Heavy truck braking: Latest developments

Braking is one of many priorities going through commercial fleet owners' minds at any given time, but an essential one. Ensuring that every truck a company owns has adequate brakes is a multi-step process that begins with purchasing the vehicles and encompasses maintenance and inspections. There are rules to comply with and new developments to consider, as well as serious potential consequences when problems occur.

The following are a few of the current events affecting the commercial vehicle braking picture, with a special emphasis on heavy trucking. This is just a sampling of the ideas animating every stakeholder in the industry, from the manufacturers creating vehicles and parts to the technicians keeping them on the road and the drivers behind the wheel.

Inspection bonanza sets a date
Keeping brakes in line with relevant regulations is one of the many priorities fleet owners have to manage. According to Overdrive, there will be a day in September dedicated to inspecting the brakes on a large number of vehicles, following an unannounced day of checks in May.

In previous years, the brake safety push occupied a week instead of a few days. No matter how the time is blocked out, officials tend to find a lot of braking problems serious enough to demand attention. In total, 4,000 vehicles were taken out of service for violations of all kinds in 2016's brake inspection blitz. As overdrive reported at the time, almost 2,400 of those had brake issues.

With brakes so important to trucks' safe operation, it's perhaps unsurprising that so many high-level violations are discovered. This simply underlines the fact that fleet owners and technicians should place a high priority on selecting and maintaining reliable brakes. The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance stated that during the 2016 International Roadcheck, 45.7 percent of all vehicles put out of service had braking violations, according to Overdrive.

Manufacturer commits to standard air disc brakes
In an effort to improve brake system life span and performance, manufacturers are committing to new technologies. According to Fleet Owner, air disc brakes will now be standard on Navistar's International LT Series of big rig tractors, on all axles. The manufacturer has pinned its hopes on these new brakes significantly cutting the stopping distance of its trucks, as well as holding up better over time.

Denny Mooney, International senior vice president of global product development stated that there are extra benefits to the use of air disc brakes instead of drum brakes, Fleet Owner reported. He suggested that the quicker pad change times required to maintain the former kind of brake will lead to reduced total cost of ownership, as trucks will have to spend less time in maintenance and off the roads.

Dangerous conditions and brake problems can be a deadly combination.Dangerous conditions and brake problems can be a deadly combination.

Fleets consider maintenance of new brake types
Where there is technological change, such as the replacement of drum brakes with air disc models, there will be challenges and adjustments. Fleet Equipment recently reported that fleets are coming to grips with more use of air disc brakes in trailers as well as tractors, and that they may not yet have optimized maintenance processes in place for these new assets.

The source consulted with experts in the field to figure out what these leaders should be looking at. They reaffirmed that maintenance is still a high priority, even when working with new systems that promise longer operational life.

For instance, inspectors should check pads for wear, verify the thickness of rotors and make sure they aren't cracked, look for tears in brake boots and confirm that calipers are free to slide. Performing comprehensive inspections can guard against the problems caused by worn braking systems, and make it less likely that fleets receive negative surprises when authorities perform their checks. Hendrickson Business Unit Director Jeff Wittlinger reminded Fleet Equipment that there are signs of brake wear that drivers can check on their day-to-day equipment inspections to catch problems before they snowball.

The stark consequences
When brakes fail, the resulting issues can be disastrous. According to the Spokesman-Review, a heavy truck and trailer with insufficient brake maintenance careened out of control on a steep and icy road in December, as the vehicle was carrying ore between two sites associated with a mine.

The driver died of injuries sustained in the crash, and the Mine Safety and Health Administration pointed out numerous brake issues that contributed to the death. For instance, the brake linings were worn, out of their normal adjustment and contaminated with oil. Combine that with ice and water in the air brake supply line and the results were deadly.

Focusing on development
Manufacturers developing brakes or relevant parts need to be ready to face the pressure of the industry. This is a fast-developing field, one where problems can lead to deadly accidents. Brakes are one element of commercial vehicles that must not fail if everyone is to remain safe. Companies working on new braking products can determine their best testing strategies with a complimentary brake testing consultation from Greening.