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Examining Aspects Of Semi-Autonomous Trucks And Platooning

It’s no secret that manufacturers and industry players are getting ready for a brave new world of automation and high truck technology. At the same time, it’s been a topic of conversation for some time now. Here we are closing out the year. So how close are we to actually seeing these technologies become mainstream?

Many still believe in the ultimate outcome of this vision, but they have differing views on what it may look like. While some envision a future of trucks with no cabs, all connected through smart highways, others take a more cautious approach, seeing a future where truck drivers operate semi-autonomous trucks. So let’s take a look at how each of these aspects are doing as we move into the new year.

An Update on Platooning

If there is one area getting serious attention, it’s platooning. Many see platooning as the obvious stepping-stone on the way to semi-autonomous highway driving. In fact, you could see a form of platooning hitting a street near you. Nevada is leading the way in testing these advanced concepts.

Platooning refers to the electric linking of a tractor trailer to others in a “platoon.” Some estimates put platooning fuel savings around 4% above what you could come to expect when the trucks are all running separately.

Imagine platooning kind of like a beefed-up WiFi. It allows multiple vehicles to communicate and follow each other at a distance that increases fuel efficiency. It differs from adaptive cruise and braking system in one critical way. The trucks following behind the platoon can respond instantly to what the front truck is doing. Braking time can be reduced to almost three-thousandths of a second. In this scenario, a truck driver would still be required within the cab.

Still, platooning is not without its challenges. Some such challenges include truck driver buy-in, platoon integrity, system interoperability and security, regulatory concerns, and overall public awareness.

Semi-Autonomous and Platooning Regulations

One of the major sticking points when discussing truck platooning lies in the liability factor. If there is an accident, who is held responsible? If there is a system malfunction, perhaps the software provider is responsible. But what if there is an interoperability issue?

While some may think this is too much a burden to overcome, there are current industry safeguards in place that will allow such cases to be determined. Like we do today, we merely determine fault based on situational circumstances. Did the truck hit a pothole? Perhaps it’s road design. Did the truck catch on fire? It could be the vehicle manufacturer. Did the truck driver make an error that caused an accident? Then perhaps it should be their fault.

The fact is, it shouldn’t be hard to figure out what happened when investigating an accident, especially where platooning or semi-autonomy is concerned.

How Do Truck Drivers Fit In?

With all of the talk surrounding the truck driver shortage, some are asking how autonomous and platooning technology will affect the truck driver. Remember, few people think we are going to make some big leap into full automation anytime soon.

In some high-profile demonstrations, platooning was used on the highway as the truck driver rested or handled another duty. Then, once the vehicle enters city streets, the operator takes back over. The truck driver could also be on hand in case an emergency situation occurs.

Where platooning could help the truck driver shortage is that you can easily put an inexperienced driver in the same seat you would put a veteran. With advanced technologies in place, it would require less immediate experience to safely operate semi-autonomous commercial motor vehicles.

So when will we see full-fledged adoption on the road? And is this feasible? While all new technology is expensive and requires time to reach full adoption, there’s no reason why platooning and semi-autonomous commercial motor vehicles aren’t closer than we think.

Are Trucking Companies Handling Your Cargo Properly As Per FMCSR?

As a professional truck driver, you face a number of different tasks on any given day. One such task, possibly one of the most important, is that of the secure transportation of your cargo. You understand the importance of proper cargo handling and weight distribution principles.

Always remember that either trucking companies or truck diver responsibility for the cargo starts as soon as the cargo is loaded into your vehicle and continues all the way through the moment it is removed from your vehicle. Make sure you are constantly aware of state and local requirements concerning cargo handling, especially if you are handling sensitive or hazardous cargo.

Regulatory Requirements

There are a number of regulatory requirements that govern your cargo. As it is being loaded into your vehicle, you need to make sure it is properly secured. Not only can shifting cargo damage it, but it could also post a safety risk to both you and those around you on the road.

Section 391.13 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) demands that you properly locate, distribute and secure your cargo. If you aren’t familiar with the procedures required to ensure your cargo is properly secured, you may want to take a second look at this rule.

Move on to Section 392.9 where the FMCSR clearly outline that a vehicle may not be driven without first properly distributing and securing the cargo.

Not only must your cargo be secured, but you have to make sure it doesn’t block your view, interfere with the movement of your vehicle, prevent you from exiting the cab or prevent you from reaching something in the event of an emergency.

More on Regulations

A best practice is to also inspect your load-securing devices within the first 50 miles of a road trip. After that initial inspection, you’ll want to reexamine your cargo security after another 3 hours, or 150 miles, whichever comes first. If go through a change of duty, you’ll want to do a thorough examination then, as well.

One notable exception to this rule is if your vehicle is sealed and you’ve been told not to open or inspect it. Also, if your vehicle is loaded in a way that you can’t inspect it, you may be exempt. For load securement specifics, see Part 393, Subpart I of the FMCSR.

Whether you are working with a truck, semi-trailer, full trailer or pole trailer, there are specific things you must do to ensure the safety of your cargo. Always remember that regulations require that your cargo is loaded and equipped in such a way that it won’t spill, leak, blow or fall from your vehicle.

Also consider that the type of cargo you are delivering may come with its own set of requirements. These types of cargo include, but are not limited to:

  • Logs
  • Lumber products
  • Building products
  • Metal coils
  • Paper rolls
  • Concrete pipe
  • Intermodal containers
  • Automobiles
  • Flattened vehicles
  • Roll-on or roll-off or hook lift containers
  • Large boulders

For more information on the requirements governing these cargo types, see Sections 393.11 – 393.136 of the FMCSR.

Finally, there are specific instructions in Section 393.110 outlining how securement devices are to be used. This includes aggregate load limitations of tie downs and other securement methods.

Regulations also govern everything from blocking and bracing to dunnage, load locking bars and tarps. Each of these cargo-related items must be used with specific procedures in mind.

In the end, always remember that your cargo must be contained, immobilized, secured and safe. Proper cargo handling is about more than a happy customer, it’s about truck driver safety. Don’t let your cargo drive you. You drive your cargo.

What Truck Drivers Need To Know About Weight Distribution

Driving a large, heavy duty commercial motor vehicle requires a certain measure of skill and professionalism. Expert truck drivers need to be well-versed in a number of different things, from safe driving techniques, to their CSA scores to proper weight distribution.

Sure, weight distribution sounds like a dry and boring topic, but it is hugely important in ensuring the safety of not only the cargo you are hauling, but of your safety and those around you. There are also specific weight distribution requirements that you should always know. Let’s dig a little deeper.

Principles of Weight Distribution

There are several aspects of weight distribution.

  • Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW): The total weight of the vehicle, plus its load.
  • Gross Combination Weight (GCW): The total weight of the powered unit, plus the trailer and load.
  • Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR): The value that a manufacturer specifies as the loaded weight of a single vehicle.
  • Gross Vehicle Combination Weight Rating (GCWR): The value the manufacturer specifies as the loaded weight of a combination motor vehicle.
  • Axle Weight: The amount of gross weight that rests on a given axle.
  • Tire Load: The maximum weight a tire can carry when inflated to a specified pressure.
  • Coupling Device Capacity: Coupling devices carry a rating that states the maximum weight they can pull or carry.

All of these aspects are governed by specific legal weight limits. For more information on the weight limit, or the formula used, see CFR 658.17. At all times, the maximum GVW should be 80,000 lbs.

The maximum gross weight on any one axle should never exceed 20,000 lbs. This also includes a grouping of axles, if required. The maximum gross weight on a tandem axle is 34,000 lbs.

If a vehicle is over the Bridge Gross Weight Formula, it is not allowed on interstate highways. The formula we linked to previously limits the weight on groups of axles in effort to ensure highways and bridges aren’t damaged.

Risks of Overloading

Overloading is a serious problem and can’t be overlooked in a discussion surrounding weight distribution. Overloading a vehicle can seriously inhibit steering, braking and speed control.

A vehicle that is overloaded will move slowly on upgrades and gain far too much speed on downgrades. Stopping distance is increased dramatically and brakes can fail if they are overworked.

Sometimes, you should even be wary of maximum weight, depending on your route. If you are driving through bad weather or a very hilly, mountainous area, it may not be safe to even operate at maximum weight, let alone overloaded.

Top-heavy loads also raise your risk. A high center of gravity increases the chances that your vehicle could tip over. Top-heavy loads are also dangerous when you have to swerve to avoid a hazard or navigate a particularly windy stretch of road. Always load your cargo so that it is heaviest on bottom and lightest on top.

The fact is this: Poor weight distribution can make a vehicle unsafe. It can jeopardize both your cargo, your vehicle and those around you. Too much weight on your steering axle can cause hard steering and potentially damage your steering axle or tires. It could also negatively impact vehicle handling and speed control.

Conversely, underloaded axles can make the weight on the steering axle too light for you to steer safely. Too little weight on drive axles can increase the risk of poor traction and potential hydroplaning. You may find your drive wheel spinning way too easily.

As a professional truck driver, proper weight distribution and cargo handling are two of the most important aspects of the job. Are you prepared for a safe ride on the road?

Can Wide-Base Single Truck Tires Increase Fuel Efficiency For Trucking Companies?

The fact is this: Wide-base single tires go a long way in helping fleets increase their fuel efficiency and cost savings measures. These types of tires have been used in fleet service and transport for a long, long time, and have seen many millions of miles rolled out on their backs.

Still, despite all of the benefits of wide-single tires, many a fleet technician has a sleepless night over potential maintenance costs. So despite the cost savings and sustainability gains, what is it that those fleet maintenance managers know that we don’t?

The Full Story

Here’s what you need to know about wide-base singles. First, they tend to run a little better and wear longer. It’s also best to use them in the drive position, as opposed to the trailer position. Finally, keep in mind that wide-base singles are more sensitive to things like misalignments, improper inflation or bad camber settings.

It’s likely that early adopter fleets went through plenty of trial-and-error before they got wide-base singles down pat. One such example of something you would only learn through using wide-single tires is that axle width affects how much shoulder wear you’ll experience. Consider that you may need to offset the wheels to make up for a narrower axle.

Conversely, if you move to a wide-track axle and utilize zero-offset wheels, you will get a far longer life out of your wide-singles. Always remember, however, that if you want to put duals back on to the same axle, it is going to be far too wide.

It’s important to consider the intended application when making buying decisions. You’ll also want to consider the residual value that you’ll get from the tires. Is it really wise to try and hedge your bet with a narrower axle just so you can sell it later when you may wind up with more tire wear over time?

While it is true that full width axles are better for wide-single tires, you may be limiting your potential buyer’s choice in the event that they don’t want to go with wide-singles themselves.

What to Know When Using Wide-Singles

From a maintenance perspective, there are a couple things to keep in mind when using wide-singles. First, make sure to check the tire pressure every time the truck comes into the shop. Also ensure you do a bearing end-play check. As for balancing and alignment, you can do that in between larger intervals.

More importantly, remember that it takes some time to get your adjustments right with wide-single tires. In the end, proper wheel bearing adjustment can make a big difference in the inner shoulder wear of your tires.

Just make sure to keep a regular alignment program in place. And when you are planning out your alignment schedule, remember that you need to do more than just a traditional front-end alignment. Your drive axles will need to be regularly aligned as well.

Always Monitor for Inflation

One of the most important considerations when using wide-singles is in the area of inflation. There’s plenty of evidence showing that wide-single tires are more susceptible to inflation pressure issues than other tire types.

Unless you are running with a light load, your wide-singles need only be inflated to around 80-85 psi. You aren’t accomplishing anything by over-inflating to 100 psi or more. Doing so only makes your tires at risk for blowouts and road hazards. Consider that wide-single blowouts can take the entire wheel with them and you’ll want to make sure you are doing everything right on the maintenance side.

In the end, wide-single tires are considered, for the most part, niche products. Still, depending on your application, they may be just right for your fleet. Make sure to do your research before making your next tire purchase.

The Story On Utilization And Procurement for Trucking Companies

Despite an employment squeeze and an ongoing uptick in the economy, it’s no secret that today’s fleets are operating with the thinnest of margins. Should it be a surprise then that a recent survey of fleet executives shows a little pessimism?

A number of fleet earnings reports are pointing to a somewhat challenging business environment as we move from the third quarter into the fourth. Still, will we see an increase in overall GDP growth over the next few months? No doubt, there has been somewhat of a softening of fleet’s overall operating metrics.

What’s Up with Utilization?

While we aren’t looking at dark days ahead, we could be seeing a slight downturn in utilization, while seeing a slight uptick in the number of parked vehicles waiting to be used. Of course, we aren’t anywhere near where we were during the great recession.

The fact is, during this time last year, the percentage of parked tractors and trailers was below two percent. Today it is at around five percent. It’s likely that last year the driver shortage impacted the number of trucks on the road.

Now, the trucks are parked for a different reason. The attitude is more of a, “Well, why use it if I don’t need it.” While some fleets are continuing to add capacity overall the number doing so is down from this time last year.

For many large fleets, they simply need more freight in order to handle current capacity. This lack of product to fill capacity is sure to trickle down from the big guys to the smaller fleets. And as freight softens, don’t expect more trucks and trailers to be ordered.

So does this all spell doom and gloom for the trucking industry? Likely not, and there are a good number of reasons why, not the least of which including finding profit where there previously had been none.

Using Procurement to Generate Profit

Are you running at a thinner-than-normal profit margin? If so, you aren’t alone. Yet, you may also be missing out on a valuable profit-generating opportunity. What we’re talking about is procurement.

The fact is, if you manage your procurement process effectively, you can have a significant impact on your profitability. Do you know what is purchased, who purchases it and how it is purchased? If you don’t have a laser focus on your entire procurement process, you are missing out.

There are a number of reasons why procurement efforts generally fall short. The large majority of companies that meet these criteria do so simply because they don’t have a procurement process in place. Others don’t even know if their company has a process in place to begin with. Finally, you have a percentage who either outsource it or leave it as a back-office function.

The inability of a fleet to track where their purchases are coming and going from can have a big impact on their bottom line. In many cases, those responsible for purchases that support fleet operations don’t know the best way to make those purchases.

It’s About More than Office Supplies

While the majority of missing procurement spending falls in the area of items like office supplies and cleaning products, don’t think procurement mistakes can’t be made for big-ticket purchases like tractors and trailers. You need to do a comprehensive cost analysis to discover any hidden costs.

The key to ensuring you aren’t making procurement mistakes that negatively impact the bottom line is to include operations and the fleet shop in your purchasing decisions. Make sure you have a point person to handle purchasing and good policies in place to keep everyone accountable.

Whether you are making a large or small purchase, keep a close eye on your procurement spending and watch your profits expand.

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