. Stephenson recently spoke with SAE Magazines about a variety of pressing technical issues facing both on- and off-highway companies, to be discussed in greater detail at the ComVEC event from October 6-8 in Rosemont, IL.

With PACCAR serving as host company, how will this year’s ComVEC be different from past years?

The theme that we’ve defined for the event is Quality, Technology, and Innovation: Pillars of Global Success. We chose that theme because those are clearly key aspects to continued success in our industry. But we also use those three areas to define our executive panels, and to define some focus areas that we think are going to be a good value to attendees, whether they are new engineers or experienced experts, or executives, or anything in between. (Click here to view the list of ComVEC technical and business sessions.)

With so much more focus for on-highway and off-highway commercial vehicles on use of embedded software, more electronics, the need to diagnose problems automatically in the vehicle, we’ve chosen to have the executive panel on quality focus on software quality—how do we design systems, how do we validate them, how do we ensure that as we add complexity, we don’t create complexity for our customer. So that’s one theme.

On the technology topic, we are taking a forward look at what the upcoming greenhouse gas (GHG) Phase 2 regulations are going to mean for customers. The EPA just released the notice of proposed rulemaking earlier this summer, and discussed what requirements could be in place for GHG regulations in the future, and how they affect powertrains and vehicles. We’ve got a good panel of experts together to talk about what that could mean to our industry, what academics and suppliers and OEMs all need to be thinking about to produce vehicles that meet those requirements.

And finally, the innovation area—we decided to look at what is the future in terms of, for example, materials (“Innovation in Material Processing and Movement” panel); future technologies that will be [needed] to satisfy the demands and the regulatory requirements going forward. And in addition to having our Executive Vice President and my [ComVEC] co-chair Dan Sobic presenting as a keynote speaker at the awards lunch on Oct. 7, looking at the innovation topic, for the Thursday morning (Oct. 8) keynote we’re bringing in Ken Gronbach who is a demographer. He really is a very interesting presenter because he looks at what the demographic data is telling us the next 10 to 30 years will look like. So we have an outside view of what the markets, the demands, the global boundary conditions are going to look like in the future, and can sort of hold that up against what innovations are possible and could be employed to make sure that commercial vehicles fit that world that is going to be ours in a few more decades.

Another aspect of ComVEC that I don’t want to overlook is we have a very strong technical program. We have a good combination of formal paper presentations, panel presentations, and a very good representation from around the world—about 40% North American authors, 40% of papers coming from Asia, and the balance coming mainly from Europe. That’s going to make it very interesting, to get different people’s perspectives, to get different companies’ strategic points of view, and to be able to learn from each other.

What are some mutual challenges facing both the on- and off-highway sectors?

Certainly we have different detailed requirements at the vehicle level, but a lot of the tools, a lot of the technologies that go into them can be common. So when we talk about “how do we get better software quality?” that’s an area that everyone is involved in and needs to have a good understanding and control of. If we look at emissions from vehicles, certainly some vehicles are running at highway speeds, and other equipment is perhaps running in a PTO mode all of its life off the road, but they both make emissions and they both need to be optimized. So some of the technical topics [at ComVEC], we’ll talk about engine emissions, aftertreatment systems, whole powertrain integration—and while the applications are different, a lot of the engineering and science behind it is something that we can share and we can learn from each other.

In terms of PACCAR, can you comment about your strategy confronting the upcoming Phase 2 regs?

PACCAR is a technology leader in commercial vehicles, and we will employ technology in an intelligent way that’s cost effective and best optimized for the customer experience. We know that GHG compliance is a combination between the efficiency of the powertrain, the aerodynamics of the vehicle, and the frictional losses from systems including, for example, tires. And we will work internally with our partners and with our suppliers to optimize those systems and to meet or exceed their requirements. GHG compliance generally means better fuel economy. So this is an area where we feel by working toward those goals, we’ll provide better fuel economy to our customers, which at the end of the day, the vehicles we sell are tools to do a job, and we’ll help that customer do that job in the most reliable and cost-effective way.

One expert panel discussion centers on 24-V electrification for on-highway commercial vehicles. What will be discussed here?

So 24 V is the standard for Europe and other regions of the world. And of course in North America we have a 12-V standard. There are some advantages to 24 V; for example, lower gauge wiring is possible in some applications. There is a great deal of momentum behind 12 V in the U.S., and there’s a great deal of momentum around 24 V in other countries. And there has been some progress in developing components which are compatible with either standard, but there remain challenges to do so without either adding additional cost for systems that can operate at either voltage, or adding additional complexity to having 12- and 24-V systems. So I think it will be a great set of discussions about technical opportunities, about other ways of navigating this dual standard that we have around the world, and potentially someday getting to better commonality.

Another panel at ComVEC focuses on larger-scale introduction of natural gas. What are the challenges and opportunities?

There’s been a lot of interest in natural gas as a fuel for on- and off-highway commercial vehicles. The recent relative price stability of natural gas has driven some of that interest in certain applications where there is availability of natural gas, for example, refuse operations, or fleet operations which operate from a central location and return frequently—for example, bus fleets or local delivery fleets. There are challenges for other applications like line haul, where there’s not the distribution of fuel that one has, for example, with diesel fuel. I’m sure that will be discussed [at ComVEC]. There are unique opportunities and challenges in terms of meeting emissions requirements with alternative fuels like liquefied or compressed natural gas, and I imagine that will be part of the discussion as well. But it’s certainly an exciting area.

A good area for cross-industry technology sharing is autonomous machinery/vehicles, which is also a topic at ComVEC. Could you discuss the trend toward self-driving vehicles?

First of all, I see autonomous vehicles as part of a continuum that we’ve already started down. There’s sort of an underlying requirement any time you want to have autonomous vehicles that they have sensing and communication with systems so that they know where they are, what they’re doing, who else is around, are able to react to stimuli and correct what they’re doing. If you look at current on-highway vehicles, there are already some of these assistance systems which are on that continuum—for example, lane keeping assistance, adaptive cruise control, vehicle-to-infrastructure communication about the health of the vehicle. And if you look at off-highway, for a long time now there’s been farming equipment which can use GPS to steer their way and to communicate their status. If you look at the passenger car world, there are already five states in the U.S. that have allowed driving of fully autonomous vehicles on the road. So there are a lot of pieces of technology that are already in place, and as we go further down the road and we start to think about more autonomous driving of commercial vehicles, particularly on the road, we will need to bring those technologies closer together to make use of multiple sets of information types, multiple sets of ways of communicating. Think about GPS, cellular, Wi-Fi, vehicle-to-vehicle, Bluetooth, in order to implement it in a way which is safe, reliable, and brings the benefit that autonomous driving [promises], in terms of better traffic density, better speeds, better safety, better transport efficiency, and finally even to help us deal with the industry issue of shortage of qualified drivers to operate commercial vehicles.

What about cybersecurity concerns, especially as we move down that continuum toward more autonomous vehicles?

There’ve been some articles in the press recently…about demonstration of the capability to, with some tools, get into the vehicle’s network and operate it remotely. That’s very concerning to any vehicle OEM; it’s something that we need to address. It’s an area where I think we can reach out across multiple industries, not just commercial vehicle, not just automotive, but certainly other industries like telecommunications and the military deal with these types of threats. It’s something we’ll have to take very seriously and address, in a robust way. But on the other hand, other systems rely every day on cybersecurity and have very good reliability rates. So I think if we come together, learn from each other, apply those security algorithms and methods appropriately, it’s something that we can overcome in time and provide a product which is secure.

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