TRAILER COUPLING MADE EASY

September 9, 2015 Vol. 12 No. 18

The linking of tractor and trailer doesn't get a lot of attention, and maybe that's no surprise. It's a simple operation, after all, and the mechanical bits are themselves something less than complex. Fifth-wheel makers have refined the technology over the years and development is more or less continuous, but most truck buyers don't think too much about it. They don't really have to.

And I'd guess they think not at all about the other key part of this equation: the kingpin. What's to improve? 

Well, if you ask a small but successful company in Quebec, you'll find out that there really is a better mousetrap.

Rotavan is that company and its product is the new RG-3 swivelling coupling system, which replaces a standard kingpin affair. As the name suggests, this is a third-generation product, with different configurations for specific applications.

And how does it work? Its key feature is a rotating swivel base or turntable, unique in the trucking world, which greatly reduces friction between parts, thereby improving control of the vehicle. It sports a patented, internally lubricated system that allows for smooth rotation.

By all accounts drivers love it for the way it improves handling and delivers both more flexibility and better control, not to mention a new precision.

Company chief Jacques Marquis, one of the nicest guys you'll meet anywhere, says the swivelling system provides "unmatched maneuverabilty" and "unprecedented driving control".

And that translates into improved safety, he adds, because friction between a conventional fifth-wheel-and-kingpin setup can cause a loss of control, skids, and accidents. The Rotavan RG-3 swivel-based system eliminates friction almost entirely and can prevent jackknifing.

It also eliminates lateral wear on steer tires, says Marquis, and extends the life of coupling and steering parts. Steer-tire expenses can be cut in half over a 6-year period, he says. 

 
 
 

The company claims another advantage in extended service life of coupling components, up to twice the norm, thus reducing operating and maintenance costs and chopping downtime as well. It further claims extended trailer life and return on investment in less than a year.

AMONG THE IMPROVEMENTS in the latest RG-3 model, both installation and maintenance have been much simplified. Its new bolted housing means carriers can do all their own maintenance. At 72 lb, it's also been made very light. And new materials have dramatically reduced friction between coupling components.

The RG-3 comes with a 6-year warranty.

 Rotavan's RG-3 swivelling coupling system
 Rotavan's RG-3 swivelling coupling system
I knew nothing about Rotavan before meeting Marquis in his busy booth at our Expocam truck show in Montreal, QC a few months back. Right away I was intrigued by his unique product and spent the better part of an hour talking with him -- his English is a lot better than my French but it was a somewhat choppy chat. At that point, if I remember correctly, there wasn't an English version of the company's website. There is now.

And that explains in part why I hadn't heard of the outfit before, and why you most likely haven't either.

Rotavan is based in the small city of Rimouski in the Bas-Saint-Laurent region of Quebec about 5 hours east of Montreal, a relentlessly French part of the province. It has a population of just under 50,000. Marketing to the rest of Canada and especially to North America at large is hard enough if your first language is English and your office is in Toronto, but it must be 100 times harder -- and very, very intimidating -- to do it from a little place in eastern Quebec.

Trucking is a major player there, however, and has obviously been able to sustain Rotavan through its coupling system's development over the course of 20 years. Now with a mature and much improved product to sell, Marquis thinks it's time to go big.

BRAKE SAFETY WEEK is in progress now, running to Sept. 12, and I could hardly avoid a few words on the subject. The event, organized by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA), sees law enforcement agencies conducting brake system inspections on large trucks and buses across North America..

The event is an annual outreach and enforcement campaign, involving local, state, provincial, territorial, and federal motor carrier safety officials and trucking industry representatives from Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.

According to CVSA, brake-related violations made up the largest number of all out-of-service violations cited during Operation Airbrake’s companion International Roadcheck campaign in 2014, 46.2%, which is focused on both vehicles and drivers. Improperly installed or poorly maintained brake systems can reduce the braking capacity and increase stopping distance of trucks and buses, which pose serious risks to driver and public safety

Inspections conducted during Brake Safety Week include inspection of brake-system components to identify loose or missing parts, air or hydraulic fluid leaks, worn linings, pads, drums or rotors, and other faulty brake-system components. Antilock braking system (ABS) malfunction indicator lamps also are checked. Inspectors will inspect brake components and measure pushrod stroke where applicable. Defective or out-of-adjustment brakes will result in the vehicle being placed out of service. Read more about CVSA's inspection procedures here.



 Brake Safety Week is happening now across North America
 Brake Safety Week is happening now across North America
Additional inspections may include some Level I Inspections and in the 10 jurisdictions currently using performance-based brake testing equipment, overall vehicle braking efficiency will be measured. These systems include a slow speed roller dynamometer that measures total vehicle weight and total brake force from which braking efficiency is determined.

Last year, inspectors from participating agencies inspected 13,305 vehicles during Brake Safety Week and placed 2,162 commercial vehicles out of service (OOS) for brake violations. Of the vehicles inspected, the OOS rate for all brake-related violations conducted in North America was 16.2%, compared with 13.5% for the 2013 event. The OOS rate for brake adjustment was 10.4, and the OOS rate for brake components was 9.3%.  



BIG CONGRATS TO ZF on its 100th birthday, which is actually today.

Founded and still based in the German city of Friedrichshafen at LakeConstance, with Switzerland a boat ride away, in 1915 it was known as 'Zahnradfabrik GmbH'. Known now as ZF Friedrichshafen AG, it developed from an aviation specialist with regional roots to an international technology company active on the global mobility markets. And even in Formula One racing.

In its anniversary year, ZF has become one of the top 3 global automotive suppliers with its purchase last September of the American company TRW. That created a company with sales volume of over US$41 billion and about 138,000 employees. The ZF Group, supplemented by TRW, now offers a very comprehensive and complementary product portfolio in the areas of driveline and chassis technology, safety and electronic systems, and it will have a regionally-balanced product line in both the volume and the premium segments.

Back in 1915 Friedrichshafen was a technology park for the aviation industry. The new company mainly focused on the development, testing, and manufacturing of

transmissions for airships and airplanes. Its gear-making prowess enabled the company after 1919 to cover the demand for more silent and user-friendly transmissions for automobiles. ZF became a supplier to the automotive industry. It still serves both markets today, as well as many others.

Its constant engineering innovations led to success and allowed the company to overcome early financial challenges and got it through the Great Depression after 1929.

The transfer of technology in as many application fields as possible became ZF's trademark in those first decades. Thus it tapped new market segments in the 1920s and particularly in the 1930s by introducing products for ships  and starting the production of farm-tractor transmissions. In 1932, ZF agreed with the U.S. company Ross to produce passenger cars and commercial vehicle steering systems for the European market under licence.

 ZF's Innovation Truck, operated remotely by a tablet
 ZF's Innovation Truck, operated remotely by a tablet
Production increased during World War II, of course. Transmissions and steering systems were still produced, but also vehicles used for military purposes and particularly tanks. At the end of the war the headquarters in Friedrichshafen were massively destroyed by Allied Forces, but production soon started again, and tractor transmissions for agricultural purposes were in great demand.

And then there was a new ownership structure -- it's no ordinary for-profit enterprise -- and the start of a long-running economic boom.

In 1950 the ownership of ZF was clarified for the long term: the Zeppelin foundation, administered by the City of Friedrichshafen since 1947, became the majority shareholder holding 89.8% of the shares, most of the rest owned by the family BrandensteinZeppelin. That foundation model is still effective today.

Apart from the tractor transmissions, constant-mesh transmissions for trucks and buses became very popular ZF products in the 1950s and ZF later added an increasing number of synchronized gears.

In 1958 the company established the first production location outside of Europe for an order by Mercedes-Benz in Brazil. Just as significantly that year it launched  a development program focusing mainly on hydrodynamic powershift transmissions. The same principle -- a torque converter in front of a transmission consisting of planetary gearsets - was used in Hydromedia transmissions for buses and rail vehicles and later also for passenger cars.

Fast-forward to the mid 1990s and we have ZF developing an automatic transmission system for trucks that was launched under the name of AS Tronic,  a resounding commercial success. Automatically keeping the engine in its most fuel-efficient speed range, hardly any manually shifting was required. The modern era had begun in earnest.

THE SHOWS AND CONFERENCES...

If you plan to be in Charlotte, NC next week -- on September 15 to be exact --  you might want to attend the Trucking Efficiency Workshop put on by the North American Council for Freight Efficiency. You'll hear industry leaders share their insights on some of the best technologies, as well as real-world examples of money saved by fleets. Better yet, the venue is the Hendrick Motorsports garage. The workshop will be complemented by exhibits of available technologies with manufacturers on hand for any questions. It's a one-day affair running from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm and costs just $50. See http://www.truckingefficiency.org/.

Also next week, body builders and vocational equipment manufacturers will have the chance to see the latest commercial chassis offerings from 13 leading OEMs at NTEA’s Truck Product Conference. On Sept. 15-17 at the Royal Dearborn Hotel & Convention Center in Dearborn, MI, this event provides the work truck industry with details on product updates critical to upfitting commercial vehicles. Discounted pricing ($119 for NTEA members and $219 for non-members) can be had on or before Friday, Aug. 28. After that date, it goes up to $149 for NTEA members and $249 for non-members. See ntea.com/truckproductconference or call 800-441-6832.

On September 21-24, the Technology and Maintenance Council 2015 Fall Meeting and National Technician Skills Competition takes place at the Walt Disney Swan and Dolphin Resort in Orlando, FL. Among the meeting's highlights will be a session entitled Upcoming Databus and Diagnostic Changes for Model Year 2016, put on by the S.12 Onboard Vehicle Electronics Study Group. Call TMC at 703-838-1763 for more info or visit www.trucking.org. You can register here.

THIS NEWSLETTER IS PUBLISHED every two weeks. For the most part it's a heads-up notice about what's going on with trucking technology. I also write here about interesting products that may not have had the 'air play' they deserved within the last few months, and maybe about issues that warrant attention in my occasionally humble opinion.

I should remind you that, with the odd exception, I don’t endorse any of the products I write about in this e-newsletter, nor do I have the resources to test them except on rare occasions. What you’re getting is reasonably well educated opinion based on more than 35 years in trucking.

If you have comments of whatever sort about The Lockwood Report, or maybe you've tried a gizmo I should know about, please contact me at rolf@newcom.ca

THE MAGAZINE

Today’s Trucking September 2015 is ready to read and enjoy online now!

Don’t miss the  special “15 Minutes a Day to Fitness” and a look at how private fleets are rising to some new challenges. Plus we’ve enlisted the wit and wisdom of veteran trucking entrepreneur Mike McCarron with his introductory column “Open Mike”.

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