A small backup camera from Fontaine Fifth Wheel helps drivers properly align the fifth wheel and kingpin.

[what's new in:] Fifth wheels

April 8, 2014
As they develop new products, fifth wheel manufacturers are looking at design features that will help drivers couple tractors and trailers properly, safely and more easily.  Across the board, they cite the ongoing shortage of drivers and the need to help improve safety and reduce injuries, along with workers’ compensation claims, as factors driving their product development activity.

As they develop new products, fifth wheel manufacturers are looking at design features that will help drivers couple tractors and trailers properly, safely and more easily.  Across the board, they cite the ongoing shortage of drivers and the need to help improve safety and reduce injuries, along with workers’ compensation claims, as factors driving their product development activity.

Automation is one common trend in fifth wheel design.  “A recent development, which has received positive feedback from drivers in fleet testing, is the Fontaine dual assist backup camera system that sends images to an in-cab monitor for aligning tractors and trailers during coupling maneuvers,” says Terry Mennon, vice president of sales and marketing at Fontaine Fifth Wheel. “The system includes front- and rear-facing heated infrared cameras with retractable covers aimed at the fifth wheel and the kingpin.”

Options from Fontaine for its No-Slack product line include an in-cab air release that prevents the fifth wheel from opening unless the parking brake is set, a TechLock sensor that lets the driver know the kingpin is correctly positioned inside the lock and the fifth wheel is closed, and a SmartLock visual lock indicator that provides the driver with proof that the fifth wheel is properly closed.

“Any manual task you can eliminate is of interest to fleets,” says Rich Carroll, vice president of sales & marketing at Jost International.  “For example, we’re seeing a move to a cab-actuated air release fifth wheel, and we’re offering a Jost sensor coupling system that allows the driver to know when the fifth wheel is properly and safely coupled from inside the cab.  This solution uses sensors in the fifth wheel to send signals to a dashboard display.

SAF-Holland says its FWAL fifth wheel is up to 100 lbs. lighter than other designs.

“Sensor systems that monitor safe couplings are also under development for another reason,” Carroll continues.  “Future tractor-trailer combinations are being designed with improved aerodynamics, and that will likely result in drivers not having access to fifth wheel release handles. Since it would also be difficult for a driver to make visual inspections, sensors monitoring and relaying information to the cab will be in greater demand.”

Mike Ginocchio, vice president of product planning and market development at SAF-Holland USA, says there is also a continual push for lighter weight designs.  “The weight of fifth wheels and mounting systems has become an issue in light of the higher weight of new engines,” he states.  “Reduced available steer axle weight-carrying capacity has OEMs and fifth wheel suppliers looking for savings.”

According to Ginocchio, one option for fleets to consider is to spec stationary fifth wheels in place of inherently heavier sliding designs.  “The market is still mainly split, depending on the segment, and resale value tends to be higher with sliding fifth wheels. But if you don’t need the flexibility of moving the slider, why are you paying for it?” he asks.  “We’ve seen a slight trend to shorter slides and we haven’t seen an increase in specs for stationary fifth wheels, but with more weight on steer axles, it’s reaching the point where a stationary system can make more sense in some operations.”

The Holland line of fifth wheels is focused on weight savings, including the FWAL, an aluminum design that is now available at all Class 8 OEMs for factory installation.  Utilizing Alcoa aluminum forging technology, the on-highway, standard-duty FWAL fifth wheel is up to 100 lbs. lighter than other designs, according to the company.

“We’re also closely watching the trend toward stationary mount fifth wheels for weight reduction,” says Aaron Puckett, director of fleet sales at Fontaine Fifth Wheel.  “A slider adds residual value, but in some cases lighter is better so we’re working to develop designs that achieve both goals.”
Part of Fontaine’s answer is the new PML adjustable plate mount bracket that it says provides the economy of a fixed fifth wheel with the flexibility of a sliding model.  The adjustable bracket can be attached in 2-in. increments for versatility in payload distribution.

Fleet managers looking for ways to simultaneously reduce equipment weight, improve driver safety, and meet operational needs—all without sacrificing reliability or durability—are turning to fifth wheel suppliers for their latest solutions.

For more information, visit these websites:

Fontaine Fifth Wheel
www.fifthwheel.com

Jost International
www.jostinternational.com

SAF-Holland
www.safholland.com
 

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