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What’s In Store For The Dry Van?

Without the trailer, the truck has little use. The fact is, our modern commercial transport system rides on the back of the box. This is the piece of equipment that delivers the gold.

For some, it may be easy to categorize the dry van as nothing more than a box on wheels. In reality, the trailer is a complex piece of equipment that must balance the line between cargo space and unit weight.

As fuel cost continues to rage as a hot topic, fleet managers need to squeeze every ounce of efficiency out of their equipment. Fuel savings add to the bottom line, and that’s what the guys in the office want to see.

With that in mind, how can the trailer be a driving force for change? Surprisingly, new innovations in trailer manufacturing seem to land by the month.

Technology and the Trailer

The best engineering minds in the business are hard at work re-engineering the trailer. In the end, it represents the final frontier in truck-trailer configuration aerodynamic improvement.

As accessories continue to pop up, the focus now lies on where the structure of the trailer itself can be improved upon. There’s no doubt, it’s a lengthy, expensive, and labor-intensive process, but the end result is sure to be a far superior product to what is offered today.

As new technologies – from telematics to real-time logistics and GPS tracking – become more mainstream, OEMs are reevaluating old-school designs. Designs that once were top-of-the-line are suddenly looking a little long in the tooth.

How can fleets enhance reliability, performance, and durability without compromising on safety or cost? And furthermore, do regulatory burdens play a part in trailer design?

Fuel Costs as a Factor

While it’s likely that regulatory burdens don’t drive trailer design to any major degree, they do add an additional layer of challenges. OEMs have been incorporating new technologies into their trailer design as a response to customer need, even before federal requirements came into play.

New regulatory challenges require manufacturers to reexamine their tooling and materials process. Because these changes are both expensive and time-consuming, OEMs are taking as much time as they can to implement them.

And while fuel economy standards get the most reaction out of the talking heads, other less-reported on measures like the pending 33-foot “pup” trailer legislation may impact industry research quite a bit more. Manufacturers are already reporting that they are ready to begin building 33-foot standard trailers, should the legislation be passed and signed into law.

Reshaping the Box

It’s no secret: trailers lag behind trucks in terms of aerodynamic efficiency improvements. We’ve all seen the trailer tail. It’s a symbol of the void aftermarket suppliers have moved to fill in the absence of meaningful trailer redesign.

Obviously, higher fuel economy and lower emissions can be realized with trailers that are designed with lower drag coefficients. In this case, the tractor-trailer combination is key.

Around 60 percent of today’s fleets are operating under weight-sensitive applications. Manufacturers are constantly looking to find the right balance between weight and design.

Even so, OEMs must still be aware of durability and corrosion resistance factors when creating new designs. Even as manufacturers have to keep the EPA’s pending GHG2 regulations in mind, they must also factor in the underride guard and roll stability measures being implemented by the National Highway Safety Transportation Administration.

Free Market Pressures

Even as federal regulations exert their own pressure, free market forces also add their own demands. Fleets are pushing for lower fuel, operating and maintenance costs while also seeking increased payload productivity.

There are plenty of forces influencing trailer design, but the real question is how will manufacturers meet the needs of these forced changes without compromising on safety or performance?

Let’s face it, today’s typical dry van trailer represents the aerodynamic equivalent of flying a cardboard box from Los Angeles to Chicago. There is still a lot of room for significant efficiency and productivity design improvements. Where trailer manufacturers go from here only time will tell.

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