Auto Tech Review takes a deeper dive into how VE Commercial Vehicles has taken the EUTECH6 route to comply with new emission norms at its Pithampur facility
The introduction of stricter BS 6 emission norms inspired companies to reevaluate their strategies for the Indian market, wherein many of them have been able to shed flab to become more refined in their respective approaches.
Vehicles today are smarter than ever before and companies are doing everything possible to reduce their time-to-market. After the Eicher Group joined hands with the Volvo Group, the Indian commercial vehicle (CV) giant adopted the ‘R&D 30’ programme from the Swedish giant, which allowed for product R&D and time-to-market to be reduced by 30 %. The VECV teams were trained by specialised teams from the Volvo Group that not only facilitated better technical communication, but also created a base for the concurrent product development.
The R&D process is followed by cross-functional teams, including material & manufacturing and sales & marketing teams, which has also enabled significantly lesser changes required during any new product development stage. Volvo teams remained involved end-to-end, starting from product feature and positioning, among others, that enabled streamlining of R&D activities, said Rajinder S Sachdeva, Chief Operating Officer, VECV. Even at the infrastructure level, VECV learnt a lot from Volvo Group protocols for hardware such as engine development and other processes such as cab & chassis development, vehicle integration and computer-aided engineering (CAE) that helped VECV enrich itself at the vehicle level.
VECV has adopted Volvo’s Common Architecture Shared Technology (CAST) approach to upgrade its technical capabilities to comply with the new, stricter emission norms. Under this, the company adopted vehicle modularity that allowed usage of same aggregates across various platforms. From 28-48 tonne GVW vehicles, the company rolls out multi-axle vehicles and has a whole cluster of aggregates available, which enables it to adopt a variety of configurations. The frame structure here remains the same at 300 mm x 76 mm x 76 mm along with the horse structure, with just rolling length in the structure witnessing variability. The CAST approach has increased the company’s ability to introduce a refreshed product range at a much faster rate. Further, it allows the company to adopt any wheelbase with addition/deletion of an axle achieved without much effort; thus, enabling customers to choose vehicle configuration with ease, observed Sachdeva.
To gain confidence before introducing new products in the market, the VECV engineering teams conduct various tests across different stages, such as CAE analysis including road load data analysis at the aggregate as well as at the vehicle level. Vehicle manufacturers could comply with the earlier BS IV emission norms with technologies such as Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) or Selective Catalyst Reduction (SCR). However, with BS 6 norms, it is critical to leverage such technologies together to comply with stricter emission norms. The major challenge that CV manufacturers had to overcome was to avoid similarity in technology across the portfolio as different segments have different applications. This is because the temperature generation varies across segments – for example, for intra-city segment vehicles of up to 4.9 tonne GVW, more thermal management is required at the exhaust side as they operate at low temperatures, as compared to the heavy duty (HD) segment that operates at a high temperature zone as vehicles continuously deal with overloading and higher speed range. Thus, this was one of the focus points of EUTECH6 development, in terms of identifying relevant technologies that ensure higher vehicle uptime.
Sachdeva explained that if a vehicle manufacturer does not offer cool EGR to a light duty (LD) product (up to 16 tonne vehicles) and also deny proper thermal management, crystals will be formed within the exhaust, which can subsequently lead to an engine stalling and vehicle might be standstill in the middle of nowhere. At the other end, VECV has opted for a hot EGR system for its 16-tonne and above segment to maximise its operations. On the substrate in the exhaust side, the company has opted for the copper zeolite SCR system for lower tonnage vehicles and extruded vanadium SCR for higher tonnage vehicles just to ensure that the technology is relevant for the segment. This has enabled VECV to achieve better fuel efficiency, higher customer uptime and has allowed the company to quickly comply with BS 6 emission norms.
For heavy tonnage vehicles that criss-cross across the length and breadth of the country, there are problems of fuel contamination with kerosene or high sulphur quantities, thus leading to poisoning of the powertrain. Hence, a robust substrate was developed using extruded vanadium SCR. Since such vehicles operate at a high temperature of 300° C, the extruded vanadium helps adopt passive regeneration that eliminates any additional effort of injecting or burning the fuel. This remains unique with VECV at an optimal cost, elaborated Sachdeva.
VECV completed a decade-long existence last year. Over the last six years, the company has been entrusted with manufacturing Euro 6-compliant engines at VE Powertrain, Pithampur, to meet Volvo Group’s global commitments. VECV was also supported technically by the Volvo Group, especially on the heavy duty side for upgrading scales to BS 6 emission norms for the local market. A lot of calibrations are required for a vehicle to comply with BS 6 emission norms, and Volvo Group also extended its global learnings on the software side to enable VECV upgrade its capabilities.
Vehicle manufacturers only had three years to shift from BS IV to BS 6 emission norms. VECV decided to stick to its existing engine platforms – MD 5 and MD 8, which were upgraded with requisite hardware. The hardware part was completed in a year and a half while rest of the time was devoted to vehicle calibrations, as there has been a substantial increase in the numbers of sensors involved. At the OEM level, it is important to prove the engine on the test bed only for BS IV norms. However, for BS 6 emission norms, it is mandatory to test the engine at the vehicle level across extreme temperatures, pressures as well as altitude levels not only for g/kWh amounting for NOx and particulate matter, but particulate number as well. Subsequently, the vehicle also needs to perform robustly in the hands of the customer for the next seven years, Sachdeva pointed out.
It is important to point out that every time new emission norms are introduced, the vehicle efficiency goes down. In the case of BS 6 norms, the engine needs to deal with filter components such as DOC, DPF, SCR as well as Ammonia Slip Catalyst (ASC) in the exhaust, which is also dealing with chemical reactions at a certain required level of temperature. Since a lot of power is required to push exhaust gases through such a value chain, power wastage is bound to happen, thereby bringing down fuel efficiency.
Thus, for managing the parasitic loss of reduction, VECV’s engineering team has introduced a variable water pump that allows controlled coolant flows. This allows the vehicle to use limited power, while the balance is thrown back to the engine. The team also selected the ring pack, piston pack in the engine that offers lower friction levels with specialised coatings. Although it does lead to overall cost increase; fuel efficiency however, is not compromised.
On the combustion side, the team opted for higher peak firing pressure of 1,000-2,000 bar for BS 6 norms in the engine cylinders (up from 40-50 bar pressure for BS IV norms) to balance out the fuel efficiency losses. The fuel is injected at very fine particulates that enable a better combustion process in the engine cylinder, leading to increased thermal efficiency as well as reduction in unburnt particulate matter. Sachdeva and his team were aware that the slew of technologies for BS 6 norms will also result in a lot of hard work on the driveline as well. Thus, the team also worked on reducing rolling resistance coefficient of the vehicle that leads to 13-30 % increase in the vehicle power-to-weight ratio from BS IV. VECV has already supplied 50 BS 6- compliant vehicles to a set of customers.
UPGRADING SUPPLY CHAIN
Banking on Volvo Group’s approved suppliers, VECV too followed the same route, where both capacity and cost issues were resolved optimally and reduced effort involved in upgrading capabilities. On the other hand, VECV also adopted the Volvo APQP (Advanced Product Quality Planning) process for other suppliers, who were not associated with the Swedish automaker, along with their handholding to upgrade capacities and supply high quality components. If any part quality efficacy was 70-75 % around eight years back, it has now reached 85-90 % even for the Indian suppliers and which is why the company has undertaken local developments for both the MD5 and MD8 series engines, explained Sachdeva. The collaboration has also led to increased digitalisation across the supply chain process that includes the Enovia PLM system from Dassault Systemes.
After the introduction of axle norms in July 2018, there has been a lot of pressure on the vehicle since the same platform is now loaded with 55 tonne cargo (up from 49 tonne earlier) along with government notification of five percent legal overloading. The further potential of reducing kerb weight has gone done significantly. However, VECV has taken BS 6 norms implementation as an opportunity to upgrade areas such as steering, chassis as well as brakes so that components have to perform more robustly. So is there any scope left for vehicle lightweighting? Sachdeva nodded in affirmation, saying there is still scope left to slice away weight riding replacement of traditional parts with composites.
UPTIME & COMPETENCE CENTRES
The company has also integrated a lot of electronics in its portfolio. Technologies such as ADAS will continue to take the import route into the Indian market due to high-end cameras and sensors and will only penetrate deeper into the local market after the country achieves high levels of localisation as in the case of telematics, explained Sachdeva.
At the vehicle level, there has been a three-fold increase in the number of sensors deployed to make it comply with new emission norms (eight sensors in BS IV to 24 in BS 6). The introduction of sophisticated technologies needs a full-fledged back-end support to ensure such updated innovations perform robustly. Thus, VECV has also upgraded its Competence Centre at Pithampur with BS 6 learning zone that showcases the vehicle powertrain cutaway to upskill the support staff that needs to be at the forefront of managing BS 6 technology-powered vehicles.
Alongside, technicians as well as dealerships at the pan-India level will be offered learning material including paper-based books, audio books as well as practical trainings based on the easy-retention-easy-recall methodology to support the BS 6 technology. The company has set up 18 training centres till date – 10 in brick and mortar form and eight truck-based training centres – to increase its market reach. The company is also handholding the driver community, training them to handle BS 6-compliant vehicles as well as vehicle body builders, who often convert a cowl into a truck or bus.
VECV had started its Vehicle Uptime Centre initiative in April 2019 and has addressed issues of over 13,000 customers and kept the wheels of their trucks rolling. The company claims that for a family of over 300,000 active customers (vehicles that come to the dealerships), it has been able to reduce vehicle downtime by 35 % on an average and aims to gradually bring that down further.
VECV has lately introduced a new Vehicle Uptime Centre at its Pithampur facility and also upgraded its capabilities. From ‘Proactive Support Mechanism’ earlier, the company now has shifted gears to offer ‘Predictive Support Management’ banking on real-time data sourced from vehicle telematics, thereby enabling prediction of any possible failure and vehicle behaviour, using analytics. VECV has a domain expert team of 85 people at its Pithampur centre as well as 65 more people at its Noida centre, offering vehicle diagnostics support 24x7. The entire team closely monitors subscribers for any possible fault code in the vehicle that may lead to vehicle downtime or may lead to high repair costs later.
As far as alternate propulsion technologies for CVs are concerned, Sachdeva insists the logical step beyond BS 6 diesel powertrain will be CNG, followed by LNG, electrified CVs, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. CNG is a low hanging fruit as a certain level of dispensing infrastructure already exists. From 1,300 CNG fuel stations, the government is ambitious about taking the number beyond 10,000 over the next five to six years. CNG can reduce NOx by 23 % without adding costs.
Explaining further, Sachdeva said CNG will find its way better into the short haul transport, while LNG will be better suited for the long haul market. If the cryogenic fuel tank is somehow localised, LNG can significantly reduce particulate matter to zero and bring down NOx and CO2 as well. This will be close to EV emissions that are four times costlier compared to a normal diesel-powered vehicle against
25 % cost addition with LNG vehicles, noted Sachdeva. VECV is working hard with a Canada-based company (based out of Vancouver) for adoption of the fuel cell technology. Only time will tell what technology will find its way into the Indian market among various other options in the market, he said.
TEXT & PHOTO: Anirudha Raheja