108958183 | Mr.siwabud Veerapaisarn | Dreamstime.com
Dreamstime L 108958183

Trailer telematics: Beyond smart

Aug. 6, 2021
For today’s fleets, boldly going into the future is a fine concept, but carriers still want solutions tailored for today. And the next step for smart trailers needs to be some level of standardization.

Editor's note: This is part two of a two-part series on smart-trailer technology. Read part one.

For Rob Phillips, founder and CEO of Phillips Connect, “just because you know where your trailer is doesn't make it smart.” Phillips and Phillips Connect GM Jim Epler detailed that distinction during an Endeavor CV Tech Quick Chat, “What makes a trailer SMART?”

“There are a lot of companies that are selling a connected or a GPS-enabled trailer and calling that a 'smart' trailer,” Phillips said. “The focus that we have at Phillips Connect is so much beyond that and so much greater. I think that we're light years beyond anything else that's coming out in the industry.”

Specifically, as Epler explained, the growth in telematics systems and sensor technology has generated a lot of data, but that data needs to be “actionable” for the fleet.

“To be able to trust the data really became our focus; we take it to the next level,” Epler said. “We do a tremendous amount of analytics on what we're seeing in the data. If a wheel-end event happens, for instance, we analyze exactly what caused the event, whether it's a brake issue or a bearing issue.”

Similarly, the Phillips Connect platform recognizes “collaborative alerts,” or an event that triggers multiple sensors at the same time, Phillips added.

“If you look at just one sensor, say TPMS, it's going to tell you one thing, but if you can tie that into bearing vibration or looking at your ABS unit and you notice you were going down a 6% grade, it really starts to paint the picture much more clearly,” Phillips said. “There's so much that you can gain from looking at the entire trailer as an ecosystem.”

Again, Phillips emphasized the importance of providing customers “the right data.”

“A fleet’s job should be managing drivers, not managing data,” he said. “The focus of the majority of our time is getting that critical data in front of the customer.”

The Phillips Connect alert customization tool lets fleets configure sensors and parameters with green, yellow, orange, and red alerts that will appear when triggered, for instance. Phillips credited the company’s fleet council for driving many of the innovative concepts and information displays.

“And after the fact—three, six, nine months from now—as they look at trends that have come off their data, that's where they can find ways to improve efficiencies; whether it's detention, or driver habits, or so forth,” Phillips said.

Likewise, a smart trailer system will be able to “check the health” of the trailer before a driver picks it up, whether that's lights or tire inflation or door position, Epler noted. And where cargo sensors have been utilized simply to determine if a trailer is loaded or empty, fleets are now asking for cameras and volumetric load data.

As for adoption of the latest smart trailer technology, the phase-out of 3G networks means more than a million vehicles will need telematics upgrades, Phillips suggested.

“From our side, we're seeing a lot of positive momentum right now,” he said. “Fleets are thinking, ‘if I've got to change all these out, as long as I can do it quickly and I can upgrade, we're very interested in the ROI that we get from smarter trailers.’ And when I say 'smarter,' it's getting past basic GPS; and the smarter the trailer is, typically the faster the ROI comes back. We're able to prove that over and over again.”

Indeed, Epler emphasized that fleets don’t have to wait on a new trailer order to get the latest technology.

“We're owned by a harness manufacturer [Phillips Industries], so certainly we have a fantastic option to put CAN connections right into our harnesses,” Epler said. “All of our products can be retrofittable, and you don't have to have a Smart7 [nose box-mounted gateway] to get virtually everything that we offer. You don’t have to wait 10 years to get a new trailer to get smart trailer technology.”

On the other hand, a new trailer today quite likely will still be on the road in 10 to 15 years—when truck autonomy very well might have made it into the mainstream. How do smart trailers fit into that potential driverless future?

“You can't have an autonomous truck without a smart trailer,” Phillips said. “Another way to put it: You can't have a Class 8 tractor flying down the highway with a fireball behind it. So it really is critical that you know the condition of your trailer—and for autonomous trucks to ever work, you're going to have to have a fully connected trailer.”

Again, the Phillips Industries/Phillips Connect relationship comes into play.

“We’re contracted to do auto-coupling systems for these autonomous tractors,” Phillips said. “These tractors will need to back up underneath the trailers to auto-couple, both air and electrical. That's step one. Now, in that electrical connection, there needs to be a CAN interface so that all of this trailer-health data can be transmitted directly to that autonomous tractor. It's really exciting; this is the full end-to-end piece—for Phillips and Phillips Connect to marry both of those together.”

Pace of change

During a recent Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association convention, Clarience Technologies EVP and Road Ready GM Nada Jiddou advised attendees that: The pace of change you're experiencing today will be the slowest pace of change you'll ever experience.

“We saw that coming at Truck-Lite—that was our thing. And now we're Clarience Technologies,” Jiddou said. “We needed new thinking; we realized that we needed bold thinking. We changed the name, but that's more than a name change. It represents changes in our culture and our approach to technology; in our approach to our business and how we want to go to market; and how we want to present our products.”

She also suggested that the entire industry is experiencing such a “transformation.”

“I've led similar transformations in two automotive giants, Ford and General Motors,” Jiddou said. “And I believe there isn't a better time to be in this industry than right now.”

And the Road Ready telematics platform is the product to lead that transformation, she concluded, before launching a product video. That video emphasized the trailer’s critical role in the supply chain. Road Ready will open “a real-time window” into the location, status and condition of every asset and cargo load in a customer’s organization, or “total visibility,” the promotion boasted.

“Change is coming and it's coming fast,” the presentation concluded. “The future won't belong to the careful or the content. It will belong to the bold."

For today’s fleets, boldly going into the future is a fine concept, but carriers still want solutions tailored for today. And the next step for smart trailers needs to be some level of standardization, the TTMA fleet panelists insisted.

“Whether it's TTMA or TMC, somebody needs to take the lead on this—similar to 15 or 20 years ago with the data bus. There are no standards currently, and it's a Wild West show out there,” Kirk Altrichter, VP of fleet services at Kenan Advantage Group, said. “Whether it was a Utility trailer or a Wabash trailer, or a Great Dane or a Polar, or whatever, the more similar the wiring platform is, the easier it's going to be for the repair community to serve our needs.

“And there needs to be robustness built into the system—understanding that five or 10 years from now, that capability needs to be two or three, 10 or 100 times what it is today.”

Maverick Transportation's Mike Jeffress, maintenance VP, can't be bothered with a cutting-edge promise.

“The future is the future, but what are we doing to take care of the low-tech challenges that we all have currently? And how do we get there?” he said. “Battery technology keeps evolving, whether it's on the truck or the trailer. I'm not sure what the timeframe is and when all that's going to be available, but what I do know right now is I need information. What is my brake-wear life? What is the average pressure of the tires?

“I'm not necessarily looking at where future trucks or trailers are going. Sure, let's work toward that, but I really need some real solutions for right now. And that's what I would encourage manufacturers and telematics providers to focus on: How do we concertedly pull all this together to get that information over to us? And what is the overall total cost of ownership for safety, ops, maintenance?”

About the Author

Kevin Jones | Editor

Kevin has served as editor-in-chief of Trailer/Body Builders magazine since 2017—just the third editor in the magazine’s 60 years. He is also editorial director for Endeavor Business Media’s Commercial Vehicle group, which includes FleetOwner, Bulk Transporter, Refrigerated Transporter, American Trucker, and Fleet Maintenance magazines and websites.

Working from Little Rock, Kevin has covered trucking and manufacturing for 15 years. His writing and commentary about the trucking industry and, previously, business and government, has been recognized with numerous state, regional, and national journalism awards.

Sponsored Recommendations

Reducing CSA Violations & Increasing Safety With Advanced Trailer Telematics

Keep the roads safer with advanced trailer telematics. In this whitepaper, see how you can gain insights that lead to increased safety and reduced roadside incidents—keeping drivers...

80% Fewer Towable Accidents - 10 Key Strategies

After installing grille guards on all of their Class 8 trucks, a major Midwest fleet reported they had reduced their number of towable accidents by 80% post installation – including...

Proactive Fleet Safety: A Guide to Improved Efficiency and Profitability

Each year, carriers lose around 32.6 billion vehicle hours as a result of weather-related congestion. Discover how to shift from reactive to proactive, improve efficiency, and...

Tackling the Tech Shortage: Lessons in Recruiting Talent and Reducing Turnover

Discover innovative strategies for recruiting and retaining tech talent in the trucking industry at our April 16th webinar, where experts will share insights on competitive pay...

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of FleetOwner, create an account today!