Truck suppliers team up to tackle future trends
Industry Tier 1s are adapting to new electrification and autonomous driving requirements, which will shape the long-haul sector. By Freddie Holmes
Truck manufacturers have played a leading role in making the long-haul industry cleaner, safer and more productive. However, there is also a core supplier chain that has worked hard behind the scenes to turn innovative concepts into reality.
In order to manage the impact of autonomous driving and electrification in the truck industry, suppliers are working more closely. Joint efforts help share the R&D burden and, in the long run, should reduce time to market.
Continental, for example, has been working with Knorr-Bremse since 2018 to accelerate efforts on highly automated commercial vehicle systems. The latter brings its expertise in braking and steering, while Conti supplies sensors, central units and develops the human-machine interface (HMI). Peter Laier, President of Knorr-Bremse, recently said Automotive world how the company is repositioning itself to support the next generation of autonomous truck developers.
Partnerships have also been forged directly with car manufacturers, bringing them closer than a conventional supply contract could. Bosch has worked closely with Nikola, in which it has a minor stake, and in April 2021 formed a joint venture with Chinese utility vehicle (CV) maker Qingling Motors to co-develop fuel cell systems. “We are now literally accelerating the industrialization of the fuel cell,” said Stefan Hartung, Bosch board member at the time.
In some cases, strategic partnerships have not been enough, with full mergers taking place to bring new expertise and scale. Perhaps the most significant deal for the truck industry in recent years has been the successful acquisition of Wabco by ZF for US $ 7 billion in 2019. It has already proved successful, positioning ZF as a supplier. major (CV) of everything from stability control and electronic steering to the advanced driver. assistance systems (ADAS). ZF’s OnGuardMAX, for example, combines camera and radar sensors and allows the truck to react to possible collisions with other road users or pedestrians.
Electronic steering systems will prove to be important as autonomous trucks approach commercialization for obvious reasons.
For AEB to work, the truck needs powerful and mechanically reliable braking systems. A ZF spokesperson pointed to the vendor’s latest solutions, which also help solve the challenge of stopping more than 33,000 pounds of metal. These include new air disc brakes, delivered to first customers from January 2021, and a new brake actuator platform launched in May. Research by Bosch in 2018 found that up to 34% of all collisions caused by heavy trucks could be avoided by using AEB.
But a Class 8 tractor is not only difficult to stop, it is also difficult to maneuver. ZF aims to provide smoother and more precise steering through its ReAx electric steering unit, which the supplier claims can reduce driver fatigue over longer distances. New electronic steering systems will also prove to be important as autonomous trucks approach commercialization for obvious reasons. The ReAx system will underpin Locomation’s Level 4 autonomous driving system, which is expected to enter customer testing in late 2022.
From top to bottom
Long-haul trucking involves hauling as much freight as possible, without exceeding weight limits, in order to reduce the total number of trucks and trips required to get goods from A to B. As such, long-haul trucks usually have long trailers. In the United States, they are typically around 53 feet (16.5 meters) in length. In some areas such as Australia and South Africa, very long trailers are allowed, up to 50 meters. With increasing pressure on truck manufacturers to reduce vehicle emissions and improve safety, recent innovations have been made to improve braking and reduce aerodynamic drag.
Schmitz Cargobull, for example, worked on the EcoDuo system, which combines two trailers for additional transport capacity. Although such a combination is currently only permitted in Scandinavia, it has been tested in Spain and the Netherlands for deployment in other markets. “The EcoDuo system consists of two standard tarpaulin semi-trailers connected via a dolly trailer and coupled to a tractor,” said a spokesperson. “With the EcoDuo concept, Schmitz Cargobull advocates the European-wide introduction of a transport concept that reduces CO2 emissions… and can be ideally used in the long-haul sector.”
Seating innovations won’t make the headlines, but now they’re having a tangible impact on long-haul drivers
At the same time, a truck is not limited to the underlying mechanical systems. Inside the cockpit, progress has been made to ensure greater safety and comfort for drivers over long distances. As the industry grapples with an ongoing shortage of drivers, anything that makes the cabin more enjoyable could be a game-changer. Some vendors have offered visions of digital screens that scan the dashboard to place information in plain sight of drivers, reducing the time spent looking away from the road. Meanwhile, human-machine interface (HMI) specialist Preh has been working on new dashboard controls, including capacitive touchpads, gesture recognition, and haptic feedback, which could have a similar effect in eliminating the need to search for particular dials or switches.
Studies have also shown that a comfortable seat can have a significant impact on driver satisfaction. With hours behind the wheel, even small vibrations can cause discomfort. Clear Motion, which acquired the Active Motion Control division of Bose Corporation in 2017, has a specially designed seating system that adapts to road disturbances in real time, reducing driver fatigue. The active suspension seat is marketed under the banner: “Give yourself a break without taking it.” National Seating, a subsidiary of Tier 1 supplier Commercial Vehicle Group, also emphasizes the importance of dedicated CV seats with its mantra: “Tough jobs require harder seats.”
Seating innovations won’t grab the headlines and won’t have a big role to play in self-driving trucks. However, they are having a tangible impact on long-haul drivers today and for the foreseeable future.
I don’t go solo anymore
On paper, the changing demands of truck manufacturers are nothing new. Suppliers have always been driven to bring the latest innovations, not only at a sustained pace, but also in an affordable and sustainable manner. But with the next generation of automated and electric technologies requiring a complete overhaul of the vehicle, there is new leeway.
Electric powertrains, whether fuel cell or battery electric, represent drastic changes for powertrain suppliers, who have built their business around the internal combustion engine for decades. Safety specialists have also developed their expertise in electrically assisted steering and braking systems, but now need to think about how they will work as part of fully autonomous driving systems in the years to come.
Major Tier 1s in the truck industry have helped expand the functionality of modern trucks, but progress is not easy. With new towing partnerships and long-term investments in place, suppliers will continue to tackle the evolving trends that are occurring in the long-haul space.