On the hi-tech trail

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Technology is changing the design of trailers – innovative approaches, lightweight materials and pressure to go green are all having an impact. Malory Davies reports.

If you thought a trailer was just a big box for carrying stuff around, think again. The pressure to be more cost-effective and more environmentally-friendly is having a major impact on trailer design. Innovations include new lighter materials, more aerodynamic designs, solar panels on the roof and regenerative braking systems. Weight saving in trailers is coming to the fore. Lionel Curtis, technical director at Cartwright, points out that the move to Euro 6 added about 250 kilos to the weight of the tractor unit – and as a result there has been pressure on trailer manufacturers to save that weight on the trailer. Achieving this involves optimising the structure of the trailer and getting the bodywork to contribute more to the stiffness and strength of the unit. Richard Owens, Don-Bur’s group marketing manager, also reckons that many operators could use weight savings to improve fuel economy. He highlights Don-Bur’s Blade composite panels which are both thinner and lighter than standard. And, he says, work is going on to develop even lighter panels. The move to a higher grade of steel for the trailer chassis can be a major weight saver, says Darren Holland, sales director at Tiger Trailers. He points out that this can reduce the weight of the trailer by three quarters of a tonne. “We can get down to 6.5 tonnes for a curtainsider, increasing the payload – and there is a big fuel economy impact from a lighter vehicle. The down side is that higher grade steels cost more, of course, but there is a trade off with the fact that there is physically less steel. Improving the aerodynamics of trailers has been the subject of considerable work over recent years. However, says Owens, much of the focus has moved to systems and processes to justify the investment in aerodynamics. “You can make trailers aerodynamic – there are a plethora of different products,” he says, pointing out that Don-Bur’s revolutionary tear-drop design is now 11 years old. Nevertheless, operators can find it difficult to justify the investment. Owens points out that for some operators, a saving of eight per cent might be possible in some parts of a fleet operation, but that might not be achievable in other parts for technical or operational reasons. And, that could lead them to default to specifying standard trailers right across the operation. The company has now developed a smart tool, Aerodynamic Configurator for Transport (ACT), as part of an Innovate UK-funded consortium that also includes TotalSim and Dynamon. The ACT works by examining an aerodynamic device as part of an overall tractor/trailer combination, analysing its overall drag effect, and comparing that force against all other fuel-affecting factors. It the applies the resultant fuel effect to an operator’s fleet together with the overall cost of achieving that. Owens says the system, which was launched at the CV Show in April, is now gaining traction among operators who need to be able to justify the cost of an aerodynamic package. Lionel Curtis of Cartwright, highlights the impact of VECTO, the Vehicle Energy Consumption Calculation Tool being developed by the European Commission. This is designed to give an estimate of CO2 emissions for HGVs of different categories, sizes and technologies starting next year with rigids and then rolling out to cover trailers. However, Curtis says there have been concerns in the UK at the original proposal for the metrics to be based on the mass of the vehicle. As a result, vehicles designed to maximise the cube for light loads would appear to score badly compared to vehicles designed for heavy loads. And that would be a particular problem for the UK which is a big user of double deck trailers. However, says Curtis, there has now been an agreement that CO2 emissions can be measured against either vehicle mass or vehicle volume. There no doubt that safety is an increasingly important issue across all aspects of logistics – in the warehouse, in the yard and on the road. Don-Bur has come up with a number of initiatives in this area, notably EBS-Safe, which ensure that a valid EBS connection exists. Owens says that some research by Don-Bur identified more than 36 EBS failure incidents a week in one fleet – a significant problem given that the EBS system impacts on the braking system and the suspension height. The company has also developed a landing leg safety system, Leg-Safe. Urban distribution is driving innovation as operators face up to an increasingly challenging delivery landscape. Lionel Curtis of Cartwright has seen an increase in the number of urban trailers being bought. It might be thought that a standard design or urban trailer might have emerged as a result, but that has not happened yet, says Curtis. Trailers tend to be customised for particular operations including double deckers. Double deck trailers now account for some 35 per cent of Tiger’s production and the company has been working on a system for helping operators manage lifting deck operations more effectively. The issue is that loads need to be evenly distributed across the lifting deck – an unbalanced load can affect the operation of the deck and even result in an axle overload.

This feature first appeared in the September issue of Logistics Manager.

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