A look at what’s new and different

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Trade shows often offer a chance to see what new products and services are being readied for those working in the trucking business. And sometimes, if you’re lucky enough, you’ll get an opportunity to see these products in action – and at the 2011 Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) convention, such good luck befell me.

Take the “Road Squad” for example – a fleet of 400 light-duty trucks strategically located throughout the Travel Centers of America chain of truck stops – a chain that includes TA and Petro Stopping Center locations. Now, while I didn’t get to drive one of these vehicles, I did get an in-depth tour regarding their capabilities, courtesy of Michael Lombardi, TA’s executive vice president for fleet sales and fuel supply.

The important take away from fleets here centers on the design of these “Road Squad” trucks. Knowing what’s on board (diesel fuel, tires, a variety of parts, air for re-inflating tires, and its “jump start” system) gives carriers and their drivers and idea of what kinds f jobs these vehicles can perform when they arrive on scene.

Speaking of drivers, one can’t help but be impressed by the latest version of L-3 MPRI’s truck simulator system, the TraSimVS V. Jim Naatz, the company’s vice president of sales, gracefully agreed to “test drive” a simulation exercise to show off its capabilities and new features.

Now, it’s been mentioned to me before that in rare cases some drivers suffer vertigo after using these devices. But that should not obscure the larger benefit this technology can bring to fleets – for this technology is almost equivalent to the same systems used by commercial airplane pilots to certify and re-certify their skills.

So providing truck drivers with a similar level of simulation technology for training and re-training purposes speaks directly to the difficult and often hazardous job they perform daily (and nightly, too) out on America’s vast network of roadways.

Of course, it’s not just trucks that are out there on the highways – there are trailers to consider as well. One of the neat products I found on display at TCA’s annual show concerned a new “hybrid” trailer flooring product developed by Havco Wood Products LLC.

Many fleets still like to use wooden flooring in their trailers, but wood can crack under excessive load or over time -- and those cracks open up avenues for water and grime to get into the floorboards, leading to rot and other troubles.

Havco, however, can add a thin layer of composite material to the underside of its wood flooring products – giving it extra strength without extra weight. Gopal Padmanabhan, Havco’s vice president of product development, showed off an interesting way to demonstrate how much extra strength this composite “backing” can give to a wooden trailer floor.

Of course, many of the products being showed off at trucking trade shows today revolve around how to manage information of all stripes – from fuel data to electronic logbooks for drivers.

One interesting new system being readied for roll out in April concerns Vigillo’s latest offering, which takes information gathered by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) pre-employment screening program (PSP) and then coverts it into a CSA score –shorthand for the agency’s new Compliance, Safety, Accountability program.

Steve Bryan, Vigillo’s CEO, showed how this “data conversion” process works and how it ends up allowing fleets to rank drivers in terms of their “risk” under CSA guidelines.

TCA’s show floor certainly proved to be a busy place, with over 100 exhibits to see. Yet that doesn’t hold a candle to the mammoth Mid American Trucking Show which lurks just around the bend now. So expect to see a lot more interesting stuff pop up on video when we reach the last week of March.

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