As the Engine Exhausts…

As the Engine Exhausts…

After treatment systems are unequivocally becoming the Achilles Heal for all fleets and a leading contender for high cost, load delays, and asset downtime. However there is much more to the root cause to this escalating issue.

Just as the name implies, the after treatment systems are responsible for cleaning up the exhaust once it leaves the combustion chamber. As in almost anything in life there are trade-offs. The ambient air temperature can be -20 in North Dakota or 110 in Texas, the unit can be pulling a mountain in California or traveling on flatlands of Kansas, however, the temperature in the combustion chamber must be optimum for the operational and atmospheric conditions. If it drops below that point soot is being emitted and collected in the diesel particulate filter. If the temperature exceeds the threshold a poisonous gas is emitted the SCR system must contend with. The cooling, EGR, inter or EGR cooler, and turbocharger systems are all working to maintain that temperature threshold. The heat and demand placed on these components in order to meet this need is significant. However, the slightest hiccup and a problem will rear its ugly head and the Aftertreatment System must content with the increased soot or poisonous gas. When a problem exists with the Aftertreatment System the driver is notified immediately via a dash light and if the problem persists the engine will be de-rated. However, in many cases due to pressure to get the asset or driver back on the road or load to the destination in a timely manner the technician will jump on the Aftertreatment issue and fail to look upstream for the potential root cause. In short, the asset will return with the same problem in very short order.

Much in the same manner as our human bodies function, if we eat right, exercise, and get enough sleep they preform well. If the engine is functioning, maintained, and operated properly the Aftertreatment System can perform as designed however root cause of many of today’s Aftertreatment issues are not the system themselves but upstream componentry that is struggling to survive in the high temperature and pressure environment in which they are being subjected. The use of poor quality fuel or Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) will perpetuate additional maintenance and shorten the life of the diesel particulate filter (DPF), injectors, SCR doser, and many other components.

Here are a few recommendations that will mitigate these issues:
1. Update the PMI process to include the Aftertreatment Systems
2. Proactively service the DPF & 7th injector & doser
3. Train the driver operate equipment properly and to proactively communicate any issue
4. Regular monitoring of Fuel and DEF quality in the storage tanks and DEF vehicle tank.
5. Increase warranty monitoring and negotiation.
6. Train the technicians in methodical troubleshooting methods that defines the root cause

The preventative maintenance process should focus on the entire vehicle including the electronic control system as well as the aftertreatment system. Additionally, technological advancements have perpetuated the need for scheduled maintenance on injectors, turbos, SCR doser, DPF, EGR systems and the associated componentry. In doing so this will reduce your maintenance cost as well improve your service to your customers.

As the manufacturers upgrade and streamline these systems in order to free up frame space, reduced weight, and meet the next phase of regulations these opportunities / challenges will be added in the very near future:

1. Progressive Emission Standards
2. Greenhouse Gas Standards
3. Improved Oils & Lubricants
4. Advanced combustion design
5. Precision combustion timing
6. Active oil temperature control
7. Variable Valve Timing

The final factor in the equation is the operator. It has been proven the operator can have, as much as 35% impact on fuel economy, consequently that same impact is a significant factor in the combustion process as well as maintenance cost. Due to the complexity of these systems in order to remain competitive in today’s market place the driver must to be trained to proactively communicate all maintenance issues.

For example if the driver continues to operate a vehicle with an issue on any system it will always lead to higher cost, decreased asset utilization, and lower customer service. However, this can be overcome with a telematics system that proactively notifies the maintenance and operations (if so programed) departments in order to head off these issues prior to them becoming a maintenance and service issue. Furthermore, the system can be used to assist in warranty negotiation, hold manufacturers accountable, ward off breakdowns on like equipment, as well as determine service component intervals.

In summary, as it has been for many years, the key is proactive preventative maintenance. Even with all these technological challenges optimum asset utilization can be achieved with a step–by-step PMI, methodical troubleshooting, accurate data, and properly scheduled maintenance intervals that will perpetuate greater asset utilization, increased service to the customer, driver morale and retention. Due to transportation industry being a leading not lagging economic indictor a maintenance plan that proactively manages the assets is just as important as a business plan that proactively manages fixed & variable costs.