Top technologies changing the trailer industry

Top technologies changing the trailer industry

As with all businesses, stakeholders in the transport industry – from trucking companies and rental-trailer providers to companies that transport their own goods – are continually looking for ways to operate more efficiently and cost-effectively. For many, the answer is to implement new technologies as they become available.

Apress release from the USA-based Boxwheel Trailer Leasing indicates that the transport industry is currently experiencing a technological boom. “New equipment, new apps, better leveraging of ‘big data’ and other advances are improving operations in many areas including safety, maintenance and business administration,” the release points out.

The trailer leasing organisation highlights some of the top advances that industry players should be aware of:
• Semi-trailer “smart tech”. Historically, if a driver suspected that there was a problem of some kind with their semi-trailer, they had to stop, get out of the cab and do a physical inspection. Even then, the component in question might be hard to assess.

Understandably, as long as there wasn’t a safety concern, drivers often figured, “I’ll have the mechanics check it out after this trip.” Needless to say, in cases where a repair or some type of maintenance was needed, putting it off was not a good idea.

 Today, drivers are increasingly benefiting from integrated “trailer health monitoring” systems. Sensors associated with tyres, hubs, brakes and other components provide data that can alert the driver (or someone else monitoring the rig remotely) to a minor issue before it becomes a major, costly problem. Plus, the details can be compared to data from other monitored trailers to help maintenance teams make better decisions on how, and when, to address issues.

• SaaS administrative systems. In addition to advances in truck and semi-trailer technology, the systems used to coordinate transportation services are also improving. In particular, SaaS (Software as a Service) programs that “live” in the cloud and are used on a subscription basis are giving business administrators access to leading-edge functionality and eliminating the need to update or replace outdated software.

 With a SaaS offering, you’re getting the latest release of the software and all the new features every time you log in. Many trucking companies are finding it’s a convenient and cost-effective way to manage their business.

• Truck and semi-trailer tracking. GPS tracking has been around a while, but the tools and systems continue to evolve – and so does the use of the data they produce. Truck and semi-trailer companies are increasingly sophisticated in how they leverage this information to improve their operations.

But technology is relatively a new occurrence within the trailer industry …

“In the beginning, there was the SAE J560, the kingpin and the gladhand,” says Wally Stegall, technical fellow and director of business development for Morey, which develops and manufactures technologies in the smart connectivity and energy efficiency electronics sectors, while referring to the fundamental hardware that connects the trailer to the tractor.

“And that’s basically where the industry has been for a very long time. Everybody knows it works great, and we’ve been happy.

“Then we have ABS brakes come into the marketplace. And the government in its wisdom said that we had to turn the light in the tractor on to give a warning indication. And we got powerline carriers, a marker light on the side of the truck. That was a big change, and I’m sure we all remember how that flowed to the industry.”

Later, in the 2000s, track-and-trace devices became ubiquitous, along with some basic load sensing. By 2010 refrigerated carriers had integrated telematics, and fleets were collecting data.

“Very simple, step-by-step organic development,” Stegall points out. “And even before ‘smart trailer’ became the hot phrase in the last few years, we had TMS systems, tyre inflation systems, door sensors, solar panels, wireless temperature sensors in the trailer, video, cargo sensing – there were a lot of different individual things, but they were not part of an integrated whole.”

But today, as he notes, there are many integrated smart trailer telematics systems.

“I’m hoping that we can form a more unified vision, from a topology standpoint with physical layer and protocol,” says Stegall. “Everybody who’s got a bar of metal is trying to put a sensor on that bar of metal to provide data. All these various systems need to be interoperable and work together so that the fleets can spec what they need for their operations.”

Freight matching and other apps are also playing an interesting role, as Boxwheel notes. In much the same way that car services match available drivers with people in need of rides, new apps are available that help connect shippers with carriers who have space in their semi-trailers for additional goods and materials and can take on more freight.

These apps provide a tremendous benefit to both parties. Companies get their shipments where they need to go, potentially with fewer delays from having to wait for a carrier to have availability. And carriers can minimise situations where a driver heads home after a long trip with an empty semi-trailer because the company couldn’t find freight for the return trip.

And this is just one example of a powerful new transportation app. There are digital tools for everything, from getting real-time road conditions to locating the best truck stops and lowest gas prices. What all these apps have in common is that they help trucking and semi-trailer companies operate more profitably and also make life better for the drivers.

It would be wonderful if this could be implemented in South Africa and the full benefits of interconnectivity utilised to benefit all.

Published by

Focus on Transport

FOCUS on Transport and Logistics is one of the oldest and most respected transport and logistics publications in southern Africa.
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