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Heat-seekers

ARNPRIOR, Ont. - After years spent enforcing the Highway Traffic Act, company officials from ThermaQuest Inc. (TQI) insist judging a truck's mechanical fitness by its appearance is almost impossible.A...


MAGIC EYE: Alton Plager, TQI president, sets up the infrared system for a demonstration with the OPP.
MAGIC EYE: Alton Plager, TQI president, sets up the infrared system for a demonstration with the OPP.

ARNPRIOR, Ont. – After years spent enforcing the Highway Traffic Act, company officials from ThermaQuest Inc. (TQI) insist judging a truck’s mechanical fitness by its appearance is almost impossible.

Almost, that is.

The company says it has developed what amounts to X-ray specs for checking out brakes, bearings and tires on heavy- and medium-duty vehicles. At the heart of the technology is a two-camera system that films a passing rig using thermal imaging technology. It detects the presence – or the absence – of heat in componentry. Excessive swings in either direction indicate a safety defect. To put the system to the test, TQI recently joined the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) for a mini-blitz that took the company’s new mobile infrared imaging system to the highways of Toronto.

“We’re not endorsing this system, but we’re testing it to see how effective it is in our policing of trucks with defects,” says OPP superintendent Jay Hope. “Anything we can use to make sure the highway is safe for our motorists is worth looking at.”

While the actual results of the targeted effort are inconsequential, what is interesting is the fact the certified thermal imaging technicians managed to catch every defect that came their way. A fact confirmed by an on-site dynamometer.

“This infrared thing is kind of neat,” says OPP Sgt. Cam Woolley, who heads the OPP Truck Troopers. “There is no question it works … it can spot anomalies in braking systems, hubs and tires.”

The sophisticated system, which integrates the Red Flag camera package into a mobile enforcement van, is set to start hitting the high-truck-traffic areas of North America soon, but that doesn’t mean to expect a new wave of fines in the mail.

Despite the involvement of three former OPP officers on the TQI team, the company isn’t pushing to have the system’s use mandated by any jurisdiction.

“We’re looking to sign fleets up for the service,” says Rob Callahan, senior vice-president of business development. “That way they can find out if they have a problem before their rigs get caught and fined at an inspection station.”

Fleets would actually have two ways to take advantage of TQI’s services. They could pay a one-time fee to have a given group of trucks inspected as a one-shot deal, explains Callahan. Or, the company’s preferred option is to have carriers signed up and paying a regular ‘subscription’ fee. Anytime a participating company’s vehicle is swept by the infrared; the results are dumped into a password-protected, online database called InfraRead.

“If you can catch and repair an axle before it blows, that saves time, money and headaches,” says Alton Plager, TQI president and chief executive officer, who (along with Callahan) is a former insurance company executive. He resists the notion that truckers try to sneak poor equipment under Canada’s collective enforcement nose.

“No trucker wants to go out with brakes that don’t work,” he adds. “They want to make it home alive.”

He soon hopes to have 300 of the vans crawling the continent’s highways in search of overheating components – and one of the fleets they may be looking out for is SLH Transport.

“We’re reviewing whether there is any advantage for us from a maintenance point of view,” says John Lewis, vice-president in charge of fleet maintenance. “We want to see whether it will cut our insurance rates at all.”

This is an idea TQI insists it is currently working on with several truck insurers. n


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