Wabco: Intelligent investment

Despite the European debt crisis, global trailer demand bounced back during 2011. But, the upturn is still fragile and ‘secure growth’ is the mantra being repeated on every executive floor around the world. To this end, the key question is how to maximise profit without sacrificing quality.

Belgian company, Wabco, is one forward-thinking enterprise that foresaw and catered for the challenges inherent in a slow and straining recovery process long ago and devised a plan that could be implemented when signs of rising demand began to emerge.

“We chose a truly holistic approach, leveraging innovation, new technology and a powerful network of talented people around the globe,” says Christiaan Verschueren, Business Enterprise Leader for Wabco Trailer Systems.

It is an enviable example of corporate realisation that economic cycles will inevitably roll through highs and lows. Wabco’s proactive planning approach is based on ensuring that leadership in technology and innovation remain as its core strategy. “We invent and continuously improve technology and services and we bring them to market ahead of the curve,” Verschueren says.

It may sound like ‘marketing speak,’ but there is cleverly devised, long-term business strategy and systemic approach to their products that underpins the company’s market success. “Wabco has always cultivated a close relation to the OEM and fleet management scene,” says Verschueren. “That’s how we learned that it’s not so much about braking a vehicle, but managing it.”

The result of Wabco’s field research – in close co-operation with more then 1500 trailer builders around the world – is the Intelligent Trailer System (ITS), which turns the articulated vehicle into a high-tech instrument. “In the past, it was sufficient for a trailer to be able to brake and be equipped with the most elementary suspension,” Verschueren explains. “Over time, trailers have evolved to be furnished with advanced support systems. Today’s smart trailers help transport entrepreneurs reduce costs and thus increase return on investment.”

In short – ITS is able to bundle all the latest developments concerning safety and efficiency, creating a piece of equipment that is more than just a platform carrying a load. It consists of modules – each a sophisticated mini-computer – which can be used separately or in combinations.

But, the most advanced version of these mini-computers is still the one that spearheaded the braking revolution in the past – EBS. Wabco’s basic Electronic Braking System alone is equipped with 20 pre-programmed functions and vehicle manufacturers have just started to tap the full potential.

Backed by an EBS computer, every type of trailer can be equipped with utilities that contribute to vehicle efficiency, road safety and cost management. “By providing modular building blocks for trailers, Wabco helps trailer builders and fleet operators select those functions that are most relevant for the environment the trailer will be operating in,” says Verschueren.

One such building block is OptiLoad, a system that adjusts the air suspension to suit the axle weight. “In short, OptiLoad can help you ensure a safe and stable weight distribution,” Verschueren says.

OptiTurn, meanwhile, ensures that a trailer has a small turning circle, resulting in less tyre wear and less road damage. The idea is simple – during a short turn, for example, in roundabouts or driving slowly through narrow turns, OptiTurn activates automatically, lifting the rear axle while the turning circle increases, virtually superseding a steering axle.

But, in the conservative industry that is the global commercial road transport sector, another marketing hurdle that requires a patient approach presents itself. High-tech equipment is prone to initially scaring off some operators. But, Verschueren is confident that the factual, proven improvements will outweigh the initial costs. “Consider the complexity of your logistics and its surrounding environment. Evaluate the experience of your drivers. Take into account the regulations that you should apply. And then, choose what you think is necessary.”

And, there is nothing quite like market testing to demonstrate practical applications. German company, Reisch Fahrzeugbau, for instance, has just developed a prototype of a new moving floor semi-trailer that is equipped with “intelligent” features made by Wabco. “Our new demo model is fitted with TailGUARD, which allows driving safely in reverse and manoeuvring safely on busy loading docks,” says head of sales, Patrick Reeg. “We also decided on fitting Immobilizer, an in-built solution to prevent trailer theft.

“There is a demand for systems that help a trailer be as profitable and safe as it possibly can,” he adds, recognising that the transport sector is experiencing a time of change. “While our cost base is increasing, revenue is not growing proportionately. Therefore, efficiency is the key to sustainable growth.”

Part of Wabco’s systemic approach includes a clear recognition that transport companies place high value on cost transparency. To fully utilise a vehicle, Wabco has developed a telematics solution that supports the fleet manager in exposing hidden costs and, thereby, increasing return. “This means more efficient planning and reduced maintenance costs while optimising the safety of drivers, cargo and vehicles,” says Verschueren. “It just another add-on feature based on the EBS computer.”

But, while Europe is considering the capabilities of EBS 2.0, emerging markets are about to tap the full potential of ABS. China, for instance, has just started to step up enforcement of existing legislation for trailer ABS and Brazilian trailer builders are preparing to introduce ABS in their portfolio in the coming year. In fact, Wabco is about to present a study about the combination of different brake systems (non-ABS, ABS, EBS) and different suspension systems (mechanical and air) at the SAE congress scheduled in May 2012 in Brazil.

According to Verschueren, they, too, will soon see the advantages of an EBS- based system as it can notably simplify maintenance. “EBS creates axle-wise brake wear harmonisation by performing slight braking pressure transfers from the axle with a higher degree of wear to the one with less wear,” he explains. “This promotes more even brake wear and increases vehicle operational time, which is essential both in a time of political insecurity and financial consolidation.”

After all, successful investment in an asset like a new trailer is not just about short-term success, but also what you hold onto over the long term. “To ensure you still have your investment in the future, you should take precautions to ensure that unforeseen circumstances don’t get in the way of your investing goals,” says Verschueren. “EBS is one such precaution.”

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