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Phillips and the quest for the “smart trailer”

Company is developing an “agnostic” platform for trailer sensors and data.

ATLANTA. Phillips Connect Technologies (PCT), a business unit of Phillips Industries, is taking another step on its journey to help create the ultimate “smart trailer” by developing TrailerNet, an open and “agnostic” platform for consolidating trailer sensors and data – regardless of supplier – into one central hub, using one data plan to deliver alerts to the driver and fleet operations or dispatch teams. 

Unveiled here at the Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC) 2018 annual meeting, PCT said TrailerNet is designed to communicate and integrate into one master channel of information gathered by smart-trailer components, capturing activities and conditions that fleets require to make sound operational and business decision. 

Gerry Mead, executive director of innovation at Phillips, explained that open platform strategy is based on the premise that customers want choices and every company has its own unique needs.

“The goal of PCT is to partner with every equipment and smart-trailer component manufacturer to provide the best combination for each customer, while offering one data plan and designing the system for easy plug and play,” he explained. “The data from the designated combination of manufacturers is aggregated, correlated and sent to the cloud where it is customized in a display for different end users. The analytics displayed for a driver, fleet manager or a fleet owner will all be customized to their specific needs.”

So far, PCT has forged 16 partnerships with various suppliers to integrate their smart-trailer components with the PCT’s TrailerNet product. The company also recently forged an exclusive partnership with Fleet Complete, giving them access to all of the features they have in their product range – asset tracking, geofencing, fleet tracking, electronic logging devices, etc. – as well as an innovative solution to cargo-sensing. 

Mead said the strategic partnership between the two companies will help provide “immediate and actionable visibility” into all smart components on smart trailers. “This provides a significant increase in uptime, maximized trailer safety, improved utilization and, most importantly, an improved ROI [return on investment] on the connected assets,” he added, noted that the telematics aspect of TrailerNet will be powered by Fleet Complete’s cloud-based Connvex platform, which will capture data and displays it via a mobile platform or web portal, giving the driver or in-house fleet manager immediate status of their trailers.

As of now, PCT is testing four specific components of its TrailerNet system:

  • The “SDM” or “Sensor Distribution Module,” which acts the unit’s “central hub,” which all data flows through, and includes an internal modem specifically designed to work with the TrailerNet telematics platform. 
  • The “SIB” or “Sensor Interface Board,” which is installed (wired or wirelessly) just downstream from the sensors. This is a “daughterboard" device which translates the sensor data into a universal language, and performs the necessary processing, prior to sending it to the TrailerNet SDM. The SIBs allow TrailerNet to easily add new sensors onto an existing system without requiring any programming, PCT said.
  • Proprietary electrical harnessing using patent pending connectors (All IP69 rated) which allows all sensors to be daisy chained in line with the ability to be updated in the field. “The concept here is to make the system completely plug and play, making it extremely easy to install,” mead said. “This is the only system in the market designed to perform like this.”
  • A modified trailer “nosebox,” which houses a standard J560 connection and includes circuit breaker protection. “There are two new featured components on it as well,” Mead said. “First is a keypad, included for manual override of the PCT door lock and Trailer Lockdown system. The keypad is also built-in to ensure quick troubleshooting in the event of an emergency or loss of cellular activity. The second feature is the Lite-Sentry, it’s a product which reports the status of the trailer lights through the drivers mobile or dashboard device and the fleet’s operations/dispatch team.”

Bill Ellis, PCT’s managing director, added that the single-source communication pathway for trailer data should be a major cost saver for fleets as well going forward.

“If you have five different components, a fleet of 1,000 trailers, and each component costs just $5 a month to monitor, you’ll be looking to spend $300,000 per year, plus the cost of your asset tracking/GPS systems,” he said. “I don’t know a lot of fleet directors that would be OK spending $300,000 on sensors for 1,000 trailers!”

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