More from: cargo control

Can Autonomous Trucks Understand Cargo Control

It seems as though the heavy trucking industry is working harder than ever to enter the realm of autonomous trucking. Every time an equipment manufacturer announces even the slightest bit of progress in the arena of automotive autonomy, dozens of news articles and blog posts begin speculating a future where trucks rumble down the highway without drivers sitting in their seats. We would like to suggest a bit of cautious skepticism.

Set aside heavy trucking for one minute and just consider all the hurdles that have to be overcome to make passenger vehicles autonomous. There is a reason we have been working on this for more than a decade and are might still have while towards achieving driverless driving. Autonomous technology must overcome the imperfections of humanity in order to succeed, and that is no easy task. Things are even more complicated when attempting to apply automotive autonomy to heavy trucking.

One of the biggest problems of autonomous trucking is based in cargo control. Both federal and state laws require truck drivers to properly secure their cargo prior to transit, then ensure it remains properly secured until delivery. Such mandates pose a big problem for autonomy. If you are going to truly automate trucking, you must also find a way to automate cargo control.

Loading and Securing Cargo

The first hurdle to overcome is automating cargo loading and securing. This is easier to do with dry vans, refrigerated vans, and other enclosed trailers. It is not so easy with open-deck trailers. In fact, it’s a lot harder in the open-deck environment.

A dry van is really just a box on wheels. It would be fairly simple to automate loading by utilizing a robotic conveyor system and stacking mechanism. Just create uniform pallets and the robots to handle them and you’re all set. We already have the technology to do it. As for flatbeds, it is an entirely different ballgame.

A flatbed, or open-deck trailer, is used primarily to transport cargo that cannot be moved safely or efficiently in an enclosed trailer. That automatically means non-standard loads that cannot be loaded and stacked by robots. It also means manual cargo control that requires the use of chains, straps, blocks, bungees, and truck tarps. Everything you would normally get in a box trailer scenario has to be implemented manually on an open deck.

We may someday have robots capable of inserting blocks and tying down concrete tubes. We might have drones that can deploy truck tarps much more quickly and efficiently than human beings. We may eventually reach a point at which loading lumber is an entirely automated process. However, we are not there yet.

Maintaining Cargo Control

It is a Herculean task just to automate loading and securing cargo. But for trucking to be completely autonomous, there has to be a way to maintain cargo control throughout an entire journey. Now you are talking about computer and robotic systems capable of monitoring chains, straps, etc. while a truck is in transit. And if anything is amiss, the system has to be able to self-correct.

Given the ever-changing environment of cargo control, it is highly unlikely that we will be able to automate the process at any point in the relatively near future. If true trucking autonomy is ever realized, we are likely looking at decades before workable prototypes are even available.

As wonderful as the idea is, autonomous trucking is more fantasy than reality. Cargo control is just one of the many hurdles that science is not close to overcoming at this point.


Roadside Cargo Inspections: What Do They Actually Check?

What would you say if we told you that the 2019 CVSA Roadcheck is now a mere seven months away? We know, it seems like this year’s Roadcheck was just conducted. Time flies when you’re having fun, right? Anyway, contemplating the 2019 event got us thinking about what inspectors actually check during roadside inspections.

Being that we supply the trucking industry with all sorts of cargo control supplies, we thought it might be helpful to better understand roadside inspections. So we dug around and found an interesting video created by the Indiana State police.

The video was quite enlightening to say the least. While we understand that what the trooper demonstrated in this video is open to some interpretation by police officers and DOT inspectors, the general principles described here are pretty standard. Let’s talk about those general principles.

Trailer and Cargo

The trooper in the video used an open-deck trailer carrying a piece of heavy construction equipment for demonstration purposes. One of the first cargo control things he talked about is securing all four corners of any load that exceeds a certain weight limit. He rattled off that weight limit like it’s second nature. That’s because it is. Inspectors know exactly what federal law says about tie-downs and load weight.

Next, the discussion moved to working load limits. The trooper used the binders holding the load to the trailer at all four corners as an example. He explained how those binders are legal because they cover all four corners and because their working load limits are applicable to the load.

He also discussed working load limits in relation to the chains used to tie down the load. Interestingly enough, the trooper had a handy gauge he could place on one of the chain links to quickly determine its size and grade. And he also found a marking on the chain that told him the actual working load limit. He calculated the math and decided that the chains were appropriate.

One last thing we found extremely fascinating is that the trooper’s chain gauge had two sides to it. The first side has gauges for all standard chain sizes. The second side had gauges that were 20% smaller than standard. If an inspector can fit a smaller gauge over a section of chain, that indicates the chain is at least 20% worn. The chain can no longer be used. It must be taken out of service.

Other Things They Check

Roadside inspections place a lot of emphasis on cargo control. But inspectors check other things as well. For example, tire pressure and wear are both big things. If an inspector doubts the integrity of truck’s tires at all, he/she will measure depth tread and take a pressure reading.

Oversize loads have to be marked with flags on each corner and the appropriate signage on the back of the trailer. Inspectors are looking for both of those things. When a load exceeds the length of the trailer by a certain amount, the inspector will be looking for some sort of flag attached to the back of the load as a warning to drivers.

These are the basic things inspectors are looking for during roadside cargo control inspections. Obviously, inspectors do a complete check of a truck from front to rear, looking at everything from lights to safety reflectors. We hope you will take this information and combine it with everything else you know about roadside inspections in order to improve your own cargo control efforts. Do not be the next driver taken out of service.

 


Could You Use a Cargo Control Cheat Sheet?

Our position as a supplier of cargo control equipment to the trucking industry affords us the opportunity to hear a lot of stories. Some of those stories involve roadside inspections that pit truck drivers against police officers and DOT inspectors in a battle of wills. It’s funny, but we have never gotten the impression that inspectors are purposely trying to make the lives of truck drivers miserable.

In our regular perusal of trucking industry news, we ran across a CDL Life article featuring a cargo control cheat sheet developed by an Indiana state trooper. It reminded us that there are police officers who genuinely want to help truckers avoid violations. The trooper who put out the cheat sheet seems to be one of them.

Our question to you is this: could you use the cheat sheet? Being that we are not truck drivers ourselves, we cannot answer the question for you. But even with our limited knowledge, the cheat sheet looks like it could be very useful.

Working Load Limits Chart

At the top of the cheat sheet is a chart that acts as a handy reference for working load limits (WLLs). The chart is based on standard sized chains from grades 30 through 100. These would be chains used to tie down coil, heavy equipment, and the like. Below that chart is a second, smaller chart with references to webbing straps.

We assume that truckers could use both these charts as a quick reference to determine whether they are using enough tie-downs or not. We realize that federal law requires a certain number of tie-downs based on the weight of a particular load. Drivers are also required to deploy those tie-downs in such a way as to prevent all forward and lateral movement.

To work out the math, the cheat sheet includes a handy table that a driver can fill out by hand. This facilitates doing the math necessary to make sure he or she gets it right. The chart accounts for:

•Operating weight
•Chain WLL
•Number of chains
•WLL percentages
•Current WLL load
•WLL still needed.

We imagine that using this table would offer a clear visual representation of what is actually going on. We can see how it might be helpful to those truckers trying to understand the tie-downs they need to maintain compliance.

Cargo Control Checklist

Underneath the WLL information is a checklist that asks drivers five basic questions. Those questions are as follows:

•Have you covered 50% of the weight of the load?
•Have you covered the length of the load?
•Have you determined if there is a specific commodity item?
•Are there any edge protection violations?
•Is the load prevented from shifting during transport?

We do not claim to know what all that means, but we trust truckers do. If there are any questions, the trooper who put the cheat sheet together went to the trouble of including the specific regulations pertaining to all five questions. There is no reason any trucker should use this checklist as intended and still get it wrong.

Kudos to the Indiana state trooper who did the work in preparing this cargo control cheat sheet. We hope it turns out to be a very useful tool to flatbed truckers. Heaven knows they could use as much help as they can get to maintain cargo control compliance.

For our part, we are here to supply truckers with the chains, straps, binders, and any other equipment they need to secure their cargo for transit. We offer high-quality products at great prices.


Why Vehicle Inspectors Practice What They Do

Truck drivers across North America were subject to the annual Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) Roadcheck inspections back in June (2018). You know exactly what we are talking about if you drive a truck for a living. But did you know that inspectors actually practice what they do? They do it to be better at what they do, though some practice in order to compete.

There’s a lot more that goes into truck inspections than meets the eye. In terms of cargo control, truck drivers are all-too-familiar with inspectors checking everything from the number of tie-downs to the actual physical condition of webbing straps and chains. They check hooks, winches, anchor points, bungee straps, and even whether truck tarps are secured well enough to keep them in place.

Inspectors also check the physical condition of the trucks they are looking at. They check everything from tires to breaks and operating lights. And of course, don’t forget hours of service rules and the new ELD mandate. They are looking for anything that could pose a danger on the road – no matter how minor.

Training to Compete

A large number of truck inspectors gathered in Columbus, Ohio this past summer to participate in the CVSA’s North American Inspectors Championship. According to news reports, there were more than four dozen inspectors representing the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, all competing by way of a written test and hands-on demonstrations.

They were competing alongside truckers involved in the National Truck Driving Championships. While truckers were practicing everything from cargo control to turning and backing, inspectors were practicing all the steps that go into doing what they do. When it was time for the competition to commence, both drivers and inspectors hoped to be at the tops of their game.

A truck driver uses chains and straps to securely tie down a load. Drivers practice load tie-down in order to increase their efficiency in the real world of work. The more efficient they are at cargo control, the more time they have to keep the wheels rolling. It is just common sense.

Inspectors are in a similar situation. They practice the skills necessary to conduct complete inspections that are simultaneously efficient. The more trucks they can get in and out of inspection stations, the more they can look at in a given day. This keeps the trucks moving and the roads safe.

Knowing the Regulations and Physics

For both trucker and inspector, the key to success is knowing the regulations and physics of cargo control. Federal law, at least in the U.S. and Canada, is very specific in detailing how truck drivers are supposed to secure cargo to their trailers. One look at the FMCSA’s trucker handbook says it all.

Truckers need to be familiar with the rules so that they maintain compliance. They also need to be familiar with physics. Why? So that they can deploy their cargo control materials in the right way. No webbing strap or chain will do its job if it is not deployed properly.

As for inspectors, they need to have that same knowledge of regulations and physics. It is their job to make sure truckers are complying. If they don’t know what’s going on, they cannot possibly do their jobs.

Truck drivers, you now know that those inspectors you deal with all the time practice what they do. They not only practice to compete, but also to make sure they always operate at the highest possible level. It’s probably not a good idea to put them to the test. They know what they’re doing.

 


That Moment You Realize You’re Missing Tire Chains

You are planning a trip through California and Nevada via Interstate 80. You set out early in the morning on your first day with nothing but beautiful blue skies out the windshield. By the time you hit the road on day two, things changed. You’re approaching the Donner Pass in the middle of a snowstorm. Suddenly it occurs to you that you have no tire chains. It’s going to be a rough ride.

Driving a truck during the winter definitely has its challenges. Simply put, everything is harder during the winter. It is harder to accelerate, brake, and make your turns. It’s harder to cover your cargo with truck tarps. It is harder to stay warm. It’s even harder to maintain a certain level of safety. And yet seasoned truckers know that being proactive during the months leading up to winter can be a big help.

Getting your hands on a good set of tire chains is part of being proactive. Don’t wait until you’re faced with that first heavy snowstorm at the Donner Pass to figure out you don’t have chains on board. And by all means, don’t depend on chain banks. You’re not getting paid when the wheels aren’t moving. If you are having to wait for chains because a chain bank is empty, you’re losing money.

Snow Comes without Warning

Seasoned truckers also know that mountain snowstorms often come without warning. You may have a few days’ notice of a storm forecasters say will travel across the plains states. But there are times when ferocious mountain storms rear up in a matter of hours. A driver may leave a shipping yard fully expecting to have manageable weather all the way to his destination, only to find himself staring down old man winter at the base of a mountain.

How quickly can debilitating snowstorms blowup? Ask some of the truckers who attempted to pass through the Bow Valley section of the Trans-Canada Highway during the first few days of October. Nearly 2 feet of snow fell over a two-day span, stranding up to 300 motorists for 15 hours. The whole highway was shut down due to car accidents and jackknifed tractor trailers.

Any trucker who lost control of his or her vehicle lost both the time it took to recover the truck and the time spent waiting for the road to reopen. Tire chains obviously wouldn’t have stopped officials from closing the road, but they probably would have prevented some of those tractor-trailers from jackknifing and ending up in a ditch.

Know State Chain Laws

The fact is that there are some regions of the U.S. truckers shouldn’t even think about traveling through without chains on board. A good set of tire chains could mean the difference between keeping your truck on the road and having to call for a tow to pull you out of a ditch. Considering how much money it costs to remain idle, investing in tire chains seems completely reasonable.

We also encourage truck drivers to know the chain laws in the various states they travel through. For example, Colorado mandates chains be carried on trucks traveling along I-70 between mile markers 133 and 259. Drivers can be charged upwards of $500 for not using chains when required.

Tire chains can be a hassle to deploy. However, they serve a vital purpose that’s pretty tough to ignore that first time you realize you should have used chains but didn’t. Don’t be caught in a position of not having tire chains. Get your chains now, before that first big snowstorm leaves you stranded.