TE Connectivity Powers down High-Power Systems

Switches and relays that disconnect batteries and other electrical systems are necessary for safer, more productive trucks and off-highway vehicles.

Off-highway vehicles require switches and relays that open and close the electrical circuits that power their advanced systems. (TE Connectivity)

Commercial trucks and off-highway vehicles, faced with new regulatory developments, customer demands and market pressures, are responding by undergoing a renaissance of innovation. In the past few years, these vehicles have become increasingly advanced. They now include several new high-technology systems and features that are enabling improvements in operational performance, sustainability and productivity.

Jon Harman, Global Vice President, Sales and Customer Care, TE Connectivity. (TE Connectivity)

The driver of electrification is regulators’ and shareholders’ insistence that the transportation sector reduce carbon emissions, as well as the general desire across society for greater sustainability. Electronification, on the other hand, is about improving performance. A myriad of new electronics are emerging in trucks and off-highway vehicles, including new sensors, cameras, hardware, high-speed connectivity, user-friendly touchscreens and telematics packages, that combine to enable vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications that improve both efficiency and safety.

The culmination of these two trends will be in the form of SAE Level 5 autonomous vehicles that unlock greater productivity and significantly improve safety across commercial trucking and off-highway applications, including agriculture, construction, mining and warehousing. Recognizing that in many industries there is a shortage of qualified operators, autonomous vehicles will also help organizations to overcome this challenge.

Though full Level 5 autonomy remains many years away, the benefits of other new technologies are being realized today thanks to their impact on productivity and safety.

“Electrification and electronification are impacting trucking and off-highway operators at different speeds due to the size of their fleets, route requirements, budgets and age of their vehicles,” said Tom Perry, Product Manager, Industrial and Commercial Transportation, TE Connectivity. “Commercial trucks often log long miles, making electrification a challenge. And off-highway vehicles, which are ruggedized and powerful, have operating lifespans of 20 years and beyond. As a result, it’s not uncommon for next-generation vehicles to work side by side with legacy vehicles powered by ICE powertrains. However, as batteries become more powerful and ranges increase, we will see greater electrification across the sector.”

Productivity key, but safety first

The high cost of commercial vehicles makes their productivity essential to ensure a proper return on investment. “With so much capital investment locked in vehicles, owners and operators want to maximize their productive working time,” Perry said. Owners can not only lose thousands of dollars a day when this machinery is out of service, but they also can increase their returns if the useful life of those vehicles can be improved or extended.

Electronification is also improving productivity. Vehicles with high-speed data connectivity can be more precisely controlled and tracked, allowing them to optimize routes so they can achieve more within a specified amount of time. They also can be remotely monitored and analyzed so that predictive maintenance can be performed, and problems avoided before a vehicle is taken out of service.

With fewer moving parts, electric vehicles also are predicted to be more reliable. If a problem is experienced that is unrelated to the powertrain, such as running over an item in a field and having it get tangled in the equipment, switches and relays that disconnect batteries quickly and easily enable technicians to service these vehicles in the field, restoring them to full productivity faster.

“However, field maintenance creates safety issues that must be addressed to protect machine operators and maintenance technicians as they work on and around vehicles,” Perry said. High-power and high-voltage systems, as well as other moving parts, can severely injure workers if not turned off before they are accessed.

As a result, off-highway vehicles must have switches and relays that open and close the electrical circuits that power their advanced systems. When multiple technicians work on a vehicle simultaneously, it is important to have safeguards that prevent one from reactivating a high-power electrical system, which could harm the other workers.

Sourcing the right switches and relays

Battery disconnect switches, power relays and e-stops help extend the life of connectors by eliminating the need to disconnect, remove and reconnect them. (TE Connectivity)

Mechanical and electrical engineers at OEMs want to source robust, high-performance switches and relays for the heavy equipment they develop – and for good reason. Switches and relays must perform repeatedly to enable safe operations and maintenance.

With battery disconnect switches, operators manually turn handles to disconnect batteries, which takes less than a second as the handle rotates from one position to another. They can also lock and remove handles for added safety. This is much easier than physically removing battery cables, a time-consuming process that can be challenging when batteries are placed under other equipment.

Power relays enable workers to depower operations remotely in milliseconds. Utilizing power relays offers the ability to remotely control power switching without the expense of running heavy-gauge power cables that carry hundreds of amps (4/0 AWG or 120 mm2 minimum, up to around 500 MCM or 240 mm2) all over the vehicles. Eliminating a long run of such cable saves cost and weight, reduces complexity of wiring harness, reduces potential failure points and simplifies maintenance of the vehicle. These benefits can more than pay for the cost of a power relay.

Large equipment such as pavers or aggregate crushers may have multiple emergency-stop switches (e-stops) located so that operators do not have to run around vehicles to power off systems in case of emergency. The e-stops connect to relays, enabling remote powering down of systems.

Large equipment such as pavers may have multiple e-stop switches so operators do not have to run around vehicles to turn off systems in case of emergency. (Wirtgen)

Sourcing components, such as battery disconnect switches, power relays and e-stops specifically designed and developed for the industrial and commercial transportation market, ensures they can resist punishing operating conditions, shock, vibration and extreme temperatures, as they are used day after day and year after year. In addition, they help extend the life of connectors by eliminating the need to disconnect, remove and reconnect them.

Through selling factory-direct, via a centralized distribution organization, or individual distributors, component manufacturers can provide OEMs with greater flexibility in purchasing solutions. As a result of this direct engagement, customers can provide input about requirements and influence product design, and experience shorter lead times and faster service delivery.

Component manufacturers also can work with standards committees to shape the industry’s future by developing next-generation products that offer enhanced functionality and performance while evolving legacy products to meet new standards.

High-quality switches and relays put operators and technicians in control of when they start and stop systems. With these solutions, vehicle owners protect workers from electrical shock, injury due to moving parts, damage to the machine and more, while also maintaining a high level of productivity.

Jon Harman, Global Vice President, Sales and Customer Care, TE Connectivity, wrote this article for SAE Media. He previously led TE’s Global Product Management and Pricing organization within the Industrial and Commercial Transportation vertical.