Air Bag Suspension For Semi Trucks – As with any system or component, it cannot be overstated that a regular maintenance program is necessary to ensure long service life and safe operation. For air suspension, now widely used on commercial vehicles, an important part of any routine maintenance program involves correct ride height settings.
When it comes to maintenance, air and mechanical suspension have a lot of similarities, said Sean Whitefield, marketing director of truck commercial vehicle systems at Hendrickson. “These maintenance items are essential to proper operation and suspension performance,” he said, “but a major difference between the two types of suspension is the need to maintain the ride height of the vehicle.”
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Whitfield continued, “Ride height on mechanical suspension is essentially non-adjustable and is established by the suspension’s components.” “Air suspension also has a ride height specification determined by its components, but this can be altered unintentionally by deviations in the height control valve or linkage.”
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Proper ride height ensures that there is a proper amount of downward and upward deflection, known as bounce and rebound, which also concerns Whitfield. Additionally, on straight truck applications, ride height can affect the frame angle, which will affect the caster angle on the front steer axle, changing the way the vehicle handles.
“In terms of air suspension, it is important to pay attention to the correct ride height settings,” said Omar Fernandez, marketing director of Trailer Commercial Vehicle Systems at Hendrickson. “If the suspension ride height is set incorrectly, damage to the air springs or air control components may occur.
“Particularly for air springs, look for bellows or piston damage, or misalignment of the mountings,” Fernandez said. “For air control components, look for broken, bent or missing parts.”
Mark Molitor, senior product manager of chassis suspension at Link Mfg., points out that air springs are very durable. Nevertheless, any debris that sticks to the piston can cause bellows damage.
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“If you’re working in a muddy area, spray the piston to help extend the life of the air spring on which the rubber bellows move,” advises Molitor. “Also, a visual inspection is important to check for any abrasions or cuts. Also, if a truck or trailer has lost all of its air after being parked overnight, inspect the air connections before replacing the air springs. If the leak cannot be heard a simple soap spray is an effective way to locate.
Shawn Whitefield said routine air suspension maintenance should include audio inspections. “Inevitably, you will be hearing about air leaks from fittings, air lines, air springs and height control valves,” he said. “Air leaks can be an early indicator of a condition that could lead to a more serious problem, such as height control valve failure, a broken air spring, or a broken air fitting.”
Identifying an air leak is an important first step as it requires the driver’s pre-trip inspection. DOT regulations have a maximum allowable amount of air leakage depending on vehicle configuration. The pressure loss rate must not exceed 2 psi per minute for single vehicles and 3 psi per minute for combination vehicles.
The height control valve, including the linkage that connects it to the suspension, needs to be inspected for damage such as bent or broken components caused by road debris, Whitfield also pointed out. “It is important to check the vehicle ride height to ensure proper suspension performance during vehicle operation,” he said. “If the ride height is found to be out of specification, the height control valve will need to be adjusted to correct this condition. Suspension manufacturers have specific procedures for accomplishing air rise height adjustment.
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Whitefield adds, “For the most part, air suspension does not require any special tools and most shops will already have the necessary tools to adjust, diagnose, and maintain the suspension.” “Tools may include a tape measure to check ride height and a gauge is sometimes needed to confirm air pressure while making it easier to identify any restrictions in the supply system.”
A qualified technician should review Mark Molitor related suspension literature. Operator and maintenance manuals will show which parts need to be considered, such as height control valves and air springs that need to be inspected and eventually replaced.
Omar Fernandez also advised fleets to take advantage of the information and training available from suspension suppliers. For guidelines on maintenance intervals and proper procedures, he pointed to online training that provides step-by-step guidance in the form of videos and courses. “No system is maintenance-free, and all systems regardless of suspension type should follow a regular maintenance schedule,” he said.
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Volvo, Mack Trucks have designed their EV Dealer Program to ensure that technicians understand proper safety procedures when servicing electric drivetrains and components. Toronto, Ontario. — When was the last time you heard a driver say something positive about trailer suspension? Most drivers would probably never know their trailers even had suspension, but one design innovation from Hendrickson has actually led drivers to call the company to find out what type of suspension they’re towing. They wanted to urge their owners to impose a similar suspension on future trailer orders.
That innovation, called Zero Maintenance Dumping, began about 10 years ago and was originally conceived as a maintenance savings idea. It first appeared on Ultraa-K suspension in 2014, where it is now standard. It is also currently available on select Vantraax and Intraax systems.
“There are approximately 150,000 Ultra-K suspensions in service now and approximately one million ZMD air springs,” says Scott Fulton, director of product development at Hendrickson Trailer Commercial Vehicle Systems. “We really hoped this would just be an improvement in the lifecycle cost of air suspension, but the positive feedback we have received shows it is much more than that.”
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Fulton says that at first he didn’t understand what was happening, so he took some trailers, instrumented them, and began studying what was happening. “We soon found that the ZMD suspension system reduced some of the forces being transmitted to the trailer and this improved the ride in ways that we could document and understand.”
Hendrickson’s Zero Maintenance Damping System looks just like any other air suspension, except it has no shock absorbers. A down-stop now occupies that space to prevent further expansion.
The design objective of creating the ZMD was to reduce the total lifecycle cost of the air suspension. He looked at the various components and their life expectancy and decided the shock absorbers had to go. But shock absorbers provide the necessary damping in air ride suspension.
All suspensions require some form of damping, which resists the motion of the suspension and trailer. For example, in a leaf-spring pack, the spring provides the frictional damping force between the leaves. Since an air spring has no internal resistance, some damping mechanism is required. Hendrickson was able to eliminate the traditional shock absorber by designing a new air spring and piston assembly.
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Essentially, the air bag and piston form a sealed air chamber that is separated by several small air passages between the bellows and the piston. As the air spring is compressed by road input, air is pushed from the cavity inside the air bag into the cavity inside the piston. The resistance of the air passing through the passage between the two air chambers and the associated increase in pressure provides the damping force distributed to the former by the shock absorber. There are no moving parts anymore.
Fulton says, “Testing showed that this design was just as effective as a hydraulic shock absorber but it came with some unique and unexpected side effects.” “It makes the ride better
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