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Festo picked for groundbreaking fifthwheel development

Leading automotive supplier Fontaine International has chosen custom pneumatic actuators and control systems from Festo as key components for its innovative new 2 position 'fifthwheel' coupling system for articulated lorries. Manufactured using the latest techniques from a highly corrosion resistant alloy the actuators are specifically designed for the notoriously harsh on-road environment, where low temperatures, high humidity and salt spray dramatically increase the risks of corrosion. Fontaine is one of Europe's leading manufacturers of fifthwheels, the horseshoe-shaped device at the rear of a lorry tractor unit which provides a robust and secure link with the trailer by retaining the trailer kingpin. The specific aim of the new design, the 150SF, is to reduce the number of accidents which occur during coupling and uncoupling of the trailer and tractor unit. With the maximum length of lorries being restricted by law the space between the cab and the trailer comes at a high price. Restricted space between the two has meant some drivers taking the risk of leaving the tractor and trailer units uncoupled when attending to the air and electrical connections between the two - with sometimes fatal results. The new Fontaine fifthwheel uses a pneumatically-controlled sliding frame to give the driver the option of two different fixed positions for the fifthwheel, while the trailer remains securely coupled to the tractor. The rear coupling position leaves the driver enough room between tractor and trailer to disconnect and reconnect the air and electrical connections in safety. Before moving off, the slider is returned to the forward or driving position, allowing the vehicle to operate normally and within mandated length and weight constraints. The pneumatic components for the new sliding sub-frame had to be chosen with care. Fontaine place great emphasis on quality - as a manufacturer it is approved to TS16949, the harmonised standard for automotive supply chain - and on safety. The components for this safety-critical device had to operate reliably and consistently, in all weathers. "We selected Festo to supply the air cylinders for our two position sliding fifthwheel as we believe them to be a world class supplier of pneumatic products. The company understands our requirements as a TS16949 approved supplier and engaged its special products team to ensure we received the bespoke solution we needed", said Julie Jones, QA Manager at Fontaine. "We were impressed with their commitment to supplying an extensively tested, fit for purpose product for a safety critical component like our two position sliding fifthwheel." The partnership style of working is very much part of both companies' cultures, and the Festo team worked closely with Fontaine's own engineers to develop the pneumatic components using corrosion-resistant materials and to design an appropriate testing strategy. This included rigorous salt spray testing, to give Fontaine the confidence of knowing that the sliding subframe would stand up to the punishment of life on the road.
 

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