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One challenge is to seamlessly get many sensordriven components supplied by various component manufacturers to work together in a single system within a trailer Photo Sean KilcarrAmerican Trucker
<p>One challenge is to seamlessly get many sensor-driven components supplied by various component manufacturers to work together in a single system within a trailer. (<em>Photo: Sean Kilcarr/American Trucker</em>)</p>

Why trailers need to become smarter

A supplier’s view of why trailers need more connectivity, security, and tracking capabilities.

Rob Phillips, president and COO of Phillips Industries, will tell you that trailers can no longer be an afterthought in the trucking industry.

With cargo thieves targeting loads with higher values, the need for more security is growing. With e-commerce helping to both increase freight demand and at the same time placing new business pressures on truckers large and small, trailer uptime is becoming more critical.

There’s also a productivity issue to be addressed as well when it comes to trailers – especially in cases where a truckers mistakenly hooks up to the wrong trailer in a crowded freight yard and hauls it 400 miles down the road before realizing the error.

Those, then, are just some of the many trailer-related issues Phillips expects new technology to help solve in the near future – technology that will on the one hand provider greater security for both the trailer and its cargo, while at the same time producing more detailed “real-time” data to make trailers more productive assets.

“There’s a lot of complexity when it comes to geofencing strategies, for example” he told American Trucker. “Trailers are moved around [freight yards] and distribution centers a lot. You don’t want to force drivers to enter in security codes every time they shift a trailer from one dock to another.”

There’s also the issue of “customization” to address as well, for some truckers want the pieces of critical tracking technology placed in the nose of their trailers for easy serving, while others want such systems “hidden” from the eyes of potential thieves and ne’er do wells.

“You want a system that offers a ‘simple solution’ in terms of the hardware that’s used; a system that is robust; and one’s that not a killer to install, too,” Phillips said.

That’s one reason his family’s company launched a new division earlier this year – Phillips Connect Technologies (PCT) – to tap into patent-pending “plug and play connectivity,” combined with an “open platform” design, in order to seamlessly get many sensor-driven components supplied by various component manufacturers to work together in a single system.

“We’ve been working for several years to develop this; to figure out ways to help make the industry safer and more efficient,” he said.

One facet of that effort is Connect:Security – a patented trailer lock-down system aims to stops theft by locking the air brakes on a trailer when power is disconnected from the tractor.

In order to release the brakes and pull the trailer, a PIN code from dispatch has to be keyed in from a smart device to a control box designed by PCT.

Other items in this package include remote trailer door lock/unlock as well as a theft-deterrent video surveillance system, Phillips noted.

Right now the company is beta testing this system, with plans to commercially launch it in 2018.

“We’re building prototypes and testing them because you can’t push technology like this too fast,” he stressed. “It needs to work, with a fair amount of redundancy built in, so it doesn’t ‘lock up’ the trailer at the wrong moment. It also must be easier to fix and be easy to use for tracking when triggered. But in the end it means more security against cargo theft.”

Phillips also recently partnered with Velvac’s Road iQ subsidiary to collaborate on a new offering called TrailerLink – a connectivity solution designed to support trailer-to-tractor video and data communications.

The system augments the traditional tractor-trailer 7-pin electrical connection with an additional 15-pin cable connection. When combined with Phillips’ trailer-mounted dual nosebox and additional tractor-mounted tail box, it offers a more secure real-time video and data connection between tractor and trailer, he noted.

More importantly, it provides connectivity that is immune to the noise, interference, and latency concerns associated with other data transmission approaches, Phillips said.

“Pairing trailer cameras via Wi-Fi to a driver’s smart-devices isn’t easy or reliable, and light-duty coiled cables struggle to do the trick,” he explained. “TrailerLink is designed specifically for sending high-speed and noise-free video data from the trailer to the driver.”

Phillips also pointed out that the initial release of TrailerLink will support the connection of up to four exterior or interior trailer-mounted cameras to displays and recording devices in the tractor, with its “open architecture” designed to support current industry standard data and video signals as well as lay the groundwork for adapting to future communication protocols.

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