Sustainability – not just a buzz word in transportation

Today, I found an article titled “Sixty feet of controversy” about a new tractor-trailer design that helps retailers conserve fuel, make fewer trips by carrying more cargo per trailer, and yet it generates controversy among experts.

For many retail store distribution operations (e.g. snack foods; general merchandise for retail department stores; food products, etc.) the current trailer designs are maximized for structural strength and their ability to carry a large weight of goods.  These retailers often stuff the current style of trailer full, but it’s nowhere near maximum weight.  This requires additional trailers running additional trips which is wasteful for several reasons:

  • Each outbound load also generates a return “empty” trip that only burns fuel and generates no productive revenue for the company
  • Because the trailer is designed to carry extra weight, there’s extra emphasis on structural support beyond what is needed to make the trailer “safe” to operate — the added (but un-needed) support beams add dead weight that burns fuel on both the outbound and return trips.
  • If there had been a way to stuff more light-weight cargo into the trailer, more product would arrive efficiently.

What would help these operators is a trailer designed to provide an emphasis on cubic volume rather than a focus on weight of cargo.

This new “supercube” design (link to image) is being tested on a very limited basis in Canada.  It is only seven and a half feet longer than most trailers on the road, but can carry 28% more cargo by volume.  It includes several interesting design changes to manage this feat.  According to the article; “A lowered floor and 126-inch interior increases trailer capacity by 28%, offering 5,100 cu.-ft. of storage, and a drome box mounted to the back of the cab adds another 521 cu.-ft. of carrying capacity.

By placing an emphasis on a custom design, the shipper can move more cargo efficiently.

While other proposals for LCV (Longer Combination Vehicles) focused on double trailers or even triple trailers pulled by a larger tractor with greater horsepower, there has been a concern expressed for the safety of a string of trailers being driven in mixed traffic (i.e. next to smaller cars and light duty trucks) on existing highways.

One of the concerns expressed over the supercube design is that it might be used to haul heavy goods and become a safety threat if improperly employed in the future.

While the supercube may be a perfect fit for some shippers, it is not hard to imagine that a truck fleet, already operating on thin profit margins and dynamic fuel costs, might try to use supercubes improperly.  This brings up controversy from safety professionals, and transportation industry insiders.

Regardless of controversy, shippers will not stop looking for their holy grail of trailers.

What do you think about supercube designs versus LCV combinations?  Are they coming to a road near you soon?  Is there a legitimate safety concern associated with these monster trucks?  How do we deal with any real safety issues — more regulations?  Specialized Training?

Let us know at our discussion group on!



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