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The Hot Topics for MATS 2014

By on January 16, 2014

Every March the trucking industry gathers in Louisville, Ky., for the Mid-America Trucking Show (MATS). There are products from every major manufacturer, carriers from all across the nation and more than a thousand vendors covering more than a million square feet of display space. Do you enjoy looking at beautiful trucks? More than 100 of the finest bobtails, combinations and specialty trucks in North America compete in the Paul K. Young Memorial Truck Competition.

Seminars and workshops help truckers improve operations. Topics range from safety to laws and regulations, maintenance to basic accounting. The Kentucky Pork Producers serve up grilled pork chops and, for those with lighter appetites, pork burgers. Delicious doesn’t begin to describe them. Yes, MATS has something for all, from food for the body to food for the mind. But first and foremost, it is the place to see what will be new in the world of trucking for the coming year.

The big conversations of years past

PKY-overheadIn 2010, the then-new EPA regulations were hot topics. We saw the contestants in the EGR vs. SCR dispute presenting their cases, with SCR eventually becoming the accepted technology in the battle to meet emissions goals.

At the 2011 show, fuel economy was the issue everyone wanted to talk about. Trailer aerodynamics emerged as the most productive way to lower fuel consumption since the biggest percentage improvements had already been made. Trailer skirts, tapered trailer tails and under-trailer deflectors helped get 6 and 7 mpg trucks up to 8 mpg and beyond.

In 2012, fuel economy remained the focus, with more skirt manufacturers emerging. Each touted solutions for the others’ shortcomings. Flexible construction minimized damage from curbs and obstacles. Rubber edging protected rigid shapes while creative framing allowed enough give to minimize damage.

For 2013, attention shifted to alternative fuels, mostly natural gas. Cummins announced its own family of gaseous-fueled engines in addition to those developed with Westport Innovations. TA and Petro announced a network of LNG fueling stations to span the country along major north-south and east-west interstates, allowing over-the-road truckers the same opportunity to reduce fuel costs that domiciled operators have.

What’s next?

With MATS 2014 almost upon us, what can we expect to be featured? Were I to hazard a guess, I would say it would be the electronic integration of all the new technologies. Just about every system on trucks today has an electronic control unit (ECU). The ECUs communicate with each other across multiplexed wires. Trucks’ navigation and communication systems are reaching beyond the truck for input from distant places, while diagnostic and security systems are sending data out to faraway locations. GPS databases are starting to include terrain data, enabling predictive cruise control. Engines, transmissions and brakes communicate to determine optimum operation for each system and component. Integration is already upon us, and bound to advance.

I’ve been in conversations with drivers who fear that electronics will make their jobs obsolete. On the contrary, I believe that the coming wave of electronic integration will increase the driver’s value to the process, but as in other forms of transport, it will require drivers to keep up with the new technologies.

In modern aircraft, “glass cockpits” are lined with computer screens and automatic landing systems, but there is still need for a pilot to manage and control the aircraft. I see the same evolution taking place in trucking, where future drivers will need more technical skills.

As engineers focus more attention on meeting the EPA’s 2017 Greenhouse Gas regulations, systems will need to be integrated, and operators will need to think more in terms of large systems rather than individual components. And that is what I believe we’ll all be talking about at MATS and throughout 2014.

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One Comment

  1. Larry Green

    March 4, 2014 at 7:50 pm

    I would like to just take the time and thank, Andrea roth and joe at The TA travel plaza in Harrisburg pa for helping me get my truck ready and prepare for repairs. on 03/04/2014 also thank u for the complementary meal coupon . very appreciated!! THANK U TA. Larry green (southern refrigeration transport) (SOUL CHILD)

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