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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.


Auto Towing and Winches: How to Use a Winch Safely

Operating a tow truck or wrecker does require a good understanding of safety procedures. Between working in traffic and having to deal with hazardous conditions related to weather and topography, things can go wrong even on the easiest of jobs. The tow operator doesn’t need to make things even less safe by not knowing how to properly use his or her equipment. This includes the electric winches found on tow trucks and wreckers.

By itself, an electric winch is a harmless and inanimate piece of machinery. But hook it to a car and you have an entirely different matter. Once in action, winches are inherently risky tools that need to be treated with a safety-first mindset. Improper use of a winch could lead to property damage, serious injury, or even death.

Do not Neglect the Owner’s Manual

Using a winch safely starts with reading and understanding the owner’s manual. We know, it is so easy to discard the manual along with packaging. But it’s included for a reason. Not only should it not be ignored, but it should be fully understood before installation and use.

Along with all that is the basic principle of installing an electric winch according to manufacturer specifications. Those specifications are found in the owner’s manual. Safe operation requires doing exactly what the manufacturer recommends, right down to little details like not welding mounting bolts and using only approved power cords and wire rope.

Operational Inspections

Manufacturers will always recommend a tow operator inspect his/her winch before using it. This means before every use. Even if a tow operator doesn’t think an inspection is necessary on every job, the winch should still be inspected on a regular basis. The operator should be checking winch rope, hooks, slings, and all visible moving parts of the winch.

Frayed, kinked, or damaged winch rope should never be used. Any moving parts that appear to be worn should also be considered for replacement. You can never be too careful when you are connecting an electric motor to a 12,000-pound vehicle using a piece of winch rope.

Safety During Use

The nature of towing and vehicle recovery is such that problems with an operator’s equipment are usually not apparent until he or she is in the middle of a job. In other words, a visual inspection may not reveal a potential weak point in a winch rope. The operator might never know the rope is weak until it snaps during a recovery.

As such, the tow operator should always assume that danger is present whenever using a winch. Basic safety rules always apply no matter the circumstances. For example, the operator should stay out of the direct line of the wire rope during recovery. A winch dampener should be used just in case the rope snaps.

Operators should use spotters when possible. The spotter should also be out of the direct line of the rope. Neither the operator nor the spotter should attempt to manually assist the winch by pulling on the rope.

Finally, tow operators should never use electric winches to recover loads that are too heavy. They should never be used for overhead lifting either. Winches come with weight ratings that should always be adhered to. Exceeding the stated limits of an electric winch will almost always end badly.

Mytee Products sells a range electric winches for tow operators. We also carry a complete line of towing supplies including auto hauling straps, hooks, chains, and safety lights. Feel free to use our inventory to stock your tow truck or wrecker.


Here’s the #1 Reason We Sell Moisture Testers

Mytee Products was built around the idea of selling cargo control supplies to flatbed truckers. We started with basics like truck tarps, chains, webbing straps, and the like. We eventually expanded into other kinds of tarps along with truck tires and trailer equipment. But today, our inventory also includes agriculture supplies. Moisture testers are a good example.

You might think it odd for a company like ours to sell moisture testers. That’s fine. We want you to know why we do it. We think there is a lot of value in offering local farmers a couple of key items they can easily get through us rather than having to send away for them.

With that said, let us get back to the main point: why we sell moisture testers. The number one reason for doing so is encapsulated in a sobering article published by the Abilene-RC.com website in early November (2018). The headline of the article is Mold in Corn Causing Livestock Deaths. That about says it all.

Fumonisin Mycotoxin Killing Animals

A mycotoxin is a secondary substance produced by various kinds of fungus. Mycotoxins in an agricultural setting are almost always a threat to animal health; often times they are deadly. Such is the case with the fumonisin mycotoxin. It has been wreaking havoc in Dickson County, Kansas in recent weeks.

According to the article, both horses and swine in north-central Kansas have fallen victim to the mycotoxin. Rabbits have been affected as well. Where is this mycotoxin coming from? Mold growing within local plant life. They believe the particular problem in Kansas has to do with moldy corn.

If the mold manages to grow in the plant portion of the corn, it can eventually attach itself to the kernels as well. This is normally not a problem at harvest time as long as moisture levels are controlled. But if the corn is allowed to retain too much moisture, the mold grows, multiplies, and starts releasing the fumonisin mycotoxin.

Conditions in north-central Kansas are perfect for fumonisin problems right now. Unfortunately, the local area had a very wet autumn in concert with a spring that saw normal rainfall. The weather produced ideal conditions for mold to grow.

Hay Can Experience Similar Problems

Mytee Products sells a number of moisture testers for both grain and hay testing. Although hay was not mentioned in the Abilene-RC.com article, it is subject to similar kinds of problems. Hay with too much moisture can easily promote mold growth throughout an entire winter season of storage. That mold can result in exposure to at least half-a-dozen different mycotoxins that can have varying effects on cattle.

Some of the mycotoxins associated with most hay produce little more than the animal equivalent of allergies or the common cold. But others can be quite debilitating – or even deadly. We advocate for the regular use of moisture testers for this very reason. It is imperative that proper moisture levels be maintained while hay is in storage. Otherwise, the lives of animals could be at risk.

We get that farmers long relied on experience and intuition in the days before moisture testers existed. We certainly appreciate that as well. But the modern moisture tester represents technology capable of giving farmers a very accurate reading. Why not make full use of it? A moisture tester could mean the difference between preventing mycotoxin exposure or standing by while animals get sick.

 


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.

 


Know Your Tow Equipment and How to Use It

America has a lot of unsung heroes who really don’t get the recognition due to them. Among them are tow truck operators who risk their lives every day to recover broken down vehicles. We appreciate the efforts of these towing professionals , which is a primary reason for our decision to stock tow truck supplies including chains, hooks, winches, and towing straps.

This is the time of year we start hearing some of the wildest and craziest stories from tow operators. The later we get in a year, the wilder and crazier those stories will become. You see, winter weather makes already dangerous conditions absolutely treacherous for roadside recoveries. Any tow truck operator who has worked a winter on snow and ice-covered roads can tell stories that would make your hair stand on end.

We say all of that to say this: it is absolutely vital for tow operators to make sure they have all the right equipment on board to safely recover broken-down vehicles. But it is also critically important that operators know how to use that equipment the right way. A little knowledge goes a long way toward both effective and fast vehicle recovery.

Get In, Hook Up, Get Out

It is obviously necessary for tow operators to properly secure recovered vehicles with chains and straps before departing. To that end, rushing through a recovery job is not a good idea. But at the same time, a tow operator wants to get in, hook up, and get out as quickly as possible. Lingering for too long is an open invitation to trouble.

Knowing how to use towing equipment the right way increases both safety and speed. In terms of safety, a properly secured vehicle is a lot less likely to break loose during transport. That should be obvious. But let us talk about the speed question. Remember that a tow operator doesn’t want to hang around on the side of the road for too long.

If you have seen a professional lumberjack competition, you will notice that the men and women competing for the top prize can hack through a log in mere minutes. They are fast and efficient because they know how to use their tools. The same principle applies to operating a tow truck.

A tow operator who knows how to use his or her equipment can, and should, practice doing so. It should become second nature so that, on any given recovery job, the operator doesn’t have to spend 15 to 20 minutes figuring out what needs to be done. The more efficiently an operator can deploy chains and straps, the more quickly he or she can get out of harm’s way.

Know What You Need

Another side to towing equipment is knowing what is needed to complete most recoveries. For example, every tow truck is going to be equipped with a basic inventory of chains, straps, and hooks. But let’s say you operate a towing company in north-central Pennsylvania. Your trucks could be recovering a lot of vehicles from the mountain passes of I-81 this winter.

Your trucks might also need to be equipped with motorized winches and heavy-duty cables. Otherwise, how are you going to get those cars that have managed to find their way into ditches? Once recovered, your drivers may have to deploy some creative tiedown methods to overcome car damage.

Recovering broken-down vehicles is always a sticky situation. Doing it during the winter adds an extra element of danger brought on by severe weather. If you are tow operator, we implore you to make sure you know your tow equipment and how to use it.