Tech Tips

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For work trucks to perform their jobs, they need a dependable battery. A battery provides the power to crank the starter and start the truck as well as run a number of accessories and/or liftgates that aid truckers in getting to their destinations and delivering their payloads. If the battery fails, the truck sits idle, which leads to costly downtime.


“The total cost of breaking down can vary greatly and grow exponentially. Costs can include parts and repair to towing as well as costs incurred because a load is late,” said Smokey White, vice president of sales and marketing for Pulsetech and sister company, Zamp Solar. “The cost of a dead battery could run from $1,000 to many thousands of dollars.”

There’s never a good time for a battery to die. When batteries die, it’s in a fleet manager’s best interest to get the truck back on the road as quickly as possible. 


Getting quickly back to business starts before problems occur. The savvy fleet manager familiarizes him or herself with available batteries, selects the right battery for the fleet's application and vehicle, and then correctly maintains the battery over its entire lifecycle. 

Truck Battery Types

The Class 6-8 truck industry relies mainly on Battery Council International (BCI) Group 31 batteries, which comprises three main product classifications:

  • Starting (wet/flooded).
  • Cycle Service (flooded).
  • AGM (Sealed Absorbed Glass Mat). 

Each battery type has its place, and the one a fleet manager ultimately selects depends on the application, the environment the battery operates in, and the fleet budget.

Flooded batteries that offer high starting and minimal cycle service are starting batteries. Many types of trucks, such as day cabs, dump trucks, line haul, mixers, and loggers, can function on starting batteries, according to Joel Brady, marketing communications manager for East Penn Manufacturing Co. 

Though flooded batteries work well in many applications, they come with a downside. 

“Flooded batteries are the most inexpensive, and they are also the hardest to maintain because you have to service them when needed, adding water and physically cleaning the battery and terminals to ensure proper service and long life,” White explained. “You must be careful not to add too much because overfilling will cause increased corrosion and overfilling. When acid gets on the battery terminals it can cause corrosion, leading to poor charge acceptance and battery failure.” 

Vicki Hall, director of Transportation Technical Solutions at EnerSys, warned that conventional flooded batteries would only “reach their potential lifespan if they are maintained properly.” She stressed maintenance must include checking electrolyte level checks, refilling distilled water, and inspecting and cleaning battery terminals every month.

When accessory power requirements and anti-idling restrictions put demands on work trucks that standard flooded batteries cannot handle, flooded cycle service or dual-purpose batteries may be a better option. Flooded cycle service batteries can withstand multiple electrical loads while providing plenty of cranking power to start the engine. 

Brady noted flooded cycle service batteries work well with sleeper cabs, day cabs, delivery trucks, school buses, and trucks with liftgates and reefer units, because the battery readily handles additional cycle service requirements.

“Newer trucks are even harder on batteries,” Brady said. “They cycle the battery often and have more hotel loads.” Newer trucks, he added, often require even more advanced battery technology.

The AGM, or Absorbed Glass Mat battery, is a step up from the flooded battery. AGM batteries offer premium cycling and starting power. AGM batteries absorb the electrolyte in glass mats inside the battery, making them more durable for cycling and better able to withstand vibration. These valve-regulated batteries are sealed for easier maintenance. 

AGM batteries work well with heavy-duty trucks, including day cabs, sleeper cabs, dump trucks, reefer trucks, line haul, mixers, and trucks with liftgates.

Michael Moeller, president of Remy Battery Co., noted, “AGM batteries are cost-effective considering the amount of work they perform in any vehicle, especially work trucks. AGM batteries are more durable, perform better, and last longer in rugged and high vibration applications compared to their wet lead-acid counterparts.” 

Interstate Batteries Lab Manager Jeff Barron explained that there are two types of AGM batteries; one uses pure lead product while another uses recycled lead. He said he recommends pure lead products over recycled lead.  

“With the pure product, there are no impurities still embedded in the material like you’d have with a recycled lead product,” he said. “Recycling removes 98-99% of the contaminants. You wouldn’t think that 1% would make a difference, but it does in cycle life comparisons. When you’re abusing the battery, a pure lead battery is the way to go.” 

Hall suggested selecting AGM batteries featuring advanced Thin Plate Pure Lead (TPPL) technology. She said they offer many advantages in commercial applications. 

“AGM TPPL battery design, such as the Odyssey battery from EnerSys, begins with 99% pure lead plates, not lead alloy,” she said. “The pure lead components do not corrode, unlike conventional flooded and standard AGM batteries. We can make the TPPL plates thinner than lead alloy plates, allowing us to use more plates, resulting in a greater surface area for the chemical reaction to occur. More surface area equates to more power and higher cranking ability.”


New Battery Options

New battery technologies are on the horizon. 

Liz Dunham, marketing communications specialist for batteries, gasoline, spark plugs, and bulbs at Robert Bosch, predicted lithium-ion will become a standard issue for many work trucks. Lithium-ion batteries last up to five times longer and offer up to 10 times deep-cycle resistance of comparable lead-acid batteries, along with low self-discharge, reliable power, durability, maintenance-free operation, fast recharge, and lighter weight.

“These batteries are great for vehicles with start/stop systems and regenerative braking while operating in extreme weather and requiring high electrical demands,” she said.

But lithium batteries come with a few concerns, safety being a big one. Chad Hall, vice president of sales and marketing at Ioxus Inc, explained that while lithium-ion batteries are entering the market, their ability to perform in cold temperatures and their safety concerns in a crash makes them a worrisome choice. 

“Their ability to perform safe charging over their life is also a concern. And they are expensive ($600-$1,000),” Ioxus’ Hall said.

Moeller of Remy recommended proceeding with caution when selecting lithium-ion batteries. “Lithium is a very volatile material when exposed to air or water or moisture, making it difficult to contain or control during battery failure or battery damage.”

Other battery chemistries offer promise, he said. These include nickel-zinc batteries and solid-state battery technology developed by John B. Goodenough and his colleague Maria Helena Braga. 

“Nickel zinc batteries have existed a long time, but there have been some interesting advancements in this age-old battery chemistry that we can adapt to the vehicle market,” Moeller said. The batteries offer similar advantages to lead-acid batteries. They are safe; they can perform in starting, cycling, and standby applications; they are made from cost-effective materials, and they are 100% recyclable.”

He added, “Solid-state batteries seem to be a promising technology, but they are still in the research phase. It may be 10-20 years before there are viable production applications for this technology.”


Pick Your Power

According to Hall at Ioxus, battery costs can range from $90 to $1,200 depending on the battery selected. 

When selecting batteries, begin by referring to the original equipment specification printed on the battery label. This specification will list the recommended cold cranking amps (CCA) value. 

“You should never put a battery in a vehicle that is lower than the OE specifications,” Barron said. 

He also advised staying within CCA tolerances when selecting a battery that has a higher CCA. Going 10% higher, he explained, might be OK. But, if the CCA tolerances are too high, the material in the battery won’t activate enough and start to harden. Over time, he said, there might be less capacity than needed to start the vehicle. 

Pick the right technology for the application, too.

“Picking the right technology can lead to massive savings for unique applications that require a high number of starts per day (delivery vehicles or fleets trying to implement start/stop or idle reduction policies),” Moeller said. “Picking the wrong technology may lead to a shorter battery life, which ends up costing much more in the long run. As the battery voltage goes down, it causes strain on other components. The engine might turn over, but some systems do not come on if the voltage gets too low and this damages electronics and hardware.”

Brady of East Penn, which recently introduced Fahrenheit batteries for commercial truck applications, provided the following application examples and battery solutions to help you spec the right battery for the job:

  • Dump trucks. Dump trucks undergo intense vibration during service. This extra vibration can be hard on a battery. In this application, AGM batteries are a good fit because they withstand intense jolts and vibration. 
  • Liftgates. Liftgates put additional demands on the battery. Any extra auxiliary power drain will shorten battery life if the battery is not equipped for cycle service or a deeper discharge. The battery may experience a loss of amperage from having the power for a liftgate run to the back of the vehicle.

    “If a battery is simply starting the truck, it is a fairly light application,” Moeller said. “But when we add additional accessories like a liftgate on a delivery truck, then we place more demand on the battery to power these accessories, and therefore we should consider a battery with more reserve capacity.” 

    Ioxus’ Hall added, “A capacitor-based system would vastly improve the lift capabilities, life and cyclability of all batteries.” 
  • Delivery trucks. When a truck starts and stops for deliveries, the application doesn’t give the alternator much time to recharge the battery. It also takes a lot of power to restart the engine over and over. Cycle service is essential to consider in these situations, Brady said.
  • Sleeper cabs. Sleeper cabs run multiple electronic accessories and cabin comforts. Also, parasitic loads and high-temperature battery boxes can affect battery life. 

    “[All these things] have created a huge demand for energy,” said Hall. “Separate the sleeper from the starting batteries and use a battery with high deep cycle capabilities and a high energy reserve. Starting the truck only requires a small battery with a capacitor or a good set of batteries to handle charge acceptance.” 
  • Extreme weather. All interviewed agree fleet managers must consider the weather when spec’ing a battery. When operating in a cold-weather environment, Barron said, trucks need a high-CCA battery with higher reserve capacity. In hot weather, fleet managers might get away with a lower CCA battery – but they still require a higher reserve capacity. 

    “Cold affects batteries the same way it affects engines and starters — it makes operation more difficult,” Hall explained. “All batteries have a CCA rating and during the winter, you need as many available CCAs as possible.” 

Hall concluded, “Remember, batteries have a finite amount of power and energy to deliver. The more you cycle your batteries, the less life you will have.”

Make Maintenance a Priority

In most cases, batteries last three to five years, depending on the weather conditions they operate in, electronic demand, driving habits, and maintenance. 

Knowing when the battery might fail has become more difficult than it used to be. New chemistry makeups in batteries make the signs less obvious than years ago, according to White.

Even so, there are a few warning signs that can indicate a battery is reaching the end of its useful life, said Hall of EnerSys. These include a slow-starting engine, electrical issues with onboard accessories, corroded terminals, and aging effects because of excessive use.

She added that batteries can fail for several reasons. Topping her list are application-related issues rather than battery problems, which include being exposed to cold temperatures, deep cycling with inadequate charging, and improper care. 

Battery maintenance should occur as vehicles come in for regular preventive maintenance. Maintenance measures should include:

  • Checking and confirming the hold-downs. When technicians do not secure the battery properly, Brady said, the extra vibration and jolting will damage the battery.
  • Cleaning all terminal connections (Group 31 studs or posts or cable lugs). Road dirt, grime, and grease will reduce charge acceptance, Brady said. He also recommended testing battery cables for wear and damage and replacing them as necessary. 
  • Use charging adapters on all stud battery posts when recharging. Technicians must screw the adaptors tight on the stud so there is a good lead-to-lead contact between the post busing and charging adapter. 

Moeller recommended one final step. “Have the battery tested annually or semi-annually. Most companies that sell and install batteries will provide this service for free.”

Remember to Recycle

When batteries fail, an essential part of maintenance is recycling them properly. 

“It is important to recycle your batteries with someone you can trust,” said East Penn's Brady. Return batteries to a core return program that partners with a recycler compliant with state and federal regulations and has environmentally sound facilities. 

While this article is far from a comprehensive discussion on batteries, if you follow the key considerations listed, you will be well on your way to ensuring you have power when you need it, and downtime because of battery failure is a thing of the past. 


Step One: Get Ready. Be Ready.

  • Investigate - Good preparation starts with your Safety Data Sheets (SDS). They will tell you what materials you’re using and storing at your facility and what hazards they present. Use your SDSs to determine:

    • What materials do you have onsite

    • If a spill of any material needs to be handled very quickly to minimize hazards

    • If you should evacuate because of noxious fumes

    • Health hazards associated with spilled materials

    • Fire or explosion risks associated with spilled materials

    • Wheter a spill will react with other materials

  • Verify - Next, do a quick audit to confirm that each material is onsite and document:

    • Where it is

    • How it's stored

    • How it's transferred

    • How it's used

    • The probability of a spill

    • The worst-case scenario for that spill.

  • Plan - Under the Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) standard, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires you to have a written plan. That means you need to identify the spill-prone areas in your facility and create a plan of action for each one based on the volume or nature of the material stored there. When you write your plan, you should:

    • Describe possible spill scenarios

    • Outline the steps for effective response

    • Identify what resources you need to respond

    • Detail employee responsibilitiiies

  • Train -  Now it’s time to get your people involved. But before you start, here’s something to consider: The HAZWOPER standard offers you the option of using outside resources for spill response and cleanup. When you hire professionals, you only need to train your employees in evacuation procedures — but your spill plan must identify the outside resources and include all of their contact information. It’s also a good idea to include your contract or other documentation detailing their services and commitment. However, for your employees who will handle spill situations, OSHA requires the following levels of training, depending on their level of involvement with the response operation:

    • First responder awarness level [29 CFR 1910.120(q)(6)(i)]

    • First responder operations level [29 CFR 1910.120(q)(6)(ii)]

    • Hazardous materials technicians [29 CFR 1910.120 (q)(6)(iii)]

    • Hazardous materials specialists [29 CFR 1910.120(q)(6)(iv)]

    • On-scene incident commanders [29 CFR 1910.120(q)(6)(v)]

Please visit for more information on the levels of training!

Step Two: Size Up the Situation

  • Stop – Never walk through a spill. Don’t touch or taste it to figure out what itspill

    is. Never rush into a spill area to help a worker who is injured or unconscious.

    If there is an unfamiliar smell, don’t go looking for the source.

  • Look – How big is the spill? Can you see the source? Has a tank or container

    leaked? What equipment is in the spill area? Is the spill headed for drains or

    other sensitive areas?

  • Listen – Do you hear anything unusual like the hiss from a burst feed line or a

    pressure valve? If you can’t figure out what has spilled, let responders in

    appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) determine what it is using instruments such as gas detectors, monitors or pH paper.

Step Three: Suit Up

  • Types of PPE

    • Suits: four levels to protect against chemical splashes, harmful dusts, vapors and mists

    • Gloves: protect hands from chemicals, punctures, heat and cold

    • Goggles or face shields: protect eyes and face from chemical splashes, debris and dust

    • Respirators: various levels to protect against harmful vapors, fumes and dust

    • Boots: protect workers' feet from eposure to chemcials and/or abrasive surfaces or debris

    • Turnout gear: used by firefighters; these suits help pprotect against exposure to high heat

  • Levles of Protection

    • Level A - highest degree of skin and respiratory protection

      • Fully encapsulated; worn with self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA)

      • Include reinforced, sealed seams to prevent vapors from penetrating

      • Used when the nature of the spill can’t be determined, or when vapors or chemicals are hazardous to skin and lungs

    • Level B – high degree of skin and respiratory protection

      • Include reinforced seams but are often not vapor-tight like Level A suits

      • Respiratory protection must be SCBA

    • Level C – limited skin protection and respiratory protection

      • Worn when the chemical and its concentration are known

      • Used with air purifying respirators with cartridges

    • Level D – the lowest level of protection for low hazard situations

      • Often an oversuit to keep everyday work clothes clean

      • No respiratory protection is included

    • Make your drill a dress rehearsal – Because wearing a “moon suit” is physically challenging, OSHA requires you to implement safety and health programs [29 CFR 1910.120(b)] to make sure that anyone responding to spills will be able to do it. An actual spill emergency is not the time to discover that someone on your team is claustrophobic and won’t be able to wear a Level A suit. The best way for your responders to learn how to deal with the lack of dexterity, restricted mobility and limited peripheral vision is by training in their PPE.

Step Four: Clean Up & Decontaminate.

No matter what size spill you have, the process of cleaning up is the same

  • Create a physical barrier around the spilled liquidspill containment

    • For smaller spills use absorbent socks or spill dikes

    • For larger spills use booms

    • Be sure to block access to floor or storm drains andother environmentally sensitive areas

  • Find the source of the spill and stop it

    • Roll punctured drums so that the hole is on the too

    • Shut off valves to ruptured pipelines or leaking flexible hoses

    • Plug or patch leaking tanks or other containers

      • Clean up the spill - Unless something inside the spill areaneeds to be removed or protected from damage, start fromthe outside of the spill and work toward the center.

      • Use absorbent mats, pillows and socks to soak up spilled liquids; make sure they’re compatible with the spill

      • Vacuum the spill to recover material for reuse; make sure the vacuum is compatible with flammables or corrosives

      • For small corrosive spills, neutralizing is an option

  • Collect all the material used to clean up the spill

    • Absorbents take on the characteristics of the absorbed liquids and should be disposed of properly

    • Disposable PPE, tools and other items should alsobe collected and disposed of properly or decontaminated

  • Decontaminate

    • Decontamination procedures are required under OSHA’s HAZWOPER standard [29 CFR 1910.120(k)]; make sure to test wet and dry methods before you have a spill to determine which is best for specific situations

    • Set up decontamination lines before a response is initiated

    • Decontaminate the spill area, tools and responders

No matter what size spill you have, the process of cleaning up is the same

Step Five: File Your Reports.

  • Plan ahead by:

    • Documenting all hazardous materials at your facility, their location and the quantity stored — another reason to do that audit!

    • Finding out what federal, state and local statutes apply to the substances and practices at your facility

    • Determining if you need to do a written follow-up report, what information you should include, how soon you should file it and where you should send it

These Tech Tips are Brought to You by New Pig
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The ABCs of ADBs

Understanding the benefits, maintenance aspects, and specification options of air disc brakes.

Credit to:


I Stock157181365
With reductions in stopping distance, easier and faster maintenance procedures, fewer replacements with longer pad service life and rotor service life, and flexibility in terms of their specification, it is clear why fleets have continued to adopt air disc braking systems.

The industry has been witnessing a trend with the increased adoption of specifying air disc brakes (ADBs). Specification of air disc brakes onto heavy duty commercial vehicles gained momentum in North America after the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 121 for air braking systems enforced a reduction in heavy duty commercial vehicle stopping distances, with required compliance as early as 2011. The increased adoption rate of ADBs can be attributed to these changes, since ADBs aid in stopping a vehicle in a shorter distance than traditional drum brakes. The rate and extent of ADB use has been growing ever since.

Some fleets are specifying ADBs on all axles while others are specifying ADB/drum brake combinations. Whatever the case may be, fleets should be aware of the benefits ADBs can provide, service and maintenance considerations with these brakes, and the decisions to be made when specifying ADBs.

Differences in components and mechanics

ADBs and drum brakes both apply torque to slow the vehicle. They both take inputted air pressure applied within a brake actuator or brake chamber to translate a linear force to apply the brakes. The similarities, however, stop there.

Drum brakes take the linear force from the chamber to the slack adjuster to help maintain running clearance. The S-cam is turned to apply the force against the drum shoe friction pads, which are pushed against the inner surface of the rotating drum. This process creates the torque to help slow the vehicle.

ADBs take the linear force from the chamber to an adjustment mechanism to help maintain running clearance. A piston force against the backing plate of the friction pads applies pressure to both sides of the rotor, which is spinning between the pads. This clamping process produces the torque to help slow the vehicle.

These mechanical differences are the reason for performance differences. One of the performance aspects to consider is brake fade. Brake fade can occur when the heat, built from the application of friction, causes functional variations to the braking system. With drum brakes, as the drum surface heats up it expands away from the friction. This expansion increases running clearance and, in turn, increases stopping distance. With ADBs, as the rotor surface heats up it expands toward the friction. This expansion decreases running clearance and, in turn, decreases stopping distance.

“Operationally, the ADBs have the ability to greatly resist brake fade and provide a more consistent brake torque application during almost all braking situations,” says Tony Ryan, technical services and training manager for SAF-Holland. SAF-Holland is a global manufacturer and supplier of chassis-related systems and components for trailers, trucks, and buses, as well as a provider of wheel systems, brakes, axles, and more.

“[ADBs] reduce stopping distance, most notably at higher speeds,” says Keith McComsey, director of marketing and customer solutions, wheel end, Bendix Spicer Foundation Brake. Bendix Spicer Foundation Brake combines the wheel end foundation brake technologies of Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems and Dana Commercial Vehicle Products. The joint venture is a single source for OEM brake system design, manufacturing, hardware, and support for foundation brake components and actuation systems.

“[ADBs] virtually eliminate brake fade … [brake fade] is a variable the driver sees; with a cold brake, the vehicle stops at one distance, and when the brake gets hot, that distance is extended. That variation to the driver is unpredictable. With ADBs, it is much more consistent and can be relied on by a driver,” McComsey says.

Another performance advantage of ADBs over drum brakes is the service life of friction material. ADB pad changes are less frequent due to their efficient on-road performance.

“With regard to tractor operation, the feedback I’m getting from customers, whether with ADBs on steer, or steer and drive [axles], is that they are getting 350,000-500,000 miles out of the brakes," says Greg Cooper, disc brake product manager, field product specialist, Stemco - Brake Products Group. "They are not seeing that kind of life out of their shoes. It is a significant difference.” Stemco is a manufacturer and supplier of commercial vehicle systems and components, including wheel end components, brake products, suspension products, and tire and mileage solutions.

“On the trailer side, it varies – depending on how much use [the brakes] are getting,” Cooper says. “If the tractor is equipped with drum brakes and the trailer is equipped with disc brakes, the trailer pads will wear out faster than normal. [ADBs] are a more responsive system, it works a little harder and tends to stop quicker; if it’s pulling the tractor, they may wear out quicker than anticipated.”

ADBs can also reduce the potential for Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) violations. When it comes to CSA violations mandated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, a large portion are due to brakes that are out of adjustment. A common cause leading to brakes being out of proper adjustment is rust jacking, or the buildup of rust between the brake shoe and lining. ADBs are less susceptible to rust jacking due to their ability to keep contaminants out from underneath friction material.

Changes in maintenance 

Of the differences between drum brakes and ADBs, the most notable are those related to maintenance and servicing.

“Fleets should expect simplified maintenance schedules,” says Savvas Constantinides, senior commercial product manager, Haldex. “Air disc brakes have different maintenance procedures, but [the procedures] are simpler and [are] required less often [than drum brakes].” Haldex is a developer and supplier of brake and suspension solutions in the global commercial vehicle industry, as well as a developer of technologies for electric and autonomous vehicles.

On the ADB side, there are longer pad replacement and longer rotor replacement intervals when compared to the drum shoe and the drum itself for drum brake systems. Not only is the friction material replacement interval longer with ADBs, but the maintenance required to change the friction material is also much quicker and simpler. Manufacturers have simplified the replacement process so that a technician need only swap a new pad in place of the old pad within a mounted bracket. It is always recommended to carry out a thorough inspection when replacing brake pads. A drum and shoe system is more labor-intensive, as technicians must work on a bigger, bulkier, and heavier system than ADBs.

“Service times [with ADBs] compared to drum brakes are significantly less," Ryan says. "With the vehicle jacked up and the wheels off, a pad change and a few prudent inspection checks will take only a few minutes per wheel end.”

“The ADBs friction will last longer; and if there is a chance that you have to replace the pads before you trade the vehicle out, the replacement and labor time to do that is much less – around one quarter of the time you would spend on replacing drum brake friction,” says Bendix Spicer’s McComsey. “It’s that kind of difference that is a real key benefit from a service perspective for the fleet for reducing their overall maintenance and labor costs.”

Along with longer pad life, the rotor in the ADB system has a longer service life than its comparative counterpart, the drum. With drum brake systems, it is not uncommon for the drum to be replaced at the time of friction material change. With ADB systems, McComsey says that the rotor should last two to three pad changes, further saving fleets in costs associated with parts, labor, and downtime.

Another significant difference in brake maintenance is that the servicing of slack adjusters, S-cam bushing wear checks or shaft greasing, free stroke checks, and other maintenance procedures are all eliminated when servicing ADBs rather than drum brakes.

“While the perception may be that air disc brakes are maintenance-free, the reality is that, like any other braking system, a regularly planned maintenance schedule is integral to maximizing performance, enhancing safety, and achieving optimal life,” says Jeff Wittlinger, business unit director of wheels and braking systems, Hendrickson Trailer Commercial Vehicle Systems. Hendrickson is a global manufacturer and supplier of medium and heavy duty mechanical, elastomeric, and air suspensions, axle and brake systems, and other components for the commercial transportation industry.

Another change to routine maintenance will be the focus on new and different areas of inspection on the vehicle. For example, technicians who have spent a majority of their careers working on S-cam drum and shoe systems will need to understand the critical service and maintenance points on an ADB system. There are fewer parts to inspect, maintain, and stock with ADBs when compared to drum brakes. This should translate to less necessary inventory and less downtime associated with preventive maintenance (PM) schedules.

Establishing a regular PM schedule that incorporates ADB inspections will be crucial in the fleet’s ability to capitalize on the adoption of ADBs and ensure that the braking system's operation is optimized. Inspections on integral ADB components, such as brake pads and calipers, will impact the system’s service life and performance.

“One factor that can negatively impact maintenance cost and system performance is allowing brake pads to wear past minimum thickness,” Wittlinger says. “When this happens, the pad’s metal backing plate can wear against the rotor. The disc brake mechanism will continue applying force to the worn pad, which, in turn, continues to grind against the rotor. If left unchecked, the rotor will likely require premature replacement and repair costs can skyrocket.”

When it is time to change the ADB friction materials, most suppliers recommend utilizing OEM or like-for-like parts. These are components that were designed to work together and meet OE specifications when the vehicle was manufactured. McComsey advised Bendix Spicer tested a number of aftermarket friction materials, and confirmed some severely reduced performance and increased stopping distance.

For those fleets researching the use of aftermarket friction materials, be sure to verify compatibility and work with a trusted supplier. 

Stemco has developed a comprehensive parts interchange that takes original pad equipment numbers and translates them into Stemco numbers. The system then uses the Friction Material Standard Institute numbers to culminate an interchange that determines what types of vehicles a pad fits, pad to caliper compatibility, and more. The interchange is available at through the site’s parts search section.

Specifying ADBs

With such drastically different architecture, mechanical operation, functionality, parts, and size, aftermarket specification to ADBs from drum brakes is a major undertaking. Although not unheard of, it is rare, as there is much to take into consideration when making the change from drum brakes. It would not only be more expensive to specify ADBs as a retrofit option but would also require significant downtime and labor. Most fleets will opt to specify ADBs on the vehicle at the time of production.

Fleets can specify ADBs through the OE on any and all axles of heavy duty commercial vehicles.

“The more axles that have ADBs on them, the more improved the performance is – the shorter the stopping distance [and] the longer the brake friction [material] and rotor will last – because the work is spread across all the axles more evenly and efficiently than when you have mixes of drum and ADBs,” says Bendix Spicer’s McComsey.

Not all fleets, however, are specifying all (both tractor and trailer) axles with ADBs.

“Market acceptance is currently being driven by ADBs being used on the tractor side, first on the steer and then on [the] drive axles. This is also in part due to the reduced stopping distance laws introduced for tractors,” says SAF-Holland’s Ryan.

The FMVSS mandated air brake systems to improve stopping distance performance on trucks with a 30 percent reduction in stopping distance, per FMVSS Title 49, part 571, Standard No. 121. The standard requires most vehicles to stop in no more than 250 feet when loaded to their gross vehicle weight rating, and that all heavy truck tractors stop within 235 feet when loaded to their lightly loaded vehicle weight, when tested at a speed of 60 miles per hour.

“The ideal situation would be to have ADBs across the whole tractor and trailer combination, or at least on the trailer [with drum on the tractor] so that it pulls the combination up straight and is nicer for the driver,” Ryan says.

It would seem that the best braking performance would be to specify ADBs across the board. However, Hendrickson’s Wittlinger poses thoughtful considerations.

“While there are many positives with disc brakes, we do think the business case for disc [brakes] on a trailer may prove to be different than a tractor. Factors like trailer trade cycle length, differences in brake pad wear between tractor and trailer, and overall stopping distance contribution from the trailer affect return on investment.”

“[Fleets] are specifying ADBs in many cases because of stopping performance, and how well ADBs respond with ABS; some systems have roll stability, traction control, ABS, etcetera," Says Stemco's Cooper. "The ADBs seem to adapt better to that technology and work more efficiently.”

A common configuration in today’s fleets is the specification of ADBs on the steer axle of the tractor, with drum brakes on the drive axles. The trailers will be fitted in uniform with either drum or ADBs.

Adoption across heavy duty markets

“ADBs can help fleets reduce their total cost of ownership and improve efficiencies and safety. This applies to fleets of all vocations. All fleets can benefit from ADBs,” says Haldex’s Constantinides.

Air disc brakes present many benefits to fleets. With reductions in stopping distance, easier and faster maintenance procedures, fewer replacements with longer pad service life and rotor service life, and flexibility in terms of their specification, it is clear why fleets have continued to adopt air disc braking systems.