As the world turns, so does engine technology. The industry has experienced a great deal of change since Tier 4 Final standards for off-road equipment were introduced.

Continuous efforts have been made to increase power, efficiency and reliability of diesel engines, all while keeping total cost of ownership down. How have manufacturers stacked up to meeting these tremendous challenges?

A recent webinar presented by Rental Equipment Register and sponsored by Kohler, "What’s Next in Engine Development?" hosted representatives from Perkins, Genie Industries, John Deere and Kohler to discuss the demands fueling trends in diesel engine development.

Emissions — patience with payback

The ultimate goal of emissions reduction is to improve overall air quality, but immediate payback has been difficult to calculate. Yes, cleaner air is a major long-term benefit, but cost and design complexity blur advantages for business owners.

It’s undoubtable, however, that Tier 4F engines operate significantly cleaner. It takes 60 Tier 4F engines to produce the emissions of just one pre-tier machine from the 1990s. Is this enough to persuade change?

Chad Hislop, senior director of product management for Genie Industries, understands the confusion on return on investment, but believes the effort is merited. "It’s tough for people to justify because our air quality feels fine today. What we’re really paying for is not having to live or work in a place like Shanghai or Beijing has been over the last 10 years," Hislop said.

Emissions reduction will continue to be a global effort in engine development, with countries moving beyond Tier 4 Final and Stage V standards. Emission regulations are only expected to become more stringent.

Power and efficiency — Can they coexist?

The applications which diesel engines are used for require them to run hard yet efficiently. This is a lot to ask. Can we really have our torque and fuel savings, too? Ryan Cawelti, manager WW engine market planning for John Deere, said Tier 4F engines have made vast improvements, but they also come with a unique set of challenges.

The use of aftertreatment systems allows diesel engines to perform with increased power density, respond faster and consume less fuel, leading to optimal productivity and lower operating costs.

Although those are impressive benefits, having multiple options and applications creates confusion for operators. Making the decision to use exhaust gas recirculation systems or diesel particulate filters boils down to matching the machine to its application.

"There’s really no free lunch associated with technology selection. The trade-offs must really balance against the application requirements," Cawelti said. Additionally, Cawelti stressed the need for better understanding of the regeneration process, stating some operators falsely believe the process negatively affects the machine. When left to automatically regenerate, the system is virtually unaffected, meaning less downtime.

Power is greatly necessary, but what good is it without efficiency? Oliver Lythgoe, product concept marketing for Perkins Engines, said operators should focus on the low-hanging fruit, such as integration, hybridization, operator education and downsizing.

"The easiest ways are to improve integration between the engine and the hydraulics. Make them work in such a way that they’re operating in those efficient places." Lythgoe said. He also noted that smaller engines will be ran harder in hopes of achieving peak productivity.

Technology — focus on service

Technology is not only applied to manufacture cleaner engines, but it’s also instrumental in meeting the needs of today’s consumer. From flexible parts ordering, telematics for machine maintenance, direct warranty submissions and operator training, technology will continually play a major role in the progress, and sometimes hindrance, of an industry doing its best to stay in the race.

Today’s diesel engine has been tasked with monumental challenges, yet it’s still one of the world’s most powerful and reliable sources of machinery. With the help of research and technology, it will remain a promising tool for global productivity.