When it comes to vehicle components, there’s no such thing as one that needs too-little maintenance, is too driver- friendly or costs too little. Fifth wheels are no exception. That’s why manufacturers are working so hard to find new ways to take cost, maintenance and weight out of fifth wheels — and to put driver-friendly features in.
The latest contribution to reduced maintenance is a low-lube version of the Holland Hitch 3500 Series fifth wheels. The FW33 LowLube features a low-friction surface between the fifth wheel, upper coupler and brackets that needs no grease. This option, which has a two-year warranty, will be extended to FleetMaster products this spring. LowLube technology is the company’s first step toward developing a fifth wheel that would require no routine maintenance, including lubrication, for three years.
More good news for drivers and fleet managers comes in the form of Holland Hitch’s new Electronic Lock Indicator (ELI), which enables operators to monitor the fifth wheel and kingpin coupling process from inside their cabs. Available as an option on new 3500 Series units, the ELI checks the locking sequence and sends the information to an icon display located in the dashboard or driver-side rear view mirror. The system also stores data from the last 250-300 coupling attempts, making it useful as a driver and equipment management tool. (For more details, see p. 48.)
R&D at Holland Hitch includes a strong emphasis on a systems approach. For example, through the development of "smart" systems such as ELI, it may be possible to involve fifth wheels in tractor functions like electronic braking, rollover warning, etc. As a more integral part of the tractor-trailer system, fifth wheels can provide valuable information to drivers and dispatchers.
Holland Hitch also believes that by treating the fifth wheel and kingpin connection as a system, improvements in longevity, wear life and coupling procedures can be more easily achieved. In addition, the company is beginning to talk to OEMs about exploring new ways of mounting fifth wheels on the tractor, since making it more integral to frame design could lead to further cost and weight reductions.
Consolidated Metco (ConMet) has enhanced its fifth wheel top-plate and coupling components by switching to machined surfaces rather than "as cast" surfaces for its Simplex II and Simplex Lite units. The new machined top plate, for example, presents a smoother, flatter contact surface to the trailer deck plate, creating less friction and less wear for improved driver handling and service life. In addition, an e-coating has been added for better corrosion resistance.
In the quest for components with minimal maintenance requirements, ConMet plans to field-test a new lube-free top plate design in the near future. The company points out, though, that a lube-free top plate, which is a relatively expensive option, may not be the right choice for everyone. For example, if it’s coupled to a trailer that was previously hooked up to a fifth wheel with grease on it, the remaining grease often has collected gravel and other foreign material that can accelerate wear on the lube plate. And if the coupling isn’t done correctly, the kingpin can drag along the top of the lube-plate surface and destroy it. Used on a dedicated tractor-trailer combination, however, a lube-free top plate can often make sense.
An electronic sensor to detect positive fifth-wheel coupling is also on the drawing board at ConMet, with a prototype ready in the next three to four months. They point out that the considerable safety benefits of this option outweigh any additional up-front expense. ConMet is also working on a device that would measure the amount of slack in the fifth wheel and slider assembly.
New from Fontaine International is a line of cast fifth wheels introduced at last month’s TMC meeting in Nashville. Part of the company’s TechLock System of products, the 7000 Series offers all the benefits of the 6000 Series No-Slack II technology, but in a cast design rather than pressed steel. According to Fontaine, the 7000 series is a standard-duty fifth wheel that can handle a wider range of applications, including van trailers, reefers, 50-ft. doubles, flatbeds, lowboys, tankers, converter dollys, logging and chip hauling, as well as bottom-, end- and frameless dumps.
Fontaine points out that in addition to improving durability and reducing operating costs, components should allow their drivers to concentrate on the road, not the equipment.