Coming together20 January 2021
Two Haldex customers on the geographical extremities of Europe discuss the opportunities and the challenges they face in markets that are also on opposite ends of the commercial vehicle spectrum: long-haul transport, on one hand, and city buses on the other. What links the two is a strong customer focus and an increasing need for operational and vehicle data produced by integrated vehicle systems. Haldex can help with that.
Spanish long-distance transport firm Primafrio has grown with the development of intensive agricultural production in southern Spain, and now hauls a fleet of 2,000 temperature-controlled trailers transferring mostly fruit and vegetables, but also frozen goods, from the greenhouses and polytunnels of Andalusia to supermarkets around Europe. They return laden with back-haul goods such as flat-pack furniture from Swedish houseware supplier IKEA. From Haldex, Primafrio buys trailer suspension systems and TPMS.
Its customers can impose fines or even refuse the consignment if it has not been kept at the correct temperature that ensures optimum freshness and shelf life, explains R&D manager and chief information officer Adrián Valverde. That could mean it would have to be destroyed, or even shipped back to Spain. For that reason, the company has invested in systems that monitor even minor temperature deviations from the optimum, and alert both the fleet manager and the driver, so that problems can be fixed before it is too late. That’s not all. The company has also installed rear-facing cameras to monitor driver behaviour and some operational parameters from the truck’s CAN-Bus system to make sure that drivers remain alert during long night shifts, for example.
Similarly, Primafrio has installed systems in the tractor units that monitor key operational parameters, and provide early warnings of mechanical or electrical problems. Having suffered in the past from experiences of unexpected breakdowns, the company can now be more confident that a truck sent to Berlin, for example, will be able to do the job. If a problem were to develop on the way, the vehicle flags this up to the operator, who can divert it to a garage for a quick repair.
“It’s like a F1 pit stop; that’s the mindset we’re trying to evolve,” explains Valverde. “In the end, time is money. If we have our trucks stopped for a long time, we are losing money, and not only that, we are losing what is more important, the service that we don’t provide to customers.”
The desire to improve customer service is pushing the company to explore new solutions; in fact, Valverde himself heads up an internal digital domain initiative within the company. The R&D manager says: “I think we are definitely changing. History is having a technological revolution, and this is very positive for everybody. We are trying to adapt ourselves to this revolution. Companies that do not adapt themselves to this challenge, to this revolution, are going to disappear.
“We know that transport in five years’ time will be totally different,” he concludes. In future, transport will be more automated, more connected, and more efficient. He continues: “We will make the service in a more intelligent, smarter way. Not because of us, but because of technology. Technology will enable us to improve everything; every part of the transport chain.”
A NEW DIRECTION FOR CITIES
Polish bus manufacturer Solaris, which first started working with electric bus drivetrains 20 years ago, was possibly ready even before the market was.
“From the very beginning, at Solaris, we believed that electric was the future: electric-driven public transport. We have been building e-mobility competence for two decades now, since 2001 to be precise, when we produced the first Solaris trolleybus. While many other producers in the industry doubted it, a few years ago it turned out that this really is the future,” observes PR and internal communications officer Agata Barnaś.
The company brought out a hybrid in 2006, and its first battery bus in 2011. E-mobility has been a key company focus practically since it started in the late 1990s.
She continues: “E-mobility is an unavoidable element of smart cities – that means sustainable development. Emissions-free, lack of noise, low-vibration. All of this also means comfort for inhabitants – e-mobility increase their quality of life, and air quality. With all of the climate crisis and the air crisis, public transport has a great chance to change something.”
Electric buses make up 50% of annual bus sales worldwide, but that figure is distorted by the enormous contribution of Chinese manufacturers for their own cities. Although the pace of change is not so quick in Europe -- at about 5% of market share -- even that is greater than in other transport sectors. That’s because of government subsidies, and they explain why Poland is the fifth-biggest market for the company, after Netherlands, Germany, Norway and Italy, in terms of new registrations, according to Barnaś.
Now, Solaris’s own production of electric buses, trolleybuses and hydrogen-powered units, makes up about 40% of its total output; the rest is diesel-powered (29% in 2018). Launching this year is the company’s premier model, an 15m low-entry bus; there is also a 24m biarticulated variant. Other models measure 8.9m, 12m, 15m, 18m and 24m. They can be fitted with three different types of batteries: high power (for fast charging); high-energy (for overnight charging) and high energy-plus batteries that are guaranteed for 200km per charge in all climate and terrain conditions. Diesel buses range from 8.9m to 18m; the company also markets CNG-fuelled versions too. The brand buys Haldex pneumatic components, including oil separators and air dryers, used in every model.
As with any other new development, the move to electric, which Barnaś calls the ‘electric transition’, requires a new attitude. And Solaris is there. “E-mobility is still a new technology, and you still need to talk to people to change their approach. We try to promote the development of electric battery technology in public transport by being their partner from beginning to end.”
She continues: “We talk about what the customer wants and needs. We do a feasibility study; analyse the terrain, the route, analyse the amount of passengers and the distance between stops, and then we analyse and provide information about what type of battery, what type of charging system and its length. We analyse the infrastructure in the city.”
Once the buses are delivered and operating, Solaris’s custom-developed proprietary software manages the bus fleet, analysing data about energy, the position of the bus, its distance, and other features to give a predictive maintenance service that advises replacing parts that are about to fail.
Safety devices on the bus include EBS systems, of course, as well as ADAS (advanced driver assistance systems). These include Mobileeye Shield+, which adds cameras and radar to eliminate the driver blind spot; the MirrorEye system of digital cameras and screens replacing optical rear-view mirrors and is also collaborating with the University of Poznan on an automated pantograph docking system.
THE HALDEX VIEW
Even if driverless vehicles remain some way off in the future, the underpinning automation technologies such as those developed by Solaris are creating benefits for vehicle OEMs now, contends Carl Mellings, Haldex vice president R&D air controls Europe.
“Autonomy provides better awareness of where vehicles are in space, better awareness of [traffic] conditions, better awareness of the vehicle state – its condition – because of the increase in sensing from cameras and other devices. The amount of information and data available is massive,” he says.
That information-is-good theme applies to many aspects of commercial vehicle operations. For example, knowing that a vehicle’s compressed air tanks need refilling removes a potential delay to setting off, Mellings points out, and improves operational efficiency. Without high-pressure air, pneumatic brakes cannot function, so a truck that is otherwise ready to go would have to wait for an on-board compressor powered through the truck’s alternator to fill them, which can be costly in time and fuel. Haldex is also ensuring optimum flow and minimising the use of compressed air in its brakes.
Keeping tabs on vehicles can also help reduce the total cost of ownership of the vehicles. Fleet management tools, currently being developed by Haldex, store diagnostic information, help people know where vehicles are and how well maintained they are. Mellings adds: “A fleet can work out where its vehicles are through telematics. But it’s more important to know their vehicles’ state, the pre-warning of maintenance issues that are coming up. It’s about being predictive and monitoring things. For example, if the temperature measured by TPMS or other sensors around a brake increases, then something has changed, and that can be relayed to the driver and fleet operator.”
The trouble is, connecting all of the dots required to make this happen is not easy, and doing so might cut across traditional vehicle supplier relationships. The vice president observes: “These systems are relatively complex. And they are going to have to be integrated. Historically, a vehicle OEM would make a specification and send it out to the tier ones. Now there are more collaborations; more companies working together to jointly develop the systems. That’s where Haldex fits in. We are working with manufacturers as a development partnership.
“And software-wise, we need more open architectures to allow systems to talk to each other. That’s also where we fit in, in terms of joint development – allowing different systems to monitor information or act upon it. It isn’t just information and data- it’s what you do with it that’s important.”