Perspective: Supporting Operations With Trailer Intelligence

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Automated truck companies make for popular industry conversation, but with great automated truck power comes great trailer responsibility. When exploring automated solutions, fleets must ensure their trailers get technological attention as well. Trailer-monitoring technology is quickly improving, and it’s easy to understand why: The average fleet has a 4:1 ratio of trailers to tractors, so keeping up with the overall health of a trailer fleet can quickly get overwhelming.

The Big Picture

Picture a brand new 53-foot dry van box trailer with rear swing doors and no liftgate. This trailer, on average, has 25 lamps, eight inflated tires, four sets of brakes and wheel-ends, plus landing gear and the rear door opening — all carrying perhaps more than $200,000 of cargo inside. That’s a lot to monitor.

There are millions of trailers just like this one registered in the U.S., ranging in age from brand new to some that date to the early 1990s. These trailers rack up thousands of miles every month, and carriers must keep up with aging components and the overall in-service conditions and performance through all driving conditions, including harsh weather.



Of all commercial equipment in the industry, trailers tend to be abused more and maintained less often. Although built to withstand 20 durable years, without the right corrosion-resistant components and proper care trailers can become unreliable.

Trailer intelligence technology — or “smart trailers” — can help fleet managers track the overall condition of their trailer assets, including the 50-plus safety components that can — if overlooked — produce a roadside out-of-service violation or lead to a breakdown.

So, how can technology help?

It starts with advanced harness technology, laying the foundation of a communication network connecting electronic control modules on the trailer. More than 200 feet of wiring, cabling and sensors connect the onboard telematics to the lights, tires, wheel-ends, brakes and more. Through the telematics service, data from every connected safety component is relayed to the tractor’s dashboard or a fleet manager’s phone. Intelligent trailer technology can instantaneously report light outages, brake failures, deflated tires and overheated wheel-ends. This heightened level of awareness can help fleets make proactive maintenance decisions, reducing potential safety issues and positioning drivers for successful enforcement inspections. Notably, the issues listed above are among the most common for vehicle out-of-service violations.

Longer term, trailer telematics could permit automated tractor-trailers to bypass inspection stations through driver and carrier-based levels of inspection. The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, U.S. Department of Transportation and industry stakeholders are working toward developing vehicle-based inspection systems that can confirm equipment component safety compliance without stopping a tractor-trailer for physical inspection.

Telematics is a progressive solution for the trucking industry that can improve vehicle health monitoring for conventional and automated truck operations, supported by trailer intelligence technology adaptable to any configuration.

While all the advancements happening on tractors and power units may be the talk of the industry, trailers are becoming the next wave of equipment with technology enhancements. Fleets need to make sure they don’t put the tractor before the trailer.

Ross Froat is vice president of engineering and government affairs at Peterson Manufacturing, an all-American manufacturer of lighting, harnesses and telematics hardware for smart trailer health monitoring.


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