The Inevitable Death of the SAE J560
Even if you have never heard of the SAE J560, there is an extremely high chance that you use one. Originally issued in 1951, the SAE J560 is a seven-pin connector that sends power from the truck tractor to the trailer. This gives power to lamps and other various devices for the trailer. As trailers become more technologically integrated and the demand for more devices in a trailer rises, the nearly seventy-year-old technology may soon go the way of the telephone booth.
INNOVATION AND STANDARDS
Technology marches on, and features considered to be luxury decades ago are standard now while things previously considered unthinkable are luxuries. In today’s trucking industry, savvier fleets may want to opt in on features such as (but certainly not limited to):
- Weight sensors.
- Door open/close sensors.
- Temperature control.
- Rear-view cameras for reversing effectively.
- Real-time tire pressure sensors.
- 360-degree video blind spot detection.
The demand for more uses of energy will only increase as trucking becomes more and more autonomous, and even if fully automated trucking is still decades away, that is all the more reason for why the SAE J560 is not going to do the job.
The seven-pin connector includes 14 contact allocations. While three of them are currently unused, all three of them are reserved for auxiliary purposes such as backup for antilock brakes. To truly add on more features (and any backup sources for more important functions such as temperature control), more pins will be required.
The question then becomes how many pins the new standard should be. In Europe, they use 15-pin connectors, but using more pins can better future proof the system for other trailer features so the industry is not stuck using 70-year-old technology again.
Industry experts say that part of the reason for the longevity of the seven-pin connector is how long a trailer lasts before needing to be replaced; often a trailer can last the lifespan of two tractors.
“If we were to start building nothing but state-of-the-art smart trailers today, it would take 20-25 years to replace the existing fleet. But by then, today’s technology would be long obsolete and we’d have to start all over again,” asserts Charlie Willmott, CEO of WillGo Transportation Consulting.
The difficulty of establishing a new standard that lasts is the primary reason why the SAE J560 has had such a fulfilling career. But seven is a finite number, and eventually will fall to the number of features trailers of the future will have.
The ubiquity of the SAE J560 means that even if a new standard were implemented immediately, it would not phase out any time soon. Even telephone booths, the example at the beginning of this article, still find decent usage in places such as Hawaii. But the truth is that if trailers are going to keep up with growing demands like other aspects of the industry (such as cabin interiors) have, new connectors are going to become commonplace eventually.
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