Trade shows tend to have themes. Usually there’s an official theme – some message or another the chairman or the sponsoring organization wants to rely to members and attendees. But often we'll see an unofficial theme as well, and that was the case again this year at the 2020 ATA Technology & Maintenance Council Annual Meeting.
The official theme of TMC this year was Advancing Careers in Maintenance Management, and the last morning was devoted to several sessions to help maintenance managers, well, manage.
But on the unofficial side, it's at these shows where new or under-recognized technology trends either start to gain steam or move to mainstream acceptance. We saw this last year, when electric trucks suddenly moved from being a theoretical solution for some fleets, to a real movement that was coming soon to a dealership and a fleet near you.
This year, it seemed to me the discussion concerning connectivity was moving along the same lines. Every aspect of fleet connectivity seemed to be on OEMs’ and suppliers’ minds at the show. Navistar, Mack and Volvo all had major connectivity upgrades to announce. As did Geotab and Allison, which are teaming up to better connect the latter’s automatic transmissions for fleets.
There’s been a saying in trucking for some time now that the 53 feet between a tractor and the back of a trailer has proven the most difficult aspect of trucking to move into the digital/connected age. While a lot of suppliers have been talking about this problem for some time, TMC 2020 saw a host of new trailer connectivity products being rolled out, indicating – to me, anyway – that this technology lag is about to be addressed in a major way.
And, in keeping with that aspect of fleet connectivity, the show saw major announcements from Phillips Connect adding new remote inspection capabilities for trailers as well as new, more powerful nose box systems with greater connectivity features.
Utility Trailers CEO Craig Bennett confirmed that his company is watching the connectivity movement in trailers carefully during a Monday morning press conference.
But the focus wasn't on tractors and trailers alone. For example, Knight-Swift and Truckstop.com announced a new digital freight partnership. Eaton announced major upgrades to its IntelliConnect diagnostics system. And Nexiq announced upgrades to its warranty-repair maintenance platform.
There were other press conferences on other new products as well, of course, which you can read about elsewhere on the website. But, as I said, connectivity’s time in the sun seems to be now, if the latest rash of TMC press conferences is any measure.
I think this makes a lot of sense for a host of reasons. Of course the technology is simply getting more robust and reliable. And all of us are getting to the point where we’re not only used to pretty much everything around us being connected – we’re starting to take connectivity for granted.
But more than anything else, I think, trucking industry OEMs and suppliers have learned how to make sure the data flow back to fleets is intelligent, applicable and actionable. Obtaining data and acting on it is getting more logical, user-friendly and easy to do.
And all of those things are good news for fleet managers – so maybe it fits into that official theme, as well.