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Stopping a

Trailer: The
Pneumatic Brake

Evan Graveno

The Audience:

This process description is designed for students who are studying to pursue a career as a
heavy diesel mechanic. The technical description for parts specific to a brake system will be
defined, but common terms for the industry such as airline or coupler will take a liberty of
assuming the reader is familiar with them.
The paper will be looking strictly from the vantage point of a trailer. We are going to
assume that the truck is able to supply air pressure, as well as properly communicate with the
trailer electronically. Different makes and models may vary, but that information is not necessary
for the process that we are discussing as long as the truck is fully functional.


When a trailer gets loaded with 122,000 pounds, the driver wants to be sure that
everything with that trailer is going to perform exactly the way it is supposed to. Today I am
going to explain exactly why that trailer is able to slow down and stop at the drivers will.
As soon as the truck and the trailer are connected, the first step in our process is the
trailer being filled with pressurized air. The air, which builds up from an outside source, is stored
in a tank. When a pneumatic signal is received, a valve opens which fills the air bags next to the
brakes. This physical movement is used to make the brakes pads expand towards the brake drum,
creating friction which slows the turn of the wheels until it reaches a full stop.

Stopping the Trailer:

The process itself can be broken down into two distinct partitions, the initial pneumatic
process and the resulting mechanical process.


There are two lines leading into our pneumatic system. The first line is the supply line
and the second line is the signal line, also known as the service line. (Supply line: provides air
constantly.) (Signal line: will only provide air when signaling to engage brakes.) The supply line
with connect to a series of air tanks that will vary in number and size depending on the number
of axles on the trailer. The tanks will continue to fill until they reach a pressure between 115-120
psi. Once the tanks reach the desired pressure, a check valve (check valve: will allow air to flow
through it until the air pressure reaches a predetermined number) will cause any additional air
to bypass the system completely. When a signal is received from the truck, a blast of air will
flow down the signal line to a valve. That valve will open, release air from the tank. Once the air
is released from the tank, it fills an air bag (also called an air canister). Once the air bag fills, we
have a mechanical process which engages the brakes. Each wheel has its own air bag, and all of
the air bags are filled at the same time.


The air bag has an arm, known as a push rod, attached to it that pushes out when the air
bag is filled (see figure A). When this arm pulls, it is attached to a slack adjustor which is
connected to an s-cam(see figure B). The purpose of the slack adjustor is to allow an outside
source to adjust the tension between the air bag and the s-cam. The tighter the adjustment the
harder the brakes pads will press against the brake drum.

Figure A (Sindal) Figure B (Air Brake Adjustment)
When the push rod pushes the slack adjuster, the s-cam rolls; this pushes the brakes outward
along the blue pivot point as seen in figure B. When the brakes pads are pushed onto the brake
drum, friction causes the brake drum to slow its rotation. The brake drum is connected to the
wheels, so as it slows down the wheels will slow down as well.


Once the system is filled, it takes less than a second between when the driver signals to
stop and the brakes press down to stop the trailer. The air tanks store pressurized air until it is
ready to fill the air bags. Once the signal is received and the air moves to the air bags, it uses the
physical motion to press the brake pads onto the brake drum and slow the trailer to a halt.
Works Cited
"Air Brake Adjustment." Air Brake Adjustment | Palmer Leasing | Semi Storage, Flatbed Trailer,
Rental, Leasing, Sales, St. Louis, MO. Palmer Leasing, n.d. Web. 28 July 2014.
Dills, Todd. "Get Your Load On! (Edition 7)." Overdrive Magazine. N.p., 28 Feb. 2014. Web. 28 July
Sindal, Pete. "Article: The Brake System Maintenance & Repair." Flxible Owners International.
N.p., 2004. Web. 28 July 2014.