Brakes, tires, and lights cause a lot of maintenance headaches. Smart trailers could help.

Brakes, tires, and lights cause a lot of maintenance headaches. Smart trailers could help.

Photo: Michelin

Who hasn’t had a call from a driver at 2 a.m. saying the hot load he just pinned up to in the customer’s yard has a flat tire, or no lights?

The three most common and costly trailer problems – brakes, lights, and tires (BLTs) – are said to account for more than 80% of all unplanned trailer downtime, and a high percentage of CSA violations. Smart trailer technology can vastly reduce those unpleasant events through notification of the trailer’s condition.

“If you talk to fleet managers who are on top of their game, what they would like to do is be able to pre-check a trailer before they send the tractor over to it,” says Dave McKean, executive vice president of business development, and general manager of Clarience Technologies’ Road Ready telematics division. “If you’re able to run your smart trailer untethered from the tractor, you can do a pre-check. When the driver arrives, they can find the trailer and it’s ready to roll. The lights all work and the tires are inflated. No more surprises.”

McKean says it was the ability to pre-check and locate untethered trailers that first brought fleets onboard with the smart trailer concept. Data are collected by battery-powered sensors on board the trailer, and sent, when requested, through a telematics gateway on the trailer to fleet managers.

“The return on investment on the system was immediately obvious,” he says. “Once fleets realized what that visibility could do for them, they were all over the idea.”

But smart trailers don’t stop with identifying flat tires. Systems are coming to market now or in the near future that can monitor wheel-ends for high-temperature conditions that could cause wheel-end and tire fires, and even excessive vibration that could warn of imminent bearing failure.

Using predictive analytics and data analytics, the Road Ready systems monitor historic vibration levels and wheel-end temperatures and send alerts when they creep into higher-than normal-ranges. “With that information, you can predict when you need to actually do maintenance on a bearing, and thus prevent that roadside issue where the bearing has disintegrated and [possibly] created a thermal event,” McKean says.

Hendrickson says it will add Watchman sensor technology to its Tiremaax Pro tire pressure control systems in mid-2021 to monitor and report tire pressure and wheel-end temperature at each wheel position.

“Watchman communicates this data to other smart trailer devices to provide specific, actionable alerts to the fleet in real time,” says Hendrickson’s business unit director, Matt Wilson. “With Watchman, tires are actively maintained and monitored to ensure that potential tire and wheel-end problems may be addressed quickly and efficiently.”

Bill Hicks, director of product planning at SAF-Holland, hinted recently that the company’s Smar-te Tire Pilot intelligent tire management system will soon be able to deliver more than just tires that are properly equalized and inflated for the load they carry.

“The Smar-te Tire Pilot will adjust tire pressure based on predetermined load curves published by the tire manufacturers based on the load on the axles,” he says. “At this time, it does not have the capabilities to monitor or detect a potential wheel-off situation, but that’s what we’re looking at for some point in the future.”

About the author
Jim Park

Jim Park

Equipment Editor

A truck driver and owner-operator for 20 years before becoming a trucking journalist, Jim Park maintains his commercial driver’s license and brings a real-world perspective to Test Drives, as well as to features about equipment spec’ing and trends, maintenance and drivers. His On the Spot videos bring a new dimension to his trucking reporting. And he's the primary host of the HDT Talks Trucking videocast/podcast.

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