Grote Industries’ new 4See smart trailer system is a designed-from-the-ground-up combination of hardware and software that will give fleets more access to data related to their operations and help improve safety.
Currently, according to Grote, although 33% of the 3 million trailers on the road in North America could be considered to have telematics, only 5% of them are considered smart trailers. The company believes with 4See it could increase that percentage of smart trailers to 34% by 2027.
“Trailers have long had telematics,” said C.J. Biank, global marketing manager, in a virtual news conference Sept. 14. “But now we’re seeing a need to reduce and streamline the data coming from those, and we see that coming through a smart connected trailer.”
Smart trailers allow even more insight and accessibility than the location-focused telematics systems of today provide, according to Grote. They enable drivers to receive critical notifications through a mobile app on their smartphones about problems such as low tire pressure, lights that are about to go out — even crucial information in the event that a trailer is stolen or the cargo is damaged in transport.
“This begins with digitalizing the trailer,” Biank explained. “We designed a path to completely digitize the trailer harness infrastructure, creating a digital superhighway that powers and allows all hardware to easily communicate.”
The 4See name derives from improvements in four areas:
- Safety, with proximity sensors and smart lamps
- Security, with trailer tracking and cargo door monitoring
- Efficiency, with cargo sensing and tire pressure monitoring
- Cost savings, with actionable insights and reduced CSA violations
“We truly see this as the future of the trailer harness system,” Biank said.
Grote potentially sees data analytics being offered as a stand-alone product in the future. “When you think about the data on a trailer today, there are all these independent silos of data,” Biank said, “our intention is to bring that all through the digital harness and to the fleet at one spot, whether it’s our telematics or their current telematics solution…. picking key insights that matter to maintenance, safety, operation, and finance.”
For instance, he said, “We want to take this to those in house maintenance teams and integrate this data into their in-house ordering systems, so if we see a light or something beginning to fail we can go ahead and have that part in house to minimize the downtime.”
Smart Nose Box and Connectivity
Grote Industries’ 4See technology works by connecting the harness, nose box, and multiple sensors.
Starting at the front of the trailer, explained Grote Director of Engineering Adam Slade, 4See uses a smart nose box. It provides all the functions of a traditional nose box but builds on innovative features, according to Slade. It’s pre-wired; there are two plug-in connectors on the bottom, one that goes to the digital harness and one that goes to the traditional 7-way connector. It features integrated telematics, and a backup battery for 60 days of untethered connectivity. An easy-to-use interface displays critical information on trailer health. The entire box is sealed from the elements and from high-pressure washes.
“Any smart system is limited by how good its connectivity is,” Slade said. 4See uses Bluetooth for a wireless local network, which allows direct connection with the trailer using a mobile device. Uses an integrated LTE cellular modem for the wireless wide area network. Data, encrypted from the moment it leaves the trailer, is transmitted to the Grote cloud.
The 4See technology has the ability to integrate with existing telematics solutions, or fleets can get a Grote telematics subscription and use the telematics technology built into the product.
4See includes a mobile app for operators, maintenance crews and installers. A web portal allows remote management of trailers and their data from the back office.
The Digital Wiring Harness
“The backbone of a trailer is its harness,” Slade said. Grote designed a digital harness system from the ground up. It connects without grease and has a single connection point to cab inputs — the 4See nose box.
A central harness runs the length of trailer, and all peripheral devices connect to that central trunk, using the J1939 CAN network standard for reliability and interoperability.
“One key innovation is that it’s designed to be modular and expandable,” Slade said. “The latest and greatest sensors of today are not what they will be five years from now.”
Molex hard shell locking connectors will allow fleets to simply plug in a new device to the harness — no need to tear out wires.
By dropping the traditional seven-conductor cable to four, Slade said, Grote has made the harness smaller, as well as easier to install and maintain. It’s half the diameter and one-tenth the weight of Grote’s Ultra-Blue-Seal 7-conductor harness.
Four distinct converter modules integrate both proprietary and third-party systems into the harness without compromising core system integrity. A failure in one part of the system does not affect the rest of the harness.
The goal of the 4See system is to bring all the independent solutions together into one system, with a common communication stream, without increasing the harness or hardware required on the trailer.
4See’s notification system alerts drivers and maintenance techs to issues such as light-out detection and wheel-end readings. The proximity sensors that are part of the 4See system will assist drivers in changing lanes, notifying the driver if a vehicle is in the blind spot of the trailer.
The Future of Lighting
Although the harness is compatible with traditional trailer lamps, 4See includes smart tail lamps designed to take advantage of the digital harness. Digitally controlled and programmable, 4See’s smart tail lamps enable lighting readings direct from the lamp itself to provide health reports and outage alerts.
Being connected to the data going through the harness, they can react to their environment. For example, lamps on the front of the trailer work with the proximity sensors to indicate the distance to the dock when backing, flashing faster the closer it gets and turning solid red once the trailer is up against the dock.
Current and Future 4See Offerings
For its initial offering, the system will include:
- Smart nose box
- Cargo sensing
- Proximity sensing
- Wheel-end readings
- Tire pressure monitoring
- Smart tail lamps
- User mobile app and website
Officials could not yet share which companies they will be integrating with.
Grote's 4See has undergone 10 months of on-highway testing with fleets, approaching a million miles of operation. It will be available through trailer OEMs (which ones will be announced in the near future) or for aftermarket retrofit. Grote has established a retrofit network of installers throughout North America who can do installations regardless of the trailer OE. Depending on the particular setup and what systems are being installed, that can take anywhere from two to eight hours per trailer, according to the company. Grote also can arrange training for fleets that want their own shops to handle the installation.
4 See initially will be available for dry van trailers, but it will be available for other types of trailers, including refrigerated, flatbed, and tanker, in the future.
Grote is already taking orders and plans to have 4See available in limited numbers as soon as October, with full production to start in the first quarter of 2023. The company pointed out that it will be manufacturing 4See in North America at its own facilities, as well as the 4See smart lamps, reducing the threat of global supply chain issues to production.