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Re-Evaluating Your Fleet’s Braking Systems – Are ADBs The Answer?

If there’s one thing that any professional truck driver will tell you they must rely on the most it’s their braking system. They have full control over their speed and maneuvering, but when it comes to coming to a stop, they need to be able to count on their brakes to come through in a literal pinch of the pedal.

Not only are braking systems important to your truck driver, advanced stability control and collision mitigation systems increasingly depend on a fully functional braking system in order to perform. The fact is, advanced safety systems are only as good as the brakes they rely on to stop the truck.

That’s why it’s important that your fleet technicians understand the importance of maintaining their braking systems. Poorly maintained foundation brakes relying on inadequate friction material will not only compromise an advanced safety system but put your truck drivers and those on the roads around them at grave risk.

Linking Brakes to Advanced Safety Systems

Consider that today’s advanced stability control systems rely on a variety of sensor inputs and then use algorithms to make split second decisions on whether to intervene in a potential loss-of-control incident.

When a truck triggers a specific action within the safety system, that system must be able to rely on a good set of brakes to respond to the command and deliver as much braking power as required to alter the outcome of a potentially disastrous situation. If the brakes aren’t up to snuff, neither you nor your truck driver will be able to fully rely on the truck’s safety system to do its job when required.

Why put all that money into an advanced safety system if you aren’t maintaining one of the foundation components that ensure the safety system functions properly.

Whether you’re talking about electronic roll stability, managed stability control, or advanced wingman systems, they all are built around one specific component: Your brakes.

While these systems can handle expected wear-and-tear on your braking systems, if brake parts seize up, there are bad electrical connections or a choked air supply, a lot can go wrong. As a matter of fact, these systems can prove a safety detriment if something as critical as your brakes aren’t functioning properly.

What Not To Do and Managing Expectations

Obviously, the last thing you want to do is undermine your fleet’s safety system performance by spec’ing a non-OEM recommended friction material or failing to reline or change the pad at the appropriate time.

If you are deciding to save a few bucks by switching to a non-reduced stopping distance (RSD) certified braking material, you could be shaving a good 100 feet or more off your vehicle’s stopping distance. Certainly, this is no small amount.

Of course, installing aftermarket brakes at particular service intervals is nothing new for your average fleet. In the past, this was seen as a minor problem, rather than a critical discrepancy. That was then and this is now.

Now that we must rely on advanced safety systems to stop the truck, even the slightest difference in stopping power could compromise a system your truckers rely on.

Even if you only have to rely on that system to prevent one accident over its entire lifetime, then it’s paid for itself. Do you really want to lose that critical ROI, and find yourself on the wrong end of an accident report – simply because you weren’t keeping a closer eye on your braking system.

To expect a certain level of performance from your advanced safety systems and truck driver training programs, you need to make sure the rest of your system is kept up, as well.

And don’t think we’re only referring to legacy disc brakes. You need to be thinking the exact same way for pads on air disc brakes. Remember, aftermarket parts rarely undergo the same level of testing as OEM-recommended parts.

While we’re not saying aftermarket parts can’t be relied on, and in almost all cases don’t perform their function admirably, if there’s one part of your safety system that you must be able to rely on at all times, and should take no chances on, it’s the friction material underpinning your braking system.

Paying Attention to The ADB Market

Any fleet owner or shop technician will tell you, air disc brakes (ADBs) are gaining ground. As of today, ADBs are not installed on 27 percent of all tractors and 20 percent of all trailers. While some are still resistance to the change – certainly there is a cost component – the benefits far outweigh the costs, and the ROI makes itself clear in the long run.

One reason why ADBs have been increasing in popularity is their corrosion resistance. De-icing chemicals used on today’s roads can have a negative impact on overall brake maintenance.

From brake show rust-jacking to clevis pins seizing up; from cam bushing issues to slack adjuster breakage – winter weather can cause serious problems for fleets using legacy braking systems.

States have also begun using new chemicals, of the type that cause greater corrosion. One large truck operator saw a lot more repair tickets come in than in past years once new de-icing components came into use.

The areas worst hit, and where fleets are increasingly making the ABS switch, is in the Midwest through the Northeast, from Maine across the Great Lakes region to Minnesota.

What Makes ADBs Different

Once motor carriers operating in snow-covered regions make the switch to ADB braking systems, they almost immediately see a large reduction in vehicle down-time. Less down-time means greater up-time, more efficient delivery schedules, and a fatter bottom line. The positive effects trickle on down from top to bottom.

The difference between drums and air discs lies mainly in the S-cam braking components. While some fleets opt to go with a split system with ABS systems in the front and wide-block drums in the back, this still leaves some braking systems vulnerable to corrosion.

While hybrid systems may save money in the short term, long-term corrosion resistance may wind up being the better way to go. A reduction in overall maintenance costs compounds over time, rather than a quick gain up-front by going with a cheaper option.

Considering the Cost and Weight Advantage

Another area to consider when evaluating your brake system is both cost and weight. In the beginning, ADBs suffered from both increased cost and greater weight, but over time, as the systems have matured, the cost/weight problem is beginning to change.

While fleets still face a larger upfront charge to go with the ADB option, when you factor in lifecycle costs, the higher price you pay levels out, and even pays you back, in the long run.

Higher upfront costs are easily mitigated by lower maintenance costs depending on where you are operating in the country. As brake producers continue to modify their pad formulations, you can also expect to see higher surface areas and longer lives for the pads currently in use.

Newer ADB models offer up to 2 mm of additional wearable lining while still increasing overall wearable volume by 8 percent. Those numbers may be small, but when compared to past variants, you’re talking a 40 percent improvement over previous pad formulations.

Also consider that ADB friction pad life as it stands now is already a full one-and-a-half times better than that offered by standard drum friction foundations. When you consider these facts, fleets can expect to – at the minimum – reach break-even on their ADB investment if not blow completely past it.

Even More Reasons to Make the Switch

While we’ve offered you a huge reason to pay close attention to your braking system, and perhaps consider an ADB option – there are even more to consider.

Unlike legacy drum brakes, new ADB variants can respond to a signal sent by the controller and the brakes will respond accordingly.

Technology has come such a long way, that your braking system is no longer a simple matter of hydraulics and a pedal. The end user – you, the fleet – need to ensure you are utilizing a system that both stands up to the test of time and elements, but also speaks to your advanced safety system.

Manufacturers are even moving towards an electronic model, rather than the standard pneumatic actuation system. These systems also keep trailers in mind. A line could be run between tractor and trailer to connect the braking communication systems between the two.

Or a LAN box could be used for nanosecond-scale braking communication. Still, wireless signals are subject to security concerns, such as hacking and lockouts.

Still, there is a federal requirement in place mandating a fully redundant air system alongside a brake-by-wire system, which could complicate matters on the carrier cost side.

In the end, the most important thing is to ensure your braking system is in proper working order and communicates well with the rest of your integrated safety system. Without a good friction foundation, you may not be able to rely on components your truck drivers will need in a time of crisis.

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