As commercial trucks have become more sensor-driven and automated, and fleets take advantage of data coming from the truck to improve uptime and efficiency, Fontaine Fifth Wheel has brought that trend to the fifth wheel with the SmartConnect. It’s the world’s first smart fifth wheel, according to the company.
Fifth wheels are a safety-critical feature a lot of people don’t pay attention to. The SmartConnect aims to change that.
As we reported earlier this year, Fontaine first showed the SmartConnect to attendees at the American Trucking Associations’ Technology & Maintenance Council meeting in March. After further refinements, it was officially launched in October at the ATA management conference in October.
“Think of it as a fifth wheel with a brain,” explained Juan Hernandez, Fontaine VP of sales and marketing.
SmartConnect Fifth Wheel Helps Drivers
The SmartConnect uses sensors to monitor the fifth wheel lock position every time a tractor is coupled or de-coupled from a trailer.
It gives drivers an indication of whether the fifth wheel is properly coupled or not with an indicator light (an in-cab indicator light is optional).
SmartConnect provides an additional check to supplement the DOT-required visual inspection and tug test. A green light informs the driver that the fifth wheel is securely locked. If the light flashes before turning solid green, it signals that an adjustment or repairs are needed at the next service interval. A red light indicates an unlocked state, prompting the driver to ensure proper re-coupling.
Predictive Maintenance Improves Uptime
But it’s not just a tool for the driver. the SmartConnect uses the data from those sensors to help fleet managers to anticipate maintenance needs before problems surface.
“What truly sets SmartConnect apart are its predictive maintenance capabilities,” said Shane Wolfe, director of engineering.
The Fontaine SmartConnect system analyzes the gathered data and predicts fifth wheel maintenance needs and issues alerts for servicing or inspection. This helps prevent premature wear, minimizes the need for early rebuilds, and improves fleet uptime by aligning maintenance with early indications.
When integrated with the Truck OEM's CAN and telematics systems, SmartConnect will seamlessly transmit lock status, hours of use, number of couples and maintenance alerts to fleet managers.
“Promptly addressing these issues prevents minor problems from escalating into costly repairs and extends the fifth wheel’s lifespan,” Hernandez said. “In essence, SmartConnect means less guessing and more uptime.”
When Will Fontaine's SmartConnect Fifth Wheel Be Available?
The Fontaine SmartConnect fifth wheel is scheduled to become available in the first quarter of 2024. It will be available as a first-fit original equipment option. A number of truck makers have expressed interest in integrating SmartConnect, according to Fontaine, and it already has started working with at least one.
The company is taking orders now, and quite a few fleets are already putting in orders, according to Fontaine Fifth Wheel.
Wolfe told HDT that an aftermarket retrofit is available that involves replacing the top plate, but it would not include the CAN features.
Designed for Future Functionality
The SmartConnect brain features hardwire connections for future fleet management communication and software enhancements that are underway.
Hardwire connections not only simplify the installation of an optional in-cab indicator light, but they also give fleets the flexibility to expand SmartConnect functionality as more features become available. The system is CAN bus capable right out of the box, using the high-level SAE J1939 communications protocol.
One possible future feature, Fontaine officials told HDT during a booth visit at ATA, could be a kingpin sensor. A customer request is a sensor that could detect when the fifth wheel needs grease; Fontaine’s R&D is working to see if that could be done based on vibration data with the help of artificial intelligence.
And, Wolfe said, it’s another step toward making autonomous trucks a reality.
“SmartConnect is the world’s first smart fifth wheel, and I’m incredibly proud of our engineering and management teams for their remarkable accomplishments,” said Paige Petroni, company president.