A Treasure Trove of Data
Fleet operators who know precisely what state their cargo and semi-trailers are in at any given time can make their logistics processes more efficient. Data gathered by sensors attached to the semi-trailer and analyzed in the cloud provide this knowledge for a variety of applications. SAF-HOLLAND lays the foundation for the smart trailer of tomorrow, which is equipped with intelligence in crucial places.

The digitization of the entire logistics chain from the shipping agent to the carrier to the consignee fundamentally changes freight transportation because vehicle components and goods now leave digital traces everywhere. When these traces are systematically collected and processed, transportation ­companies can use them to their benefit and optimize their processes. The semi-trailers in which the goods are stored play a central role because a fully networked logistics chain is only possible when the trailer gets “smarter” at the same time. “The trailer contains a number of components that can provide important data for networked transportation,” says Mark Molitor, who is responsible for the product development of the North American market at SAF-HOLLAND. “While OEMs provide the trailer structure, SAF-HOLLAND provides several major components such as suspensions, axles, wheelends, landing legs, and the kingpin that connects the trailer to the tractor. The kingpin is likely to connect to a fifth wheel that was designed and developed by SAF-HOLLAND.” SAF-HOLLAND is looking to enrich all of these components with intelligence.

“The semi-trailer contains ­several components that can provide important data for ­networked transportation.” Mark Molitor, Vice President Product Engineering

Mark Molitor: Smart trailers can also help prevent unforeseen stops along the way.

To achieve this, Molitor and his team are working on smart trailers. This is a tremendous opportunity for logistics companies ­because having the appropriate data means they can check the technical condition of the trailer and its cargo in real time, monitor compliance with highway load limits and ­prevent theft. Most importantly, data extracted from the trailer can be incorporated into transportation management systems to optimize cargo loading in addition to providing route and service planning in a predictive and efficient manner. Ultimately, this data also ­allows transportation companies – who are always under severe cost pressure – to reduce their running costs and generate more revenue with better vehicle utilization. ­“Together with our customers, we are currently evaluating which applications can add the most value,” adds Molitor. “It’s not just about getting the right data; it’s also about understanding what this data is telling you and making it usable and available over digital networks.”

The possibilities and approaches with the smart trailer are many. For example, SAF-HOLLAND already offers systems that tell the driver when brake pads are in need of service. “In the future, it will be possible to send this data to a cloud system for feedback telling us when the pads need to be replaced,” described Molitor. Having this data allows fleet managers to automatically upload maintenance intervals via their logistics systems and minimize downtimes. Another example of future development are sensors that are mounted around the wheel hubs to measure the temperature while driving. Bearing damage and brake system malfunctions can cause overheating – the temperature ­sensors would detect this and alarm the driver to prevent major damage.

Smart trailers can also help prevent unforeseen stops along the way, starting with the tires, which are continuously monitored by the European “SAF TIRE PILOT.” If the air pressure drops below the setpoint, the tractor’s compressor supplies the tires with more air. In the future, air springs or weight sensors on the axles can determine the correct load and send a warning when the semi-trailer is overloaded or the load distribution is no longer optimal due to cargo slippage. Should an accident still occur, position sensors can detect when the semi-trailer or trailer is overturned and send an automatic message to emergency services and fleet operators.

Sensors can detect the technical condition of the semi-trailer and cargo.

“Cargo theft is another problem our customers are facing,” says Molitor. To prevent theft, sensors could be installed on the smart trailer’s doors to detect whether they are open or closed. The system could warn the fleet manager of possible theft if the doors are opened at a location that differs from the scheduled loading points. In order to do this, however, the system needs to know the trailer’s precise ­location. This is accomplished by GPS sensors, which report the trailer’s GPS coordinates to the fleet manager at regular intervals via the cloud. A smart trailer offers even more options. In the end, one thing is certain: The ­automation and digitization of processes that previously went unrecorded or required a great deal of manual effort to record opens up tremendous potential for transportation companies to achieve higher efficiency in the future.

Alexandre Charpiot

Vice President Sales OEM & Aftermarket Europe at SAF-HOLLAND. Together with his specialized teams, he takes care of a variety of customers ranging from truck and trailer manufacturers and fleet customers to wholesalers and repair shops.

“Fleet managers want to carefully plan their resources and, above all, avoid downtimes because they cause the highest costs.” Alexandre Charpiot, Vice President Sales OEM & Aftermarket Europe

What do freight forwarders and commercial vehicle manufacturers expect from the new digital technologies emerging in transportation? And what solutions are being developed by SAF-HOLLAND? Spare parts and sales meets research and development: A revealing dialogue between Olaf Drewes, Director Advanced Research & Technology, and Alexandre Charpiot, Vice President Sales OEM & After­market Europe.

Alexandre Charpiot: Our customers are already ­seeing the benefits of predictive systems today. For example, with brake pads, which are usually the first part of the trailer that needs to be replaced – although shock absorbers also belong to this category. Fleet managers want to carefully plan their ­resources and, above all, avoid downtimes because they cause the highest costs.

Olaf Drewes: This is where sensors can help by alerting you to which components need to be changed before a trip, so you can avoid a standstill 1,000 kilometers down the road.

Alexandre Charpiot: Our customers also want to bring down the time they spend at the repair shop. Predictive systems can help the fleet manager schedule repair shop visits by showing precisely when an individual vehicle needs maintenance and then directing it to the nearest shop in the service network via an app.

Olaf Drewes: In the case of brake pads, SAF-HOLLAND has been offering wear detection for a long time. The so-called contact wear indicator signals when a pad needs to be replaced. We have also developed a continuous wear sensing system that monitors the pads from the very start. This allows us to predict when the pads’ wear limit has been reached – which is the first step towards predictive maintenance.

“The treasure trove of data we are able to gather using intelligently networked sensors will allow us to de­velop new products in an even more ­targeted manner based on customer ­requirements and areas of application.” Olaf Drewes, Director of Advanced Research & Technology

Olaf Drewes

Manages SAF-HOLLAND’s advanced development activities in Europe and, with his team of engineers, focuses on future-oriented ­areas such as the intelligent networking of axles and chassis, electromobility and ­lightweight construction.

Alexandre Charpiot: But there’s also another way: Our new SAF Air Damping system eliminates the need for a shock absorber – another component that can wear out. Air damping is a good example of how regular communication between the sales and ­development ­departments can flow into new solutions for customers.

Olaf Drewes: In any case, our common goal is to help fleet operators use digital methods to increase safety and efficiency. If you know when specific maintenance needs to take place, you can then move on to the next stage and automate the processes – all the way from the repair shop appointment to the automatic ordering of spare parts.

Alexandre Charpiot: But I miss the personal interaction. Even our spare parts business lives from competent advice. The two need not be mutually exclusive.

Olaf Drewes: IT-based systems can also help us provide consulting. The treasure trove of data we are able to gather using intelligently networked sensors will allow us to develop new products in an even more targeted manner based on customer requirements and ­areas of application.

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