Advancing trailer technology

June 5, 2013
A golden age of trailers is upon us

It is not an exaggeration to say that trailer innovation appears to be in a golden age. New trailer models, new and redesigned components and systems, new materials, enhanced aerodynamics, and new technologies are rolling out at an amazing pace—and the customer is the clear beneficiary.

A number of the new trailers making their debut this year are for specialty applications. If you haul agricultural products, for instance, Trail King introduced a new continuous belt super hi-lite rolled side ag trailer (ASHR-C) in March for carriers that move feed, seed, fertilizer, and other ag-related products. It features a continuous 48-in., 2-ply SBR rubber belt driven by a dual-reduction planetary gearbox with heavy-duty roller chain and steel Z-Bar support.

Trail King says the continuous belt design was engineered to deliver fast, horizontal discharge of the load and hopper clean-out in one revolution or less. It also reduces the risk of cross-contamination between loads. The trailer is available in capacities ranging from 55-105 cu. yds. and in overall lengths of 43 to 53 ft.

Truckers moving natural gas also have a new line of trailers to consider. This April, Westmor Industries introduced its line of Proliner Transport Trailers specifically designed for the LNG industry. The cryogenic tank, with a volume of 12,860 gals., is designed to keep the fuel in its liquid form until the time of dispensing, thanks to a controlled temperature range of 100 deg. F to -360 deg. F.

Rogers Brothers Corp. introduced a special 55-ton platform deck trailer designed for a Buffalo, NY, company that hauls construction equipment. According to Rogers Brothers, the trailer can handle a load concentrated on any 13 ft. of the 25-ft. platform deck.

The adjustable deck height is standard at 18 in. fully loaded. The trailer features Rogers’ CobraNeck detachable gooseneck design, which adjusts for various ground clearance positions and is adaptable to multiple fifth wheel heights.

To meet the needs of carriers that must comply with 43-ft. kingpin laws, Talbert Manufacturing also rolled out a new model, the 5051 50-ton traveling axle trailer. It is especially suited to companies that do towing and recovery, move rental equipment, or run small to midsized construction firms, Talbert says. The 5051 has a six-degree load angle and an overall length of 51 ft. It also features a 15,000-lb. planetary winch for faster loading speeds.

Great Dane Trailers featured four newly redesigned trailers at the recent Mid-America Trucking Show. Showcased innovations included Great Dane’s CorroGuard anti-corrosion coating, its newest EnduroGuard rear frame assembly, and patented ThermoGuard reefer lining package enhanced with a subpan to extend thermo protection throughout the trailer’s floor.

Stoughton Trailers also introduced a new product this spring. Its new Tough Plate configuration offers an inside width of 101 in. and features a high base rail designed to better withstand the forklift damage and scuffing that can occur during loading and unloading. The Tough Plate also comes with a lower tare weight, which will allow a higher volume of freight to be transported while still remaining under state-regulated weight limits.

Canada’s Manac Inc., a manufacturer of custom-built and specialty semitrailers, made an announcement this spring as well concerning its unique approach to rear underride protection.

The company reports that its Manac dry van passed recent underride guard crash tests held by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety “with flying colors.”

The supports of the Manac underride guard are bolted to a reinforced floor and spaced just 18 in. from the edge. That enabled the system to prevent underride even when the overlap between the test car and the trailer was only 30%. It was the only trailer to do so during this series of tests, according to Manac. The company notes that its underride system exceeds both U.S. and tougher Canadian standards.

At the Technology & Maintenance Council Transportation Technology Exhibition, Wabash National Corp. displayed products showcasing the company’s use of high-strength bonding technology. A DuraPlate pup trailer featured fully bonded sidewalls, a bonded DuraPlate composite roof system, and bonded logistics posts.

A DuraPlate HD dry freight van featured Wabash National’s new MaxClearance overhead door system. According to the company, the system provides up to 110 in. of vertical door opening. The trailer also featured the DuraPlate AeroSkirt.


Another of the most innovative new trailer systems comes out of Great Britain. The Cambridge Vehicle Dynamics Consortium (CVDC) recently introduced its “Path Following Steering System,” designed to enable trailers to accurately follow the trajectory of the tractor thereby reducing tail-swing and cut-in.

The system incorporates lightweight electrohydraulic actuators engineered to control the steering of each axle on the semi-trailer. A computer monitors data from sensors on the vehicle and controls the actuators to enable the trailer to more precisely follow the path of the fifth wheel. On-highway, real-world testing is scheduled to begin by the middle of this year.

According to the company, the steering system also “significantly” increases tire life, thanks to reductions in the lateral forces on conventional trailers. With any luck, the U.S. market will also find this technology commercially available soon.

Closer to home, Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems rolled out the latest enhancements to its SmarTire tire pressure monitoring system this March. The company now offers trailer wheel-end monitoring and integration with its SafetyDirect system. The integration enables both fleets and drivers to view real-time tire alerts and pressure or temperature data via an in-vehicle display or integrated OEM dashboard for the driver and remotely via the secure SafetyDirect portal for the fleet manager. SmarTire for trailers can be installed as a stand-alone system or with the SmarTire system for tractors.

Meritor Wabco unveiled a new version of its roll stability support (RSS) system this spring designed to provide the benefits of both ABS and trailer-stability control in a single unit that also links with trailer components. Dubbed the RSS 1M, the new system is based on the earlier RSS 2M system widely deployed by tanker fleets. It features an auto-lift axle control and access to tire inflation data.

The auto-lift system is designed to automatically raise and lower the lift axle based on the load of the trailer, allowing for improved fuel economy and reduced tire wear. The tire inflation data management system monitors tires and broadcasts an alert in the event of tire pressure loss. Retrofit kits for the RSS 1M are also available to support air and spring suspension systems on fleets of any size.

This March, SAF-Holland announced that the company is offering Auto-PosiLift Axle Lift technology as an option on SAF CBX40 Tandem Axle Slider Suspension systems. The system combines CBX PosiLift components with a Meritor Wabco ABS. According to the company, the combination results in a DOT-compliant lift axle with automatic operation.

How does it work? The system is programmed to read the air pressure in the rear axle air springs each time a delivery or pickup is made. Without driver interaction, it automatically raises the front axle or keeps the front axle in the down position.

Hendrickson introduced a new zero-maintenance damping (ZMD) ride technology for trailers at the Mid-America Trucking Show. The new air spring, available exclusively through Hendrickson on select Vantraax integrated air slider models, eliminates the need for shock absorbers entirely to reduce maintenance costs and improve ride. What’s more, this solution is designed to provide constant damping over the life of the spring, without the performance deterioration that is typical of shock absorbers.

The new spring system also features chain down-stops to replace the rebound limiter function traditionally performed by the shock absorber. According to Hendrickson, these heavy-duty down-stops provide maximum durability and also offer protection for trailers being loaded onto rail freight cars.


Watson & Chalin also selected the Mid-America Trucking Show to debut a new line of trailer suspensions. They will be available in capacities of up to 25,000 lbs., with N or P spindles and with 12.25- to 18-in. drum or disc brakes. The suspensions will also be offered in various wall thicknesses, as well as with fully dressed wheel-end packages. The innovation wave has reached trailer lighting as well.

Optronics International introduced new LED clearance/marker lamps at the Mid-America Trucking Show. The Uni-Lite LEDs with “GloLight” optics are visually distinctive from other LED lamps because their lenses disperse light waves in a unique way that gives them a smooth, brightly glowing appearance, according to the company.

“The GloLight optical technology is so different, it’s patentable,” noted Marcus Hester, director of sales and marketing for Optronics, at the product launch. “The new version of our Uni-Lite represents just one of 35 new GloLight products Optronics has in its pipeline.”

The 12-volt Uni-Lite clearance/marker lamps come in red and amber (single-function red MCL121RB, single-function amber MCL121AB, dual-function red MCL121R9B, and dual-function three-lamp cluster red MCL122RK3B). They are available in P2- and PC-rated versions, enabling them to meet the photometric requirements for a full range of applications. Lenses and housings are constructed of polycarbonate material to make them waterproof, and Optronics gives them a lifetime warranty.


Trailer makers have a long history of innovation, especially when it comes to materials and improved processes—and 2013 appears to be no exception. Havco Wood Products, for example, is now producing its third generation of composite dry van trailer floors made of oak laminated with a high-strength, glass fiber-reinforced sheet. Called Fusion Floor, this latest generation product was introduced in April. The company says it is 20% stronger than the first-generation composite floor (rated up to 35,000 lbs.), yet it is still lighter and even more durable.

Utility Trailer Manufacturing recently released a video about the company’s proprietary, foam-in-place insulation process for its 3000R reefer trailer. According to the company, the process fully insulates the entire trailer without foam voids, creating a 360-deg. continuous high-pressure foam envelope that completely insulates the floor, walls and roof of the trailer.

“We’ve developed this unique foam-in-place insulation process as a means to achieve the greatest thermal efficiency possible,” notes Larry Roland, director of marketing for Utility.

“We are the only trailer manufacturer that utilizes this process.”

For decades, most of the work undertaken to reduce aerodynamic drag was focused on tractors, not trailers, beginning with sloping hoods and smoothing airflow around the sides and over the top of the truck, then reducing turbulence between the tractor and trailer.

Now the attention has shifted to improving the aerodynamics of trailers. This change in emphasis has been triggered in part by the need to reduce fuel costs and by California’s new requirement that 53-ft. or longer trailers be equipped with EPA SmartWay-verified aerodynamic devices.

SmartTruck, for example, displayed a new low-profile version of its trailer side fairing system at the Mid-America Trucking Show. The company says its new side fairing, with a 1-in. profile versus the former 1.75-in. version, can provide a 0.5% improvement in fuel economy compared to its previous model. Pair it with SmartTruck’s Under Tray aerodynamic system and the improvement in fuel economy can go as high as 10.5%, it notes.

Thanks to the narrower dimensions, the new SmartTruck side fairing can fit both dry van and reefer trailers and mesh with corrugated trailer panels. The new design also provides better swing clearance for trailer doors.

In March, Utility Trailer introduced the Utility Side Skirt (USS) 120A-4, the company’s newest advanced aerodynamic side skirt design, which has been verified by EPA SmartWay to achieve a greater than 5% fuel savings. The USS-120A-4 features greater ground clearance to reduce impact damage and a galvanized, high-tensile steel bracing system engineered to allow the side skirt to flex inward and outward. If the skirting is bent, it can even be pounded back into shape.

The new side skirt is available now as a factory- or dealer- installed option for new Utility trailers or as a retrofit for existing trailers through Utility’s Aftermarket Dept. The company offers a five-year warranty on this patented skirting design.


During the Technology & Maintenance Council’s meeting earlier this year, DieselMeisers announced that its Kodiak AirPlow and Kodiak Bumper Bullet aerodynamic devices are now in full production. They complement the company’s existing Kodiak AeroCurtain trailer side skirt.

The AirPlow installs on the underside of the trailer in front of the tandem axles to reduce the aerodynamic drag caused by the axles while smoothing airflow and stabilizing the trailer in crosswinds, according to DieselMeisers. The Bumper Bullet mounts horizontally along the forward-facing side of the trailer’s rear under-ride bar to reduce the drag caused by the bumper and to straighten and smooth the turbulent airflow coming off of the trailer tires.

Both of the new devices borrow their shape from the leading edge of an aircraft wing. The company expects the new systems to deliver “significant fuel savings, improved road handling stability, and CARB/EPA SmartWay compliance.”

Sustainable Aerodynamic Concepts announced this spring that its Aerosmart trailer skirt has received certification from the EPA SmartWay program. The skirt is made with materials reclaimed from donated, scrapped semi-trailers. According to the company, the result is a lightweight and durable aluminum skirt that is more affordable for customers, thanks to the use of reclaimed materials.

Sustainable Aerodynamic Concepts is something of an innovation in and of itself. It is a nonprofit program created to help keep military veterans enrolled in school. The trailer skirt is manufactured entirely by military veterans participating in the transition program.

AERODYNAMICS chose the Mid-America Trucking Show to introduce its new Super-Skirt System this March. The relatively low-cost system (priced at under $1,000) features a modular design comprised of 2-ft.-long interlocking panels that can accommodate various trailer lengths. The Super-Skirt has no cross member braces either, replacing them with built-in stanchion support structures to secure every panel onto the trailer I-beams via galvanized bolts. Panels also feature a rigid dimensional shape designed to maintain directional control of the air flow to reduce surface drag and prevent wind from slipping under the trailer. Aft-facing safety reflectors are intended to provide additional visibility and safety for passing vehicles.

Earlier this year, Freight Wing also debuted a new trailer side skirt, the AeroFlex Composite, which it notes has been SAE/TMC tested to improve fuel economy by up to 7.45%. The skirts are SmartWay-verified. The new model features the same geometry as the earlier AeroFlex DMP and delivers the same fuel savings; it is just constructed differently. According to the company, customers can expect an ROI in as few as 50,000 mi. of trailer utilization.

ATDynamics, which first released its TrailerTail rear drag reduction system in 2008, also made an announcement this April. It will be launching the TrailerTail Eco50, a European version of the system. Distribution will begin in the United Kingdom. So what can you expect to see next from trailer makers and their industry partners? The Dept. of Energy’s Super Truck project offers a glimpse forward. In fact, it might more properly be called the Super Truck and Trailer project because it is providing an arena for manufacturers to work together to create the most efficient tractor-trailer combination possible by looking at the truck and trailer as a single unit.

Virtually nothing is left off the table, from aerodynamics to new materials and new technologies. This no-holds-barred approach to innovation undertaken by cross-functional teams may produce the most innovative trailer ever.

About the Author

Wendy Leavitt

Wendy Leavitt joined Fleet Owner in 1998 after serving as editor-in-chief of Trucking Technology magazine for four years.

She began her career in the trucking industry at Kenworth Truck Company in Kirkland, WA where she spent 16 years—the first five years as safety and compliance manager in the engineering department and more than a decade as the company’s manager of advertising and public relations. She has also worked as a book editor, guided authors through the self-publishing process and operated her own marketing and public relations business.

Wendy has a Masters Degree in English and Art History from Western Washington University, where, as a graduate student, she also taught writing.  

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