Trailers in transition

Trailers in transition

As skyrocketing fuel prices continue to erode the bottom line of many fleet owners, trailermakers are responding with a wide range of product improvements

As skyrocketing fuel prices continue to erode the bottom line of many fleet owners, trailermakers are responding with a wide range of product improvements to help save money over time.

“The high fuel costs affecting trucking today means we have to build products that are lighter, stronger and more efficient going forward,” said Craig Bennett, senior vp-sales and marketing for Utility Trailers. “For, in my humble view, the conditions for $4 diesel will continue to exist in the near future.”

Bennett pointed to the company’s new flatbed and redesigned dry van trailer models as examples of this new philosophy in action. Utility’s new 4000-A flatbeds are 420 lbs. lighter than its previous 2000-A model, while the new 4000 D-X dry van trailer represents “an amalgam” of traditional sheet- and post- design with that of composite trailers, offering lighter weight, easier repairability and more durability.

“Innovation is what it’s all about today,” said Bennett. “With our new 4000 D-X design, we’re using a steel-frame skeleton with poured polyurethane between the posts that makes it lighter – thus improving fuel economy – while also improving durability and repairability. Fuel costs are putting more pressure on fleet profitability, so we’re being asked to help any way we can.”

Fontaine Trailer is also using composite materials in its new Revolution Combo flatbed trailer – a model that weighs only 9,000 lbs., yet offers an 80,000-lb. distributed frame capacity. Fontaine’s new flatbed features 23-ft. steel main beams combined with an extruded aluminum floor for maximum strength and support at a lower overall weight, giving fleets bigger payloads and more miles per gallon, Fontaine said.

Vanguard Trailers is also trying out some new design elements, aimed at making trailers lighter and easier to build without compromising durability or product life cycle.
Mark Roush, Vanguard’s director of engineering, said by using adhesives instead of rivets to construct the sidewalls of a new 53-ft.dry van prototype allowed the company to speed up production time while lowering costs – and, as the adhesive’s strength is rated at 2,200 psi, not sacrifice durability in the process.

“It also allows for a smoother sidewall, improving trailer aerodynamics and decal application, and reduces the risk of corrosion by eliminating metal rivets,” Roush explained. Vanguard is also experimenting with a new composite floor for its trailers, saving 700 lbs. of weight without changing the trailer’s 18,000-lb. floor weight rating. “This composite material won’t rot or corrode like wood, nor does it mind getting wet,” he noted.

Finally, Vanguard is testing new “underside” trailer skirts around the landing gear and rear axles to help improve a 53-ft. trailer’s fuel economy profile. “We think these type of trailer skirts could potentially improve tractor-trailer fuel economy by 7% or more,” Roush said.

Improving trailer fuel economy is the goal of ATDynamics new aerodynamic “TrailerTail” product – a rear-drag reduction device the company said is proven to increase fuel efficiency of long-haul tractor-trailers by more than 5%.

The company said third-party SAE J1321 testing showed the TrailerTail boosts fuel efficiency by 5.1% at 62 mph – while at 68 mph it yields potential efficiency gains of greater than 6%. Based on average long-haul trailer mileage, the TrailerTail can deliver more than a billion dollars in fuel savings annually to the North American trucking industry, according to Andrew Smith, CEO of ATDynamics.

“The industry is in transition,” Smith said. “Diesel prices are at record highs and concern over global warming will lead to even stricter emissions standards. At this critical time, we are providing long-haul fleets a trucker-tough technology that can reduce fuel consumption and pay for itself in less than a year.”

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