Article

Auxiliary Power For Work Trucks

March 2014, TruckingInfo.com - Department

by Tom Berg, Senior Editor - Also by this author

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Bill Decker’s Miller welder, stashed against a tool box on the front wall of his Wilcox truck body, doubles as an APU and makes 220-volt power to run heavy tools. The genset at his feet produces 110 volts for work lights and smaller tools.
Bill Decker’s Miller welder, stashed against a tool box on the front wall of his Wilcox truck body, doubles as an APU and makes 220-volt power to run heavy tools. The genset at his feet produces 110 volts for work lights and smaller tools.

Any work truck with a serious electric welder also has an auxiliary power unit, because the engine-driven device doubles as an APU to run smaller welders, heaters and power tools. And soon, purpose-built APUs will report for duty on work trucks.

The major welder manufacturers, Miller Electric, Lincoln Electric and Hobart Brothers, also make “welder-generators” and portable generators, some of them quite sizeable. And now makers of APUs for over-the-road trucks report that they are seeing interest in purpose-built units for use on work trucks.

Welder-generators and APUs enable operators to avoid running a truck’s large main engine, saving fuel and cutting noise and exhaust emissions at jobsites. Operators find them very useful.

“We do look at ways to run the truck engine less with a Miller” welder, says Barth Burgett, senior vice president for equipment and part owner of Kokosing Construction, headquartered in Westerville, Ohio. “We’ve found those to be very successful. Most of the guys, they don’t like that big (truck) engine running anyway.”

It’s another form of power pack with one-seventh the amount of engine for less fuel consumption, Burgett explains. “Also, the welders otherwise didn’t run much so they’d just sit there and corrode and give you all kinds of problems.” Using them as APUs gives their engines and generators the exercise that keeps them mechanically healthy.

“My Miller will power my plasma cutter,” says Bill Decker, a “one-man-band” provider of mobile welding, metal fabricating and truck repair service out of Sunbury, Ohio, north of Westerville. “Today I’ll use it to run a heater.” His Miller Trailblazer 350 supplies 220-volt power, and he says it produces “a more constant current” than other units he’s tried.

Miller, headquartered in Appleton, Wis., lists scores of welder and generator products on its website. Lincoln, in Cleveland, Ohio, makes “engine drives” that supply AC and DC power as well as welding capabilities. And Hobart Brothers in Troy, Ohio, builds generators and welder-generators.

Thermo King, a provider of APUs to many over-the-road trucking fleets, is getting inquiries about their possible application in work trucks, says Paul Balbaro, a product manager. TK’s diesel-driven or straight electric TriPac units could be adapted to such use, though truck bodies would have to be designed to provide frame space for them.

So far no TriPacs have been sold for work-truck use, but that could change soon.

An electric APU being installed by Mack’s Modification Center in Allentown will warm engine coolant on Pennsylvania Turnpike’s plow trucks. This will keep drivers warm while allowing them to shut down trucks’ diesels while awaiting oncoming snow storms.
An electric APU being installed by Mack’s Modification Center in Allentown will warm engine coolant on Pennsylvania Turnpike’s plow trucks. This will keep drivers warm while allowing them to shut down trucks’ diesels while awaiting oncoming snow storms.

“One of the areas we’ve seen significant questions coming from are maintenance on the railroad, with a bunch of guys working out of a SuperDuty crew cab where they leave the truck idling all day, or they’re running lifts off the batteries,” he told an audience at a recent Green Fleet conference. “So people are coming to us and saying, ‘Outside this Class 8 market, where can you help us in other areas?’”

Idle Free Systems, a maker of electric APUs for sleeper-cab tractors, recently brought out a specialized Work Truck No Idle Heat System. It keeps the cab and engine warm, cranks over the main engine with an ultracapacitor-battery, and makes 12-volt electrical power using the truck’s battery complement, says the company. It will operate for up to eight hours.

Maxwell’s ultracapacitor-equipped Engine Start Module replaces one Group 31 lead-acid battery, cutting 35 pounds from a truck’s weight.

The battery box portion of Idle Free’s Work Truck APU takes up frame space and any truck body must be built around it.
The battery box portion of Idle Free’s Work Truck APU takes up frame space and any truck body must be built around it.

A coolant heater is plumbed into the engine’s cooling system, which then operates through the cab’s heater, and electronic controls work through a special wiring harness that plugs into the truck’s wiring. Twelve-volt power can run the truck’s lights, radio and other accessories, and operate work tools.

The first customer for Idle Free’s work-truck system is the Pennsylvania Turnpike Authority, which soon will begin installing them on its plow trucks. These often are stationed at key locations ahead of an advancing snowstorm, and while drivers wait they idle the trucks’ main engines to keep cabs warm and power external lights. The new devices should eliminate that, saving fuel, cutting engine-hours and keeping surrounding air cleaner.                

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