GSE engine technology is a big issue right now. GSE operators want engines that are powerful, reliable and relatively cheap to run; given the focus on maintaining a healthy environment, they also don’t want to use the fuel-guzzling polluting technologies of the past
There is a wide range of big engine manufacturers offering products that have, over the years, proved eminently suitable for powering different types of GSE. Many of the largest players are based in the US, with names that spring to mind in this context including Detroit, Cummins and Ford. But Europe has its share of GSE engine manufacturers as well, two of the most important undoubtedly being DEUTZ AG of Germany and Perkins of the UK.
Both of these are typical of today’s engine suppliers in that – while performance remains perhaps at the forefront of their minds when designing and developing new motors – other priorities are now moving ever closer toward centre-stage. Amongst these concerns is the need not only to minimise the initial cost of purchase, but also to ensure the operator the lowest possible total cost of ownership (TCO) over the engine’s useful lifetime.
Plus, manufacturers are seeking to offer engines that have a much lesser impact on the environment than has been the case in the past. Their output of harmful emissions has to be small enough that engines meet ever more stringent national and international (European Union, for example) regulatory standards; lower emissions also means a better environment for the GSE unit’s operators and those around him/her, and may also take some of the sting out of the argument of those pushing electric drive options.
So, the pressure on these engines to perform is greater than it ever was, yet they must do so at competitive prices and without the damage to the environment that has blighted their predecessors.
Cologne-headquartered DEUTZ AG offers a large variety of engine models to the GSE market. Since 1997, it has sold more than 35,000 engines into the GSE market, about half of them fitted in smaller tow and baggage tractors, the rest especially into ground power units (GPUs) and big push-back tractors.
According to DEUTZ’s head of sales Northern Europe and commissioner for GSE, Cornelius Preil, ensuring the availability of GSE equipment is an important factor when it comes to an equipment operator making his GSE procurement decisions. Therefore the reliability of the engine is of exceptional importance, an area in which he says DEUTZ engines excel. Plus, the company provides an excellent ‘on the spot’ service at most airports, he adds, and – as the TCO approach is becoming more and more important – “DEUTZ engines convince with low fuel consumption and low maintenance costs. These factors are well recognised by the market,” Preil insists.
In the past, its 2011 series in the sub-4-litre displacement range and the 2012 2V and 2013 2V in the 4-8-litre displacement range were very popular. For big push-back tractors, its 1015 and 2015 series have also been popular, but DEUTZ has now also introduced a new generation of engines, which can be used in the same applications, but are compliant with the latest US Tier 4 emission regulations (these standards cover off-road diesels and, while covering carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons, also focus on other pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and particulates). In this regard, the manufacturer offers the TCD 2.9 and TCD 3.6 in the sub-4-litre range and the TCD 4.1, TCD 6.1 and TCD 7.8 in the 4-8-litre class. At the top end, DEUTZ has begun offering the TCD 12.0 and TCD 16.0.
In fact, DEUTZ has invested approximately 200 million euros (US$244 million) in the development of US Tier 4/European Union Stage IV engines, Preil says. “Taking into account the requirements of EU Stage V, most of our products are ready for this emission step,” he considers.
In comparison with many competitor motors, the new generation of DEUTZ sub-4-litre engines offers below 56kW a ‘DOC-only’ fit-and-forget exhaust after-treatment solution, which is said by the manufacturer to be maintenance-free under all operating and environmental conditions (a DOC is a diesel oxidation catalyst; it primarily converts carbon monoxide to carbon dioxide). In addition to that, the latest generation of DEUTZ engines offers up to 1,000-hour oil-change intervals, maintenance-free poly v-belts and a service-free valve train. All this leads to higher uptime and less maintenance cost, vital to minimising operator TCO.
Perkins also offers the GSE market a comprehensive range of diesel engines designed to meet local emissions standards all around the globe. Engines include the 400 Series, which goes up to 2.2 litres in displacement, to the 850 Series 3.4-litre engines and then the 1200 Series, which is available as a 4-cylinder, 4.4-litre 1204 model or as a 6-cylinder, 7-litre 1206 model delivering a powerful 250kW. Across the off-highway sector, the company has more than 100,000 EU Stage IIIB/US Tier 4 Interim engines in the field, engines which have seen over 51 million hours of use.
Reliability is also a key issue for Perkins, as it is at DEUTZ. The former’s engines are designed to provide “maximum uptime throughout the working cycle”, explains the manufacturer’s product marketing specialist, Mike Cullen. “Knowing the extremely time-sensitive nature of GSE machinery, Perkins has developed solutions that minimise operator interaction through after-treatment maintenance, and engines that don’t require stand-still regeneration,” he adds.
And to help minimise that TCO, as the cost of fuel has risen over the years, so it has become especially important to minimise levels of fuel consumption. “Through Perkins’ heritage of powering off-highway applications, such as GSE, we have the expertise to improve fuel consumption in machines,” Cullen remarks.
As engine technologies develop, the benefits of higher levels of machine integration become even greater, he observes. “Perkins is leading the way in terms of OEM (original equipment manufacturer) collaboration, and through our extensive knowledge of engines and off-highway applications, can work with our customers to help them develop more productive machines which cost the owner less to run,” Cullen states.
As airports become more and more focused on issues of sustainability, not only in terms of carbon dioxide reduction but also in limiting the exposure of employees to particulates emitted by diesel engines, the engine manufacturers have been forced to adapt. As we have seen, DEUTZ now offers a wide range of products compliant to the latest emission standards – notably, Tier 4. Above that, the manufacturer also delivers diesel particulate filter (DPF) technology as standard in its 4-8-litre range, and as an option in the sub-4-litre range. Furthermore, it has opted to investigate entirely different options, such as hybrid drives, and the use of alternative fuels, such as compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).
But while the engine manufacturers have to ensure that they keep up with the latest regulatory requirements, it is the GSE operators that must ensure they too meet those standards. Paul Drever, network manager technical standards and compliance at the global handler Menzies Aviation, is amongst the many buyers of GSE that must bear in mind that the environmental emissions produced by engines today and tomorrow will help determine their commercial success in the GSE field.
“Emission (concerns) are driving engine technology,” he says. The more stringent the emission regulations become, the more sophisticated, cutting-edge technology is required. “In the past, engine choice was based on the power required to operate the machine successfully. In the future, engine choice will be based on the emission standards required.”
Of course, if a GSE operator such as Menzies opts for GSE built on a road-going chassis from new, it will already come equipped with the latest engine technology. That isn’t always possible and, when it is, there may well be additional cost implications to the initial equipment acquisition as more modern engines are both more expensive and complex to maintain. Nevertheless, the latest engine technology will almost certainly mean the unit can burn fuel more efficiently while the ramp area of operation will be a much cleaner, healthier environment in which to work.
Fuel quality is of course another aspect of the equation. Even the latest engines will pollute more than is necessary if fuel quality is not good – a particular problem at some locations around the world, Drever points out. Moreover, the country in which a handler is operating GSE will also help determine engine fuel sources. In the US, for example, there are significant numbers of petrol-driven GSE units, though diesel is becoming more common. Plus, some airports have their own emission standards that might be above the generally accepted norm – some gateways in Scandinavia are particularly insistent upon only the greenest engine technology being employed on their aprons, for example.
Drever is well placed to talk about a GSE operator’s requirements. He estimates that Menzies has approximately 3,500 fossil fuel GSE units in its global inventory. Most of the engines powering that equipment is of American or European manufacture, he explains, primarily DEUTZ, Perkins or Cummins diesel engines.
These are, he says, “proven and reliable power units supported by good networks of after-sales service”. Moreover, these manufacturers offer a number of engines of various emission levels that can be used in different countries.
For Drever, diesel is the fossil fuel of choice if electric drive can’t be used, and the engine required should be an important aspect of the specification when any GSE acquisition process is taking place. But even where the latest petrol or diesel engines are available: “If I can purchase electric powered GSE instead of fossil fuel units then I will,” he observes. The benefits of using electric power can include lower costs and less maintenance, as well as cleaner air.
The options with regard to electric drive are growing as technology moves on. Thus, modes of electric power other than the frequently used XX batteries are now becoming more prevalent. For example, today lithium-powered GSE is being taken more seriously and a few airlines have purchased GSE running on lithium power.
There are some GSE types that still seem to require the use of fossil fuel engines of course, such as maindeck loaders and the heavy pushback tractors that tackle widebodied aircraft, while third-party handlers and self-handling airlines continue to call for support from airport operators to provide the infrastructure required to power electric vehicles. Further investment in charging stations at a large number of gateways is vital, they suggest. Indeed: “I am convinced that if there were more charge facilities available at airports across the globe, 50-60% of standard-fuel GSE could be replaced by electric power,” Drever asserts.
Preil also believes that times are changing. “As availability and cost remain the dominant factors in the GSE business, fossil-fuel powered equipment will still be the first choice for the next couple of years, he asserts. However: “In the distant future, in our opinion, the main market will develop toward hybrid solutions, which combine the benefits from electric drive and diesel drive within one machine.”
But, he qualifies: “In low-load applications, we see a trend for CNG/LPG engines. In medium- and high-load applications, we believe the diesel engine will remain first choice, of course under the prerequisite of continuous development and improvement.”
Whatever the source of power to a GSE unit, the needs of the user remain the same. For Menzies and for Drever, these requirements include a good brand name, proven quality and high standards of engineering, supported by both technical support and after-sales service offered around the world. Those requirements apply as much to the GSE’s engine as to the unit as a whole