Cummins Bus Project Could Lower School Transportation Costs

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A 10 percent reduction in fuel costs could be a significant savings for the Bartholomew County School Corporation

Posted: Oct. 20, 2014

A community service project by two Cummins engineers to reduce an Indiana school district’s fuel costs could potentially help schools across the country save money on transportation.

The project involved finding cost effective ways to modify the powertrain in buses operated by the school system in Columbus, Indiana, to maximize fuel mileage without compromising performance or safety.

Research conducted at the Company’s test facilities and under real world driving conditions found certain modifications to the powertrain improved bus fuel efficiency by more than 10 percent.

“Our hope is that this project will allow the Bartholomew County School Corporation (BCSC) and potentially many other school systems throughout the country to decide if establishing a new bus spec or upfitting existing buses is right for them,” said Steve Bellinger, a vehicle integration engineer at the Columbus Engine Plant (CEP) who worked on the initiative.
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“One of the most mportant things this project accomplished is that we have removed driver variability from the equation,” added Mark Slaton, an evironmental engineer at CEP who also worked on the program. “Whether a driver is aggressive or conservative, there would be an equivalent fuel savings.”

In buses and most other vehicles, engine torque is transferred through the transmission and drive axle or axles to move the vehicle. Optimization of these components is critical to maximizing the performance and fuel efficiency of any vehicle.

The Community Involvement Six Sigma project led by Slaton and Bellinger was some three years in the making and ultimately led to hardware and software changes on bus powertrains. Six Sigma is a data-based business problem solving tool widely used at Cummins.

The project included changes in the transmission shift schedule, the number of forward speeds and the rear axle ratio, which taken together enable a bus to operate more efficiently. The project also reduced the load on the engine when a bus is at a full stop to save fuel. The team says all the modifications can be applied to front or rear engine bus configurations.

The project comes as Cummins begins implementing its most comprehensive environmental sustainability plan ever. The plan, announced in early 2014, builds on past successes to address the Company’s biggest opportunities to make a positive environmental impact – from the materials it buys to helping customers operate its products more efficiently.

The Six Sigma project was sponsored by Jeff Caldwell, who leads Cummins’ global van and pickup truck business. He also serves as the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation’s board president.

BCSC has over 100 buses that collectively use about 200,000 gallons of fuel annually. Saving 10 percent on its fuel bill could save the district more than $60,000 annually assuming the entire fleet was upgraded. The school system replaces about 10 buses per year. New buses can be equipped with the modifications or they can be added to an existing bus for about $2,500.

Slaton and Bellinger not only worked with the BCSC transportation staff, but also with Allison Transmission and school bus OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) chassis engineers. It’s thought to be one of the first times such an approach has been taken to improve school bus fuel efficiency.

School officials are excited about the project’s results and have since adopted the recommended changes on all new bus purchases.

“Cummins and BCSC have been working for a long time to make things better and this is just another example of that,” Steve Forster, BCSC fleet services manager, told The Columbus Republic. “We’ve been using exclusively Cummins engines since 1972, so it’s been a long-term partnership and anytime we can help each other, we take advantage of that.”

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