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September 27, 2017 10:30 PM, EDT

Suppliers See Intelligent Trailers Gaining Prominence

Bendix's Berend Bracht Bracht by Joseph Terry/Transport Topics

ATLANTA — Trailers are on the verge of delivering more than just freight. A bevy of additional sensors linked to various components on trailers will relay increasing amounts of data to fleets, suppliers said.

The suppliers made their comments during a symposium hosted by Utility Trailer Manufacturing Co. at the inaugural North American Commercial Vehicle Show here Sept. 27.

“The demand for data is simply everywhere. In the past, data was collected on the exception basis when something [unusual] was going on. We feel data will be collected continuously in the future,” Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems CEO Berend Bracht said.

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With the near certainty of truck platoons before too long, knowing exactly what the power of the braking system is not just on the various trucks but also on the trailers seeking to join up is crucial, he said.

Bendix’s parent company Knorr-Bremse has an Intelligent Trailer Access Point program that uses a smartphone or tablet app as an easy way of managing a wide range of trailer brake and chassis control functions, according to the company.

The app was launched in Europe and is headed to the United States, he said.

Meanwhile, Grote Industries Inc. is focusing on alerting the driver if a trailer light is malfunctioning by measuring both its voltage and current, company CEO Dominic Grote said.

“It creates a lot of frustration and anger for drivers if there is a light out on a trailer,” Grote said.

The company’s Guardian Smart Trailer System attaches to any type of trailer light, LED or incandescent, and communicates with a smartphone or telematics system to give real-time status updates. The system’s next generation will have the ability to predict corrosion building up in the light, he said.

Separately, Thermo King North America, a division of Ingersoll Rand, unveiled its Connected Precedent trailer refrigeration unit here. Starting in 2018, all Precedent units will enable drivers using Bluetooth in-cab or in-yard to manage cargo temperatures, monitor the reefer and respond to alerts, according to the company.

Earlier this year, Phillips Industries and Velvac Inc. announced a collaboration to support trailer-to-tractor video and data communications using a 15-pin cable connection. “It is a wired system,” designed to provide lag-free,-latency-free and distortion-free images, Phillips President Rob Phillips said.

Also, Wabco Holdings Inc. has shipped about 5 million trailer antilock braking systems for trailers over the past 20 years, and the trailer ABS “has really been the brains of the trailer all this time, the smart part in terms of processing,” said Jon Morrison, Americas president at Wabco.

“We have tried to find ways in which we can not only take data off the trailers but actually use that functionality to provide additional services to the trailers and the fleets,” such as tire-pressure monitoring and the ability to both open and retract its aerodynamic device at the rear of the trailer, Morrison said.

Also, Consolidated Metco Inc. introduced its Smart Hub that uses embedded sensors to measure and transmit data on hub temperature, lubricant level, hub vibration, speed, miles traveled, spindle nut torque readings, hub load, and bolt tension, according to the company.

However, the important question to answer is, “Who benefits from the information and how quick do they need to get it?” said David Kiefer, director of sales and marketing and product management at Carrier Transicold.

“If you have a pending issue where something is going to break or you are going to lose your [refrigerated] load, you would want to do something in real time,” Kiefer said. “And if you have something in between, maybe it goes to dispatch and they can filter it and decide if it needs to go to the driver.”

The ideal state for a fleet, he suggested, was to have all the systems on the trailer “talking,” then receive a single bill for all of the airtime, and worst case go to a website for information and best case have information integrated into your back office system.