Efficiency and ease of operation remain primary considerations for heavy vehicle operators whose tasks are many and enduring in a society so currently reliant on their safe arrivals and departures.
While the exceeding prioritisation of best practice management in road transport operations has been greatly beneficial to driver health it has also brought with it fleet efficiencies thanks to reductions in disruptive events like the unsuccessful coupling of trailers.
Dropped loads can cost thousands of dollars and as commercial vehicle equipment specialist, SAF-Holland, recognises, there’s no room for failure. With better safety also comes a healthier bottom line. To help promote consistent and thorough driver coupling inspections, it offers a fifth wheel coupling assistant it calls ELI-te, an abbreviation for electronic lock indicator — technology enhanced.
It offers a significant advantage to fleets looking to provide their drivers with user friendly assistance that enhances coupling efficiency, driver confidence and safety.
The optional system, offered on the popular FW35 series of Holland fifth wheels, is highly versatile. At present it can be supplied as factory fit on the new FW351. The FW331 fifth wheels are also part of a retrofit kit that includes instruction manual, drilling template, drill bits and ELI-te system components.
Dyers first trialled the technology on a couple of units in 2018. Soon welcomed by the drivers it was initially foisted upon, ELI-te later became a mandatory tool to augment driver safety protocols according to Dyers Workshop Manager Troy Malcholm.
“It was originally adopted by us here for the drivers so that if there was a safety issue they’d soon know about it,” he says. “Once they all got used to it they started bringing it up in conversation and they certainly noticed, during the initial introductory phase, its absence.”
Based in the Gippsland region of Victoria, Dyers has installed the ELI-te across its entire operation. Since 1997 the company has increased its contract distribution fleet to 150 dedicated trucks across three states.
A preferred carrier for the likes of IGA and Foodland, its Bairnsdale-based operations run primarily DAF commercial vehicles fulfilling demanding cold chain orders for supermarkets as a direct result of the forced closure of many restaurants, bistros and pub dining rooms under social distancing regulations.
Like most transport companies currently operating on the surging grocery supply chain, Dyers has never been busier.
No Christmas peak, at least in recent memory, can rival the sheer scale of pressures derived from the COVID-19 pandemic, which has many freight specialists stretched thin. Under these circumstances the entire supply chain is put under additional pressure.
Even more reason then, at this sustained pace, for safety procedures to be adhered to closely including trailer coupling, a routine which must be completed daily, often multiple times.
“The ELI-te provides an extra situational awareness that is always welcome in this line of work where everyone is so pressed for time. Especially given how busy things have gotten in recent weeks with the current situation,” says Troy.
Gone are the days with which a driver points a flashlight to validate the coupling. When the kingpin is properly seeded in the fifth wheels lock jaws, ELI-te shines four glowing white LED lights into the lock.
This assists the driver in confirming the connection is solid and secure. These high-intensity LED lights are strategically aimed at the kingpin and lock for enhanced visibility during the inspection process, especially in poor weather and low-light conditions.
Red lights, however, flash on the side of the coupling to assist the driver in quickly recognising what might be a potentially costly mistake before attempting a tug test or driving away.
As it helps prevent potential mistakes before they happen, the ELI-te system also increases confidence levels of drivers who are often required do to much more than just drive busy schedules.
For Dyers the ELI-te forms part of a three-check system required of all drivers at the point of departure.
“It serves as one of the preventative measures we have put in place and invested in,” says Troy. “The more back-ups and risk mitigation we can introduce to our trailer coupling the better. If it’s better for our drivers then its better, in all likelihood, for the business.”
Dyers has not shirked on their investment either having decided last month to install ELI-te on it’s A-trailers going forward.
“The first two of these are now in operation and we’re working through some design elements with regard to power and exhaust for the moment,” Troy says. “ELI-te functions as part of our overarching goal to create further awareness among staff and drivers across the organisation in accident prevention. It’s another simple-to-use safety aspect for the driver in his pretrips.”
Just as the LED lights and sensors are strategically positioned under the top plate for maximum function, reliability and protection, all of the electronics are mounted on the fifth wheel itself.
The sealed one-piece harness connects the LED lamps, cables, sensors and logic module and the entire system is joined to the prime mover through a simple one cable connection.
Dyers favours DAF commercial vehicles in its refrigeration applications. Reduced repair costs remain one of the key factors for Troy who confirms the business has recently ordered nine of the new Euro 6 DAF trucks from the Gippsland Truck Centre. Their arrival is imminent.
“We’ve always gone with DAF. From a costing side we like their value proposition and new generation offering is replete with the latest safety features which we highly value.”
The ELI-te option for the FW35 series requires minimal maintenance and is backed, according to SAF-Holland by a 2-year warranty.
With scalable connectivity for local or remote performance monitoring, SAF-Holland’s fifth wheel assistant, what’s more, permits the user to expand the system capabilities and includes the likes of audible alerts and GPS, dash cam or telematics integration.
Trend analyses also offers actionable data for informed fleets such as Dyers.
Built to withstand real world environments so that the circuitry and components are not impacted by the grease contamination that affect common sensors, ELI-te is a robust system according to Troy.
“We’ve found it extremely reliable,” he says. “All of our trucks have it fitted now regardless.”
Rare incidents of a failed coupling have dropped in step with its use across the fleet. Troy says it has assisted in making operations more productive.
“Less accidents naturally mean less costs,” he says.