Health experts believe the best way to begin a weight control program requires a little planning. They advise to record each meal's menu. By carefully examining a week's worth of meals, it's easy to design an effective approach to reducing the number of calories. For many, effective weight loss is the simple act of correcting one or two practices. For example, paying careful attention to portion size is often more effective than a radical crash diet approach.

Fleet managers are about to benefit from this same approach to weight reduction. Engineers at some of the nation's largest truck manufacturers have been busy examining every aspect of their truck production processes. In an almost unprecedented effort to reduce chassis weight, engineers have evaluated every component in a search for unneeded weight. This important trend was made very clear at CONEXPO-CON/AGG in spring.

Two truck manufacturers, Sterling Truck Corp. and Mack Trucks Inc., used their press conferences at the construction industry's major event to announce new weight saving features on this year's models. Their efforts demonstrate how important customers view total chassis weight in this sensitive market.

These announcements suggest manufacturers realize that weight savings is no longer only a producer consideration at the time of engine and body selection. Using computer-aided engineering, truck designers are analyzing each part and system involved in building a truck. Examining each component has enabled engineers to shed ounces which add up to pounds. The results add up to real weight savings. Practically every aspect of chassis manufacturing has improved from this weight review.

Technology of weight savings

Weight-conscience engineers are taking advantage of several recent technological advances. First, using computer-aided design (CAD) lessens the time it takes to bring designs to the production floor. These same computer software programs also enable engineers to cross-check for redundancies in their design calculations.

Along with computers, there's been a revolutionary approach to material designs. Lightweight composite materials have evolved to become acceptable for use in severe duty vehicles. space-age alloys and heat-treated metal processes are finding their way into more components and designs

Greater design ability and more durable materials have affected the manufacturing process. Truck manufacturers have invested mightily in their assembly operations. For example, more robots are finding their way into the process. This allows engineers to design with greater accuracy and tighter tolerances, often eliminating excess items that were included to make it easier to assemble.

Lighter axles

Take the axle, for example. What was once considered to be just a standard truck feature is now viewed as a potential source of weight savings. Mack and Sterling announced new axle designs that have reduced both weight and maintenance requirements.

Mack's Unimax axle is now designed as a single, integrated assembly. A new approach has enabled engineers to permanently seal the wheel hubs. Another feature is the axle's tapered kingpin design, which saves weight and increases service life as the knuckle is more solidly attached to the axle beam.

Sterling engineers have also met the axle weight challenge. The manufacturer now offers a front axle design specifically for the challenges of the severe-duty market.

The axle features a design in which the kingpins are supported by needle bearings instead of bushings, causing a "rolling" action instead of "rubbing" when the axle is being steered.

Warranty coverage

Sterling officials are so confident of their axle design, the manufacturer offers a standard warranty covering the entire axle. The warranty covers the needle bearings and the kingpins, which are historically the most common cause of axle failure.

Sterling also announced a weight savings feature for its rear axle offerings for single and tandem models. Its new design offers an axle that's up to a 128-pound weight savings over similarly specified competitive axles.

Engineers achieved this with an approach that uses precision-cut gears to ensure more torque is transferred to the wheels, as opposed to being lost to friction.

To learn more about these announcements, visit the manufacturers' Web sites at www.macktrucks.com and www.sterlingtrucks.com.

RELATED ARTICLE: Drumming up savings.

Lightweight components can be found in other places besides underneath a vehicle. Sometimes they can be found in places as obvious as the drum on a ready-mix truck.

The Revolution composite drum by Dodge Center, Minn.-based McNeilus Truck & Mfg. is 2000 pounds lighter than traditional steel drums. This means a ready-mix truck can carry an extra one-half cubic yard of concrete per load. Then, after the concrete is poured, the lighter weight results in annual fuel savings of $400 to $700 per truck, says McNeilus.

There are other advantages to the 11-yard drum. The Revolution drum can last at least 67% longer than a comparable McNeilus 3/16-inch steel drum. If necessary, it can be repaired and returned to the job. The fins can last the life of the drum, amounting to another $600 to $750 in annual savings.

The manufacturer estimates annual cost savings at $4000 for a low-volume producer and $8950 for a high-volume producer. The return on investment comes at three years, and one year and four months, respectively.

The Revolution also can mean a producer may start loading earlier in the day because the composite materials reduce noise during loading and batching operations.

For more information, visit www.mcneiluscom panies.com.

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