SASKATOON, Sask. - In Colorado, a young truck driver faces his first drive through the Rockies, and before beginning down the long mountain grade ahead of him, a road sign lights up and tells him that...
STANDING PROUD: IRD continues to outgrow its new facility.
SASKATOON, Sask. – In Colorado, a young truck driver faces his first drive through the Rockies, and before beginning down the long mountain grade ahead of him, a road sign lights up and tells him that he should gear down and lower his speed to 35 m.p.h. As a car comes flying around the bend below, he cringes at the thought of what could have been.
Meanwhile, in the eastern U.S., another trucker is struggling to slow down on a steep grade with a busy intersection at the bottom. With a full load behind him, he begins to panic as it becomes clear he won’t be able to stop in time for the light. Suddenly the light goes green, and a major accident is avoided.
In both scenarios, a Canadian company is responsible for averting tragedy and possibly even saving lives.
Saskatoon-based International Road Dynamics (IRD) has been churning out Weigh-In-Motion (WIM) technology that has been used throughout the world for more than 20 years.
Company founder Dr. Art Bergan first developed the WIM technology that is the cornerstone of the company, at the University of Saskatchewan in the late 1970s. Since then, the Canadian firm has expanded to employ 150 people and has opened offices as far away as South America and Delhi.
But while IRD continues to expand – both internationally and within Canada – the company prides itself on keeping close to its roots.
“IRD has always been a growing company and we’re still growing,” says Rod Klashinsky, IRD senior manager of the ITS Solutions Group.
He notes the company has forged a strong alliance with the University of Saskatchewan and many of IRD’s engineers, like Bergan, honed their skills at the local school.
The company opened its current digs in 1990, and expanded the facility seven years later. Now, a new building is already in the works to house the growing staff.
With the Canadian firm controlling 85 per cent of the WIM market share, it’s little wonder the company is thriving.
Brian Taylor, senior director of technical solutions, says even an economic slowdown isn’t hindering the company’s operations.
“Right now we’re in between budget years so the money is in place, the budgets have been approved and the money is being spent,” says Taylor.
“All indications are that during a recession, the government builds up a little bit more in capital projects to get the economy rolling. That’s good news for us.”
And with IRD continuously developing new WIM technology, the demand for their products keeps increasing.
In the U.S., about 35 states have IRD’s WIM technology in place, in one form or another.
Some of the most common applications are scales used to weigh trucks on the fly, allowing them to pass the inspection station altogether if it’s in compliance.
“As the trucks approach the weigh station, they’re weighed, their identification is read, the database is read and if everything is good, they’re allowed to bypass the facility without ever coming in,” explains Taylor. He adds that Oregon’s Green Light program, which was among the first to use the technology allows 75,000 to 80,000 trucks pass through each month, speeding delivery of critical just-in-time loads.
While IRD continues to install the system in other states, they are also continuing to diversify into other areas of truck tracking and monitoring.
In their home province, in fact, they recently began playing a major role in Saskatchewan’s Transportation Partnership Program, which allows carriers to run overweight if they contribute a portion of their savings back to the province.
“We put an on-board computer on the trucks and a wireless communication link. The on-board system collects data on a one minute interval and it has a GPS built into it,” explains Taylor. “The system collects information about where the truck was and some characteristics of the truck. This data is all stored on the truck, buffered up and when the truck comes into a cellular zone we drop the data from the on-board unit to the Internet. That data then flows over the Internet to a server here and then we generate all the trip reports and do compliance checks against the carriers.”
Meanwhile, with Mexican trucks preparing to roll into the U.S., IRD has also been asked to develop a method of measuring compliance at the U.S./Mexico border.
“We’re working right now with the U.S. Department of Transportation to see what can be done to clear the trucks coming across the border from a weight and dimensions and safety point of view,” says Taylor.
While vehicle monitoring and tracking is an important element of the IRD technology, their safety innovations seem to be opening the most eyes and garnering support from coast-to-coast.
In Denver, University of Colorado students polled truckers to study the effectiveness of IRD’s Downhill Truck Speed Advisory System. They found that speeds on grades where the system was in place slowed by about 25 per cent.
The Automatic Truck Rollover Warning System, which calculates a truck’s weight and advises drivers how fast they can safely take an upcoming corner, has eliminated truck rollovers in some locations altogether over a span of three years.
As for IRD’s Runaway Truck Signal Control System, there have been cases where runaway trucks triggered the device and forced the system to change the traffic lights to avoid disaster.
While none of those systems are currently in place north of the 49th, Taylor hopes that may soon change.
“The industry in the U.S. is more deregulated and I think there’s a larger focus on truck safety in the U.S.,” says Taylor.
“In general, the U.S. has a very strict mandate to reduce truck accidents. I see the Canadians at times kind of being dragged along.” n