Technology: Inside a self-driving truck with Torc Robotics
Advanced aerodynamics. Lighter weight construction materials. Increased efficiency. You expect those descriptions to fit the latest and greatest tractors, but what we’re actually describing are the latest trailer advancements offered by Wabash National this past year. Skeptics who would say that the rolling white boxes attached to tractors haven’t changed much in the past several years would do well to take a long hard look at the latest advancements in trailer technology.
“Innovation is the heart of Wabash National because we’re passionate about making a difference in the industry,” said Brent Yeagy, Wabash National’s president and chief operating officer. “If we’re not innovating for our customers in ways that make their operations better, then we’re not doing our job. Our new truck bodies, aerodynamic trailer solutions, rear impact guard and MSCT reefer are just a few recent examples of how we’re helping our customers reach greater levels of performance and safety.”
In the past year, Wabash has introduced its Cold Chain Series refrigerated truck body and trailer line that utilizes a proprietary molded structural composite thermal technology (MSCT). Compared to more traditional wood, steel and aluminum designs, Wabash National’s composite material provides performance improvements in thermal efficiency up to 25% and weight reduction up to 20%, depending on the equipment size and application, according to the company.
“We have five launch customers who have committed to initial orders of our new Cold Chain Series refrigerated trailer. Those builds will begin in the first quarter,” Yeagy said. “The overall performance and aesthetics of the [MSCT] product have created a demand that is ahead of the scaling plan of the technology. While a big challenge for us, it gives us great encouragement in the long-term view of the product and its associated technology. We are focusing on being ‘right’ rather than ‘fast’ as it relates to this new breakthrough technology. However, rest assured we will run as fast as possible.”
Yeagy expects the dip in trailer orders the industry experienced this year to continue into 2017, but anticipates overall demand for van trailers to be stronger than what forecasters are calling for based on feedback from Wabash customers.
“Right now, it appears we are heading for another solid year for overall trailer orders. I would not be surprised to see an industry in the 240,000 to 250,000 unit range, with Wabash National shipments of approximately 50,000 units,” he said. “This is due primarily to our specific mix of customers and the investments Wabash National has made in our dealer network over the past five years.”
Yeagy also noted that while trailer technology development is a Wabash cornerstone, long-term technologies will be driven by regulatory changes being phased in. “This will naturally drive new aerodynamic technologies, as well as new material technologies to reduce the weight and aerodynamic drag of the equipment,” he said.
Currently, about 50% of new Wabash National trailers include side skirts and 1% include boat tails, according to Yeagy.
Beyond aerodynamics, Yeagy added, “On an operational front, the drive to better utilize equipment in the face of a shrinking driver pool will demand that our customers utilize telematics on a larger scale. Becoming predictive in how our customers maintain and utilize the equipment will give them a competitive edge in the environment of tomorrow.”