Here's another case where less is more

The industry's goal is still a no-lube, no-maintenance fifth wheel. We're not there yet, but we're getting closer. In the meantime, manufacturers are concentrating on taking weight and maintenance time out of their products, as well as finding ways to make couplings safer and more secure.

Holland Hitch has introduced a low-lube fifth wheel that provides operators with a greaseless top surface and a greaseless interface with the bracket system. In other words, no more grease floating around on top of the fifth wheel. Locks do still need to be adjusted and lubricated where they interface with the kingpin, however.

Holland Hitch points out that while the up-front cost of this component is higher, fleets will save money over the long run - reduced grease purchases, reduced maintenance time, and a cleaner shop. The latter is important not only for environmental reasons, but because it makes the shop a more appealing place to work.

The low-lube feature is currently available on the company's FW3500 series, and will be available on FleetMaster units sometime during the third quarter of the year. Because of the unit's unique casting it's currently not available as a retrofit. The top-plate inserts have a one-year warranty, although Holland Hitch plans to extend this to two or three years because performance has been so strong.

Holland Hitch has developed an electronic lock indicator (ELI) that uses a magnetic proximity sensor attached to the fifth wheel itself to let the driver know whether a successful coupling has occurred.

As the kingpin enters the fifth wheel, the system must see the kingpin and see the locks close before it gives the driver the "green light," indicating that he has a proper coupling. If something goes awry, a red fifth-wheel icon appears on the dash with a diagnostic failure code.

Another feature of the company's ELI is its ability to do a self-diagnostic check when the driver re-starts the vehicle - after a dinner break, for example. If everything is okay, the green icon will appear; any change in the system will result in the flashing red icon.

Any change in the system while the truck is on the road (sensor dies, someone pulls the handle, etc.) will automatically activate the ELI, bringing the new status to the driver's attention.

ELIs will be available on new fifth wheels in the Holland Hitch FW3500 series October 1. A field update kit for retrofitting current units with an ELI is anticipated.

Simplex fifth wheels are now being sold and marketed by Consolidated Metco (ConMet). The Simplex product line includes the weight-reduced Simplex Lite model, minimal-lubrication Simplex II, extra-capacity Simplex 400C, and TOUCHLOC remote air-operated unlocking system.

Designed to meet fleet demands for lighter, yet durable, products, ConMet's Simplex Lite fifth wheels feature a one-piece, wear-resistant steel top plate that weighs almost 50 lb. less than other models.

Maintenance issues have been addressed in the development of the entire Simplex line, beginning with an operating mechanism that has 50% fewer parts and thus reduced service requirements. In addition, Simplex fifth wheels feature lube-free polyurethane pads. No lubrication is necessary at the pivot connection.

Optional on all ConMet fifth wheels is TOUCHLOC, a remote, air-operated unlocking mechanism that unlocks the trailer directly from the cab. As a safety feature, the system operates only when the parking brake is on.

Future plans for fifth wheels will involve the application of ConMet's experience in the development of lightweight components to enhance this aspect of the Simplex Lite product even further.

Fontaine Fifth Wheel has also responded to fleet demands for lighter components that require less maintenance. The new Light Weight Slide (LWS) weighs 50 lb. less while leaving capacity intact. Maintenance is easier since this slide has been re-engineered with fewer parts. Fontaine also points out that the unit's 2-in. slide increments - instead of the industry's standard 4 in. - allow fleets with heavy payload applications, e.g., tanker fleets, greater versatility for payload distribution.

Part of Fontaine's TechLock line, the LWS features a reinforced cast bracket with a greaseless liner, providing consistent lubrication and longer service life. By placing the locking spring inside the air cylinder, Fontaine has increased its protection from dirt and corrosion. A four-point locking system improves security and durability.

Also new from Fontaine is a blocked air-slide fifth wheel that can be used in standard heavy-duty applications or a non-rocking fifth wheel for frameless dump trucks. The unit handles a vertical load of 55,000 lb. and a drawbar pull of up to 150,000 lb.