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Why truck engine health is critical to our economy

By Dr Asish Kumar Sarangi, Asst Prof, Dept of Energy Science and Engineering, IIT Bombay and Dr Richard F. Jones, Expert Technologist, Advanced Fuel Products, BP, Innovation and Engineering, United Kingdom.

In the realm of commercial transportation, fuel economy is a critical factor influencing operational costs and the sectors’ contribution to CO2 emissions. However, over time, engines in commercial vehicles can experience degradation that can significantly affect their fuel efficiency. In a country like India, where trucks play a critical role in transportation and act as a lifeline for the economic exchange of goods, engine health becomes all the more important.

Commercial vehicles are designed to meet demanding emission regulations whilst minimizing both fuel use and maintenance requirements for their designed life of several years. This, however, assumes that the vehicle is serviced correctly and that lubricants meeting or exceeding the manufacturer’s requirements are utilized. Similarly, diesel fuel should meet the IS 1460 :2017 standard and good housekeeping practices should be utilized to prevent fuel contamination and keep the fuel on specification. Engine degradation can be accelerated over normal rates of wear and tear if lubricant and/or fuel quality is neglected. Hard particulates in fuel can accelerate pump wear that may produce additional hard particles which further exacerbate the problem and can result in damage to the profile of the holes in the fuel injectors, thereby compromising fuel atomization and combustion.

Engine degradation directly impacts the fuel economy of commercial vehicles, leading to increased fuel consumption. Worn piston rings and valve leakage can cause reduced compression ratio, resulting in incomplete combustion and decreased engine thermal efficiency. Fuel injector fouling and dirt deposits disrupt the fuel spray pattern, leading to inefficient fuel atomization and incomplete combustion. These factors not only increase fuel consumption but also negatively impact engine power output and the overall performance of the engine.

Studies have shown that engine degradation can lead to a substantial decrease in fuel economy for commercial vehicles. This not only translates into higher operating costs for fleet owners but also contributes to increased engine-out emissions. The financial burden of decreased fuel economy is particularly significant for commercial fleets that operate on tight profit margins.

To minimize the impact of engine degradation on fuel economy, regular and proactive maintenance practices are essential. This includes adhering to manufacturer-recommended service intervals, conducting routine inspections, use of high-quality fuels (i.e., those containing effective multi-functional additives) and promptly addressing any detected issues. The use of multi-functional additives in the fuel can help restoring and protecting the functionalities of the advanced fuel injection systems which in turn can prevent engine performance degradation and maintain the desired fuel efficiency.

Technological innovations, such as onboard diagnostics and telematics systems, offer valuable insights into engine health and performance. These systems can monitor various parameters, such as, tailpipe NOx and fuel economy in real-time to detect early signs of engine degradation, and alert fleet operators and drivers to take necessary maintenance actions. Additionally, data analytics tools enable fleet managers to identify patterns and optimize maintenance schedules, thereby maximizing the lifespan and fuel efficiency of commercial vehicle engines.

By implementing regular maintenance practices, leveraging advanced engine technologies, and utilizing data-driven insights, fleet operators can minimize engine degradation, optimize fuel efficiency, and ensure a more sustainable and cost-effective operation of their commercial transportation fleets.

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