BTS 2023 unpacked – Truck Show Tech Tours

‘The Tech’s Files’ is a regular series exploring topical technical issues impacting the trucking industry- Presented by Adam Ritzinger, HVIA Chief Technical Officer

This year’s Brisbane Truck Show was bigger and better than ever.

Although I have attended BTS many times in the past, and also had the exhibitor’s perspective once as well, this was the first time I got to be in the ‘engine room’ and see how the whole incredible event comes together from start to finish.

So what does an enthusiastic trucking engineer do with an opportunity like this? You run Tech Tours, of course! Over the course of the four days of the show, I had the distinct pleasure of walking several small groups through some technical highlights of the show’s main hall.

This edition of ‘The Tech’s Files’ gives you a small insight into the technologies that we got the chance to see first-hand and discuss with enthusiastic exhibitors.

Unfortunately, there was far too much to cover here, and the show itself was far larger than we could accommodate in a brief walking tour.

It really has to be seen to be believed, and best experienced in the flesh. If you didn’t make it in 2023, put BTS 2025 in your calendar now!

Something old, something new

Our first stop was a stand that didn’t exist until the day before the show opened, but ended up generating a huge amount of interest from attendees. An unfortunate and unexpected logistical issue meant that one exhibitor had to pull out at the last minute, and we put our heads together to fill the space.

The result? A stunning display of what 50 years of development in the trucking industry looks like!

On the left is a state-of-the-art fully-electric autonomous yard truck that can also be remote-controlled.

It was displayed by HDrive, the local distributor of a range of heavy and medium size zero-emissions vehicles. Currently in operation in China, it has a GCM of 75 tonnes and can operate for up to 46 km at full load.

On the right is a 1976 Ford LN900 ‘Louisville’ prime mover, painstakingly restored and supplied by Cam McFadyen, managing director of South East QLD Tilt Tray. That these two vehicles can exist within just 50 years of each other and perform the same tasks is an incredible testament to the pace of development of the trucking industry.

Different sides of the same coin

A short walk down the aisle led us to two interesting stands that feature different uses of energy technology to address the same issue – decarbonisation.

The first was Janus Electric, where we got to inspect a battery-electric heavy-duty prime mover featuring their ‘Change & Charge’ battery solution, which enables an impressive 4-minute battery swap time.

We heard about how that solution is flexible enough to be applied to a range of modern prime movers and can evolve and take advantage of continual advances in battery technology.

At the Hyzon stand, we were treated with a close-up view of a production-level hydrogen fuel cell, previously kept under wraps at Hyzon’s Melbourne headquarters. Standing next to what is essentially an on-board electric power plant was a definite highlight.

It also featured in the stunning rigid waste compactor parked next to it. We also heard about Hyzon’s exciting new hydrogen production and re-fueling station coming soon to Melbourne.

Unlimited power

Although we didn’t get to stop at every stand that featured an electrically powered truck axle or trailer axle, we did note the remarkable number on display and discussed the impact that these products are set to have on the industry.

As more and more trucks adopt zero-emissions technologies, the focus is naturally expanding to encompass the environmental contribution that trailers can make as well. There is considerable merit in replacing conventional power systems on trailers (such as diesel fuel-burning refrigeration units) with electric systems that generate power automatically while the vehicle is in motion.

BPW Transpec, SAF-Holland, and Dana each showcased electrically-driven axles for varying applications.

The SAF-Holland TRAKr energy recuperation was notable as it also featured on two trailers at the show, one of which was the eye-catching refrigerated FTE semi-trailer with McDonalds livery parked in the main hall.

Automatic for the people

Even though sustainability technologies were undoubtedly front and centre, developments in safety and automation didn’t take a back seat. We were treated to a ground-breaking display of such technology at the JOST stand, which featured its new ‘KKS’ automatic fifth wheel coupling system.

The system allows couplings to be completely controlled by the driver from the vehicle’s cabin, and encompasses not only the fifth wheel itself, but the air, brake, and electric connections to the trailer as well. A system of three sensors mounted within the fifth wheel itself ensures a correct coupling. Automating the coupling task greatly improves driver safety, increases efficiency, and is one more piece in the elusive autonomous vehicle puzzle.

Next-gen trucks

Completing the Tech Tour took us to some big brands. At the Paccar stand we were treated to the first Australian preview of the brand new DAF XG+ 660, a recent winner of the 2021 international truck of the year award. We marveled at the latest generation in-cabin technology and advancements, but keen-eyed Tech Tour participants spotted one noticeable omission – the side mirrors!

The truck features a game-changing ‘Digital Vision System’, comprising external cameras and in-cabin displays, allowing better and more complete rear views than otherwise possible.

Even though there were some impressive machines on display at Volvo, the one that caught my eye was the striking multi-colour FH prime mover.

I invited responses as to what the colour scheme represented. ‘Indigenous art’ was an interesting take, and ‘hyper-colour’, like the old t-shirts from the 90s’ was another.

But I was told the real answer was the vehicle’s aerodynamic drag pattern at highway speeds – green and blue represent areas of free-flowing air (i.e. low drag), while yellow areas represent turbulent air (i.e. higher drag).

Extensive wind tunnel testing by engineers ensures that aerodynamic drag is minimised, and I was very glad to see what are usually behind-the-scenes technical exercises, being displayed front and centre.

Will the Tech Tours be back in 2025?

Based on the success of 2023, most definitely! We will review the format and scope and build on what we delivered this year.

Thanks to all the willing Tech Tour participants, and also to the exhibitors who lent us their time and expertise.

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