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Lightweight components

Trailer manufacturers offer advice on how to best optimize weight and payload capacity


“There are numerous areas in trailers, especially in dry freight vans, where fleets can specify weight-saving components,” says David Gilliland, vice president of national accounts at Great Dane Trailers. “To see how each item translates into payload, determine the cost per pound of weight savings. At the same time, consider that when you’re hauling around less weight, your vehicles can be more fuel-efficient.”utility trailer

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“With increasing tractor weights, aerodynamic side skirt requirements and growing shipper demands, reduced trailer weight and increased payload capacity are critical to bottom line performance,” states Robert Lane, director of product and business development at Wabash National. “There are literally hundreds of lightweight trailer options available today. As with any option, there are cost/benefit considerations to be made before selecting any component.”

“At Utility, we continuously test to optimize weight and typically remove 40 to 50 lbs. of tare weight per year on reefers and dry vans,” says Jeff Bennett, vice president of engineering and product development. “At the same time, we make sure we don’t cross cost and durability lines when reducing the trailer’s weight.”

Several options for Great Dane dry freight vans can provide weight savings for fleets hauling heavy loads, Gilliland notes. The Composite, for example, is available with a new heavy-duty bottom rail, and a 21-in. high, one-piece aluminum extrusion that replaces the standard 11-in. high bottom rail and eliminates the need for a 6-in. integral steel scuffband inside the trailer. The added strength this design provides offers the ability to cut weight by using shorter sidewall panels as well as lighter weight wall construction.interior view of great dane thermoguard lighter weight reefer trailer

Other design changes on the Composite that are saving weight include revisions to the rear frame and the use of composite panels in front walls, eliminating the need for interior front wall linings. In addition, a Havco composite floor and aluminum crossmembers in place of steel, despite the extra crossmembers required, add up to lower weight.


Great Dane also offers its lighter weight PunctureGuard linings and scuffbands, as well as its ThermoGuard reefer lining, which the company says can save up to 200 lbs. due to its thin design.

Wabash National offers a number of floor systems that reduce the weight of the trailer and, depending on the application, according to Lane, can save between 190 and 670 lbs. Other lightweight specs to consider, he points out, are couplers, aluminum crossmembers and roof bows.wabash trailer

In addition, Wabash National continues to evolve its DuraPlate composite material and utilize it in other areas of the trailer, resulting in weight savings.  Using a base dry van as an example, 6 mm DuraPlate sidewalls can save over 400 lbs., a DuraPlate nose can save over 100 lbs., and last year the company made a 10 mm DuraPlate swing door standard for an additional savings of up to 50 lbs.

At Utility, Bennett notes, an improved foam formulation has enabled the company to thin walls and reduce unneeded weight. An example is the foam in the 4000D-X Composite dry van sidewall. The foam is sandwiched in between the outer side skins and the inside steel lining in the composite structure, which allows the manufacturer to reduce the thickness of the outer aluminum side skins.


Turning to lightweight fifth wheels
Fleets looking for weight reductions to offset heavy emission system components and improve fuel economy are increasingly turning to lightweight fifth wheels.

The challenge to fifth wheel manufacturers is to build products that are both light and strong. When they succeed, the results can be significant.

“The benefit to a fleet of choosing a lightweight fifth wheel system varies based on the combination of top plate and mounting bracket selected and the type of fleet operation, but it can range from $2 per pound for truckload carriers all the way up to $12 per pound for bulk carriers,” says Terry Mennen, vice president of sales and marketing for Fontaine Fifth Wheel.

Manufacturers have redesigned both top plates and mounting brackets/slides to take out weight. While some have turned to lighter weight materials like aluminum, others stick with steel for cost-effectiveness and durability.

These manufacturers rely on design improvements to remove weight where it’s not needed, while maintaining overall strength. For example, Fontaine Fifth Wheel’s R&D team used computer-aided design to develop the company’s new LWB lightweight slide assembly that has a smaller footprint than its predecessor, as well as steel reinforcement in key areas to provide greater durability and strength.


Other approximate weight saving options compared to base specifications for the Utility 4000D-X Composite dry van include combination side posts (20 aluminum A slot logistics posts used in place of steel in strategic locations) that can save 188 lbs., 4-in. aluminum crossmembers in the bay area can save 155 lbs. compared to steel, and using 1-in. aluminum roof bows instead of 1-1/16-in., 18-gauge galvanized bows can cut 109 lbs.

Another option is a 1-5/16-in. aluminum floor that is 386 lbs. lighter.alcoa lvl one aluminum wheel

All of the manufacturers agree that while there are many alternatives for maximizing payload in trailers, operational requirements should always be considered before any weight saving components are selected. “During the selection process,” says Wabash National’s Lane, “it’s important to consider the application and the cost/benefit associated with each option.”

Rolling into savings
Lighter weight aluminum wheels have been a spec of choice for many fleets looking to improve freight carrying capacity in trailers.

Alcoa Wheel Transportation Products
offers LvL One 22.5×8.25-in. aluminum wheels, which weigh 45 lbs. The company also supplies a 22.5×14-in. wide base aluminum wheel option weighing 58 lbs. per wheel. Switching single steel 22.5-in. wheels to 14-in. wide base aluminum wheels, the company notes, reduces the weight of an 18-wheel combination vehicle by nearly 1,400 lbs. accuride accu-lite aluminum wheel

Accuride Wheel End Solutions has expanded its Accu-Lite family of aluminum wheels to include 45-lb. 22.5×8.25-in. and 54-lb. 24.5×8.25-in. models, as well as two 22.5×14-in. wide base versions weighing 59 lbs. The new designs cut 1 to 2 lbs. from previous dual wheel weights and 7 or 12 lbs. in wide base models, depending on the wheel offset specified.


Maxion Wheels offers the North American market a variety of lightweight “high strength low alloy” steel wheels for commercial vehicles. The company’s wheels range in size up to 24.5 in. in diameter for single- or dual-wheel applications and for steer, drive or trailer axle positions. The wheels have a straight-through stud hole and are available in both 8- and 10-hole configurations. Stud piloted systems are available in standard or heavy-duty mountings based on load capacity.

Maxion also offers wide base steel wheels for weight sensitive applications. For tubeless dual replacement, the wheels can provide weight savings up to 166 lbs. per axle.Maxion high strength low alloy steel wheel

“While less weight is important for increasing revenue-producing payload capacity,” says Denny Weisend, director of North American commercial wheel sales at Maxion, “affordability and performance are other factors to consider. Wheels also have to be durable and resist side impact damage.”


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