[what's new in:] Fifth wheels

Feb. 18, 2015
Cameras are among the latest safety innovations

The single biggest fifth wheel trend we’re seeing among fleets is to automate the coupling process, explains Rich Carroll, vice president-sales & marketing at Jost International. “Changing driver demographics and rising insurance costs, along with the need to focus on driver satisfaction and safety, is leading to the desire to eliminate this manual task with cab-actuated air release systems and advanced sensor systems.”

The Jost air release fifth wheel operates independently from the standard release arm, and the system is protected by an interlock which requires that the vehicle is stopped and the trailer brakes set before air is provided to the cab controls. Jost is working to develop sensor systems to help ensure safe coupling, Carroll notes.

Aaron Puckett, director of national fleet sales at Fontaine Fifth Wheel, also points to a focus on products that provide improved comfort and awareness for drivers. “Systems designed to help drivers properly, safely and easily couple tractors to trailers are in demand,” he says. “An air release option is being adopted by more fleets for driver satisfaction and retention, [and] providing the ability to open the fifth wheel from the cab can also enhance safety.”

Puckett also points out that Fontaine’s TechLock electronic lock indicator helps improve safety by employing sensors that let the driver know when the kingpin is correctly positioned inside the lock and the fifth wheel is closed. Additionally, the company’s SmartLock visual lock indicator adds to the visual inspection and tug test procedures necessary for proper coupling.

The dual assist camera system launched this past fall by Fontaine features two video cameras that give the driver a clear picture of the fifth wheel and approaching trailer. The cameras, which are wired to a display in the cab, are mounted back-to-back behind the fifth wheel and low on the frame to prevent damage from the trailer’s kingpin.

With the Fontaine system, the cameras automatically turn on when the truck is shifted into reverse. As the tractor backs up to couple with a trailer, the monitor displays video from the rear-facing camera, including crosshairs superimposed over the screen to help the driver properly center the vehicle. As the camera setup passes under the kingpin, the video feed in the cab automatically switches to the camera facing the fifth wheel, allowing the driver to watch the kingpin enter the fifth wheel.

Wendy Cowan, director of product planning & market development at SAF-Holland Powered Vehicle Systems, says a new air release option for the SAF-Holland FWAL fifth wheel line provides driver comfort while reducing the potential for injury. All standard-duty Holland fifth wheels are now available with the air release system.

Along with weight savings, Cowan adds, some fleets desire fifth wheel features that help cut maintenance costs. “Our FWAL forged aluminum fifth wheel offers the benefit of Holland’s NoLube technology, which eliminates the need for lubrication of the fifth wheel locking mechanism as well as the top plate surface,” she says.

Jost, notes Carroll, is seeing dealers order its “no-tilt” offering on stock trucks. The simple mechanism that does not require tools to convert the fifth wheel features pivot stops that keep the top plate rigid when required, such as in frameless dump trailers where articulation is provided in the trailer upper coupler. “When the pivot stops are disengaged, the top plate articulates,” he explains. “This design provides flexibility to satisfy the needs of different types of vocational applications.”

Cowan also points to the value of no-tilt technology for fifth wheels. “We know that our customers need to be flexible in today’s business environment,” she says. “That’s why we developed a modular no-tilt fifth wheel sliding system that enables any standard (integrated low-weight slider) model to be quickly and easily converted to a no-tilt slider should the need arise.”

To improve safety and retain drivers, fleets are specifying systems and components that make life on the road easier. Fifth wheel manufacturers are focused on helping meet that need, and on developing products that decrease downtime and costs.

For more information, visit these websites:

Jost International

Fontaine Fifth Wheel


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