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Month: May 2015

Automated highway from Canada to Mexico – self-driving trucks

Trucks hauling cargo from Canada through the United States to Mexico and back navigate border crossings without the need for passports, visas or even a driver to steer them.


It’s an idea that’s not too far-fetched, says a group that met in North Dakota last week.

Marlo Anderson with the Central North American Trade Corridor Association says members are working to turn the idea into reality.

The plan is for an autonomous vehicle corridor along Route 83, which runs north-south through Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota. The road then continues into Manitoba.

A study into the feasibility of the project is being planned and Anderson says the group wants to travel to communities along the corridor to gain support.

“One of the challenges we have here in North Dakota is that we have a lot of energy production going on right now, but not enough pipelines to carry the oil from North Dakota to its destination point,” he said.

That means other commodities, such as grain, need to fight for space on trains. A separate corridor could relieve that pressure, he said. Tank Trailers could easily ride on the corridor making safety easier and simpler for transporting goods.

“We’re hopeful that, working with the Canadian government, the Mexican government, the United States, we can create some kind of automated way … (to) streamline that process of border crossings.”

The technology, though experimental, already exists in driverless vehicles that use tools such as GPS to navigate roads, Anderson said.

Unmanned vehicles are more efficient, he suggested.

“They don’t need to worry about a driver having too many hours in a day or in a week. Those types of things go by the wayside because the vehicle doesn’t care.”

Anderson said he understands why the idea is unnerving for some, but noted that unmanned vehicles have the potential to remove human error from driving.

“What we have to do is to educate people.”

One of the concerns Anderson hears most often is that a vehicle’s system could be hacked and taken over. “There have to be security measures in place so that doesn’t happen.”

Roy Ludwig, mayor of Estevan in southeastern Saskatchewan near the border, attended the association’s summit and says he believes in the project.

“You have to flesh it out and take care of all the intricacies, but it’s definitely worthwhile looking into it,” he said. “I would support the new technologies and see where they go.”

Ludwig added that such a corridor could foster trade with the United States.

Connectivity will change the trucking industry.

Vehicle connectivity innovations will soon change the face of the trucking industry, reshaping everything from maintenance practices to driver productivity, according to Goran Nyberg, president of Volvo Trucks North America.

“People under 25 have never lived one day without the Internet and connectivity. Their expectations are different (from previous generations). In a few years they will be in management positions and they will have different expectations when it comes to connectivity. We need to think differently,” Nyberg told Volvo customers and business media gathered for the event.

Volvo is already starting to employ the “different thinking” Nyberg called for with its focus on platooning vehicle technology. Such technology, where trucks can communicate with each other and team up to follow a lead vehicle, is technology that is possible today because it can be applied to existing vehicles and infrastructure, provided the regulations that would allow its use on North American highways was available, said Susan Alt, senior vice president of public affairs for Volvo Group North America. Vehicles operating in platoon mode are able to greatly reduce the following distance between them than is currently acceptable thanks to the onboard sensors. By tightening up the following distance significant drafting advantages are created which improve fuel economy.

Two-truck platooning provides advantages over running B-trains because the two tractor combinations are not tied to each other and don’t even need to be from the same company to enjoy the advantages of better fuel efficiency while travelling the continent’s highways, pointed out Jeff Cotner, Volvo’s chief designer. Drivers in the following vehicles would get a chance to rest since their vehicles would simply be following the motions of the driver in the lead vehicle. And eventually the following vehicles could be driverless, according to Nyberg.

“If we can have road trains in the future with the following vehicles running driverless, it will improve the driver shortage,” Nyberg said.

Bruce Daccord of Transcourt indicates this revolution will improve safety with tanker trailers both dry and liquid tankers. Automation and connectivity will provide a material increase in the overall safety record in North America once fully introduced.

Predictive shifting is another area where connectivity can change the face of trucking, improving safety and productivity. For example, as the truck approaches a hill, preprogrammed information on the terrain allows the truck to handle the climb and descent in the most efficient manner. As the truck comes into the hill it is automatically sped up to delay downshifting, then the truck’s momentum and stored energy is employed on the downhill portion to accelerate and get better roll off.


“Remote diagnostics is something we are putting a lot of focus on. We believe it will be one of the game changers in the industry,” Nyberg said. “We need to change the mindset. It’s not acceptable to have an unplanned stop. That’s a vision that we need to strive towards.” Remote diagnostics capabilities lead to 70% reduction in diagnostic time and a 22% reduction in repair time, Nyberg said.

“The wireless workshop is coming. Vehicles will self evaluate and will be repaired remotely via wireless updates,” was the prediction from Rich Ferguson, senior vice president, aftermarket and soft products.

Steady demand seen in dry bulk tank leasing

The leasing of dry bulk tanks, used primarily for plastic pellets, has picked up significantly in recent months, according to Matt Niemeier. We think the rail services are over capacity and a lot of product that would normally be hauled by rail has gone to the trucking side.

Demand for for franc sand tanks has not stopped, purchases have been cut down in the last 3 months as the price of crude has dropped and some oil rigs have shut down operations according to Neiemeier.

Other segments will be strong, asphalt trailers and cement trailers but with the oil price drop the overall demand will be down. Leasing demand for general chemical tank trailers and tank containers also remains strong according to Steven Tapscott. This is still a good market.

Dennis Cooke of Ryder Systems said the oilfield slowdown actually is helping the outlook for tank leasing. We’re seeing a lot of customers looking to reduce costs as a result and are looking for an alternative to doing maintenance themselves, he says. They do a lot of cost of ownership analysis and leasing shows up as an alternative they may not have  looked at before. We see the oilfield slowdown has actually caused companies to look for savings in areas they would not have looked at in the past. The leasing market is very strong because of complexities of the new EPA-driven technology.

Overall nationally in the US business volume in February is up at $6.1B up 13% from February of 2014 and 12% year over year.

BULK TRANSPORTER, April 2015, Rick Weber