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You Can Do What With That?

The UltraShift PLUS isn’t just an on-highway solution

Just outside Prince George, British Columbia, a fully-laden timber truck carrying a gross weight of 168,000 pounds (72,575 kilograms) crawls deliberately down a 15 percent grade, its brakes as cool as the driver’s demeanor. Logging is just one of the many vocational applications that at one time were thought to be impossibly rigorous for automated manual transmissions.

Sure, automated manuals were at times placed into vocational service, but it was usually a highway product that was adapted to fit a new role. It was less than ideal - square peg, round hole. But that all changed with Eaton’s introduction of the UltraShift PLUS line of automated manual transmissions – 47 models in all – which cover a full range of on-highway and vocational applications.

With its newest line of automated manual transmissions, Eaton has automated the gearboxes vocational customers have come to trust. This allows them to maintain the gear ratios they are already accustomed to while enjoying all the benefits of automation.  “We’ve taken our highly robust manual box and automated it, so it has the exact same ratio coverage with an UltraShift PLUS that you have had from your Eaton manual transmission,” explained Molly Doyle, automation and vocational sales manager with Eaton.


Ultrashift Plus Specs

Eaton UltraShift PLUS transmissions are available for a full range of vocational applications, including dump trucks and mixers. The company has even automated its 18-speed transmission for heavy-haul applications.

One of the obvious benefits of an automated manual transmission in vocational environments is increased driver alertness. Drivers can focus on their surroundings at the job site rather than watching the tachometer and worrying about being in the most appropriate gear. For fleet owners, this means new hires can more quickly become safe, productive drivers.

“Your newest operator is driving like your most experienced operator in a much shorter time window,” explained Ryan Trzybinksi, Eaton’s commercial transmission development and product planning manager.

Another benefit of automation is that it allows all drivers to perform at a high level in terms of maximizing fuel efficiency. It has been widely reported that there is as much as a 30 percent variance in fuel efficiency between a typical fleet’s best and worst performing drivers.

“I think fuel efficiency is definitely a highlight for the UltraShift PLUS,” said Doyle.

“You’re never going to beat an owner-operator who has been driving for 20 years and knows how to drive a manual 18-speed and can see the road ahead of them. But when you’re talking about owning a fleet of 50 dump trucks and you have maybe three drivers that fit that profile, you can expect that the UltraShift PLUS is going to help bring that fleet average up.”  This has become increasingly important at a time when fewer young, entry-level drivers have experienced driving a manual transmission-equipped vehicle of any type.

In addition to improved safety and greater fleet-wide fuel efficiency, there are other benefits customers can expect to see in the latest-generation Eaton automated manual transmissions. Some of the features that are engineered into the transmission were developed with vocational applications in mind. For instance, Creep Mode allows the vehicle to crawl along at a slow, steady pace, making it ideal for precision operations such as pouring concrete or spreading asphalt.

There also is Hill Start Aid, which holds the vehicle on a 1 percent grade  for up to three seconds and provides the driver sufficient time to move their foot from the brake to the accelerator without rolling forward or backward. Both Creep Mode and Hill Start Aid are standard features across the entire vocational line of UltraShift PLUS transmissions.

The enhanced functionality built into these vocational transmissions is enabled by an electronic clutch actuator, which allows for smoother, more precise shifting especially at low speeds. Trzybinski explained how it works: “The previous UltraShift version used a centrifugal clutch. As you sped up the rpms, the weights inside the clutch would expand outward and the clutch would engage. You needed to get the rpms up to get engagement, so at low speeds that was not very advantageous and you tended to get a rough kick into the early gears. The new UltraShift PLUS uses electronic actuation, meaning we can very quickly pull back the bearing, disengage and re-engage, and perform shifts regardless of engine rpm. This enables you to have smoother and improved low-speed maneuverability.”

This improved low-speed shifting performance makes the vocational series of UltraShift PLUS transmissions so appealing in mixer and construction applications, among others. The versatility of the product makes it popular in some of the most rigorous vocations you’ll find -- logging, oilfield and other heavy-haul applications. In fact, the 18-speed UltraShift PLUS VXP (Vocational Extreme Performance) version has no gross vehicle weight limitations. 

“When thinking about weight, you want to think about startability and gradability, so as long as your truck is spec’d correctly with the right ratios, you’re going to be fine.  Plus, our Roadranger® field team is always here to help get the right spec for your needs,” Doyle said.

Eaton has been demonstrating the ability of its UltraShift PLUS to pull heavy loads up steep grades at its Michigan test track.  “One of the trucks we run in our test environment is loaded to 140,000 pounds (63,500 kilograms) and we can go heavier than that,” Trzybinski said. “The heavy-haul drivers and fleet owners that come in here and drive that truck on a 15 percent grade, stop it, back it up the hill and stop it again, really see the value.”

truck climbing

Doyle and Trzybinski agree that vocational operators are beginning to appreciate the advantages of automation. The concept is not yet mainstream as it is on-highway, but the benefits of automation are as significant - maybe even more so - in a vocational environment.

Fleets and owner-operators looking for an automated product can enjoy the UltraShift PLUS with the  peace of mind of knowing it is supported by the Roadranger network, and can be serviced at any OEM dealership. And because the UltraShift PLUS is based on a manual gearbox, it is fully integrated with the engine brake for greater control on grades when compared to a fully automatic transmission with a torque converter.

But perhaps the greatest benefit of offering a full line of vocational UltraShift PLUS transmissions is that customers now have an unprecedented selection of manual and automated manual transmissions from which to choose. The benefits of automation are many, but Doyle acknowledged customers that have been well served by their traditional manual transmissions may not be eager to make the switch.  “I really believe the great thing about working with Eaton is, it does give you the power of choice,” Doyle said. “If you’re confident in your drivers, you’re not having non-warranty maintenance issues or some of the challenges that are causing fleets to go to automation, then a manual is still a fantastic option. It’s a robust product. But if you have business needs that are pushing you towards automation, we have just as good of a solution from an automated perspective as we do on the manual side.  No other transmission manufacturer can offer you both.”