Trailers have come a long way since the Fruehauf Trailer Company introduced them to the world in 1918. Given that they have continued to play a significant role in the transportation industry, the changes don’t really come as a surprise. Besides, the innovations have not only helped the trucking industry but anyone who might need a semi-trailer for any purpose. For example, hauling a car from one place to another has never been simpler or safer thanks to changes in trailer-related technologies.
The Manufacturing Process
A fair amount of work goes into manufacturing modern-day semi-trailers. One of the biggest changes is that trailer manufacturers can now use different designs and parts to create trailers that are capable of meeting varied requirements. The top companies begin the process with 3D computer-aided design (CAD) that ensures 100% accuracy. Manufacturers run stress tests and also simulate loadings to determine stress and deflection levels ahead of time.
The next step involves the use of CNC laser cutters, plasma cutters, and press brakes. This fairly recent development has given manufacturers the ability to create their trailers from scratch instead of relying on basic structural steel, as was the case until not so long ago. While this gives manufacturers the ability to maintain high quality levels, it also gives them the freedom to incorporate different design elements and make their trailers more appealing to the eye. In addition, this step ensures easy repeatability in production and high levels of accuracy.
Fabrication of the chassis rail comes next, which involves the use of sheet metal and stripped plate/flat bar flanges. The assembly of the semi-trailer begins once all the required materials are cut to size and in place. Abrasive blasting and painting take place before the final assembly and fit-out.
The changes in trailer technologies don’t limit to the manufacturing process. For example, in-house engineers at Raw Maxx collaborated with drafters to design the layout of the company’s new facility with the aim of optimizing workflow. By including people who’re ultimately responsible for getting the show on the road in the planning and design phase, the company was successful in implementing a smooth and steady flow of all product lines.
Trailer manufacturers are looking at what technology has to offer when it comes to delivering after-sales support. Consider this scenario. You buy a trailer and one of its fenders bends after a few years. All you need to do in this case is find your trailer’s vehicle identification number (VIN) and contact its manufacturer. If you have a trailer made using CAD, you may get replacement parts even if the trailer you use is no longer in production. This is because each VIN comes with its unique CAD, and your trailer’s manufacturer may use it to produce replacements fairly easily.
The Use of Telematics
In its simplest form, telematics involves the use of two technologies – telecommunications and informatics, with the latter relying heavily on computer systems. Now, the use of this term is fairly common in the world of commercial fleet vehicles, and it also encompasses vehicular technologies, electrical engineering, and wireless communications.
While telematics has played an important role in tracking, monitoring, and managing vehicles for some time, trailer manufacturers are now using this technology to help fleet owners in different ways. As with telematics in commercial vehicles, a trailer’s telematic system relies on five basic components.
- Tracking devices
- On-board computers (telematic control units (TCUs))
- IoT cloud servers
- Telematic applications (user interface)
Now, innovative trailers with telematics give fleet owners better visibility and more control of their assets. This technology also contributes toward maximizing product utilization, keeping trailers operational, and improving overall operational efficiency.
Consider this. An equipment trailer can come with four wheel ends, four sets of brakes, eight sets of tires, and a number of federally required lights. Tire manufacturers, on their part, standardize their products to work with specific temperature and pressure systems. By adding telematics to the mix, fleet owners get easy means to detect a variety of problems in near-real time.
Businesses that make use of heated, refrigerated, or otherwise specialized trailers now have the ability to detect unwarranted changes in temperatures. Similarly, it’s now easy for companies to monitor changes in cargo weight, which is particularly beneficial for anyone worried about theft. With time, it’s only fair to expect that telematics will simplify matters further still.
Telematics plays an important role in the ongoing maintenance of trailers, which, in turn, results in better on-road safety. Given that trailers account for a significant number of out-of-service (OOS) violations, the ability to detect problems related to braking, stopping, lighting, and other functions in time is a definite plus, and telematics has helped make this possible.
A number of semi-trailers now come with sensors that aid in preventing collisions. For example, a sensor can alert a driver when a trailer is veering off the road or into another lane. Sensors can also help alert drivers when other vehicles move into their blind spots, and of vehicles in front of them slowing down. By minimizing the potential for human error, sensors can do well in bringing down instances of accidents and damage.
Some innovative trailers protect themselves even when they’re not on the move. This is because trailer monitoring systems are capable of safeguarding cargo at all times. These systems use a combination of sensors and cameras linked to computer systems. While they can send notifications upon detecting suspicious activity, they can also do the same in case a piece of cargo slips, slides, or jostles during transit.
Asset management tools have managed to simplify how different industries monitor, track, and manage their assets, and the semi-trailer industry has benefitted as well. For instance, some of the best innovative trailers for sale come with top-of-the-line GPS technology that lets fleet owners keep track of their expensive hardware in real time.
While a company that provides semi-trailers might opt for simple GPS devices installed on every trailer, opting for advanced barcodes and detection methods linked to specific software can help generate seamless end-to-end visibility. Going forward, companies may also expect to benefit from the data they collect by using it to further simplify their asset management process.
Preventative Maintenance Software
Companies that have large fleets of trailers – be it car haulers, semi-dump trailers, semi-truck trailers, or semi-flat bed trailers – can benefit significantly by taking a look at what preventive maintenance software has to offer. While the concept is not new, it’s quickly gaining a strong foothold in the trailer industry.
For starters, preventive maintenance can help cut costs in two ways. The first is it lets you nip problems in the bud rather than waiting for them to amplify. For example, knowing when tires need to be inflated minimizes wear and tear they might otherwise suffer owing to low air pressure. In addition, preventive maintenance can also help bring down instances of downtime-related lost productivity.
Using cloud-based preventive maintenance software gives businesses the ability to minimize paperwork significantly because all the information exists online. It’s possible to make safety and lockout procedures available easily. Tracking detailed histories of assets in real time is simple. Cloud-hosting gives all the stakeholders access to the required information from any compatible device. Such software can also help simplify setting up and changing maintenance workers’ schedules according to on-demand requests.
Some of the other benefits you may expect through the use of preventive maintenance software include:
- Track services or parts for ongoing maintenance, service, repair, or replacement
- Predict when a trailer’s maintenance is due
- Track a trailer’s maintenance based on hours, mileage, or dates
- Tire management
- Work order management
- Fleet cost reporting
- Automatic notifications to customers
- Automated communication with customers
- Integration with your existing website
The Way Forward
With an increasing number of smart and innovative trailers finding their way to the market, and given that there’s no slowing down in technological advancements, it’s safe to say that fleet owners will be able to monitor way more than lights, brakes, doors, tires, and weight in the future.
The use of high-definition cameras is already on the rise, and it looks like this trend is set to stay in place until it finds widespread acceptance. One reason is that cameras offer real-time visuals of what’s happening in and around a trailer and they play a crucial role in the monitoring of cargo. The way things are shaping up, we’re set to see self-driving trucks hauling cargo in the future, so trailer manufacturers might need to look at what changes they need to make to remain compatible and relevant.
Even though trailer monitoring technologies have moved beyond basic tracking of location in recent years, widespread adoption remains a challenge. Paul Menig, CEO of Business Accelerants, in a Transport Topics post, highlights that only 23% of the trailers in North America made use of telematics for tracking their status and location in 2020.
He opines that component providers such as refrigeration unit makers, tire pressure/inflation system providers, and liftgate manufacturers already have some indication of what they need to do to make trailers more innovative, so one may expect even more changes in times to come.
Selecting the Right Trailer Manufacturer
Since there are several trailer manufacturers in the U.S. and not everyone’s up to the mark, it’s important to select one that’s reliable, not just in the products it provides, but also in its ongoing support. Here are a few pointers that may help you select the right trailer manufacturer.
Determine the Type and Size
Since you get different types of semi-trailers from which to choose, start by determining which one you need. For example, no matter whether you’re looking for an equipment trailer or a truck bed, you get different sizes from which to choose. Once you know what you’re after, you may look for companies that provide suitable alternatives.
While a number of trailer manufacturers claim to be the best, that’s clearly not the case. The top companies have numbers to show for their years of performance. Besides, you may also check what previous customers have to say about their experiences with the companies you shortlist. The financial stability of a company needs your attention because you might need its support over the long term.
Bear in mind that while the quality of trailers a company manufactures is important, so is the level of customer service it provides. Remember that when a business comes with a strong reputation, it’s usually for a reason.
Even the best and most innovative trailers might face glitches, so you need to select a company that does not falter in honoring its warranty claims. If you’re not happy with the terms and conditions laid out in a company’s warranty, consider moving to the next alternative. A trailer’s warranty should ideally cover not just its frame but its key components as well.
The warranty period needs your attention because this may vary from one trailer manufacturer to the next. Ideally, you should look for a warranty of at least three years. Besides, you might want to narrow down on manufacturers who have dealership networks across the U.S. This way, you may receive the required support if your trailers travel far from home and also if you relocate to a new place.
The different types of semi-trailers notwithstanding, it’s plain to see that they’ve come a long way over the last couple of decades. The modern-day semi-trailer is not just much safer than its predecessors, but the use of telematics has also made it smarter. Besides, trailer manufacturers have benefited from various advancements in the manufacturing process.
If you’re looking for innovative trailers, start by determining your specific needs instead of letting trends affect the decision-making process. If you’re unsure about which type of semi-trailer might work best for you or are confused with the alternatives on offer, consider getting in touch with a reputed trailer manufacturer to discuss your requirements.