Trailers on the Road to Becoming Smart Partners in Freight Hauls

Utility trailer
Utility Trailer Manufacturing Co.

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A new report from the Technology & Maintenance Council of American Trucking Associations said technology can help improve trailer utilization and help trailers become “full partners” with tractors in moving freight more efficiently.

The tipping point will come, the report said, when the push for change from technology suppliers coincides with the pull from fleets eager to increase efficiency in their operations.

“How can we take the technology push from the suppliers with the fleet needs that are pulling the industry along and work together to accomplish something,” said Paul Menig, CEO at Business Accelerants, who collaborated with Charles Willmott, CEO at WillGo Transportation Consulting, to conduct the survey and analyze the results for TMC.

Menig and Willmott highlighted portions of the North American Trailer Rental/Lease Company Survey, for sale through TMC, during a webinar.

Depending on the reference source used, there are an estimated 4 million to 6 million trailers in North America, and trucking is facing historic levels of demand for new trailers as freight grows, Willmott said.



“Rental and lease fleets’ utilization is astronomically high, with trailer makers being booked out until the middle of next year, with prices rising,” he said. “My point is, smart trailer technologies are well-positioned to eventually change all of that.”

Willmott said predictive analytics based on livestream data will reduce trailer downtime and maintenance costs. And better maintenance, he said, can improve public safety while lowering corporate liability and improving the return on investment.

The survey asked 12 leading lease/rental companies, which operate 10% of all trailers, detailed questions to determine their expectations for next-generation trailers.

The survey questions addressed current technologies offered to customers; brands of smart products selected and offered; experience with those products and their performance reliability; rental customer demand and feedback; field operations issues; and challenges and decision drivers on future smart trailer offerings.

A few of the survey’s findings shared during the webinar included:

  •  Standardization of specs is lacking but is necessary for the rental/lease companies that deal with many different suppliers and customers. Some issues include power requirements, aggregating of component data feeds into system management products, and open-source data designs to allow for connectivity to TMS systems.
  •  Solar power is popular among rental/lease companies because battery power is often insufficient. “Surprisingly, it is no longer a question of battery life, but of energy source,” according to the report, which noted TMC should consider initiating a task force to provide a recommended practice for installation of solar panels for telematics units and provide data supporting the energy provided by location.
  •  End-user customers are the biggest driver of technology. “Decades ago, this was true for engines, transmissions, axles, hubs, seats — just about everything imaginable — for a tractor. While the options for tractors have significantly decreased as the [truck] manufacturers have vertically integrated, trailer options are still largely open. One fear is that a [trailer maker] will move toward making a system ‘standard’ with pricing differentials for other options,” the study found.
  •  Upgrading electronics in the field is harder for trailers than for tractors. The study suggested TMC address this through a task force.

In all, the 88-page report survey produced 50 key findings with analysis.



“In brief, the full report gives you the answers, aggregated, to the 28 main questions and multiple sub-questions,” Menig said. “It gives our assessment of the 18 items on the rental/leasing technology curve. There are 11 recommendations for further action by the industry and TMC members. There are 15 charts with the numeric data. There are 32 anonymous quotes from the interviewees. And there’s a list of 25 different ROI calculators.”

Willmott and Menig agreed that it is time to transition to a fully smart trailer industry, and re-engineer and re-energize the trailer segment.

“I am aware of several large carriers who are experimenting with different technologies and working on integrating data into their TMS systems,” Willmott later told Transport Topics.

He said some of those are spec’ing technology on new trailers, and others are installing on existing, late-model fleet trailers.

“Assuming no government mandates requiring installation of smart systems in the short term, and none are likely,” he said, “we expect the transition to unfold logically with higher value carriers first — tankers, reefers, military haulers — and then begin flowing through the industry at large.”

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