The Volvo® Group, a major truck manufacturer with global operations, had a goal: to deepen the U.S. market penetration for their 6×2 axle configuration. The question was, “How?”
The first hint of an answer came when word bubbled up that a Volvo fleet in Florida had installed a Link® 20K non-steer in the pusher position – and was reportedly getting 9+ MPG in fuel economy after more than 350,000 miles logged. While the pusher application is common in Europe, no other North American truck manufacturer uses this configuration. Volvo reached out to Link to learn more.
A Collaboration to Drive Success
In a two year-long program, Link and Volvo engineering teams collaborated to develop a proprietary application and validate fuel savings. The teams started with the Link® DuraMax 20K non-steer suspension, which has an 8” drop. But Volvo engineers requested modifications to give the suspension a 9” drop in order to avoid any issues with regard to driveline clearance. They also requested an R-series wheelend so that all tires on the truck could be the same. This would benefit the fleet’s inventory levels, as all tires would use the same brake drums, disc wheels, and hubs.
Don Quigley, Senior OEM Sales Manager at Link, noted, “Our approach is that we always ask a customer, ‘What is it you need?’ We don’t just hand customers an off-the-shelf solution and say, ‘Here is what we think you should have.’ Volvo had certain needs, requirements, and specifications. To every question they raised, our answer was ‘Yes!’”
The resulting customized lift axle configuration is completely unique, featuring Link’s robust 20K DuraMax axle with a modified 9” drop center for added driveline clearance. Other features of the Link® 6×2 by Volvo include:
• R-series drive spindles
• Customized Volvo mounting brackets to match the truck frame hole pattern and allow easy factory installation
• Volvo patented weld-free alignment feature for easy alignment
• Open designed lift spring to reduce road debris entrapment
The system is configured within Volvo’s fuel-efficient Adaptive Loading package on its XE Series Trucks. The same axle configuration will also be available on the Mack Load Logic as part of the Super Econodyne powertrain package.
Chris Stadler, Volvo Truck Sales and Marketing, Manager, Product Marketing, affirmed, “We saw the same mindset with the Link group as we are trying to drive with our business, namely, a focus on helping our customers to become more successful and drive progress. We really appreciate the support that Link has provided when it comes to engineering, components, and sales to help this project become a success. We believe in partnerships and we saw that same mentality with Link.”
A Road Test to Prove Efficiency
Field-testing of the new lift axle configuration was conducted on three fleets, logging over 600,000 miles of on-road driving in all weather conditions. During the trial program, the Link® 6×2 by Volvo demonstrated that it:
• Increases fuel economy by 3-5% compared to typical 6×4 axle configurations
• Saves up to 300 lbs compared to typical 6×4 configurations
• Improves traction when backing under trailers in wet or icy conditions
• Maintains handling by keeping the drive axle behind the fifth wheel
• Delivers ease of maneuverability in adverse weather conditions (i.e. snow and rain) at various road grade levels
• Saves on tire wear, reducing drag and maintenance costs
• Shows average tire life improvements up to 20% compared to 6×4 configurations*
• Lowers maintenance costs to half as much as current 6×4 and 6×2 configurations*
“The results of this project have been very successful and better than anticipated,” stated Stadler. “The customers have had nothing but praise and continue to provide positive feedback as to how this product continues to exceed their expectations. We believe that we have just touched a small sample of the customers who will truly benefit from this solution.”
A Solution to Support the Business
The success of the Link® 6×2 by Volvo didn’t only involve the technical engineering. Volvo’s manufacturing needs were taken into consideration by Link as well. “We concentrated on the factory installation,” Quigley explained. “They have a four to five minute cycle time where this suspension needs to be installed in their manufacturing process, and then the vehicle moves on to the next station. We were careful to design our lift axle configuration to work within those parameters.”
Additionally, to ensure alignment with Volvo’s quality requirements, Link became ISO-14001 Environmental Management System certified. Quigley noted, “We were glad to get this certification for our plant. It underscores our commitment to quality, our clients, and our environment.”
Ultimately, Link presented Volvo with a full business solution. “Link embraced the program and was willing to work with us from the beginning of the concept to production,” said Stadler. “They are willing to help market our offering and provide all the support necessary to make this a success.”
“We saw the same mindset with the Link group as we are trying to drive with our business, namely, a focus on helping our customers become more successful and drive progress,” stated Chris Stadler, Volvo Truck Sales & Marketing Manager, Product Marketing. “We really appreciate the support that Link has provided when it comes to engineering, components, and sales to help this project become a success. We believe in partnerships, and we saw that same mentality with Link.”
Moving Into the Future
Today, Link has been awarded the contract with The Volvo® Group, North America, to partner in developing its new 6×2 pusher suspension. The Link® 6×2 by Volvo will be marketed in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico through both the Volvo® and Mack® brands.
“The opportunity to partner on this project with an innovative global leader like Volvo is a significant milestone for Link,” confirmed Michael Hof, Director of Sales and Marketing for Link. “Link prides itself on high quality engineering and world-class manufacturing, but this project has challenged us to be even better. From improved efficiencies to higher environmental standards, we were able to meet the elevated expectations of Volvo.”
*Results may vary