Trailers are far more likely to be regarded as mere rolling-stock, anonymous when they are working correctly and a nuisance when they are not.
That might be a view which is widespread across the industry, but it’s not one which is shared by the traffic commissioners. In their annual report for 2020/21, the English TCs noted a sharp increase in operators offering traction services to forwarders and internet retailers, driven by Brexit and the rise in online shopping, and warned that traction operations posed a compliance challenge to both the traction provider and the trailer operator.
While the trailer owner is normally responsible for routine maintenance, including safety inspections, traffic commissioners stress that the operator must comply with the obligations of the operator’s licence, which extend to the trailer, whilst it is being used by them, the report warns.
The TCs expect trailer fleets and traction operators to “work together to ensure the roadworthiness of the trailer. The operator should take a risk-based approach to ensure the trailer’s maintenance arrangements comply with their own schedule of maintenance and inspections, including regular brake testing,” they wrote.
Leasing company TIP believes it has a solution that allows all interested parties to ensure that trailers have been maintained in a safe condition. The multinational company owns over 4,000 trailers in the hands of customers in the UK, part of a European fleet of 14,000, plus 21 workshops in the UK and Ireland.
Previously it used a simple tracking system to locate its assets and monitor their mileage. But in 2020 this was updated to become TIP Insight, and now covers many aspects of trailer condition and position, including harvesting data from the ABS system regarding brake condition and efficiency, and using tyre-pressure and temperature sensors to warn of leaking tyres, failing wheel bearings and overheating brakes, in addition to GPS location. The information is shared with the operator.
Ian Edmundson, the company’s marketing manager for UK and Ireland, says: “Ultimately it will cover our entire fleet or thereabouts, plus customer-owned assets that we look after.”
Cost-savings are considerable, although difficult to quantify, Edmundson admits.
Data can highlight individual driver behaviour: a higher-than-normal incidence of harsh braking could indicate poor anticipation. It can also detect trailer overloading: in both cases, if uncorrected, these will lead to greater wear and tear on trailer and tractor unit.
The data harvested from the growing number of TIP assets covered by TIP Insight can be compared with real-life experience to establish “not just where the trailer is, but how the trailer is,” he adds.
These means that reactive maintenance to replace failed components becomes predictive: a technician can not only replace worn or defective parts, but also have a good idea of what other components might require attention before the trailer’s next inspection and act accordingly.
A manifestation of this is the BrakePlus feature monitoring trailer brake performance. It sounds alerts if a brake’s performance declines, and is said to be an acceptable substitute for a brake roller test.