Sophisticated systems come together to start, run and control numerous aspects of truck performance. A computer known as the engine control module (ECM) is attached to the side of the engine and is designed to operate various truck features, not just the engine.
ECMs have been used in heavy trucks since the 1990s and have evolved since then to become increasingly refined in their functions. They operate by communicating with sensors placed throughout the truck to collect data and analyze, record and store it.
If a fault occurs in any of the systems a sensor or sensors will advise the driver by activating a warning light. Some of the behaviors the ECM manages include receiving data on engine speed (RPM), fuel consumption, truck speed, Antilock Brake System, harsh braking/rapid deceleration, maximum truck road speed, lane departure and crash mitigation systems, among others.
The ECM can be programmed to optimize fuel consumption and set the truck’s top speed using built-in speed limiter technology from the truck manufacturer. They are built with programmable software and were originally adapted as a means of diagnosing faults and failures to improve maintenance and repairs and to minimize unscheduled downtime. And they continue to do so.
There is no one size fits all with today’s trucks. Various engine manufacturers each use their own proprietary ECM and software, with differences evident among them. Some may not offer all the functions you require so take care when spec’ing your trucks. Crash mitigation and fuel consumption should rank high on your list.
Useful with Electronic Logs
Important data is received by the ECM and can be connected to an electronic logging device (ELD). This advantage saves driver time by eliminating hand writing in a paper logbook. The logs are reported automatically to the ELD in real time and recorded there.
This capability has led to a marked reduction in hours of service (HOS) violations as drivers can’t tamper with the ELD. A further benefit is lessening drowsy driving caused by extending HOS with paper logs. The highways become safer with trucks equipped with ELDs.
The ECM also monitors engine oil pressure and temperature, as well as coolant temperature. It also manages cruise control.
Other High-Tech Systems
Radar is available for commercial trucks and can be added to existing rigs. A front-facing radar sensor warns a driver if objects ahead are getting close. Systems are available now that work to monitor for objects nearby the sides of the vehicle for cornering and avoiding lane departure, as well as rear to warn of objects or people when backing up the truck, improving overall safety.
And some truck radar systems can even deploy the truck’s emergency braking system specifically for crash mitigation. Radar is a safety necessity with the coming of autonomous trucks.
Satellite tracking of commercial vehicles is also available using global positioning satellites to communicate a truck’s location and road speed in real time by sending data to a home base computer.
Antilock Braking Systems (ABS) are required on trucks with air brakes. Sensors measure wheel speed and communicate with a valve if a wheel or wheels is nearing lockup. The valve then closes off air flow to the wheels to avoid a dangerous skid and continue to brake safely.
Many high-tech systems make up today’s heavy trucks and not just for large fleets. Small fleets are able to utilize them as well. In fact, small shops can find opportunity in selling and installing add-on technological advancements like radar, satellite tracking and video cameras.
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