Steel Smart

Step by step, steel is getting smarter. That’s because SAF-HOLLAND equips mechanical components such as fifth wheels with more and more sensors and electronics. The goal is to automate work that was previously performed manually, thereby reducing the operating costs for freight forwarders.

SAF-HOLLAND employees in a conversation with MAN: Gerhard Herberg (left) heads sales to bus and truck manufacturers. Michael Riesterer (second from right) is the Deputy Engineering Director at SAF-HOLLAND.

With the RECOLUBE automated lubrication
pump, it is no longer necessary to lubricate
fifth wheels manually.

Even the Hittites of ancient Asia Minor appreciated the advantages of iron materials. After mastering the smelting of iron ore, they produced the first heat-treatable steel in the first millennium B.C. Gradually, iron displaced copper materials due to its superior hardness and strength. Since the Industrial Revolution, steel has become the most important material for capital goods. In addition to iron and carbon, other elements are also added to the alloy to selectively ­influence steel’s properties.

For several years, not only chemical substances like chromium and nickel are being added to steel components but also an ever-increasing number of sensors and electronic components. These additions are not making steel harder or firmer, but smarter. Linking mechanics with sensors and electronics can make life much easier for users. For example, the drivers of heavy trucks from the Volkswagen brand MAN: Since the beginning of 2017, MAN has been equipping all of its heavy trucks with SAF-HOLLAND’s RECOLUBE automated lubrication pump.

RECOLUBE

The system consists of a multi-part pump, a refillable tank containing the high-performance lubricant ­RECOLUBE Power SKX 372 and a ­distributor system of hoses that brings the lubricant directly to the lubrication points.

RECOLUBE eliminates the need for drivers and repair shops to lubricate a tractor’s fifth wheel manually. “At MAN, our strategy is centered on low-maintenance vehicles,” reports Stefan Marx, Team Leader Equipment Systems at MAN Truck & Bus. “The automation of manual activities not only increases the ease of maintenance and operation but also protects the environment.” Because only the required amount of lubricant is automatically applied precisely to the right places, only the amount of lubricant actually needed is used, meaning excess oil and grease don’t end up on the road. “The commercial vehicle manufacturer MAN is using our fifth wheel together with our new, controlled lubrication pump as a standard component for the first time,” says Gerhard Herberg, who heads sales to bus and truck manufacturers at SAF-HOLLAND. “Height-adjustable fifth wheel couplings are also equipped with this system.”

The pump is connected to the tractor’s central on-board computer via a standard interface. Five independent pump elements deliver the grease to the cap and four other points on the fifth wheel where lubrication grooves distribute the grease. “The on-board computer has a lubrication plan that is precisely tailored to the respective requirements,” says Michael Riesterer, Deputy Engineering Director at SAF-HOLLAND. “The system continually applies the lubrication according to this plan, which under normal driving conditions is about every one and a half hours.” The grease supply is sufficient enough for about a year of operation, or roughly 100,000 kilometers. “You have to refill the tank,” says Riesterer. “But apart from that, the RECOLUBE system is completely maintenance-free.” The display in the truck’s cab shows when the lubricant’s supply has been exhausted, allowing the driver to monitor the process directly from the cab.

“The on-board computer has a ­lubrication plan that is precisely tailored to the respective requirements. The RECOLUBE system continually applies the lubrication according to this plan.” Michael Riesterer, Deputy Engineering Director
ELI-te™

Is the semi-trailer securely coupled? ELI-te checks this with two inductive sensors and reports the results to a control unit. LED lamps make it easier for the ­driver to do a visual inspection and flash a red warning light in the event of a faulty connection.

1. Initiation of the coupling process
When coupling, the kingpin of the semi-trailer is pushed towards the lock.
2. Successful coupling process
When the kingpin is securely ­connected to the lock, four white LEDs will brightly light up.
“At MAN, our strategy is centered on low-maintenance vehicles. The automation of manual activities not only increases the ease of maintenance and operation but also protects the environment.” Stefan Marx, Team Leader Equipment Systems at MAN Truck & Bus

Michael Riesterer and Stefan Marx: More
and more processes will be automated in
the future while operating a truck.

As with automated lubrication, more and more processes while operating a truck will be ­automated in the future. The primary aim is not only to have commercial vehicles drive autonomously on the highway but to have all other processes, like coupling, run automatically too. One step in this direction is the ­ELI-te system (“Electronic Lock Indicator – tech-enhanced”), designed by SAF-HOLLAND. It ensures that the semi-trailer is securely connected to the tractor. When the driver controls the process directly from the fifth wheel prior to departure, four white LEDs light up to confirm a secure connection and facilitate ­visual inspection. If the connection is not secure, for example, because a component is frozen solid and the kingpin has slipped over the lock, a red flashing light sends a warning that can also be clearly seen from the side of the cab. “We have been successfully selling this system in North America since late 2016,” says product manager Bryan Redeker. “Now we are assessing the need for this system in other markets worldwide.”

In automated coupling, the semi-trailer connects to the tractor autonomously by moving towards each other on their own until the kingpin of the semi-trailer can be securely locked to the fifth wheel. Also important is the connection of the pneumatic and electrical outputs, which was previously done manually.

More safety and efficiency in loading logistics
Automated coupling helps ­processes run faster and more reliably. This allows for better use of existing infrastructure and saves costs.

Easing the burden of the driver

Automated yard logistics can ease the burden of the driver, ­allowing the driver to take a break, which is counted as a rest period.

The prerequisite for autonomous logistics chains
In a fully networked logistics chain, the tractor and semi-­trailer need to find their way ­everywhere autonomously – even in logistics yards.

To learn more about ELI-te™

Autonomous driving means automated ­coupling

To validate the connection, ELI-te uses two inductive sensors, one to sense the kingpin and the other to sense the lock. With a dynamic magnetic field, the sensors check the correct position of the kingpin and lock and report the result to a small computer mounted to the bottom of the fifth wheel. Redeker intends to leverage this intelligence for other applications in the future. “The next step in automation is fully automated coupling at, for example, loading terminals and logistics centers,” says Redeker. Today it is still necessary for the driver to leave the truck and connect the pneumatic and electrical connectors by hand. Redeker, together with project teams in the US and Germany, is currently assessing the market demand for automated coupling. An important question is when the market will demand fully autonomous or will partial automation be sufficient enough to make operating procedures more efficient. However, one thing is already ­certain: Steel will become even smarter in the future and contribute to greater efficiency in transportation and logistics.

“The commercial vehicle manufacturer MAN is using our fifth wheel together with our new, controlled lubrication pump as a standard component for the first time.” Gerhard Herberg, Director OEM Truck & Bus Sales

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