Sometimes it’s the drive to invent something new that leads to innovation and sometimes it’s just coincidence. In other cases, it can come from just ordinary everyday events. When Tim Steer was fiddling with his invention in a small town called Folkestone in southeastern England in 2006, the transport industry in the UK was spending a lot of time and effort on monitoring their trailer brakes. “The regulations for monitoring the brake performance of trailers are very stringent in the UK,” says Tim Steer, founder and CEO of the digital company Axscend. Fleet operators are required to schedule periodic inspections with the transport authorities depending on the age of their fleet, their particular driving habits and the operator’s track record of complying with the rules. “This means that, on average, every trailer has to be tested on a chassis dynamometer at a repair shop every ten weeks to check the brake performance,” estimates Steer. “Imagine a large fleet with several thousand trailers – that’s a considerable amount of effort and cost.”
Steer recognizes the potential for greater efficiency. His idea is to transfer the data from the trailer to an app, making visits to the test bench at the repair shop superfluous. “There were already a variety of electronic components collecting data, such as GPS trackers and tire pressure monitoring systems,” says Steer. “We wanted to combine these various components into one system and add additional functions. We not only wanted to monitor brake performance but also, for example, to get a complete snapshot of the overall state of the brakes and lighting.” Using digital methods to avoid visits to the repair shop and lowering fleet operators’ costs – this idea also won over SAF-HOLLAND. In July 2018, the company acquired a majority stake in the digital trailer management specialist, which soon will relocate to Runcorn in Cheshire. SAF-HOLLAND will have the option to acquire the outstanding shares.
In order to evaluate a trailer’s brake performance without the need to sit on a chassis dynamometer, a lot of data needs to be collected and evaluated in real time. The TrailerMaster system from Axscend first compares the deceleration brought on by the brake pedal to the air pressure at the actuators of the trailer’s brakes. This data is evaluated in a small box attached to the chassis of the trailer or semi-trailer, which is connected to the electronic brake system via the CAN bus. The system calculates the actual deceleration based on the wheel speed before and after braking. It also receives up-to-date load data from the air springs. Also important for calculating the brake performance is a road’s inclination angle, which is recorded using a patented sensor system. Using all this data, an algorithm determines the deviation in the brake performance from the driver’s request.
The results are then sent wirelessly and displayed on an app. “To give fleet operators and fleet managers the chance to get a quick overview at all times, we report the readings from the individual trailers using a traffic light system,” explains Tim Steer. “If the brake performance falls below the regulatory prescribed value, the traffic light will turn red.” The app also provides important information about the trailer fleet, such as the location of the trailers, the wear status of the brakes, the tire pressure, the condition of the lights and the next maintenance interval.