Gaining momentum in a digital world

Two years ago, at the last IAA, SAF-Holland took a very hands-on approach at the event, focusing on “real life economics” as a key driver in its trailing equipment innovations. At the time, Detlef Borghardt, CEO, said that weight saving and efficiency were the most important variables in commercial road transport, despite the hype around autonomous driving and electric mobility.

“Regardless, though, it’s an exciting time to be part of what I believe is an incredibly progressive and innovative industry,” he said.

His remarks on the direction of the industry seem to hold true, even today, as the global equipment specialist is set to showcase various new products and mechanical components at the 2018 IAA Commercial Vehicles Show.

“In addition to presenting fifth wheels and axle and suspension systems, our exhibition will also focus on digital solutions, including live demonstrations on the IAA stand,” Borghardt says – explaining that visitors will see how SAF-Holland takes on the challenges of digitalisation, electrification and automation.

Borghardt says that SAF-Holland aims to contribute practical and economically sound solutions to trailer builders, fleets, vehicle operators, spare parts dealers and workshops.

“With all our products and services, we are working towards supporting fleets, drivers and fleet managers, to make their work easier and more economically viable.

“To achieve this, we are continuously reducing the weight of our axle and suspension systems, developing solutions that are gentle on the tyres. Both save costs and make commercial vehicles even more economically efficient.

“Also, we are continuously expanding and updating our range of digital products. We see our mechanical competence as the best basis for delivering future-proof products for digital transport chains. The ‘digital products’ supplement the classic range and aim to maximise uptime. For this purpose, we do not only supply data but also provide targeted support for fleet managers and drivers. We supply them with the correct information that is relevant at the time and make a consistent contribution to solving problems and avoiding them in the future.

We also address the issues of service and lack of specialist personnel.”

In line with his vision for future-proofing SAF-Holland’s product offering, Borghardt is adamant that making mechanical components intelligent is the best way forward, allowing customers – from large groups of companies to small enterprises – to easily integrate them into their automated and digital trailer solutions. “Our high-safety products for commercial vehicles are already increasing the safety on our roads today. At the same time, we are expanding our digital competence, internally as well as through external partnerships with electronics suppliers and IT companies.”

In terms of how SAF-Holland’s use of equipment has changed over the years, Borghardt notes that digitalisation and automation is steadily shaping the future of driverless vehicles.

“We contribute to this with new solutions, which, for instance, automatically couple tractor unit and trailer to save time at the freight forwarder’s premises,” he says. “Intelligent products which deliver interpretable data as a basis for new functions have already become firmly established in the industry: Our SAF TIRE PILOT tyre pressure monitoring system, for example, independently regulates the pressure in the trailer tyres to keep the vehicle on the road safely and economically. A wear sensing system checks the brake pads and signals when they require changing – a first step towards predictive maintenance. As already mentioned, this is not about an oversupply of data but rather about a targeted improvement of our product groups to generate measurable added value for the users. We want to give end customers a continuous common thread throughout the entire life cycle of the products.”

As a result, digitalisation, automation and electrification are all trends that the market is setting for SAF-Holland.

“As a supplier, we naturally concentrate on this as well, with the objective of increasing transport efficiency and safety for our customers and supplying them with sustainable long-term solutions,” he says. “Driverless vehicles still remain a popular topic as well: Driverless trucks could be on our roads by 2030. On the path to this, we are getting our products ready for this level of autonomous driving. We are moving away from pure auxiliary functions for comfort towards digital and automated, safety-critical functions, which are required for driverless operation.”

From a global perspective, SAF-Holland is seeing some great examples of innovative change in China. “The transport volume has grown enormously in this region in the past ten years,” Borghardt says.

“And it is no longer all about costs, as safety and weight aspects are becoming increasingly important. This is an advantage for us and our specific portfolio: Disc brakes and air suspensions are becoming increasingly popular and are now even required by law.

“Meanwhile, in North America, the trend towards disc brakes can now also be seen clearly in the statistics for registered vehicles. We are participating above average in a currently growing market there as well.

“Furthermore, the trailer market in India is currently experiencing rapid growth. After our recent takeover of York, we can now accompany this growth as a market leader in India.”

The new world of transport involves smart trailers, according to Borghardt. “For this, we are not only focusing on research and product development of our mechanical assemblies, but are also expanding our digital products and our services at the same time. In our ‘SMART STEEL’ innovation campaign, we combine mechanics with sensors and electronics and drive the digital networking of commercial vehicles and logistics chains. We are focusing on our core product groups of axles and suspensions, fifth wheels, other connection devices and landing gear. Overall, we want our range of products and services to make the greatest possible contribution to the success of our customers.”

Fast Fact
This year, SAF-Holland expanded its international presence and strengthened its competence in coupling systems and digital solutions following the acquisitions of Asia-based York Group, Italian coupling specialist, V.Orlandi and UK-based connectivity expert, Axscend. SAF-Holland says it will be able to make better use of synergies in the future to improve the quality of its products and services.

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