SIOUX CENTER, Iowa – Link Mfg. is promising drivers a smoother ride than ever before, launching the ROI Cabmate semi-active cab suspension that responds to everything from rough roads to harsh crosswinds.
Company president Jim Huls refers to it as nothing less than a “revolution in computer-controlled suspension systems.”
The heart of the ROI Cabmate is an electronic control unit (ECU) that draws data in real time from an accelerometer, which monitors cab motion, and a position sensor that tracks the cab’s position and velocity relative to the frame. The underlying algorithms are then used to adjust the suspension’s shock absorbers by filling or exhausting the air springs.
The end result absorbs the road shock and vibration normally transmitted through the frame and solid cab mounts, generating a quieter and smoother ride.
“It’s a chain reaction that happens 200 times per second,” says Michael Hof, vice-president of new business development. “Drivers and passengers immediately have a very soft shock when traveling on a smooth highway, and a very stiff shock when driving on uneven or off-road terrain. The system deals with unexpected encounters, like potholes, in real time.”
“The shock plays a bigger role in the new system than the air spring does,” he adds. “The air spring provides the cushion, but the shock is going to control the severe (events).”
The added electronics draw less than 10 watts of power.
While such electronic shocks are found in automotive applications, this will be unusual for trucking.
“The semi-active damper provides access to a range of damping force at a given velocity – not one set value based on tuning,” says Bill Ott, Link’s vice-president of engineering. The traditional approach usually sees the suspensions tuned to a specific route. This may ensure the smoothest-riding 2 mile journey the truck can deliver, but road condition varies dramatically.
Competitive with premium seats
Some truck owners opt for premium seats to smooth out a ride, and these options work by overfilling and dumping air bags, says Hof, who spent 20 years in the seating industry. But there are limits to that. “This only protects the driver and the occupant, but what about the cab?” he asks. The steering wheel, shifter and pedals continue to move around, as do any occupants on the bunk in the sleeper.
Links says the ROI Cabmate Semi-Active Cab suspension will be cost-competitive with the seating, too.
“They can expect to spend less for the semi-active suspension systems than they would for two advanced seating systems,” Hof says. “We’re hoping to have this stay below [US] $2,000 to our end users.”
A bolt-on retrofit version is to be available by the middle of next year, and negotiations are underway with original equipment manufacturers OEMs.
Link Mfg. has already completed about 2 million miles of on-road tests using 20 units running with CR England, Ploger Transportation, Valley Transportation Service, and Mexican-based Transportadora Consolidada.
“It’s one of the products that I think is going to have an impact on the overall efficiency of our fleet and driver quality of life,” says Joel Morrow, Ploger Transportation’s head of research and development, and senior driver. With the smoother ride, the fleet may be able to shorten truck wheelbases. And that would lead to a tighter gap between tractors and trailers to improve fuel economy.
The systems could also solve issues where restarting anti-idling equipment rocks a cab and wakes drivers with a jolt of adrenaline, thinking someone has backed into the cab, he says. “You generally don’t get back to sleep after that.”
“It’s maintenance-free. We don’t need to interact,” adds Captain Fausto Velazquez, president and CEO of Transportadora Consolidada, which has been responsible for 325,000 miles of test data.
Link’s existing Cabmate suspensions have been on the market since 1980, and the company manufactured its 2 millionth unit this May.
A traditional Cabmate includes the shock absorbers, air springs, height control valve, and linkage between the cab frame and chassis. Control rods maintain the stability, and the air in the spring controls the cab’s bounce.
The company itself was founded by a truck driver, and owners are still connected to the industry as the owners of Van Wyk Trucking, which runs more than 200 units across the U.S. It makes auxiliary axles, trailer suspensions, and specialty products such as the Cat’s Eye tire pressure monitoring systems.
While based in Iowa, it also has a 34,000-sq-ft facility in Nisku, Alta., which focuses on heavy vocational and military applications.
Expect more to come under the ROI brand, which refers to Road-Optimized Innovations.
“It represents a product category that’s designed to enhance the performance of Link’s traditional suspensions through electronics,” Hof says.
“With this new technology we think we have an even better system than what we have today … It’s pretty special.”
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