Cold transport

Sept. 1, 2007
The panel session, Tomorrow's Cold Transport: A Peek Over The Horizon, took a look at some of the fundamental influencers on the refrigerated supply chain.

The panel session, Tomorrow's Cold Transport: A Peek Over The Horizon, took a look at some of the fundamental influencers on the refrigerated supply chain. These included legislation, environmental impacts, technology, and the global economy.

Making up the panel were: Craig Bennett, senior vice president, sales and marketing, Utility Trailer Manufacturing; Rod Ehlrich, senior vice president and chief technology officer, Wabash National; Craig Fisher, director of marketing, Thermo King; Christopher Hammond, vice president of dealer sales, Great Dane Trailers; and David Kiefer, senior vice president, product manager, Carrier Transicold. Serving as the moderator was the chairman of the Truckload Carriers Association, James O'Neal, president of O&S Trucking.

All of the panelists agreed that a key impact on the industry's future is the growing trend by governments to restrict idling of diesel engines. They specifically cited what is going on in California with the California Air Resources Board (CARB), a very strong environmental regulatory body. “Typically when CARB passes a law, by default, it becomes a national requirement,” said Thermo King's Fisher.

CARB has adopted standards that require all trucks with transport refrigeration units (TRU) and TRU generator sets, regardless of whether the vehicle is based in California, to meet stricter performance and emissions rules.

Basically, there are three ways to do this: put on an emissions filter, put in a new engine or buy a new unit. The strange thing about this law, Fisher said, is that it's retroactive.

The true consequences of the CARB standards is uncertain, as there is a lawsuit from the American Trucking Associations challenging it, and the US EPA has not ruled on it yet.

Vehicle challenges

The panelists also concurred that vehicle corrosion has gotten worse and is affecting the cost of maintenance and operation. Highway departments are using harsher deicers like calcium chloride and magnesium chloride to melt snow and ice on the roads. Such chemicals do a better job, but they are also much more corrosive, said Utility Trailer's Bennett.

Corrosion produces a deterioration of a material and its properties. This affects vehicle safety and reliability and can contribute to reduced vehicle life.

Wabash's Ehlrich said trailer manufacturers are looking at different design elements and materials, and innovative techniques and technologies, to minimize, retard, and control corrosion. He anticipates greater use of non-metals and composites.

The manufacturers are also working on developing paints and protective coatings that offer enhanced corrosion protection, added Great Dane Trailers' Hammond.

Also ongoing are investigations aimed at increasing the thermal efficiency of trailers, according to Bennett of Utility Trailer. One objective is to develop new materials and lining technology to insulate refrigerated trailers better. Also being sought, Great Dane's Hammond said, are ways to lessen insulation degradation so trailers will have a longer, more effective life.

As with any new technology, they said, there must be a balance between performance and cost, said Wabash's Ehlrich.

The more thermally efficient a refrigerated trailer is, the easier it is to maintain the desired temperature, Carrier Transicold's Kiefer said. The refrigeration unit runs less, saving fuel and reducing emissions, and requires less maintenance over time. The greater the thermal performance, the smaller the refrigeration unit required.

With changes to insulation, the way a reefer unit function will also become different, said Thermo King's Fisher. Different insulation will also allow the use of new technologies currently available in marketplace but not yet commercially viable. As an example, he cited cryogenics.

Cryogenic refrigeration units use liquid carbon dioxide (CO2) as a refrigerant, which is very friendly to the environment, unlike ozone-depleting refrigerants such as CFC or HCFC, said Kiefer of Carrier Transicold. The problem is these units use a lot of CO2 and there needs to be refueling stations. The infrastructure to support cryogenics is not yet here.

Another solution, added Kiefer, is using nitrogen for refrigeration systems. Nitrogen, a byproduct of oxygen, is “squeaky clean” as far as the environment is concerned. It has been successfully used in Europe for a number of years.

Remote monitoring

Technology is enabling better control and monitoring of refrigeration units, the panelists said. Technologies are being developed to enable programming units for specific customers and products, according to their individual temperatures requirements.

They noted that there are sensors for monitoring the temperature inside, as well as outside, the trailer. This information, when combined with computer software, can be used to achieve better temperature balance by determining when a reefer should run according to the ambient temperature.

Remote monitoring, the panelists said, has been a major advancement and it will continue to keep getting better as communications technologies evolve. This will lead to more affordable systems, Carrier Transicold's Kiefer said.

Remote monitoring has great potential for improving productivity, as well as load security, said the panelists.

The panelists also predicted advances with hybrid power, all-electric systems, and with electrification for truck and trailer refrigeration units. These technologies are being driven by the benefits they offer. Among them, energy efficiency, less noise and emissions, fewer moving parts, and less maintenance.

More and more technology is coming from Europe and elsewhere, said the panelists, and that is benefiting product development here.

Trailer misapplication

An issue the panelists see continuing into the future, said Ulrich, is the misapplication of refrigerated trailers, typically when used for multi-purposes.

If a fleet is going to haul strawberries one way and backhaul rolls of paper, for example, both types of hauls must be considered as part of the spec'ing process. Floor loadings, types of sidewall abrasions, etc., need to be examined. If the trailer isn't designed properly for all the work it will be doing, performance and reliability will suffer.

Overseas competition

The panelists said there are a lot of trailer manufacturers in Asia looking at getting into the “lucrative” North American market and may try making a beachhead by low-balling prices.

The real concern is whether their refrigerated products are designed for North America, Thermo King's Fisher said. Here, unlike in Asia, there are considerable differences in geography, with a lot of temperature extremes.

Another concern is the variable quality of products that come from overseas, added Great Dane Trailers' Hammond, who cited the recent number of recalls of products made in China.

With the rise of the global economy, more and more North American companies are outsourcing overseas, Utility Trailer Manufacturing's Bennett said. The big challenge is quality assurance. Quality has to be monitored and maintained.

Compounding the situation, added Kiefer, is that in Asia and other places overseas, there are not many third-parties to regulate manufacturing and product quality.

“The challenge for us as manufacturers is to maintain our quality, said Bennett. “What you accept is what you get.”

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of FleetOwner, create an account today!

Sponsored Recommendations

Report: The 2024 State of Heavy-Duty Repair

From capitalizing on the latest revenue trends to implementing strategic financial planning—this report serves as a roadmap for navigating the challenges and opportunities of ...

Fleet Industry Benchmarks: How does your fleet stack up?

Discover how your fleet compares to industry benchmarks and gain insights from a 2024 Benchmarking Report on maintenance spend, turnaround time, and more. Join us to identify ...

Build a Tolling Program to Manage Toll Fees and Risks

Fleets looking to effectively manage their operational costs should consider their tolling costs. Download the PrePass whitepaper, “Build a Tolling Program to Manage Toll Fees...

Reducing CSA Violations & Increasing Safety With Advanced Trailer Telematics

Keep the roads safer with advanced trailer telematics. In this whitepaper, see how you can gain insights that lead to increased safety and reduced roadside incidents—keeping drivers...