Iconic Engines: Cummins K38-M

by Alan Haig-Brown
Thursday, May 26, 2011
Image courtesy Cummins Marine

Most Americans will recall an iconic automobile engine from their youth. It might be an early 1950s Ford V-8 flat head or a 1970s Dodge 426 Hemi. Over the decades other engines have been added to the list. In a similar fashion mariners have identified classic marine diesels. One such is the Cummins 38-liter 2300-cu. inch engine known over the years as the KTA38. Canadian fisherman John Lenic has been running one in his 1978-built steel purse seiner Ocean Marauder. Still running on the original engine he swears by it. From Hong Kong to the Gulf of Mexico, when a fisherman steps up to a larger boat, the 38-liter Cummins is the engine of choice. 

The big V-12 diesels are also popular on the inland rivers of Europe where they power the cargo vessels up and down the Rhine and Danube. Perhaps their most wide spread application is in push boats on America’s inland waterways. From the Gulf Intracoastal, up the Mississippi into the Ohio and down the Tennessee, where pushboats in the 2000 hp range are required, the odds are three to one that the engines will be a pair of Cummins KTA38.
If anything, the popularity of the 38-liter Cummins is increasing since the advent of the EPA Tier 2 emission requirements. As did their competition, Cummins developed an electronic version on the same 38-liter block, the QSK38 M, but the Cummins engineers were able to tweak the mechanical version to meet the Tier 2 requirements as well. This model of the classic engine is known as the K38-m EPA Tier 2 certified. As with earlier models the engine is, of course, also turbo-charged and after-cooled. It is available in two horsepower ratings of 850 or 1000 hp both at 1800 RPM.
Calvin Klotz, Louisiana-based VP of Marine for Cummins Mid-South, reports, “As of April, 2011, we had 20 sets of two engines on order. They are all Tier 2 compliant mechanical K38-M engines. Almost all are pushboats , we have sold 20 new pushboats in 2011 most are twin screw 2,000 Hp at 1800 RPM. total . Most are 72' X 30' but some are larger. We own 75% of this market because of our total cost of ownership. Our Time Between Overhauls (TBO) is best in class with many going over 30,000 hours between overhauls . We do say, that we expect all engines to get at least 25,000 hours. Our overhaul cost is competitive and actually better then our closest competitor. Our fuel economy is competitive and close to the competition's more expensive electronic engine. We are a simple mechanical PT engine but we meet EPA Tier 2 specifications. The market loves this product and the support they receive from Cummins Mid South.”
Some owners and Gulf of Mexico-based builders with the Cummins mechanical Tier II compliant K38-M EPA Tier 2 certified engines on order or already delivered to the yard as of May 2011, include:
Eymard Marine two delivered in January 2011
Devaul Diesel  two delivered in February
Blessey building at Raymond and Associates two delivered in March
Coastal & Gulf at Raymond & Associates four engines
Progressive at Raymond & Associates two engines
Verret Shipyard & Blessy Marine six engines on order
Hope Shipyard & Higman Marine have two engines delivered and two on order
Chouest and Kennedy have taken deliver of six engines.
Other engine sets are on order or delivered to Rodriguez Shipyard, Cailou Island, Kirby Marine, LeBeouf Bros & Intracoastal Iron Works.
In addition to these firm orders, a number of other orders for the now iconic K38-M Tier II engine are pending.
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