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Dew engineering: pioneering progress for Arctic deployments.

ITS NOT OFTEN that innovation--as opposed to desperation--drives the procurement process in Canada, particularly not of late. In the past year, however, one project stands out as a good-news story for the innovators: DEW Engineering's D900 snowmobiles.

In December 2014 DEW was awarded the contract to build 20 new snowmobiles for the Canadian Army for deployment to Joint Task Force North (JTFN) in Yellowknife, with the option for the government to request 20 more by the end of 2015.

Now, you may be wondering just how innovative a snowmobile could possibly be. Designs differ based on use and the vehicles come in a number of sizes, with varying horsepower, weight, suspension systems and length of tracks. But regardless of the vehicle's main purpose--whether it be speed, agility, comfort or utility--snowmobiles are all alike in one respect: they run on gasoline.

However, the trouble with having a military vehicle that operates on gasoline is that none of the other vehicles operated by the CAF--be they trucks, tanks or airplanes--runs on it. That's because the CAF is obligated to use NATO-standardized diesel fuel so that logistics are simplified during operations. This means that while other vehicles can easily be refuelled wherever and whenever diesel is on hand, snowmobile operators have to cart around their own fuel supply.

That's where we get to the innovation: In 2012 DEW decided to develop a diesel-operated snowmobile--the first ever such vehicle created outside a university lab. There's one obvious reason no one makes them: traditional diesel engines are hard to start in very cold weather. However, a modern, well-designed diesel engine can start reliably at any temperature as long as the fuel does not become gel-like or solid. Not to be deterred, DEW designed the D900 to be multi-fuelled and capable of running on diesel jet fuel (which gels at a much lower temperature).

Why bother developing the new vehicle? "We were looking for a useful project to give our engineers a challenge," says Guy Carrier, an ex-infantry officer who spent 23 years with the Van Doos before becoming DEW's Director of Business Development. For the past several decades the CAF has been relying on individual bases to buy their snowmobiles commercially. Commercial snowmobiles, however, aren't designed for the wear and tear of military usage, so bases end up purchasing new ones every two or three years.

"Decades ago [the CAF] used to have a dedicated, strong, utility snowmobile," says Carrier. "Now, they use commercial snowmobiles instead, so in one base you could have two, three, four different types of snowmobiles; that makes the servicing of them more difficult."

After building and testing two diesel-fuelled prototypes, DEW invited DND to take a look. They liked what they saw so much that a program to acquire diesel-operated snowmobiles was put to tender. DEW was the only bidder for the project and, after fine-tuning the D900 to meet DND's purchasing specifications, the contract was awarded.

Under the terms of the contract, the D900 would have to outperform its commercial predecessors. Luckily, Carrier explains, "What you get when you have a diesel engine is more torque, more power, and your fuel consumption is way, way less."

The D900 can also haul two to three times more weight than a typical commercial snowmobile and has more than twice the fuel efficiency. "That gives [the CAF] more operating range and the capacity to bring more equipment with them," says Carrier. Officially, as per DND's requirements, the D900 can haul 400 kilograms. Unofficially, Carrier says it has towed close to three times that weight.

JTFN took delivery of the initial 20-snowmobile order in August and will test them out in 2016. As a show of good faith, DEW also sent two of its own vehicles to be tested during Operation NUNALIVUT 2015, which took place in April in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut.

"We shipped the vehicles like a month before the operation and they sat on the tarmac, sometimes in close to-40 degree weather," explains Carrier. When the exercise started it was-28, but the snowmobiles started without a hitch. "The feedback has been very positive," he says.

The fastest they go is 70 km/h. If that seems slow to you, it's for good reason. "They're made to be a utilitarian snowmobile for the military, which means carrying equipment," explains Carrier. "They always tow a big komatik [an Inuit sled, designed to travel on snow and ice]. If you try to do 100 km/h hauling one of those it's very dangerous."

The D900 is more solid than commercial models and less inclined to flip. Of course, if you have a need for speed, it may not be the snowmobile for you. It is, however, one heck of an innovative piece of military equipment.

Caption: In Canada's north, snowmobiles are more than just a pleasure vehicle: they are a primary means of travel. DEW Engineering met the challenge of developing a diesel-fuelled snowmobile for the Canadian Armed Forces and succeeded! The D900 runs on regular and jet (which gels at a much lower temperature) diesel fuel. The vehicle can also haul over 400 kilograms on a towed komatik, making it highly utilitarian for soldiers and Canadian Rangers operating in the Arctic. (DEW ENGINEERING)

Caption: ABOVE: Engineers at DEW Engineering succeeded in building a modern, well-designed multi-fuelled diesel engine that can start reliably at any temperature. Joint Task Force North (JTFN) in Yellowknife took delivery of the initial order of 20 D900s in August, and will put them through a series of tests over the coming months. (DEW ENGINEERING)

Caption: ABOVE RIGHT: DEW Engineering's D900 snowmobile can be equipped with a komatik, an inuit sled designed to travel on snow and ice, which increases the vehicle's ability to carry a heavy load across long distances and in heavy snow. (DEW ENGINEERING)

Caption: Designed for the military, the D900 snowmobile is a robust military grade snowmobile that provides off-road, over-snow mobility in arctic, northern and alpine environments.


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Title Annotation:EYE ON INDUSTRY
Author:Brotherston, Evelyn
Publication:Esprit de Corps
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Oct 1, 2015
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