Mini black box: a small box with huge impact

Reading time: approx. 5 minutes
Text: Joachim Geiger
Photos: Silvia Steinbach

Why make it complicated if it can be simple? To trace the forces that impact a running gear during a field test, Reiner Moog used to have to unpack all his measuring equipment. Now, with the mini black box, the head of field testing at running gear specialists BPW Bergische Achsen is breaking new ground: the new device fits inside a case and can be ready to use in two hours. This might not sound spectacular, but it could be the Holy Grail of measurement technology.

The mini black box has been at the heart of Reiner Moog’s work for around three years. However, the head of field testing still has a clear memory of the first presentation he gave to the BPW board on the innovative measurement technology concept back in spring 2017. The core question was how the new BWP ECO Disc TS2 trailer disc brake was working out for haulage customers day-to-day. BPW had set up its own global field testing with selected customer trailers for the final brake test. In this type of situation, it was previously only possible to obtain a conclusive answer from what is known as in-use testing, whereby trailers equipped with extensive measurement technology and a classic black box took to the roads for a field test. A job that could bring even seasoned measurement technicians to break out in a sweat. ‘Field tests with conventional black box technology require enormous effort to determine the forces, torque and acceleration that impact a running gear during the test,’ explains Reiner Moog, who will celebrate his 25th anniversary of working at BPW next year. ‘Simply equipping a trailer running gear with sensors, strain gauges and calibrated components can take up to six weeks.’
A dyed-in-the-wool measurement expert: Reiner Moog, an expert mechanic and a fixture of the company with 24 years of service, is head of the field testing department at the Brüchermühle plant.

The mini black box and the Holy Grail

It’s clear that in field tests, often only one or two test vehicles are used. But what would happen if the complexity was significantly reduced? If there was a precise measurement system that allowed a large number of test vehicles to be equipped? That would provide the kind of wide range of statistical data that many measurement technicians can currently only dream of? With the mini black box (MBB), Reiner Moog has found his Holy Grail. The basic idea is that a measurement system that precisely and thoroughly records only the trip and driving manoeuvres can also provide information on the strains on a running gear. Accordingly, the mini black box does not determine any hard physical values and therefore does not require intricate measurement equipment. Reiner Moog recalls people asking excitedly when the product would be available before his presentation on the MBB concept had even come to an end. Twelve months later, around 80 customer vehicles are on the road with the first generation of the MBB around the world.

Innovation that fits in a case

Reiner Moog has achieved his main goals with aplomb. The mini black box is a low-cost system which, in comparison to conventional measurement technology, looks spectacularly unspectacular: the entire set fits inside a small case. It includes two sensors for measuring turning and acceleration, which are fitted to an axle and below the chassis respectively using a stable bracket. It also includes a manageable number of cables – and the TC Trailer Gateway telematics solution with GPS and mobile data module from the BPW subsidiary idem telematics. Power is supplied by the trailer’s electronic braking system (EBS). An experienced mechanic can install the set, including the EBS software adjustment, in two hours.

A wide range of raw data for analysis

When the measurement system kicks in, three signal sources come into play. While the GPS determines the vehicle’s current location, the EBS and attached sensors give their input into driving operations. Here, up to 60 raw signals are compiled, including wheel-based vehicle speed, axle load, lateral acceleration and yaw rate. The art is now in developing factors based on this data that describe the use of the vehicle with regard to driving manoeuvres and their nature and frequency. For instance, braking energy is a factor that can indicate the strain on a trailer’s service brake. The digital components of this value consist of a combination of measurement values such as vehicle speed and applied brake pressure with specific vehicle data such as brake response pressure and brake pad friction.
The low-cost measurement system: in field tests, the mini black box supplies a wealth of data and findings regarding driving manoeuvres, their frequency and nature.

Strategic partnership with SAP

Of course, all kinds of computing power and highly developed system intelligence are required to process this data. That’s where SAP, the software manufacturer and a strategic partner of BPW, comes in. The centrepiece of the mini black box is an Internet platform provided by the company based in Walldorf, Baden-Württemberg. The digital infrastructure includes sufficient cloud storage and a range of tools for the management, analysis and evaluation of measurement data. However, these programs had to be adapted to measurement technicians’ requirements first of all. The central task was to pack the combined expertise of the field testing department into efficient algorithms for automated data evaluation. Together with a team of programmers, Reiner Moog settled into an office at the BPW Innovation Lab in Siegburg. The first few months were no picnic for the 48-year-old. At the end of the day, this measurement expert is not a digital native for whom all things digital simply fell into place. ‘At the beginning, conversations with my IT experts were all Greek to me,’ he admits. Yet Moog has long since internalised his colleagues’ way of talking and thinking.

The right answer in just one click

The hard work ultimately paid off. The graphic user interface on the mini black box is neat and easy to understand. Even new users will grasp how to use it instantly. In just a few clicks, users can access graphs, lists and tables enabling specific conclusions on usage conditions for selected field test vehicles. In which countries are customer trailers with MBBs currently on the road? Reiner Moog can answer this question at the click of a mouse: all vehicles are shown on a map overview. How often do customers’ vehicles brake in China? How much turning is done in Turkey? What happens to running gear torsion when the vehicle is on the road in India? Just a few clicks provide the answer to even the most difficult questions.
Key questions: a running gear’s success depends on whether it meets a market’s requirements. Field tests with customer trailers supply the answers.

Measurement system ignites the spark

The mini black box will also ignite the spark for the organisation and performance of new field tests in future. For instance, if the field testing department is required to validate a brake’s stability, the perfect candidates for the field test can be found in an instant. First of all, the system depicts the relevant braking data for all vehicles equipped with the MBB in a graphic overview. Based on this list, Moog can then select specific vehicles where the drivers use the brake particularly often. This is exactly the source of the mini black box’s potential: the more vehicles with this measurement technology that are on the road, the more data is compiled and the more reliable the analysis is. This also allows the length of a field test to be reduced dramatically. Last but not least, this also benefits product management and sales, as new products can be launched more quickly.

The new low-cost technology

The low-cost technology could also offer BPW customers tangible benefits. For instance, the system could conceivably be used for preventative trailer maintenance. Factors such as road use, turning and the frequency of manoeuvres such as ‘turning when stationary’ could be consolidated into recommendations for switching tyres between different axles to ensure tyre friction remains as even as possible. The data on braking energy can be used to produce recommendations for when the brake pads next require maintenance.

So when will the mini black box be available on the market? In this response, Reiner Moog cautiously applies the brake: ‘the mini black box is a tool that could become an integral part of the development of new BPW products in future. Other potential uses are still just dreams for the future.’

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1 Comment

  1. Spitze Artikel, der sehr gut verständlich beschreibt, warum BPW im Bereich Versuch so weit vorne ist.

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