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Archive for April 28, 2017

Trucker Drivers Request Manufacturers : Quiet In The Cab, Please

If there is one thing that truck drivers routinely comment as something they would love to either lessen or eliminate, it’s noise, vibration and harshness in the cab. Still, manufacturers consistently say that engineering it out of their products is notoriously hard to do.

Today, truck manufacturers are putting their sights on cab noise and engine mounts. Yet where improvements are made, suddenly truck drivers can hear every other squeak and rattle from other places in the cab.

Another consideration is that not all noise and harsh vibration comes from multiple sources. From tires to suspension and the drive train, there is still more to consider than just the cab and engine mounts. Fortunately, the industry is pressing ahead with manufacturing modifications that help reduce noise, vibration and harshness.

All About Tires

Take tires, for instance. Tire manufacturers have been experimenting with more aggressive tread patterns. Lug and open-shoulder treads, for instance, are often noisier than rib-tread tires. Rib-tread tires Rib-tread patterns prevent noise from making its way into the cab by eliminating any potential physical contact with it.

Where truck drivers generally feel the most vibration is through the steering column. By ensuring tires are balanced when a complaint comes in, fleets can prevent exacerbated wear and thus unnecessary vibrations.

Another area where vibration becomes a problem is around downspeed drivelines. While engine downspeeding is a great way to improve a reliable method for improving efficiency and fuel economy, it creates a challenge where unwanted noise and vibrations are concerned.

When the engine downshifts, torsional vibrations produced by the shift are transmitted through the transmission, drive shaft and axles. All this movement can easily be felt by the truck driver as low frequency vibration.

Still, the industry is hard at work tackling these problems. Dana, a driveshaft manufacturer, is producing a driveshaft specifically designed for downspeeding. They claim it has characteristics allowing it to be balanced to one-half the industry standard, thus greatly reducing its vibrational footprint.

Suspension in Mind

Suspension also plays a huge role in reducing unwanted noise and vibration. Not only does the suspension help to minimize road inputs, but it also helps limit vibration inputs coming from the drive train.

In general, when handling noise and vibration coming from the drive train, air suspensions perform much better than leaf spring suspensions. Four air spring cushions are ideal, though this configuration is admittedly less spec’d.

Outside of spec’ing the right equipment to begin with, always make sure the equipment you are currently running with is in proper working order. If you see an obvious defect, such as a non-functioning shock absorber or a broken spring, make sure it is fixed immediately. This is a matter not only of noise and vibration, but a potential safety issue.

Transmissions, Clutch and Axles

Transmissions and clutch axles also contribute to in-cab noise. To combat this, clutch designers have come out with new schematics that provide a softer dampening rate. They also have longer travel to handle the high torque generated by a modern engine.

To cut down on transmission noise, manufacturers are focusing on the high-frequency whining sound that comes from the metal-to-metal contact when the gear interfaces with other components in the transmission.

Vehicle specifications surrounding axles also impact noise and vibration. Consider options like overdrive and single versus tandem axles. Even recent innovations in gear manufacturing are resulting in a quieter operation across the board.

With all the recent innovations in truck design, does this mean we can expect a radical change in road noise, vibration and harshness? As the marriage of trucking and technologies continues unabated, only time will tell.

How Trucking Fits Into The Latest Economic Data?

Have you heard? Economic activity sprang back to life in the third quarter. Despite a cantankerous election campaign that seemed to remind us by the day how terrible things are, we’re doing quite well.

Judging by the most recent GDP numbers, America is on fire. The widest measure of how we are doing, our nation’s GDP, expanded by an impressive 2.1 percent. Certainly, this doesn’t mean we should all start dancing in the streets, but there’s nothing wrong with a little room for optimism. There’s been plenty of uncertainty to go around, and numbers like this keep a restive industry calm. So, what’s next?

The Economic Data

Per the American Trucking Association’s Chief Economist Bob Costello, the economy is currently at “a turning point” and that economic conditions are ripe for expanded growth.

Another bright spot lies in the job market. Job growth continues to rise in the third quarter, as unemployment statistics drop. On the job growth side, there are multiple arguments. Some expect the growth to continue and the economy to continue to expand, other’s say it’s likely that growth will decelerate.

Dig deeper into the numbers and you can see that some parts of the economy that had been a drag in the previous few quarters had rebounded. One example is the oil and gas sector, which appears to have recovered a bit from its bottom.

Research firm HIS Markit reported on the manufacturing sector, which showed a rebound from the three-month low it sat at in September. With numbers improving across the board, this could signal a broad-base upturn in broad market economic conditions. This means only good things for trucking.

But are there areas of concern? Certainly. Consider that even with the solid third-quarter bump, year-over-year GDP growth languished at a mere 1.7 percent. At the same time, last year, we sat at a modest 2 percent.

What we are seeing is a wide recovery, if not an all-out boom. Still, will we see an interest rate hike because of new economic policies, from both a new administration and unified Congress? Even so, don’t expect a large hike. No one wants to sink the economy when it seems to be finally picking up some steam.

Where Trucking Fits In

Trucking continues to play an important role in the health of our nation’s economic recovery. The trucking employment shortage has become almost old news. Yet trucking fills the roles as more and more people step into the cab.

Per a new Labor Department report, trucking was one of the industries that helped push our overall GDP number as high as it was. Nation’s unemployment rate sat at 4.5 percent.

Of those numbers, in-for-hire trucking saw a net gain of 4,700 jobs from the month before. Wider transportation and warehouse numbers rolled in at 7,500. Consider that these numbers were revised higher after the fact, and it’s not hard to see how the trucking industry plays a vital role in the overall health of our nation’s economy.

Headwinds?

Still, it’s important to never get overconfident. We have seen 85 consecutive months of positive job creation. Some say that the job market has reached a saturation point; that the pace of hiring will inevitably slow.

Wage pressures are still minimal, so it appears there is still room for bottom line growth within the real economy. But capital goods numbers fell by 1.3 percent.

These are minor headwinds when compared to the overall level of economic growth. Trucking continues to play a vital role in our nation’s economy, and the numbers appear to look good for future growth.

What You Need To Know About Anti-Indemnity Laws Protecting Truck Drivers

Have you heard? New York became the most recent state to adopt anti-indemnity laws. These are laws that hold trucking companies responsible for damaged goods, regardless of who is at fault.

New York Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo stated that “the way trucking contracts are written; companies are often faced with burdensome liabilities when damage to goods is not their fault.”

Most trucking associations are in favor of anti-indemnification efforts. But what, in the end, does this all mean?

A Historical Perspective

Traditionally, a fleet and shipper used a contract to put their understandings and business agreements into clear and understandable terms. Still, as part of the contract negotiation process, one side inevitably tries to shift the risk of responsibility to the other party.

What one thing almost everyone involved with these negotiations can agree on is that the indemnity provision is a contentious issue. This provision essentially obligates one party to assume responsibility of any damage or claim arising from the contract, regardless of fault.

While some agreements only kick in when damages are caused by the indemnifying party, often these are far-reaching contracts that obligate the motor carrier to bear responsibility even when they may not be at fault.

Here is one example:

  • A shipper requires that a motor carrier indemnify them for any and all claims related to injury, death or damage arising out of the performance of the agreement.

This statement is so overly broad that no matter what happens, the motor carrier will be responsible for damages even if it bears no degree of fault for the claim.

Still, some contracts soften this a bit, creating an exception in cases where the shipper is “solely” at fault. Think this is fair? Look at is this way: The shipper only accepts liability if it is the ONLY party at fault. So, if the motor carrier is at fault by even 1 percent, they bear 100 percent of the responsibility.

States Get Involved

Therefore New York state has stepped in. State legislatures around the country have begun to recognize the problems that arise from inequitable arrangements brought on by unfair indemnity agreements.

At the point of this publication, at least 16 states have passed some sort of legislation designed to help level the playing field for all parties involved.

These states include:

  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Kansas
  • Maryland
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska
  • New Mexico
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia
  • Wyoming
  • Alaska
  • Washington

As you can see from the breadth of states who have passed these measures, this is largely a bi-partisan issue.

And while the language varies widely, some states make it quite clear that indemnity provisions in contracts that allow an indemnified party to escape responsibility for damages resulting from its own negligence are strictly prohibited.

The Last Word

What’s the moral of the story here? Trucking Companies should carefully consider which state’s law they want to apply to their transportation contract. Parties entering a transportation agreement would be wise to utilize a statute that allows them to craft a favorable indemnification term.

Today, one way companies do this is through utilizing a global trade management software. A visionary fleet will take a software investment and utilize it to give themselves a strategic advantage.

Global trade management software allows you to tap into the potential of the digital age and craft contracts that won’t leave you on the wrong end of an agreement. Trucking Companies now offer software packages that allow them to request contracts built on their own terms.

The fact is, this isn’t a problem that’s going away any time. So how does your fleet plan to address indemnification terms that aren’t in your bottom line’s best interest?

New Self-Driving Rules And An Automated Beer Run

You have heard that the Uber-acquired self-driving truck startup delivered 51 cases of Budweiser in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Leaving Fort Collins before dawn, the truck managed to navigate its way through downtown Denver and then on to Colorado Springs.

The Volvo truck utilizes different cameras, including radar, lidar and other advanced software augments to see the road and track objects around the vehicle. The automated system in this test run controlled the truck’s acceleration, braking and steering.

The only human intervention required was when the truck was driven onto the interstate and when it exited the interstate. Otherwise, the truck driver sat in the cab and monitored the system as it worked. Even though the truck mostly drove itself, take note that a truck driver was still required. In a future of semi-autonomous rigs, imagine the truck driver as a co-pilot to the software.

With states like Nevada and Colorado opening their roads to this kind of testing, expect to see many more pilots like this to come. So how will the Department of Transportation (DOT) respond as semi-autonomous become more prevalent, both in testing and on the road?

Rules and Regulations

On September 20, the DOT issued a regulatory framework for manufacturers, entitled the Federal Automated Vehicles Policy, where semi-autonomous vehicles are concerned. The framework is designed to be adopted by both state regulators and industry players and governs both the development and deployment of autonomous cars and trucks.

Considering both traditional manufacturers and tech giants are increasingly partnering up and getting closer to bringing this technology to bear, it’s no surprise that the DOT is finally weighing in.

The document they issued on September 20th consists of a 114-page document that the DOT will accept public comment on for 60 days from the date of publication. Distilled down into its basic components, the document intends to set safety standards and help guide a unified national policy framework on how autonomous vehicles will be developed and driven.

What’s in the Details?

The proposed guidelines do several important things. First, they suggest a 15-point safety assessment. This assessment will need to be completed at the manufacturer and submitted to the DOT showing how their vehicles meet specified requirements concerning crashworthiness, privacy, safety systems and more.

The fact is this: Automated vehicles have the potential to add a whole new level of safety on the road without negatively impacting trucking jobs. To highlight this fact, the DOT noted in their release that out of over 35,000 people killed in the U.S. last year in car accidents, the clear majority of them were a result of “human error.”

The DOT is also moving beyond initial safety assessment and basic regulations. They have also set roles relative to how federal and state agencies will handle semi-autonomous trucks traveling over interstate highways. The federal government has (no surprise here) reserved the right to retain control over setting standards and compliance goals.

The states will be responsible for licensing those driving semi-autonomous trucks and registering the rigs. They will also handle enforcement and inspections.

A New Advisory Committee

The newest development comes in the form of an advisory committee set up by the DOT. Per Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, the committee will handle information gathering, develop technical advice and present recommendations. Their work will cover autonomous vehicles, smart roads and highways and enhanced freight movement.

The DOT is looking for 15 people to serve on the committee, preferably those with cross-modal perspectives. They will be looking for thoughts on robotics, intelligent systems, and advanced technology deployment.

Committee members will serve a 2-year term. Of course, the DOT will be selecting these individuals, but members can be nominated through a transparent process. If you are interested in nominating yourself or someone else, get in contact with automation@dot.gov.

Trucker Drivers: Your Rig May Be Nice, But Is It Clean?

We wanted to look at a not-oft-talked-about aspect of driving a large commercial motor vehicle, and that’s its cleanliness. Whether you are an enterprising owner-operator or a conscientious fleet manager, you realize that your rig is a rolling billboard for your business.

Whether goods were being hauled in a horse-drawn carriage or a Class 8 big rig, how they looked was a direct representation of the company carrying those goods. Colorful, clean vehicles portray a clean, positive image of a fleet and its services. The opposite can be true if the vehicle is dirty or damaged. Which message would you want your truck to convey?

Another thing to consider that this goes beyond public perception. Consider that a dirty truck is quite literally a rolling bullseye for DOT officers. Whether it is true or not, they automatically assume that a dirty truck is likely also a poorly maintained truck. Of course, you’ll never get that on record, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

When you are investing in fleet maintenance there are three considerations you should make. Keep the following in mind:

  • Brand appeal
  • Safety
  • Resale value

How your vehicle appears has a direct impact on these goals. Most of all, showing your fleet in a positive light is the most impactful of all three aspects. Your brand appeal is very important.

Product Improvements and Corrosion

If your vehicle’s finish is not properly maintained, you will find the clarity of the paint fading over time. This leads to a direct decrease in the vehicle’s resale value. Keeping the finish clean not only helps it look better, but it will keep the vehicle from developing a dull, faded look over time.

The industry has also evolved quite a bit in the modern age. Where paints used to be prone to fading and ‘chalking’ as they refer to it, now they last quite a bit longer without losing a significant amount of their luster.

Still, even the best paint can’t withstand an onslaught of corrosion, brought about by road chemicals. A vehicle’s first line of defense against the serious effects of chemical corrosion eating away at the vehicle is its cleanliness.

The consequences of failing to keep your vehicle clean from a corrosion standpoint are dire indeed. This goes far beyond failing paint, it’s not unheard of for an oil pan to drop off or a radiator to internally rot away. From electrical wiring to other critical components, corrosion is a killer.

Practicing Preventative Maintenance

Making sure your vehicle is clean is as much about how it looks as it is about preventative maintenance. Regular washes and wax jobs need to be considered a part of a consistent maintenance program.

Do you have a wash bay at your facility? If you are an owner-operator, when was the last time you visited the wash bay? Have you considered hiring an outside company to keep your trucks clean?

Today, there are products that offer solutions to different levels of cleaning and maintenance, along with detailed step-by-step procedures on how to use them.

Additionally, you should make sure you are assigning a timeline to your washing schedule. When it comes to washing, waxing, polishing and cleaning the interior and exterior surfaces, think on a monthly or bi-monthly basis.

Of course, one consideration is that of frequency of use and geography. Vehicles operating in the Northeast needs special attention paid to road chemicals and frequent washing. Conversely, regional haulers who spend a significant time at idle may need less special care.

Always remember, your truck represents your fleet out on the open road. How it looks is as much about how you present yourself as it is about how safe and reliable are your vehicles are on the road.

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