As far as fifth wheels go, user needs are pretty basic. They want safe, reliable units that offer low lifecycle costs. Building on this foundation, fifth wheel manufacturers are developing longer-lasting components and simplifying maintenance requirements to help fleets lower operating costs. At the same time, added driver convenience items are contributing to safety.
Going beyond the basics, Holland USA has also been looking at ways to add value for fleets. Features designed for driver convenience, for example, include an Electronic Lock Indicator (ELI), the availability of which has just been expanded to include FleetMaster lightweight fifth wheels. Holland has also expanded the application of its low-lube technology — first introduced in 1999 for 3500 Series fifth wheels — to FleetMaster products.
Holland's most recent innovation is the NoLube fifth wheel, which even eliminates the necessity of greasing the locking system. NoLube uses a process called LISI (laser-induced surface improvement) that actually changes the chemical composition of the lock surfaces to create a hard, finely polished finish with natural lubricious qualities to eliminate wear between the lock jaw and kingpin. With NoLube technology, other lock components previously requiring grease will be coated with dry film compounds that also enhance wear- and corrosion-resistance.
NoLube goes into production in the third quarter of this year, replacing LowLube technology on the FW35 model. There will be no price increase, and the new fifth wheel will have a 6-yr./600,000-mi. warranty coverage and performance guarantee.
Fontaine International also notes that reducing operating costs through longer-lasting components and reduced maintenance is a continuing trend with fleets, and suppliers like itself have been responding by manufacturing components that will help fleets accomplish this. Following the trend for low lube fifth wheels, for example, Fontaine currently has under development its own version of a low lube bracket liner. Besides reducing maintenance costs, the company says, low lube top plates provide an environmental benefit by decreasing the amount of grease that spills onto our highways.
Fontaine has also introduced a cast steel fifth wheel. The 7000 Series includes the same No-Slack II locking mechanism used on the 6000 Series pressed steel models to cut labor cost and reduce wear.
Jost International, a player in the overseas market since 1956, now offers fifth wheels designed for trucks in North America, including optional low lube top plates. Jost says the current trend for fleets is toward longer trade cycles. As such, lifetime equipment ownership cost is a big concern, and components that offer opportunities for reduced labor and maintenance are important considerations.
Jost fifth wheels use a locking mechanism that has only four moving parts, which simplifies repairs. But perhaps the biggest advantage of the Jost fifth wheel is that it can be rebuilt on the vehicle in about 30 minutes, versus 3-4 hours for a unit that has to be removed from the vehicle, according to the manufacturer. A replaceable cushion ring in the throat made out of carbon fiber eliminates metal-to-metal contact with the kingpin, extending the life of the kingpin, while also helping to improve steering and front tire wear.
Jost recently introduced a prototype fifth wheel for yard tractors. The new model includes an air-release locking mechanism as standard equipment. Jost says that besides offering drivers the convenience of being able to open and close the locks from inside the cab, this feature also can also reduce the risk of injury from manual operation.
Since Consolidated Metco (ConMet) took over the Simplex line of fifth wheels from American Steel Foundries two years ago, many design enhancements have been made, such as going from “as cast” to “machined” surfaces. Simplex fifth wheels, for example, now feature a top surface that maximizes contact with the trailer deck plate to create a more secure connection between tractor and trailer. The machine-cast top plate has been reconfigured to make coupling easier, ConMet points out, and the top plate has been reengineered to reduce weight without sacrificing strength or durability.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, CIRCLE NUMBER ON REPLY CARD:
Consolidated Metco 335
Fontaine International 336
Holland USA 337
Jost International 338