Time To Tier Up

By Christine McClintic | September 28, 2010

Owners of used diesel off-highway equipment looking to meet current and anticipated local, state and federal emissions regulations will face some challenging decisions in the coming years. While some will choose to upgrade their fleets with new equipment, others will opt to retrofit their engines with emissions-control strategies, and others will repower older equipment with newer emissions-certified engine models.

These decisions are coming sooner for some owners than others. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) adopted a regulation in July 2007 to reduce emissions from in-use diesel vehicles used in a variety of off-highway applications in the state. Depending on the size of the fleet, those requirements will start taking effect in less than two years. As other non-attainment areas in other parts of the country look to California's lead in this effort, the push to upgrade or replace non-certified engines is bound to grow and intensify nationwide in the future.

Certainly, engine repowers can pose challenges. Removing an older engine from a used piece of equipment and replacing that engine with a more technologically advanced model doesn't always make for a perfect fit. Bell Power Systems, of Essex, CT, understands this and has taken an engineering lead in developing solutions for such repowers. This program is known as Tier Up, and the company is in the process of developing repower kits that make it possible for older machines to benefit from today's Tier 3 and Interim Tier 4 technologies.

The company is a distributor of John Deere engines and recently partnered with John Deere Construction & Forestry and John Deere Power Systems to develop repower kits for several models of John Deere-brand construction equipment. Bell Power was in a ripe position to take on the Tier Up project. The family-owned company, now in its fifth decade in the diesel engine business, has garnered a wealth of experience over the years by designing complete “drop-in” repower packages for a wide variety of equipment powered by diesel and natural-gas engines and providing them to the market through its dealer network.

Marty Bell, the company's president, says that today's repowers are sophisticated, going well beyond just the confines of the engine block. “Repowers require a whole new level of engineering because they often involve new cooling packages, instrumentation, piping, brackets, as well as modified intake and exhaust configurations,” he explains. “We need to design the engine and auxiliary components so that they physically fit a machine while still meeting the strict application standards that are required. A poorly designed installation can affect power, performance and the ability of the engine to stay within emissions compliance. These engineered kits are designed to meet or exceed the original equipment performance.”

Bell Power launched the Tier Up program with the development of a Tier 3 repower kit for the John Deere 644G loader. The John Deere-approved package includes instructions and a vital supply of hardware, including a fan blade, cooling pipe, fresh-air pipe, charge air cooler and pipes, exhaust system, CAN-BUS harness, the front and rear engine mounts, and a replacement hood. After application testing, these 644G repower kits are marketed through the John Deere construction dealerships that perform the repowers.

Bell works in close coordination with local John Deere dealers to find customers who want to be a part of the design process and volunteer their machines as prototypes for these kits. James River Equipment, The W I Clark Company and Schmidt Equipment, to name a few, have all been active in this effort and provide the sales and support in the field. Whereas initial focus has been on John Deere equipment, Bell Power plans to engineer repower kits for John Deere-powered OEM equipment as well.

Dynamometer tests reveal satisfying results after the repowers. Bell Power developed a repower kit for the John Deere 330LC excavator involving the replacement of a PowerTech 8.1L engine with a new Tier 3 PowerTech Plus 9.0L engine. Tests substantiate a 90-percent reduction in carbon monoxide (CO), a 60-percent reduction in particulate matter (PM), and a 43-percent reduction in oxides of nitrogen (NOx). An additional benefit was substantial reduction in engine noise with the new 9.0L engine.

Those figures hold special appeal in California, where the CARB rule affects an estimated 180,000 off-highway vehicles. The rule affects those in construction, mining and other industries but excludes applications for agricultural or personal use, or for use at ports or intermodal rail yards. Rules similar to these are starting to appear in many other parts of the country and will eventually spread to the applications now excluded in California. The Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states and some major cities are considering or have adopted rules that could affect many job sites.

“With diesel-powered equipment often lasting many years, and the cost of new equipment continuing to increase, there are many vehicles operating on job sites that fall short of the current emissions regulations,” Marty Bell says. “Engineering solutions that provide new power packages and help bring these machines into compliance is one cost-effective alternative for equipment owners that we will continue to develop and offer to our dealers and the marketplace. Technology and the demands of our world require us to do no less if we want to remain a responsive engine distributor.”