Tuesday, 27 May 2014
Electronic brake system, or ‘brake by wire’, integrates ABS technology, electronic stability control and other key vehicle control system features to deliver a whole new level of braking control by harnessing electronics for the control side of the vehicle’s braking system, write General Manager Enoch Silcock.Already an established global leader in the development of anti-lock braking (ABS) technology, WABCO originated the world’s first commercial vehicle electronic brake system (EBS) in the 1990s and introduced this revolutionary technology to the industry on Mercedes-Benz Actros trucks in 1996. Two years later, WABCO added a complementary EBS for trailers.
An electronic (CAN) signal replaces the air signal sent by the brake pedal to activate the brakes, improving stopping distances and braking system performance. Now in the 21st century, EBS is providing a solid platform for the development of ever more advanced safety systems for the future. Legislation making ABS compulsory in Europe in the early 1990s facilitated the transition from ABS to EBS and, in fact, uptake of EBS technology in Europe has been nothing short of phenomenal. But when EBS was first mooted in South Africa, the general feeling was that our industry was not ready for the technology. As it turns out, the naysayers were wrong and the local industry has made quite a successful transition to EBS over the past few years.
Admittedly, the biggest uptake of this technology has taken place at the top end of the market, with Wabco Automotive SA capturing a large portion of this segment. However, the top end represents only about 4%-5% of the entire local trucking market and the time has come to address the reasons the lower levels are not taking up this safety-imperative technology. Since ABS was first legislated in South Africa in 2004 as a minimum standard for trailers, it has become the market benchmark, making a significant contribution to industry safety. Wabco is now intensifying marketing efforts to ensure the next thrust will see the middle and, ultimately, the lower levels of this market start to embrace EBS.
The reasons are obvious. There are more than 20 functions pre-programmed into the EBS system, which vehicle manufacturers can activate on a menu basis. This way, every type of trailer can be equipped with functions that robustly contribute to increasing vehicle efficiencies, improving driver comfort, increasing vehicle and road safety, optimising loading and unloading, reducing maintenance costs, mitigating unexpected immobility due to repairs, and reducing environmental impact.
Training is the key to unlocking a full return on investment in these new-generation braking systems in South Africa. EBS has the potential to really raise the bar on road and cargo safety, but local companies must fully understand this technology and know how to tap into the diagnostic information it makes available.
Local transition to this technology has been significantly hampered by the lack of skills in the industry, but Wabco is rapidly closing that gap through training programmes aimed at all levels of personnel – from managers to drivers and mechanics – within its customer base, teaching them, through custom-designed hands-on courses, to engage with the high-tech diagnostics and extract information critical to the safety and financial well-being of their fleets. In addition to formal training, clients have access at all times to technical support and backup.
With younger, more information technology-orientated personnel filtering into the local trucking industry, the barriers to negotiating sophisticated technology are steadily subsiding. These new-generation technicians take electronics in their stride and diagnostic software is becoming a standard industry tool. Initial investment into the technology has been an obstacle, but data drawn from the local industry over recent years proves that, in the long run, the total cost of ownership is definitely lower.
EBS is continually evolving. Moving from the original Trailer EBS D generation, Wabco’s E generation broadened the technological barrier with the addition of some extraordinary features. OptiTurn provides intelligent support for manoeuvring and steering through tight turns, such as in small traffic roundabouts and in loading bays. By automatically recognising tight turns at low speed, OptiTurn lifts the rear most trailer axle, effectively shortening the wheel base and improving manoeuvrability. OptiLoad automatically redistributes cargo weight over the truck-trailer combination, while Bounce Control prevents a trailer from pulsing up and down as brakes are released after the cargo has been loaded or unloaded. This feature improves safety in the loading zone and avoids damaging vehicles or loading docks.
As with the original EBS system, the main feature of EBS E is Roll Stability Support (RSS). Integrated in the software and hardware of the EBS modulator, the RSS logic control unit reliably prevents vehicle rollover within physical limits. The system assesses vehicle data such as wheel speed, load information and transverse acceleration data. By analysing this data quickly and effectively, the vehicle’s electronic control unit detects the likelihood of vehicle rollover and automatically applies the brakes – significantly reducing the risk of tipping. With RSS likely to be legislated in Europe imminently, the past has proved that this will eventually be reflected in South African legislation, albeit in the long term.
This year Wabco’s Trailer EBS E success story continues with the introduction of the new version Trailer EBS generation 4, delivering additional innovative solutions for trailers. Some of the new functions include an electronic park brake function that prevents the release of the trailer brake if the trailer is coupled or uncoupled in the wrong sequence or the trailer ISO power cable has not been connected. Another new addition is a trailer length indication feature that provides the operator with accurate length information on extendable trailers via the SmartBoard on-board trailer information system.
All the existing functions from previous EBS generations are still there and operators who already own the technology are able to programme their systems to suit their specific needs at no extra cost, with minimal extra hardware needed.