FIFTH WHEELS CONTINUE TO FIGHT THE WEIGHT BATTLE

As additional emissions equipment to help meet EPA 2010 emissions regulations was added to Class 8 tractors in 2010, more fleets began looking at other areas to offset that weight increase. Fifth wheels remain a primary target of such fleet weight-reduction efforts going forward on both factory-delivered tractors and in the aftermarket. Fifth wheel manufacturers are equally as focused on wheels, looking to eliminate as much as they can in new products while increasing safety at the same time.

“To offset the increased weight of tractors, the Fontaine Ultra LT was launched in 2010 as the lightest fifth wheel slider system in the industry,” says Terry Mennen, vice president of sales & marketing, Fontaine International. “Steel construction makes it cost-effective when evaluating cost per pound for lightweight options. We added the Fontaine Ultra NT recently due to customer requests for a fifth wheel that incorporates the Fontaine No-Slack lock on a lightweight slider.”

Fontaine is continually looking at new products that can help customers meet their needs.

“The new Fontaine Ultra NT and revolutionary Fontaine Ultra iT (which weighs 165 lbs.) are the latest fifth wheel top plates to continue the theme of weight reduction which began with the Ultra LT,” says Toby Harris, vice president of sales & marketing, Fontaine Fifth Wheel.

At Jost International, everyone is also concerned about product weight. “Fleets and OEM partners alike are interested in reducing weight,” says Rich Carroll, vice president-sales & marketing. “Our JSK36NSL line of top plates offers a 35-lb. reduction from our JSK37USL line. Our ProTech inboard mount is a true integral angle design; by eliminating a set of mounting angles, we offer weight savings approaching 100 lbs., depending on length of travel and mounting height.”

But Carroll offered a cautionary note as well. “Any time you're considering weight reduction, [be aware] of the balance between weight reduction, durability and lifetime cost of ownership, not simply acquisition costs. With regard to weight reduction/durability, this becomes critical when it involves such a vital safety-related component as fifth wheels.”

According to Carroll, there are many different locking mechanisms, and the wrong mechanism can have disastrous results. “We don't believe this is a positive development … because of the complexities it introduces,” he says. “At the fleet level, adding complexity brings confusion on principle of operation among drivers and technicians. At Jost, we retain the exact same principle of operation and the same locking components throughout our lightweight and standard offerings.”

To meet demands for ways to easily identify when a fifth wheel is locked properly, Jost created the Locktronic. “Our Locktronic is a self-contained, battery-operated sensor positioned at the release point of the fifth wheel that senses and reports a safely locked condition through a flashing light,” Carroll says.

“Over the past few years at Jost we've witnessed a huge shift to cab-actuated air release locking mechanisms,” Carroll points out. “The key driver for this shift is the rising costs of insurance and claims. Some of the more progressive fleets use Jost cab-actuated air release as part of their driver recruitment/retention. With the driver shortage projections a big concern in our industry, driver wellness is now and will continue to be a high profile consideration.”

Jost also offers a JSK37YSA top plate with a simplified air release system for yard mules and port tractors.

“Generally, fleets are looking for reliability, reduced maintenance (including lubrication), and weight reduction,” relates Mike Ginocchio, vice president-product planning & development for SAF-Holland's Power Vehicle business unit. “With respect to reliability, SAF-Holland constantly strives for and achieves the highest standards in quality and reliability.”

According to Ginocchio, SAF-Holland is the only fifth wheel company to offer a “completely lube-free fifth wheel.” The company also offers low-lube and NoLube options on its most popular fifth wheels.

“We offer the lightest assembly in the industry with our forged aluminum FWAL fifth wheel, and our FW17 is one of the lightest cast steel fifth wheels in the world,” Ginocchio says. He adds that offering time-saving and maintenance-reducing options on fifth wheels can improve driver retention and attraction.