Jason McDaniel | Commercial Vehicle Group
Img 6189 64091fe40b5bf

Phillips Connect nearshores 'smart' trailer tech lines

March 13, 2023
The company is relocating production from China to Mexico to reduce import expenses and supply-chain restrictions—and ensure faster delivery to North American customers.

ARTEAGA, Coahuila, Mexico—Phillips Connect is intent on moving production out of China. And the OEM insists its new home is just right. 

Across the street from sister company Phillips Industries’ new truck and trailer equipment plant here in the industrial center of Mexico is the future home of Phillips Connect. That’s a big deal considering 100% of the trailer telematics solutions the company sells today are made in China.

“Every product we have delivered—190,000 smart trailer solutions and close to 1 million sensors—they’ve all come out of China,” explained Rob Phillips, president of Phillips Industries and Phillips Connect founder and CEO, during an event celebrating the manufacturer’s 15 years and a new facility in Mexico. “Most of those have been air-freighted because we are selling faster than we anticipated. We can’t keep up.”

Phillips Connect is in the process of relocating its manufacturing from China and nearshoring its product assembly to ensure lower freight costs; avoid tariffs, fewer supply chain constrictions, and COVID-19 shutdowns; and quicker delivery to its North American customers.  

See also: Phillips Connect expands facilities to support growth

When it comes to challenges with parts availability in China, Phillips indicated that diodes and small components are difficult to procure.

“The different cellular modems are really hard to get," he explained. "We’ve gone so far as to pre-buy and lock them up in a warehouse with our supplier in China, and they still aren’t always there. We need to have full control servicing our industry.”

New home, new standards

Phillips Connect has developed industry IoT sensor connection technology that is widely used in the freight industry. The products are designed to improve overall safety and security, reduce costs in fleet maintenance, and enhance fleet asset utilization. Phillips Connect and Phillips Technologies, which includes Phillips Innovations, are sister companies within Phillips’ privately held portfolio of businesses.

The original Arteaga building in Mexico, with 120,000 sq. ft. of floor space, was reconfigured to manufacture, test, and ship electronic telematics products for the Phillips Connect business. 

The new Phillips Connect facility includes an electrostatic discharge safe room featuring 21,000-sq.-ft. of controlled ambient environment for electronic assembly. Production capabilities of the new facility include in-circuit device programming, fully automated glue dispensing, assembly using S-Y and 6-axis robots, automated torque drivers, leak detection systems, functional testing, and customer acceptance testing.

Quality and production standards are based on ISO9001 and follow IPC610c for electronic assembly, inspection, and acceptance criteria. All test stations are connected to a custom-made SCADA system that retains information for every unit to ensure control and traceability to the sub-assembly level. Purchased items are 100% checked as they are received with follow-up assessments, such as their battery strength, as they are designated for production. 

That SCADA system, Phillips added, puts a unique identifier code on the product. “And if six months down the road there is a problem with that product, we can scan it and get the condition of what operation had it when it was produced,” he said. “Any failed units are immediately quarantined.”

A 'smart trailer revolution'

Phillips Connect is about 30% to 40% done with building out its trailer telematics solutions manufacturing plant in Mexico. Phillips expects this facility will have its first two lines in full operation by Q2 2023. Camera lines are expected to be done by May, with various telematics gateway lines to follow.

“The challenge is it’s a different kind of production line,” Phillips noted. “This is a much different kind of facility than we’ve ever built before. And we are moving fast.”

Over the last few months, Phillips also said the company has been validating new suppliers and continuing to develop its engineering team in Arteaga.

Among the products that will come from Phillips Connect’s new home are the company’s CargoVision camera, StealthNet trailer theft prevention mount, Smart7 camera, and a smart breakaway box.

See also: Is it time for smart trailer adoption?

The CargoVision camera is mounted on the driver's side of the tractor, giving fleets full visibility from the back of the tractor door to the nose of the trailer. The camera is available in two versions—a solar-powered option or a new puck version that is wired and harnessed ahead of time for easier installation.  

The solar option will be available at the end of Q2 2023, with the wired puck option launching in Q3.

Phillips Connect also will build out its different gateways, including a SolarNet peel-and-stick product that is mounted onto the nose of the trailer and informs fleets if their trailer is loaded or empty. That product is set to launch in Q3.

Also available in Q3 is Phillips’ StealthNet hidden installation device that is mounted under the trailer. StealthNet integrates with various sensors to track asset health, location, and efficiency.

“If you’re going to steal a trailer, the first thing you’re going to do is cut the cable on the nose,” Phillips explained. “So, [StealthNet] gets mounted underneath. This is a really quick install and a scalable product that you can add all kinds of sensors to—whether it’s tire pressure or a door open-close sensor.”

In the Arteaga facility, Phillips Connect also will produce its new version of the Smart7 Nosebox, an integrated gateway mounted to the trailer nosebox to monitor trailer location, status, and health through one hub.

“We sell hundreds of thousands of these to fleets,” Phillips said of Smart7. “We modified the front of this, and inside the lid is the GPS modem, the battery, and ABS fault detection codes that we translate into English. We tell the fleet what the problem is, what the repair is, and we actually give them steps on how to repair it quickly.”

The Smart7 product also includes remote precheck that allows fleets to test trailer brakes, lights, and tires.

“We are getting so good at lidar detection that we can tell you when a single diode is out on one turn/tail light,” Phillips said. “Now fleets can say, ‘I don’t really care if I have one diode out, or two or three, but if I’ve got more than 50%, I need to call that trailer in.’ That becomes a fleet decision because there is no legislation on how many diodes you have to have working.”

For the Smart7’s remote precheck feature, fleets can test all their trailer tires, ABS units, and lights in the middle of the night so fleets aren’t dispatching a problematic trailer. “They don’t want to spend time loading it up and then they inspect it and find out they have a light out, a problem with ABS, or a problem with tires,” Phillips explained. “If anything fails a precheck, those trailers get red-tagged before they ever get loaded.”

Phillips Connect also unveiled a new smart breakaway box that eliminates broken coil cables and air lines when trailers are unhooked.

“If you’ve got cables tangled up somewhere, it’s going to release 30 lb. of pull force, and it’s not going to do any damage and destroy your cables,” Phillips said. “We’ve now got the smart version of this. We replaced the standard for the swivel nosebox, and it eliminates broken electric cables and air lines.”

All the technology connects to the fleet back office or driver based on the fleet’s preference via Phillips’ Connect1 platform. The company also works with 22 suppliers rather than building sensors on its own to provide open API and integration capabilities for fleets.

“Every fleet wants to choose what suppliers they use,” Phillips told FleetOwner. “Our system is designed around that, so we don’t have to tell them who to use. We work with all the major suppliers, so Phillips Connect can give fleets the option of who they want to use for tire pressure, door open-close, brakes, lights, and tires.”

At the end of the day, Phillips will tell you: “The smart trailer revolution is here. We are leading the charge.” And Phillips prefers to move fast. 

About the Author

Cristina Commendatore

Cristina Commendatore was previously the Editor-in-chief of FleetOwner magazine. She reported on the transportation industry since 2015, covering topics such as business operational challenges, driver and technician shortages, truck safety, and new vehicle technologies. She holds a master’s degree in journalism from Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut.

Voice your opinion!

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

Sponsored Recommendations

Leveraging telematics to get the most from insurance

Fleet owners are quickly adopting telematics as part of their risk mitigation strategy. Here’s why.

Reliable EV Charging Solution for Last-Mile Delivery Fleets

Selecting the right EV charging infrastructure and the right partner to best solve your needs are critical. Learn which solution PepsiCo is choosing to power their fleet and help...

Overcoming Common Roadblocks Associated with Fleet Electrification at Scale

Fleets in the United States, are increasingly transitioning from internal combustion engine vehicles to electric vehicles. While this shift presents challenges, there are strategies...

Report: The 2024 State of Heavy-Duty Repair

From capitalizing on the latest revenue trends to implementing strategic financial planning—this report serves as a roadmap for navigating the challenges and opportunities of ...