The Top 10 trucking innovations of 2023

Sluggish freight volumes, rising costs, ongoing parts shortages and supply chain disruptions, and falling rates resulting from excess capacity defined the trucking industry in 2023. But if you’re looking to for a more positive recap of the year that was, then you’ve come to the right place.

Innovation was abundant in 2023. Technological advances are coming quickly, and many of them with the promise to address one of trucking’s most pressing challenges – decarbonization. Here we review the Top 10 trucking technologies that caught our eye in 2023.

Mack MD Electric
(Photo: James Menzies)

Mack’s Truck-as-a-Service

The concept of subscription-based pricing for commercial vehicles has been discussed for some time, but Mack Trucks is making it a reality. Starting this year in the U.S., Mack’s ElectriFi plan is an “all-inclusive, usage-based” financing model that brings predictability to the new frontier of electric commercial vehicles.

Rather than paying for the vehicle itself, customers will pay a fixed monthly rate based on their usage. The more heavily utilized the truck, the lower the monthly fee. It incentivizes utilization and allows fleets to overcome one of the greatest barriers to EV adoption – the unknown cost of operation. Plans of three to six years will be offered with the monthly fee adjusted automatically over the term of the contract based on usage. Mack plans to bring the service to Canada in the future, but hasn’t yet said when.

(Photo: James Menzies)

ZF’s electric motor, minus the rare earth metals

Sticking with the theme of electric vehicles, ZF has developed an electric motor that doesn’t contain magnets and thus can be built without rare earth metals. This, it claims, without compromising on performance. It’s a major breakthrough for the EV movement as rare earth metals are often mined under dubious conditions.

ZF says removing magnets from its electric motors will slash the overall carbon footprint of its electric motor production by 50%. “It’s a big step forward that’s going to help make e-mobility more sustainable,” said Martin Fischer, member of ZF’s board of management for the U.S., when displaying the motor at the IAA Mobility Show in Munich, Germany in September.

Affordable wireless charging for EVs

wireless charging pad

Toronto-based eLeapPower has combined multiple components to create a more economical form of wireless charging for electric vehicles, particularly trucks with limited space for standard chargers. The truck is positioned over top a floor pad during loading and unloading to be charged, allowing vehicles to be parked closer together or to charge at the dock. To date, wireless charging has been slow to catch on due to the cost, but eLeapPower’s design slashed the cost by 30%.

“Trucks back up to the conveyer, drivers load packages into the trucks. When the trucks are all lined up, they’re close together with not a ton of space between them. Where do you put your plug-in charger? You can’t put them at the rear because it becomes a tripping hazard. The idea is, we put the floor pads at the rear of the vehicles,” explained Brent Fitch, director of business development, who himself runs a final-mile truck fleet.

smart fifth wheel
(Photo: Fontaine Fifth Wheel)

A smarter fifth wheel

It seems everything on the truck and trailer is getting smarter, and now you can include the fifth wheel in that category. Fontaine Fifth Wheel has come out with the SmartConnect system that confirms it’s properly locked and notifies the fleet manager of potential maintenance requirements.

An indicator light notifies the driver of the fifth wheel’s locking status, the company says. And a flashing LED code notifies the driver when services is required. “Think of it as a fifth wheel with a brain,” suggested Juan Hernandez, vice-president, sales and marketing. “It utilizes advanced sensors to monitor the fifth wheel lock position every time you couple or de-couple from a trailer. By collecting and processing this data, it can accurately anticipate maintenance needs before problems surface.”

A smart kingpin, too

smart kingpin

What could go better with a smart fifth wheel than a smart kingpin? Anstee Indication Systems has developed just that, which it claims to be the first in the world. The kingpin detects wear and alerts vehicle owners when a critical threshold is reached, or when cracks or failures appear.

It’s a European invention, developed after a study found 15% of kingpins at two large European fleets were found to be unroadworthy, despite routine inspections. But it can be found here in Canada through Hayworth Equipment.

(Photo: P.S.I.)

Preventing wheel-end fires

Pressure Systems International (PSI) is famous for tracking tire inflation pressures and helping fleets to avoid tire blow-outs. Now it has come to market with the Digital ThermAlert sensor that also alerts drivers or maintenance managers to excessive wheel-end temperatures.

While ThermAlert itself isn’t new, it now communicates wheel-end temperatures in real-time through the TireView Live portal or integration with a compatible in-cab telematics platform, such as those offered by Road Ready or Clarience Technologies. Maintenance managers can also view historical wheel-end temperatures to identify problems such as dragged brakes or bearing issues.

Simplifying wheel-end installations

(Photo: Stemco)

Stemco’s new Auto-Torq axle fastener streamlines wheel-end installation by eliminating the need for special tools, including washers, clips, snap rings, screws, and keepers. The company says the system makes installation faster and easier, while applying the optimum clamp load on the bearing every time, which also extends bearing life.

“This is one of the most revolutionary products in our long history of innovation, and we are excited for the impact it will have on the industry,” said Chip Stuhr, vice-president and general manager of Stemco. Auto-Torq is compatible with all hub manufacturers.

Intelligent ERS dispatch

Some Canadian commercial tire dealers are working with Atrium Solutions to use artificial intelligence to provide faster, more accurate emergency roadside service (ERS). Both Tirecraft Atlantic Canada and Denray Tire announced plans this year to use the technology.

Atrium Solutions says its uses AI algorithms to reduce response times by as much as 90%. Help can be deployed within 60 seconds. The technology analyzes incoming service requests, identifies the most appropriate service provider, and dispatches them immediately, reducing response time and accuracy. No more being put on hold, dealing with automated attendants or poor call quality, or speaking to someone who doesn’t understand the business, Atrium promises.

Herd truck guard
(Photo: Herd)

A truck guard that costs…less?

In a year when everything seemed to get more expensive, Herd went back to the drawing board to design a less expensive front end protection system that costs significantly less money than previous versions. The Stealth Defender carries a MSRP of US$2,950, much less than the original Defender series guards, the company announced.

And it maintains a stylish appearance thanks to a satin finish and aluminum treatment. It also comes with the Slam Latch system Herd is famous for, offering easy access to the engine compartment for quicker inspections and maintenance.

Cooler telematics from Thermo King

Thermo King’s TracKing Pro telematics offering now incorporates machine learning so it can offer predictive maintenance reports, estimate fuel usage and improve fleet uptime. It’s a premium offering that provides an energy usage dashboard that highlights fuel consumption, electricity usage and opportunities to improve uptime.

Drawing from billions of weekly data points from Thermo King units, it provides predictive analytics on when failures may occur, giving fleets the opportunity to service the unit in the shop and not at roadside. It also provides benchmarking, so fleets can compare their own usage to that of other refrigerated carriers.

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James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 20 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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