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Manitoba panel tackles challenge of new tech

Posted: April 11, 2017

WINNIPEG, MB – Technology is often developed to make a process simpler, more efficient or safer, but staying up to date with the trucking industry’s latest advancements can often leave carriers frustrated. As technology continues to rapidly develop, fleets have to educate themselves on new technological capabilities but also look deeper into what the technology will do for their company.

“We’re finding that we have to quickly gain knowledge on how [technology] works,” says Trent Siemens, director of maintenance for Paul’s Hauling and general manager of Oak Point Service. “As a fleet manager, you’re bombarded with products that are ‘going to save us a fortune, make life easier, make us safer.'”

The challenge is finding the products that will truly deliver.  

He said fleets have to ask themselves: Is it really going to return on that investment? Do you really believe it? Or are you just attracted to it because it’s shiny? “You have to do your own evaluation,” he says. The returns promised by suppliers or vendors are not enough.

It was a common theme that emerged at the Manitoba Trucking Association’s annual meeting during a panel discussion on major technological changes.

According to Steve Matson, senior technical sales representative with Detroit Diesel Corporation, it can even be tough for those on the manufacturing side to predict what technologies will emerge. “We got trucks now that are cruising at 1100 RPM (Revolutions Per Minute) which was unheard of five years ago,” he said as an example.  

Steve Orbanski, equipment acquisition and innovation manager with Bison Transport, said some new components involve greater changes than others… and often patience.

LED lights, sealed wiring harnesses and corrosion inhibitors were some of the simpler technologies for fleets to adopt, but Orbanski said automated transmissions initially caused many headaches due to the added maintenance costs and driver development. Still, the short-term pain can offer long-term gains.

“There’s a lot of investment that goes into pursuing these technologies, but the payback is huge,” he said. It’s not only about the bottom line, but also driver retention, satisfaction, and safety enhancements.

Randy Fleming, district sales manager with Volvo Trucks Canada, acknowledged the challenge fleets face in their attempts to keep up with the rapid pace of development.

“There are a lot of technologies coming at us,” he said, adding that manufacturers themselves have had no choice but to embrace technologies that have changed the industry forever. Some offer benefits to society and the environment as well as the industry itself.

“Right now, with collision mitigation systems, we can reduce braking time from what was 1.5 second response, all the way down to 0.03 seconds. That will save lives,” he said. Platooning, meanwhile, offers the financial benefits of fuel savings as well as environmental benefits.

Still, Siemens is cautious when approaching technologies because of the troublesome experience with aftertreatment systems. There can simply be early growing pains to be overcome.

“When it comes to autonomous vehicles, I’ve had such a strong internal struggle,” Siemens said. “Yes, [after-treatment systems] are complex, but not as complex as autonomous [technology] … We’re talking about strapping 60, 80, or 100,000 pounds to a vehicle that’s going to be unmanned?”

While some applications are only visionary today, however, Fleming does see a use for the technology in the future. Consider the time a truck currently sits idle because of Hours of Service regulations, he said. The technology might offer an answer that is only available with team drivers today.

Orbanski referred to the hiccups that can occur in everyday technology. Consider the consequences that would come with malfunctions during platooning, especially with something like Long Combinations Vehicles that have already proven to be safe.

But technologies evolve. When they do, fleets need to consider how to get the most out of it. Matson, for example, stresses that many carriers don’t take advantage of the real-time data now available through Electronic Control Modules.

“In my opinion you need a dedicated person or dedicated people to interpret this data and in turn do something with it,” he said. “I can tell you the fleets that do have people managing this data, they have more fuel-efficient operations, more fuel-efficient trucks and most importantly, they made their safety more efficient.”

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