Transfer Truck Tip Sheet
Getting the best return on investment requires a complex, multifaceted logarithm of options and performance.
Like assembling a puzzle, putting together the right transfer vehicle system takes careful planning. These severe-duty trucks and their components encounter every type of condition, from on-highway hauling to the most rugged off-highway conditions at landfills. In an industry where weight is as critical a factor as speed and efficiency, flexibility to meet dissimilar conditions at each end of the journey can be complicated by innumerable variables.
The heart of a transfer vehicle system is the hauler. Because no one wants a landfill near their neighborhood, new landfills are increasingly larger and more remote. These Class 8 workhorses must be capable of traveling considerable distances through neighborhoods as well as on highways between the local transfer stations and final destinations. They also need to withstand the rigors of landfill conditions. All this must be accomplished efficiently and cost-effectively.
“The main issue continues to be fuel economy,” states Melissa Gauger, with International Truck and Engine in Warrenville, IL. One of the most effective means of increasing fuel economy on articulated trucks is to reduce weight. An additional benefit of weight reduction is the ability to haul more, which translates into fewer trips between transfer station and landfill or recycling plant. “Whenever you lower your operating costs, you’re more profitable.”
International’s ProStar, which is designed for on-highway customers, features a lightweight 13-liter engine capable of producing up to 475 horsepower. The block is made of compacted graphite iron, much like NASCAR engines. “It’s a strong material, which allows us to use less of it,” Gauger elaborates. “The rib design also allows us to remove metal.” That not only reduces weight, but also cuts costs. “Some on-highway fleets are switching from 15- to 13-liter engines because they’re lighter and they save money. Everyone’s looking for a fuel-efficient engine.”
Another method of increasing fuel efficiency is by improving aerodynamics. International added roof farings to reduce drag, allowing the large prime movers to “slice” through the air more efficiently, using less fuel.
International’s PayStar, rated for severe conditions and introduced three years ago, is a set-back-axle truck featuring better aerodynamics and offers greater maneuverability. Its sloped hood also enhances visibility, an important benefit in tight spaces. “Good visibility lines are important,” Gauger comments, “particularly at transfer stations. The sloped hoods enable the driver to see how he’s maneuvering.” Although similar to the ProStar in horsepower and performance, the PayStar features higher vocational bumpers for easier handling at landfills. “It’s for very rugged vocational use,” Gauger summarizes.
The trucks may be fit for rugged use, but their interiors create a driver-friendly environment. “Anything to make the truck more comfortable and easier to operate is a bonus. Drivers influence decisions,” Gauger says. That’s why International has a team dedicated to working on ergonomics. They have come up with such ideas as putting the controls on the steering wheel and adding onboard computer and navigation systems to keep the driver’s eyes on the road—ideas that promote safety and efficiency as much as comfort.
Those same ideas, plus fuel economy, determine the choice of transmission. While manual transmissions still dominate because they’re lighter weight and can be more fuel efficient if driven properly, Gauger says, automatics and automatic manuals are becoming more common. “Good drivers are scarce,” she explains. “Fleets have to accommodate fewer experienced drivers, so they use the automatic and auto/manual transmissions.” She concedes that they cost more than standard transmissions and that they add weight, but says, “If you have a problem recruiting drivers, you may want to look for an ultra-plush shift. It’s easier to drive.”
One of International’s goals is to make things easy for their customers. When it comes to emissions compliance, they make a complicated subject simple. “We offer a superior solution,” Gauger promises. “The customer doesn’t deal with it. We took care of emissions for them. It’s internal to the engine.” International redesigned the piston bowl, included twin turbo chargers for better torque and interchargers to cool exhaust gas, configured a high-pressure common rail fuel system, and changed its computers.
“Our competitors went to an FCR urea-based solution to produce less carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons,” Gauger continues. “They add diesel exhaust fluid when they run low to remain compliant, but we don’t use any after-treatment devices to meet 2010 emissions. We’re the only Class 8 manufacturer to use an EGR-only system.” She explains the decision as a matter of logistics. “Other manufacturers are European-based and were already using other technology. Navistar-International is American-based. We weren’t using the same technology, so we were able to take a fresh look at things.”
No matter how efficient or ergonomic a prime hauler may be, without the trailer, it’s of little use in the waste-hauling industry. Two types of trailer predominate: the classic sheet-and-post style, with welded side posts for support, and the smooth-sided, double-wall type. The smooth exterior reduces wind resistance, and the reduced drag translates into better fuel economy. An added bonus is strictly aesthetic: because the inner wall absorbs dents from the load if it shifts, the exterior remains unblemished, which can be an asset to corporate image.
Mac Trailer Manufacturing, based in Alliance, OH, offers a 2.25-inch-deep panel on its smooth side trailer—the deepest in the industry, claims Shawn Fredritz, product manager. “It’s just as strong as sheet and post, but it’s strong without being heavy.” In addition to strength, he says it has durability, with an expected five- to 10-year life. For sheet and post trailers destined for abusive environments, extra side posts are added to keep the sides from bowing out. “This adds wall strength, which a hauler will need if he’s making more than the typical two or three loads per day. Hauling four to five loads per day adds stress and puts more wear on the sides.”
Lou Santero, owner of Development Inc., in Syracuse, NY, doesn’t make four or five trips a day. Instead, he’s a long-haul trash hauler. His 170 trailers log up to 550 miles a day, making runs to Canada, New Jersey, and within New York. “We pick up at transfer stations and haul to landfills.” Because his drivers encounter diverse conditions and sites, he looks for versatility. To handle the various types of material he carries, including sand, scrap metal, and paper products, he needs durability. And because of the long distances, it’s essential that his trailers are fuel-efficient. For eight years, Santero has chosen Mac smooth-sided trailers, built to his specification. “Everyone courts us, but Mac delivers,” he says. The last 40 Mac trailers he purchased feature undercarriages reinforced to heavy-duty specs for hauling metal. Bernie Butchko, fleet maintenance manager, says they just purchased 40 trailers with air-ride suspension. “We’ve been using Rayco 21B for years because it’s functional, stable, and common: Parts are easy to get, and it’s easy to work on. But because Canadian overweight permits require air ride, this was a necessary choice. “It’s not without its benefits, though. “The drivers don’t realize the weight they’re pulling because the ride is so smooth,” Butchko claims. There’s a lot of innovation in air-ride suspension, he indicates. “They’re not tippy, they’re quiet and they pay for themselves with maintenance.” Unlike spring-ride suspensions, air-ride suspensions have no U-bolts that could potentially come loose. “The springs can break, and then an axle can break. It becomes a safety issue—and if the DOT catches it, they’ll shut you down.” Replacing springs and U-bolts consumes a lot of mechanic time, he adds. Another criticism Butchko aims at spring-ride suspensions is that, “if you’re too light, you have to go back to the pit for another scoop. Then you might be too heavy.” The air ride features a load gauge that works off the suspension by converting the psi to pounds on the trailer, thus eliminating the need for onboard scales. “With the gauge, you can watch as the trailer’s being loaded. It’s usually within about 150 pounds. That saves a lot of time.”
Fredritz indicates that most trailers have a 20,000-pound suspension, but Mac can configure it up to 30,000 pounds for heavy loads. It’s not the only feature they may alter. “We change a lot of stuff,” he says. “For heavy-duty applications, we beef up the body at the stress points. Demo and construction debris need a heavier duty floor.”
Mac offers two styles of floor: an all-aluminum version with a quarter-inch cross member, and a heavy-duty option with a thicker three-eighths-inch cross member for stress areas. “Behind the coupler plate there’s no floor support other than the floor cross member. To avoid twisting and flexing, we position a floor cross member at the front, above the suspension. It eliminates cracking when driving on hills and in landfills.”
“We requested thicker and more cross members for a more rigid trailer because we’re hauling scrap,” Butchko explains. But if customers don’t know which floors they want, Fredritz says, Mac helps determine what they need by asking questions: What are they hauling? How many loads a day are they hauling? How much weight are they hauling?
Because Santero bids a lot of municipal jobs, price is important. But so are service, warranty and weight. “Some of our trailers are bigger capacity—127 cubic yards versus 115 cubic yards—so we need them to be made of lighter weight material.”
The whole trailer is aluminum, Butchko points out. Although Santero’s company didn’t opt for aluminum wheels, they could have saved 80 pounds per dual axle if they had. In addition to being lightweight, there’s no worry about rust or corrosion. Nor is there concern about welds, because there’s no bolt-on steel. The only galvanized steel parts are items such as suspension hangers and coupler assemblies, and Fredritz explains that Mac used Mylar tape between all steel and aluminum interfaces to eliminate electrolysis. “You don’t have to paint,” he adds. “No rust, no paint chips.”
Butchko considers Mac a good value, especially because of the company’s willingness to “incorporate things into the equipment, like wear plates in the back of the trailer. Most wear is along the back bottom 6 feet of the wall.”
“Guys want things simple,” Fredritz believes, and they’re willing to pay for beneficial features. When it comes to maintenance, Mac offers a field wiring harness that stands up to the calcium chloride (salt) used on the roads in harsh climates. The plug-and-play harness doesn’t require any cutting or splicing. “Guys don’t want to mess with wiring.”
It’s not all about convenience; safety is also a concern. “Fleets are looking for anything to keep the drivers save,” Fredritz reveals. Mac’s walk-through door in the bulkhead keeps drivers from climbing over the top of the trailer to get into the cab. “Now they want automatic tarp systems so the drivers don’t have to stand on the ground and crank the tarp side to side. It’s a workers’ comp issue.”
Escalating vehicle and personnel costs, increasing regulatory and environmental requirements, and administrative burdens in managing their operations, the practice of outsourcing non-core business activities—particularly those having to do with transportation—has been gaining traction in response to the challenges of the economic downturn.
To this end, Waste Management’s operation in Reno, NV has partnered with Ruan, a Des Moines, IA-based transportation company to relieve the hassle and liability involved in its transfer vehicle operations.
|Photo: Mac Trailer
These aluminum trailers offer light weight as well as
resistance to rust.
Ruan has contracted with KNL for its Peerless drop center refuse trailer designed for quick unloading using a dumper. The open top, mitered front has a larger payload with a 65,000 pound capacity.
Automatic tarps save time and money due to their efficiency, but Scott Fuhrman, vice president and division manager of Donovan Enterprises Inc. in Stuart, FL, says safety is often the first reason fleets switch. “A lot of haulers cover their trailers manually; they climb up and walk on top. These transfer trailers are about 13 feet tall. That’s dangerous because the load could shift or it might contain glass or other hazardous objects. Some fleets have scaffolds at the station and landfill, but that requires two people, so it gets expensive when you have one guy sitting around, waiting for a truck.”
Since 1977, Donovan has manufactured tarps for heavy industry, recently adding mechanisms to the lineup. The company’s tarps are available in fully automated or manually automated styles, with one or two lids. Even with the manual style, the driver remains at ground level while the mechanisms roll the tarp from one side to the other.
The automated two-lid option makes the driver’s job even easier—and safer. “The operator is on the ground, safe, and can watch the process,” Fuhrman explains. “There’s a switch on the cab to operate the system.” The two-lid system has one lid mounted on the driver’s side and the other lid mounted on the passenger side, each covering half of the trailer. Three hinge locations at the front, middle, and back help support the tarp. Supporting the load is a brace across the middle. “When you pack down a 48- to 53-foot trailer, it bows out the sides.” The trailers can still be loaded with a front-end bucket loader or driven into a chute in the building for refuge to be pushed in from above. “The loaders just have to try to avoid hitting the brace.”
The most popular automatic covering system in the industry, according to Fuhrman, is Donovan’s Sidewinder. Developed in 1999 through extensive field testing, it’s the first single-lid automatic system in the industry. Made of strong, orange, high-density polypropylene knit in a half-inch square mesh, the heavy 9-foot-by-52-foot tarp, which can be mounted on either the driver’s or passenger’s side, opens and closes in 15 seconds, speeding up the process. A little-known benefit of the material is that emergency repairs can be performed with zip ties to cinch the fabric.
Material selection depends on what the customer hauls. Mesh is the most common, but for applications requiring a waterproof tarp, solid vinyl is appropriate. “Water can add weight,” Fuhrman explains, “and runoff causes environmental problems.”
It’s also important to address the type of runs an operator will be making. Long-distance transfers across state lines typically carry one or two loads per day. Operators are less concerned with turnaround time than with keeping the loads contained and dry.
Other considerations in tarp selection include efficiency, productivity, maintenance, and weight. Two lids are heavier than a single lid, Fuhrman points out. Even with the single-lid Sidewinder, weight can be saved. In addition to the most popular steel-frame version, an aluminum-frame option, hinged in front and back and connected by a cable, can reduce weight. All of Donovan’s tarps are designed for low maintenance with little impact on the trailer itself. “With some brands, the lid is rotated by a solid pipe. That can be an issue because the side walls don’t stay straight.”
Most states have tarp laws, but enforcement varies, Fuhrman says. Nevertheless, he believes it’s best not to take chances. The tarps can be retrofitted and typically last six months or more, thanks in part to UV inhibitors. Just the time savings alone can result in a rapid return on investment.
From Top to Bottom
As important as it is to match the right tarp to the appropriate application, it’s equally imperative to select the most suitable floor. Once again, materials and distance affect the decision.
Charles Russell, with Hallco Industries Inc., Tillamook, OR, suggests impact floors for the MSW industry. Heavy ridges on each slab catch the blunt force of garbage top-loaded at transfer stations and compacted.
“People want a leak-proof floor to carry foodwaste,” he notes. A watertight floor is harder to install and requires more service. It’s also heavier, which forces the driver to give up payload. That’s a critical point for MSW haulers. “Federal bridge law allows 80,000 pounds for truck, trailer, and load,” Russell explains, adding that Michigan permits trucks with more axles to haul more weight. As with tarp regulations, enforcement varies, and Russell contends that enforcement is random for municipal trucks. That means “people are willing to risk it for more payload; they don’t want a heavier floor—except in colder climates, because they have the power to break ice during unloading. “But no matter how long the journey or how heavy the cargo, every driver wants to unload quickly. Moving slat conveyor systems were first introduced nearly 30 years ago by Hallco Manufacturing Co. Now known as Live Floors, a hydraulically powered system of moving deck slats move material across its surface for controlled loading or unloading. The slats then return to their starting position, with every third slat moving in unison. “The floor moves 10 inches, pauses, then resets,” Russell explains. “Two-thirds of the slats hold the load while the floor resets. A trailer can be unloaded in 10 to 15 minutes. Unload time is a big deal.” Operating at speeds up to 11 feet per minute, Live Floors can move nearly any width, length, or weight of load. Wet loads are moved without drips. Simple to install and maintain, the system uses few parts or fasteners. Constructed of 6041-T6 aircraft-grade aluminum, it’s lightweight and durable. In-place maintenance can be performed while the trailer is fully loaded. “You can replace the drive separately,” Russell points out. Because slats typically wear out at the unloading end, the unit can be unbolted and turned around for extended life if the front has little wear.
A fully loaded trailer can push the legal weight limits. “The attitude used to be ‘Let’s see what happens,’” recalls Rick Talbot, sales and marketing for Vulcan On-board Scales in Kent, WA. That has changed since the introduction of more stringent general truck legislation, such as the CSA 2010 regulations that oversee driver behavior, rest, safety equipment, and weight. New concern about overloading trucks has driven interest in onboard scales. “Municipality budgets are tight; everyone wants to eliminate overweight fines. But fleets need reasons to put scales on; they need payback.” Talbot believes onboard scales pay for themselves by giving the operator accurate, real-time information. “A lot of fleets want to maximize payload, but without scales they end up 20% to 25% percent underweight to avoid refilling at the transfer station.” While they’re loading at the station, a wireless connection displays the weight and a meter on the cab does likewise simultaneously, allowing both driver and station operator to watch during loading. The driver doesn’t even have to be in the truck during loading.
If scaling all the tractors in the entire fleet is cost-prohibitive, Talbot suggests using a yard tractor to take trailers to for loading. Similarly, using landing-gear load cells allows the operator to drop the trailer for long loading and drive-away.
Load cell “solutions” even fit fifth-wheel tractors that have air suspension, providing faster, more accurate readouts, Talbot claims. Air ride has air sensors, which are an inexpensive option that don’t add a lot of weight.
For fifth-wheel tractors with spring suspensions, center hanger load cells can be used on the trailer. “Center hangers are OK for the price,” Talbot concedes, “but for performance and accuracy, try load cells. Center hangers and fifth-wheel load cells are good, he adds, but some suspensions simply don’t work well with scales, providing inaccurate results.
Maintenance is minimal, Talbot indicates. “Just monitor the calibration; they should hold out at least one year.” He recommends watching the calibration of transducers on packer vehicles closely because they’re on the suspension.
Other tips he offers include not putting scales on the front axle in a money-saving effort. “Don’t bother; very little weight is transferred to the front axle.” Ask questions and work with an experienced supplier who can provide all the options so you can mix and match solutions to fit your application. “Vulcan’s regional managers are experienced consultants who work with the fleets to determine their needs.”
The life expectancy of a transfer trailer is 5 years, says Russell, but the average age is 14 years. “People are repairing what they have—it got ’em there yesterday; it’ll get ’em there today.” That’s all the more reason to make good purchasing decisions.
Writer Lori Lovely focuses on topics related to transportation and technology.
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