‘dog obe­di­ent

Mack may be a crit­i­cal part of one of the world’s most safety-con­scious truck con­glom­er­ates, yet strangely the bull­dog has been far from the fore­front in the safety stakes. Un­til now! In a bold ini­tia­tive, Mack Trucks Aus­tralia is part­ner­ing with tech­nolo

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Decades ago, not too long af­ter Volvo bought the fi­nan­cially-stricken US truck maker White in the early ’80s, I asked a se­nior Volvo ex­ec­u­tive in Swe­den if safety would be part of fu­ture prod­uct devel­op­ments for White.

Af­ter all, Volvo’s com­mit­ment to truck safety was al­ready firmly en­trenched, whereas across the At­lantic, the at­ti­tude of Amer­ica’s truck mak­ers to safety was some­what in­fe­rior to their con­ti­nen­tal coun­ter­parts. Vastly in­fe­rior!

There were those who even thought that if

Volvo pushed the safety bar­row hard enough – par­tic­u­larly in de­vel­op­ment of stronger, safer cabs – it would ac­tu­ally en­cour­age other US truck mak­ers to fol­low suit. It was, how­ever, naivety at its best.

Any­way, I can’t for the life of me re­call the Volvo ex­ec­u­tive’s name, but there is ab­so­lutely no doubt that his re­sponse ran along the cor­po­rate lines that safety is a core part of Volvo’s prod­uct plans and yes, safety would in­deed play a sig­nif­i­cant role in White’s fu­ture de­vel­op­ment.

Well, he wasn’t quite right. Whether he knew it or not at the time, Volvo would soon enough dump White al­to­gether and ba­si­cally did noth­ing to fur­ther de­velop the brand in safety or any­thing else.

What it did do, how­ever, was even­tu­ally re­place White with the cre­ation of its own Volvo-branded con­ven­tional trucks specif­i­cally for the North Amer­i­can mar­ket. The mod­ern de­riv­a­tives of those trucks are mod­els such as the suc­cess­ful

The technology is col­li­sion mit­i­ga­tion, not col­li­sion pre­ven­tion.

VN se­ries and typ­i­cally, like any­thing car­ry­ing the dis­tinc­tive Volvo slash across the grille, safety is in­deed ‘a core part’ of the to­tal pack­age.

These days, you don’t have to trawl far into Volvo’s US web­site to find heaps of ref­er­ences to safety. Terms like ‘Volvo is Safety’ and ‘It’s a mat­ter of life’ mix with state­ments cit­ing Volvo’s ded­i­ca­tion to sup­ply­ing Amer­ica’s high­est stan­dards of truck safety. State­ments like:

• ‘We re­main the only OEM of­fer­ing driver-side airbags as stan­dard equip­ment on our trucks’

• ‘We com­bine ad­vanced en­gi­neer­ing with ac­tive

and pas­sive safety sys­tems’

• ‘Our high-strength steel cabs have the high­est strength-to-weight ra­tio, de­signed to pro­tect the driver (and) built to pass the de­mand­ing Swedish Cab Safety Test’

• ‘To fur­ther pro­tect oc­cu­pants, the steer­ing wheel col­lapses and the en­gine and trans­mis­sion drop down and away from the driver’.

But here’s where Volvo’s foothold on the moral high ground in the US has, at times, ap­peared a tad shaky. His­tor­i­cally, Amer­ica’s truck mak­ers have not shared the com­mit­ment of their con­ti­nen­tal coun­ter­parts to im­ple­ment – or even pro­mote – safety func­tions as ei­ther a stan­dard fea­ture or a cost-ef­fec­tive op­tion. And, for many years, that cer­tainly in­cluded Mack.

So, given that Mack is a vi­tal part of the Volvo Group, just how gen­uine have Volvo’s as­ser­tions of safety supremacy in the US been?

There’s no ques­tion Volvo does a great job of mak­ing safety a foun­da­tion qual­ity of its own brand. But the sim­ple fact is that the Swedish pow­er­house took con­trol of Mack way back in 2000 and, de­spite all Volvo’s ad­vances in safety technology and mega­phone mantra about the moral good of keep­ing driv­ers and road users safe, the Swedish gi­ant has taken a long time to en­hance Mack’s stand­ing in the safety stakes. How­ever, things are chang­ing. Fast!

Fol­low­ing the ear­lier in­tro­duc­tion of an elec­tronic sta­bil­ity pro­gram mar­keted as Mack’s ‘Road Sta­bil­ity Ad­van­tage’, more re­cent ini­tia­tives have seen the in­tro­duc­tion of fur­ther ad­vanced safety op­tions into the Mack range which take the bull­dog sig­nif­i­cantly deeper into Volvo’s safety ethos.

Sure, as far as cabs go, it could be some time yet be­fore Mack has a cab with crash­wor­thi­ness stan­dards com­pa­ra­ble to Volvo’s US con­ven­tion­als. Still, as Volvo Group Aus­tralia boss Peter Voorho­eve in­di­cated ear­lier this year, Mack is well ad­vanced with the de­vel­op­ment of an en­tirely new cab, and safety will “play a ma­jor part” in the de­sign.

The ap­par­ent like­li­hood is that it’ll be at least an­other year or two be­fore the new cab comes to mar­ket but, in the mean­time, Mack is now in a po­si­tion for the first time to of­fer com­pre­hen­sive safety and crash mit­i­ga­tion sys­tems equal to those avail­able on Volvo’s US mod­els.

Yet when it comes to the in­te­gra­tion of elec­tronic safety pro­grams for US op­er­a­tions, it hasn’t been as sim­ple as just adapt­ing Volvo’s highly ad­vanced Euro­pean sys­tems to its US trucks. Far from it!

For starters, Europe runs 24-volt elec­tri­cal sys­tems, whereas the US op­er­ates with 12

volts. It’s for this rea­son, per­haps more than any other, that Volvo teamed with lead­ing US technology com­pany Bendix, part of Germany’s gi­ant Knorr-Bremse group, for the de­vel­op­ment and in­tro­duc­tion of the sys­tems it mar­kets as ‘Volvo En­hanced Sta­bil­ity Technology’ and ‘Volvo En­hanced Cruise’.

Ob­vi­ously enough, these are highly ad­vanced safety sys­tems, sim­i­lar to those of­fered on lead­ing Euro­pean brands, with the abil­ity to take elec­tronic con­trol of brak­ing and en­gine func­tions to mit­i­gate or avoid a col­li­sion when cir­cum­stance and con­di­tions com­bine to se­verely limit a driver’s con­trol of a sit­u­a­tion.

The lat­est evo­lu­tion of the Bendix sys­tem is some­what hero­ically la­belled ‘Wing­man Fusion’. This high-tech pro­gram has now been ap­plied to Mack in the US and will be of­fered by Mack Trucks Aus­tralia early next year as an ex­ten­sion to the op­tional ‘Road Sta­bil­ity Ad­van­tage’ also de­vel­oped by Bendix.

Make no mis­take, this is a big and ar­guably over­due ini­tia­tive by Mack on both sides of the Pa­cific. Well aware of the chasms separat­ing the safety rep­u­ta­tions of Volvo and its bull­dog brethren, VGA boss Peter Voorho­eve has in­ti­mated sev­eral times at press events over the past year or so that safety func­tions will in­deed be­come a more pro­nounced part of Mack’s of­fer­ing. There may even be a driver’s side airbag when the new cab ar­rives.

It was, how­ever, an up­beat state­ment by Mack Trucks Aus­tralia vice-pres­i­dent Dean Best­wick that high­lighted the fea­tures and im­por­tance of the Bendix sys­tem in an era when in­te­grated safety sys­tems are in­creas­ingly viewed by ma­jor truck­ing companies and their cus­tomers as an im­por­tant con­sid­er­a­tion in truck se­lec­tion.

As Best­wick com­mented: “Mack Trucks Aus­tralia is ex­tremely proud to of­fer the Bendix Wing­man Fusion driver as­sis­tance sys­tem, a world-first for Mack Trucks and for the Aus­tralian and New Zealand con­ven­tional truck mar­kets.”

In­te­grat­ing the lat­est cam­era, radar and brak­ing technology, he says the sys­tem pro­vides “one of the most com­pre­hen­sive and pow­er­ful driver as­sis­tance sys­tems avail­able on con­ven­tional trucks in Aus­tralia and New Zealand”.

To be of­fered on all Mack on-high­way mod­els, Bendix Wing­man Fusion in­cludes col­li­sion mit­i­ga­tion fea­tures such as adap­tive cruise con­trol, lane depar­ture warn­ing, in­for­ma­tion on fol­low­ing dis­tance and sta­tion­ary ob­jects, blind spot alerts, and, as with some of the most ad­vanced safety sys­tems in Europe, Wing­man Fusion – when op­er­at­ing in con­cert with Mack’s ‘road safety ad­van­tage’ sys­tem – has the abil­ity to ac­ti­vate ser­vice brakes in emer­gency sit­u­a­tions.

A model that misses out on the full Fusion sys­tem is Mack’s pop­u­lar sub­ur­ban spe­cial­ist, the Metro-Liner. It is, how­ever, avail­able with Bendix’s ‘Blindspot­ter’ func­tion, de­signed to dra­mat­i­cally re­duce the risk of side-swipe ac­ci­dents by recog­nis­ing ob­jects within a 120-de­gree arc on the pas­sen­ger side of the truck and us­ing an au­di­ble warn­ing to in­form the driver of an ob­ject within the blind area im­me­di­ately be­side the truck. “Blindspot­ter is a per­fect aid for sub­ur­ban ap­pli­ca­tions,” Best­wick re­marks.

The Swedish gi­ant has taken a long time to en­hance Mack’s stand­ing in the safety stakes. How­ever, things are chang­ing. Fast!

Of course, the sys­tem adds con­sid­er­able com­plex­ity to the truck and, at this stage, it’s un­known what cost the full Bendix Wing­man Fusion and Blindspot­ter sys­tems will add to the price of a Mack. There’s the whis­per of a fig­ure around $7,000, but right now it’s noth­ing more than a guessti­mate.

Im­por­tantly, though, Best­wick makes the point that while the Bendix ar­ray of col­li­sion mit­i­ga­tion func­tions are a valu­able aid, “this sys­tem will not re­place an alert or skilled driver.”

It was a state­ment sim­i­larly em­pha­sised by

Brett Ni­coll, lead ap­pli­ca­tions en­gi­neer for Knorr-Bremse Aus­tralia, dur­ing an im­pres­sive demon­stra­tion of the Bendix Wing­man Fusion sys­tem at the Driver Education Cen­tre of

Aus­tralia (DECA) fa­cil­ity in Shep­par­ton (Vic).

“As good as these sys­tems are,” Ni­coll says, “the technology is col­li­sion mit­i­ga­tion, not col­li­sion pre­ven­tion.”

In other words, while Bendix Wing­man Fusion can cer­tainly play a ma­jor role in fa­cil­i­tat­ing a driver’s abil­ity to avoid a col­li­sion, its pri­mary de­sign role is to min­imise the risk and ef­fects of a col­li­sion.

Con­se­quently, both Wing­man Fusion and Blindspot­ter are de­scribed by Bendix as ‘nextgen­er­a­tion ad­vanced driver as­sis­tance sys­tems’.

WET ‘N’ WILD

It’d be hard to think of worse con­di­tions to hold a safety demon­stra­tion than the wet and blus­tery spring weather streak­ing across the DECA skid pan and test track on the day cho­sen to show­case the fea­tures of the Bendix Wing­man Fusion sys­tem in­stalled in a Mack Gran­ite.

Then again, it’d also be hard to think of bet­ter con­di­tions to judge the ef­fec­tive­ness of a sys­tem de­signed to help driv­ers in emer­gency sit­u­a­tions.

How­ever, as Ni­coll ex­plained, the DECA fa­cil­ity plays a key role in test­ing of Knorr-Bremse and Bendix sys­tems, adding that lo­cal de­vel­op­ment, cal­i­bra­tion and test­ing of the Wing­man Fusion pro­grams in Mack started back in Fe­bru­ary this year.

Still, Mack is not the first Amer­i­can truck brand to work with Bendix on safety sys­tems.

As Ni­coll con­firmed, Ken­worth of­fered an ear­lier ver­sion, but Mack is cer­tainly first in this part of the world to of­fer the new-gen­er­a­tion Wing­man Fusion pack­age with the full suite of safety fea­tures.

Putting the var­i­ous as­pects of the sys­tem to test at DECA wasn’t dif­fi­cult on a day of aw­ful weather, but with the skid pan soaked by in­ces­sant rain and of­fer­ing all the grip of a greasy snake, it was de­cided that a com­par­i­son run with the Mack’s roll sta­bil­ity sys­tem switched off would not be a wise move, even with out­rig­gers ex­tended to pre­vent the 40-tonne com­bi­na­tion from rolling over. The jus­ti­fi­able fear on this day was that any turn un­der brakes could eas­ily see the whole out­fit sim­ply slide com­pletely off the skid pan and sink into sod­den grass.

So, with the elec­tronic sta­bil­ity pro­gram def­i­nitely on and en­ter­ing the skid pan around 50km/h, Ni­coll’s sug­ges­tion was to sim­ply stay on the throt­tle and turn across a line of witches hats, and let the technology do the rest. And do it, it did!

Over the years, I’ve sev­eral times driven trucks with sim­i­lar sys­tems in var­i­ous parts of the world and, while all have been amaz­ing in their abil­ity to take con­trol of an oth­er­wise fiercely dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tion, I can’t ever re­call a more slip­pery and po­ten­tially cat­a­strophic sur­face for a loaded truck and trailer com­bi­na­tion.

Even so, per­for­mance of the Bendix sta­bil­ity sys­tem was out­stand­ing, se­lec­tively brak­ing the com­bi­na­tion at ex­actly the right time on ex­actly the right wheels, yet al­low­ing to­tal steer­ing con­trol. Re­mark­able!

From the skid pan, it was on to DECA’s oval track to trial the ef­fec­tive­ness of the ac­tive cruise con­trol func­tion.

Ba­si­cally, it meant set­ting cruise con­trol at 45km/h or there­abouts, and al­low­ing the on­board radar and cam­era to de­tect and warn of a sta­tion­ary ve­hi­cle on the road ahead, au­to­mat­i­cally ap­ply­ing the brakes when the driver fails to re­spond to au­di­ble and visual warn­ings in the cab. Again, Ni­choll said to ig­nore the warn­ings, keep your foot off the brake, and let the technology do its thing.

The sta­tion­ary ve­hi­cle in this case was a large in­flated bag with a life-size im­age of the rear end of a car. How­ever, be­cause the radar only de­tects metal ob­jects, a metal plate was fixed be­hind the im­age of the car.

Any­way, on the first cou­ple of runs the sys­tem worked per­fectly, with the var­i­ous driv­ers pur­pose­fully ig­nor­ing all the warn­ings be­fore the sys­tem took over and ap­plied the brakes hard to pull up a me­tre or so short of the ve­hi­cle. Col­li­sion avoided.

Then came my turn for a run. As fate would have it, the metal plate at­tached to the un­seen side of the car had ap­par­ently fallen off and, at the last sec­ond, it be­came ob­vi­ous the truck would not pull up in time to avoid hit­ting the dummy car.

But here’s the thing: it did pull up. Sure, it gave the in­flated bag a rea­son­able nudge, but in­stead of plough­ing into the car at 40 or 45km/h, the sys­tem ef­fec­tively turned a po­ten­tially ma­jor im­pact into a mi­nor col­li­sion.

“Like I said,” a re­flec­tive Ni­coll noted, “it’s about col­li­sion mit­i­ga­tion, not col­li­sion pre­ven­tion. When it’s all boiled down, it did what an alert driver would’ve done.”

The fi­nal ex­er­cise was out on the open road around Shep­par­ton, where the Wing­man Fusion sys­tem’s abil­ity to warn and au­to­mat­i­cally main­tain a pre­set dis­tance from ve­hi­cles ahead was con­vinc­ingly demon­strated.

Yet as un­de­ni­ably im­pres­sive as the Bendix safety pack­age on the Mack Gran­ite was in this ex­er­cise, it’s fair to say there’s noth­ing par­tic­u­larly new about such ad­vanced sys­tems in this age of tech­no­log­i­cal wiz­ardry.

What is new, how­ever, is the avail­abil­ity of such an ad­vanced and ef­fec­tive sys­tem in a US con­ven­tional truck. To quote Dean Best­wick again, it is “a world-first for Mack Trucks and for the Aus­tralian and New Zealand con­ven­tional truck mar­kets.”

Sure, it has taken time, but Volvo’s in­her­ent safety ideals are fi­nally mak­ing their way into Mack. And with a new cab in the pipeline, there’s more to come.

The Bendix Wing­man Fusion driver as­sis­tance sys­tem, a world­first for Mack Trucks and for the Aus­tralian and New Zealand con­ven­tional truck mar­kets.

Above: Wet ‘n’ wild on DECA’s rain-lashed skid pan. Yet the Bendix-de­vel­oped elec­tronic sta­bil­ity sys­tem pro­vided full steer­ing con­trol of the Mack Gran­ite at 40 tonnes. Re­mark­able!

Brett Ni­coll, lead ap­pli­ca­tions en­gi­neer for Knorr-Bremse and Bendix in Aus­tralia. Fine-tun­ing and test­ing of the Wing­man Fusion sys­tem for Mack in Aus­tralia started back in Fe­bru­ary.

Ac­ci­dent about to hap­pen. For­tu­nately, it was just a light nudge on a dummy car rather than a hefty whack on the real thing. In emer­gency sit­u­a­tions, the sys­tem is in­valu­able.

Above: In cruise con­trol mode, a dash-mounted dis­play and au­di­ble warn­ing alert the driver of the need to take im­me­di­ate ac­tion. If the driver doesn’t, technology takes over

Cen­tre: Bendix Wing­man Fusion in­te­grates the lat­est cam­era, radar, and brak­ing technology. The radar unit is housed in the front bumper. Above: Blindspot­ter mounted on the pas­sen­ger tank steps. Audi­bly warns the driver of ob­jects in blind spots.

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