Mack ‘Command Steer’ Adds Power to Power Steering

Driving just got a whole lot easier for hard-working drivers thanks to Command Steer, an intelligent, electrically-boosted twist on Mack Trucks’ regular hydraulic power steering. While not a new product, Mack is putting a new focus on the option that was introduced on commercial and highway truck models a few years ago. It reduces exertion and eventual fatigue caused by driving over rough terrain, in strong crosswinds and on crowned roads, executives said during a demonstration at a quarry outside of Easton in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley near the builder’s headquarters in Allentown.

Trade press reporters drove a pair of Mack Granite dump trucks and two Mack Anthem highway tractors, one of each type with Command Steer and one without, to see the difference the machine makes. The electric assist made the task of steering the dumpers over a heavily undulating surface in the quarry pit noticeably easier, but not so much with the bobtail tractors on a gentler gravel course. Product planners said the electric assist in the tractors would be far more valuable in prevailing winds, as in many western states, and on crowned sidewalks that slope to aid in water drainage found in many areas. Of course, these conditions did not exist in the quarry pit.

However, the Command Steer advantage in the Granite haulers was obvious and impressive. Driving the standard and electric-powered haulers over the extremely bumpy trail showcased the significant amount of muscle power the unit added — up to 10.7 lb.-ft., according to Tim Wrinkle, Mack’s senior commercial truck manager, who as Passengers went with the teacher. The closely spaced vertical ruts shook the cab and twisted the frame, and the stock steering sometimes jerked the steering wheel away from me. But with Command Steer, the steering wheel remained stable and almost unaffected by the mechanical violence below us. Sensors in the steering column and elsewhere read what was happening and told the electric motor on the transmission to constantly make corrections, Wrinkle said. These translated into the smoothness of the wheel through my hands. In fact, most of the time I took my hands off the rim and watched the truck go steadily straight.

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“Return to Neutral” is one of the features of Command Steer and was used during turning maneuvers with dumper and tractor. This helps drivers maneuvering around a construction site. The driver doesn’t have to use the usual hand-over-hand method of spinning the wheel to change direction while backing a trailer or pulling it through tight gaps, said Stu Roselli, director for on- Highway segment by Mack. Just let go of the wheel and it quickly returns to the straight-ahead position, although not so quickly that you bang your hands or wrists. That’s why the dump truck drove straight ahead without any manual intervention on my part.

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Command Steer also accelerated the action of the steering gear during a run through a slalom bounded by orange traffic cones. It helped me make tight turns continuously in either direction with little effort and allowed me to better keep track of where the truck was in relation to the cones. With no electrical assistance, I had to work the bike hard to compensate for the comparatively sluggish response of the hydraulic system. I didn’t time both of my runs, but I think the one in the Command-Steered Granite was faster and certainly easier on my arms and shoulders. Dump trucks don’t typically take slalom courses, but they do take many other tight turns in a day’s work. I have to agree that the reduced effort could really reduce fatigue and make drivers more productive, which is another Mack claim for Command Steer.

Volvo, Mack’s sister company, calls the electrically assisted product Dynamic Steering and offers it on its VHD professional and VN highway models. It was developed over several years by Swedish engineers from the Volvo Group, the parent company of both US manufacturers. The builders also share automated manual transmissions called I-Shift from Volvo and mDrive from Mack. All four trucks in this Mack demonstration had mDrive: standard 12-speed in the Anthem tractors and optional 14-speed HD versions in the Granites; the additional two speeds are low-to-low ratios in a short gearbox bolted to the main gearbox main gear (a 13-speed HD with a “crawler” gear is also available). All of the trannies shifted gracefully and smoothly, greatly reducing driving effort and nicely complementing the added luxury of Command Steer.

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The demonstration was hosted by Haines & Kibblehouse, a major contractor and owner of sprawling Easton Quarry, and 20 others in eastern Pennsylvania. H&K is also a big Mack customer, having bought its first two — Model U tractors for towing flatbed trailers — in 1969, according to John B. Haines IV, a company founder and current co-chairman. His fleet now includes dozens of Mack trucks and tractors, ranging from vintage R models to recent Granite models. One son, James Haines, President of H&K, and like other members of the owning family, he literally started out in the trenches as a laborer. Four third-generation members are now doing the same. John Haines owns a vast collection of restored trucks and construction equipment at a place called the Haines Estate in Montgomery County that symbolizes his love for his life’s work.

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