Building connections

SAF-HOLLAND has enhanced its digital expertise with the purchase of a majority stake in British telematics specialist Axscend. Founder Tim Steer and his experts have developed a system that takes important trailer data from components such as the brakes, lights and tires, and sends this data to an app that gives fleet managers real-time information about the status of their fleet.

A small computer in a polycarbonate box is at the heart of Axscend’s ­TrailerMaster system. The microprocessor is connected to the trailer via a CAN bus, giving it access to data from the electronic brake system. Other ­parameters, such as the inclination angle of the road, are captured using ­additional sensors. A GPS receiver provides the location of the trailer, while a GSM interface sends the data to Axscend’s network infrastructure. The equipment also includes short-range radio technology such as (ISM) and Bluetooth.


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.

“Fix trailer defects, long before they cause problems.”Tim Steer, CEO Axscend
The TrailerMaster system also evaluates the trailer’s brake performance without having to go on the test bench or to the ­repair shop.
Tim Steer (on the right), Founder of Axscend, being interviewed.

“In the future, we want to use SAF-HOLLAND’s presence in the market to continue to develop our system for other requirements for customers in Europe, and in the next step globally,” explains Steer. Digital systems like TrailerMaster not only help fleet operators to comply with statutory test regulations but also to avoid unexpected errors before they occur. This type of system would also be a prerequisite for an ever-growing level of ­autonomous driving in the future. After all, if there is no driver left to control the tire ­pressure on the trailer, then the newly networked systems must do so.

with Tim Steer

How did you get the idea for the TrailerMaster system?

Tim Steer: Back then, trailers were already beginning to be equipped with several individual ­technologies. Electronic Braking Systems saw the introduction of a permanent power supply on trailers, which is the basic prerequisite for electronic equipment of this sort. Our idea was to bring the individual solutions together in a single system. After completing this, new functions could be added. We then just continued to develop the system based on new technologies and what was needed in the market.

Which individual technologies are you specifically referring to?

Tim Steer: Controlling the tire pressure and locating the trailers using GPS transmitters, for example. Also an assistance system for the loading ramp that works with ultrasonic sensors. This system can activate the brakes if the trailer is headed for a collision. The ability to calculate the brake performance was added later. It was important for us to be able to show the data directly on the trailer ­using small traffic lights and not only show it on the app. This gives the driver the ability to see ­whether or not the trailer’s status is okay, at just a glance.

Why is trailer management such an important issue for transport companies?

Tim Steer: Because networked telematics can contribute to greater efficiency. Transport companies are in a very competitive market and need to be able to manage large fleets. This is not only a logistical challenge but also a financial one. A perfect business model would always ensure that you have the right assets in the right place at the right time. But things can often look very different in the real world. Everyday problems can come up that disrupt processes such as damage to the trailer, an unavailable driver or merely a traffic jam. Added to all this are the regulatory requirements, such as periodic safety checks on the trailer. All of these factors can get in the way of a perfect business model, which is why trailer management is so important.

How can trailer management systems increase a fleet operator’s efficiency?

Tim Steer: These systems connect the fleet managers with their trailers in real time and convey valuable knowledge about the fleet’s status. The information itself is already very valuable, but when it’s available on a real-time basis, the fleet manager has every opportunity to unleash greater efficiency, however small. It is always better to have precise readings than to have to resort to empirical values. This way, even minor errors can be fixed long before they cause major problems, which can already start with an insufficiently filled tire. Companies are also investing in these types of systems to show the authorities that they take regulations seriously.

Taking a look at the future – how do you think the networked fleets of tomorrow will look?

Tim Steer: Today, many of the decisions at transport companies are made by people based on their education and experience. This usually leads to sound results, but the decision makers never really have the entire picture. A decision may increase efficiency in one area but lower it elsewhere, possibly due to secondary effects. In the future, these decisions will probably be made, or at least supported, by Artificial Intelligence. This would take all of the data into account to lead to the optimal decision. The data required for this will be provided by systems such as ­TrailerMaster.