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Top trailer spec’ing tips: Reducing weight, increasing efficiency

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Jason Morgan is the editor of Fleet Equipment. He has more than 15 years of B2B journalism experience covering the likes of trucking and construction equipment, real estate, movies and craft beer industries.

The trailer is a key component to trucking’s total operational efficiency. It deserves as much consideration as the tractor when it comes to spec’ing and buying. While the trailer’s outward appearance hasn’t changed drastically in recent years, save for the addition of aerodynamic devices, the materials and option have evolved to meet narrow fleet margins and efficiency demands.

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“A trailer is more than just a box on wheels,” said Brett Olsen, marketing manager for Utility Trailer. “When trying to spec’ a piece of equipment that will have a positive ROI, it is important that fleet managers seek out professionals with profound knowledge, who are familiar with their operation, their market and even their competition.”

With that sage advice in mind, Fleet Equipment reached out to a bevy of trailer manufacturers to cull together the top tips when it comes to spec’ing new trailers.

Shedding the pounds

Reducing trailer weight is more about freeing up additional load capacity or offsetting the weight of aerodynamic add-ons than about increasing fuel efficiency. Typically, every 1,000 lbs. of weight dropped only equals .8% of fuel economy gained. On the road, trailers also have to be tough. Increasingly, trailer manufacturers are producing components using strong but lighter-weight components such as composites and aluminum. Dan McCormack, Great Dane’s director of product design, explained that the weight savings are most evident in major structural components of the trailer, but the cumulative savings achieved through the use of lightweight materials in smaller, less obvious parts of the trailer can still be significant. “When focusing on saving weight in your trailer specs,” he said, “it is critically important to understand the nature of the loads to be hauled and to not over- or under-spec the trailer.”

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Aluminum structural components, such as cross members, floors and roof bows, can also provide a source of weight reduction depending on freight profile and duty cycle, related Larry Adkins, Wabash National’s product applications manager for commercial trailer products. Adkins went on to explain that Wabash has moved toward advanced high strength steels (AHSS) and composite materials in its weight reduction efforts. “The use of AHSS in structural components can provide weight reduction at minimal costs,” he said. “We have transitioned some nonstructural areas as part of our weight and corrosion resistance efforts. In addition, we are on the cusp of moving our advanced composite design into structural areas.”

“A fleet can ensure they’re spec’ing lightweight yet durable products by spec’ing premium products for its trailers,” said Dave Giesen, Stoughton Trailers’ vice president of sales. “For example, composite floors provide additional strength yet reduce the overall trailer weight.”

Flooring options can offer a wide range of weight savings. Adkins explained that Wabash offers several floor systems that can save between 190 and 670 lbs.

Of course, every fleet is unique with varying cargo and different demands on their equipment. Still, Jeff Henderson, general manager of fleet and dealer solutions for Rockland Flooring, said that no matter the situation, a fleet manager should always consider durability.

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“Many times the question is load rating verses reducing weight. When hauling product with high concentration of weight like bottled beverage and paper, the fleet manager must choose a higher load rating. In the past the only option for a higher load rating was adding cross members,” Henderson explained. “Now with options like Rockland Pound Saver and Defender, for example, a fleet manager can obtain load ratings of 24,000 lbs. or more without adding the weight of additional cross members. If hauling general commodities, the fleet manager can specify a thinner composite floor, which will save weight and increase cargo capacity.”

Strength and durability

While you’re parsing through the light-weighting options, you’ll also want to ensure your trailer spec will stand up to the demands of your applications. In fact, there are a few applications where you may want to spec heavier, more durable materials or components over lighter- weight options.

“In paper haul, steel coil haul or any haul that has a highly concentrated load, we recommend a trailer that is built to handle the heavy load,” Giesen said. “These types of hauls are also the applications in which the user wants a lighter weight trailer to increase his payload. But when you reduce weight with the types of applications, you sacrifice the life of your trailer. You’ll get more payload but you won’t get more life.”

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Freight profile, duty cycle and asset life cycle are key considerations in trailer specification.

“If your freight profile continuously bumps up against or over your rated floor capacity, you have an area that has potential for failure prior to your planned end of asset life,” Adkins said. “The same would apply to an upper coupler that has multiple daily hook and unhooks. A more robust design would be needed to handle the increased number of ramp-ups in this type of duty-cycle.”

Utility Trailer’s Olsen pointed to high-wear cycle operations as application where you want durability over lightweight, giving as an example short-haul shuttle operations in which the trailer is either coupled and uncoupled several times a day, or loaded and unloaded several times a day.

Of course, it will all be dependent on your fleet’s application. Great Dane’s McCormack noted that reefer floors are one area where durability might be more important than weight savings for some fleets. Repairing or replacing a floor is costly, so saving cost and/or weight on the front end can be false economy.

And that brings us to our next trailer spec’ing tip category.…

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