8 technologies that transformed trucking

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Clark Tructractor
(Source: Willard Library Digital Collections)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – FTR’s annual transportation conference is a forward-looking event; a chance to explore emerging issues, predict trends, and gain insights into things like artificial intelligence. But Avery Vise, FTR’s vice-president of trucking, set the stage by looking at the top technologies and trends that shaped trucking.

  • Semi-trailer/fifth wheels — Frehauf demonstrated the first semi-trailer in 1914. Charles H. Martin introduced the Martin Rocking Fifth Wheel in 1915, allowing for the easy attaching and unhooking of trailers.
  • Forklifts – Clark Equipment Co. in 1917 introduced the Tructractor – the first internal combustion-powered industrial truck. Imagine loading trailers without something like that!
  • Diesel engines – While patented by Rudolf Diesel in 1893, the diesel engine was not widely used in trucks until after Cummins introduced its first truck diesel engine in 1933, Vise observed. In the early years of trucking, vehicles were powered not only by gasoline but also often by batteries.
  • Sleeper berths – Packard, a truck maker, introduced sleeper berths in 1917. The U.S. Interstate Commerce Commission’s first regulations that came in 1937 established special hours of service rules for their use. These rules were largely unchanged until 2005.
  • Air brakes – Introduced by Westinghouse in the early 1920s, air brakes allowed for heavier vehicles.
  • Intermodal containers – Trucking magnate Malcom McLean had been transporting trailers on ships since the early 1950s. In 1956 he introduced a way to maximize cargo on ships by separating the container from the chassis between truck movements.
  • Electronic control modules – Introduced in 1987 by Detroit Diesel, the ECM allowed for the measuring and modifying of engine parameters to improve fuel efficiency. Later the ECMs were used in brakes, transmissions, and more, and are critical components in advanced safety systems.
  • Satellite locating – Qualcomm introduced OmniTracs in 1988. This was, perhaps, the single-greatest leap in technology to improve equipment visibility and utilization, Vise said. “Thirty years ago, we thought it was pretty cool to know where your truck was … that same technology helped us develop electronic logs.” The early logs, for example, made it possible for truck electronics to verify mileage.
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John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking, trucknews.com, TruckTech, Transport Routier, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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