by Lynn Petrak
Refrigerated trucking technologies give a boost to the safety, efficiency, economy and speed of moving dairy products.
Talk about delivering quality and value. Transportation is one of the most crucial links in the food chain, the channel that bridges production and distribution, sometimes quite literally.
A dairy processor can make the best products in the best packaging at the best operational performance, but after items leave the shipping dock, it is up to the trailers, trucks and refrigerated carriers (reefers) that transport dairy foods and beverages to make them fresh, safe and arrive on time. Breakdowns in the system can cost time, resources, money and, ultimately, customer relationships.
A handful of transportation services have been in business since before automobiles and trucks were even on the road, starting relationships with dairies via horse and carriage. Others have entered the industry at a time when truck and trailer technology and sophisticated refrigeration systems were rapidly expanding. Either way, those that sell or lease trucks, trailers and reefers to dairy manufacturers regularly work to understand the needs of this unique industry.
“It all comes down to thermal efficiency and building a body that will maintain temperature,” says Greg LaFrance, director of sales and marketing for Johnson Truck Bodies, a Rice Lake, Wis.-based division of Carlisle Cos.
LaFrance says the increasingly fragmented distribution chain, industry consolidations, product line diversification and other emerging trends have changed dairy hauling needs in recent years. “It’s a very complex business, it just continues to get more complex with consolidation. So we ask, ‘How can we help you get efficiently to market?’” he says. “From home delivery to direct store delivery to distribution center delivery, all those requirements can be different. There is a certain set of parameters processors need.”
Other suppliers agree that the age-old notion of customer service is crucial. “The opportunities and challenges are the same as in any other manufacturing industry: to consistently and constantly improve the product you manufacture, refine your processes in order to eliminate waste ithout sacrificing quality and to constantly strive to provide better spec’ed (specified) equipment to customers,” reports Jeffrey Caddick, purchasing agent for Hercules Manufacturing Co., Henderson, Ky., supplier of insulated van trailers and bodies, cold-plate refrigeration bodies, insulated slip-in bodies and other specialized bodies.
Trends that have affected the dairy industry in recent years have also had ramifications for trucking companies that offer transportation solutions. “Dairies are typically very low-margin, high-volume operations. Most companies grow through acquisitions of local and regional dairies, and this reduces costs as a result of synergies associated with the consolidation,” says Brandie Fuller, director of advertising and industry relations for Great Dane Trailers, Savannah, Ga.
While consolidation centralizes decisions, product distribution channels are another matter, says Fuller. “Individual plants remain specialized, such as ultra-pasteurized products, ice cream production or cottage cheese,” she says. “Product then still needs to be moved long distances to member dairies to complete the full product line.”
Like the dairy industry, consolidations have also affected the trucking world. While Hercules has been in business since 1902 and helped develop mechanical refrigeration technology in the 1920s and ’30s, other longtime names in dairy freight have been added to the “fleet” of larger transportation corporations. Hackney truck bodies, for example, are now marketed by Kidron, Ohio-based Kidron, Inc., while Murphy trucks and trailers are sold through Supreme/Murphy Truck Bodies Inc., Wilson, N.C. And Johnson is part of Carlisle, a diversified global manufacturing company serving the transportation, construction, commercial roofing, automotive, pharmaceutical, food service and data transmission industries.
However they are structured, most truck, trailer and reefer suppliers have advanced their own technology, offering state-of-the-art bodies, top-notch temperature effectiveness and efficiency and performance-minded parts.
Load Up On Tailored Features
The often-cited need for specification has led many suppliers to provide industry-targeted refrigerated trucks, trailers and smaller delivery vans, whether the customer is a dairy, meat, poultry or seafood processor or other type of operation.
“A Hercules truck body or trailer is a custom-built piece of equipment with a specific end user and their specific needs in mind,” says Caddick, adding that industry-tailored features provide better efficiencies and results. “Hercules is constantly seeking to improve our design and to constantly tweak a specific end user’s spec to refine it down to the best possible spec for their application.” The company’s dairy-specific features include sheet and post skirted bodies and sophisticated shelving designs, among other options.
Similarly, Johnson has designed some of its models to be as accommodating as possible, especially for temperature-sensitive customers like dairy manufacturers. “We’re doing a lot of multiple temperature (capability), multi-compartment and multiple doors to access different products. Many times, dairies carry both frozen and fresh, like milk and ice cream,” says LaFrance. He explains that multiple-temperature features can span deep-freeze temperatures for items like ice cream, low temperatures for other frozen items and medium temperatures for non-frozen perishables like fluid milk.
Other truck providers are offering multi-temperature features as well, including the Hackney Dairy Classic refrigerated truck body, which offers a system that allows for controls as low as -20 degrees F, as well as built-in features that allow for multiple-stop delivery. Great Dane also touts its capacity for multiple temperature items, available through its SuperSeal XLT reefer.
Different trucks feature different kinds of temperature controls, but many dairy customers opt for cold-plate systems, in which plates are hung in various locations inside the walls and ceilings of the truck body. Recently, improvements have been made in this area to help prevent problems like defrosted water from plates that can make products wet.
“What the dairy industry has mostly turned to at this point in terms of a cold-plate refrigeration system which deals with these concerns is the blower/plate system,” explains Caddick. “With this system, the cold plates are installed in a box which is bolted to the interior front wall of the truck body, and the box has two or three fans on the top of it. Since the box is isolating the plates in the front of the body, any dripping from the plates which takes place is immediately evacuated out drain holes placed under the box, without any possibility of dripping on product.” In addition, he says, the fans cycle on and off to help maintain constant temperature throughout the body for the entire journey.
Such sophisticated temperature control systems, as a dairy that must get both frozen and refrigerated products to market can attest, are not inexpensive. To that end, truck, trailer and reefer manufacturers are also keenly aware of their dairy industry customers’ budgets. “After the initial cost of the trailer, the largest controllable expense is fuel consumption for the refrigeration unit,” says Fuller. “As a result, adequate insulation is a main concern to minimize running time on the unit.”
New Centennial Inc., Columbus, Ga., manufactures insulated and refrigerated bodies and trailers with an emphasis on specialty designs for applications not otherwise readily available. Formerly sold under the Atlas brand name, New Centennial products offer numerous options for refrigeration, wall composition and custom sizes.
The company’s use of formed aluminum or steel vertical panel, FRP or sheet and post design gives customers a choice of composition to suit individual needs. Refrigeration options include mechanical blower, cold plate, cold plate blower or a combination.
New Centennial reports the growing demand on providing more efficient and ergonomic delivery vehicles has brought an increase the option sales of lift gates, built-in steps, grab rod handles, ramps and lower-profile designs.
A High-Tech Convoy
In addition to multiple-temperature capabilities and various dairy-friendly features, suppliers are coming out with other new models and upgrades, with innovations from the inside out.
As far as the body itself goes, Hercules has made some adjustments that have proven appealing to dairy customers. “One major innovation in the Hercules design over the past five years has been the introduction of the sheet and post skirted body,” says Caddick. “Skirted bodies have been a dairy industry favorite for many years, and the new Hercules design allows end users to get ‘that look’ that is desired for their trucks and fleet. It also makes repairs easier, as any damaged sheet and post body can be repaired at any trailer repair facility.”
Other suppliers have redesigned some of their fleets for contemporary needs as well. Kidron, for example, is promoting a new Hackney Dairy Classic refrigerated truck body, available in lengths from 16 to 24 feet, with various doors, floor and bumper options and 4- or 5-inch insulation packages. The body also was designed for superior thermal efficiencies, and can be bought with mechanical or holdover plate systems.
Nearly two years ago, Johnson rolled out a reasonably priced Xtreme XT series insulated truck body, designed for mechanical refrigeration applications. The body features the company’s aerodynamic (FRP) exterior, offering outstanding thermal efficiency with a seamless, ultra-smooth surface with no rivets or screws. According to LaFrance, the longer-lifecycle fiberglass will not rust or corrode and is puncture and tear resistant. The body, available in lengths from 8 to 24 feet, also was made with Johnson’s exclusive recessed exterior lighting; on the inside, urethane insulation is foamed in place to guard against voids and help maintain temperature retention.
Advanced foam insulation, in fact, has been a focus of many recent advances in interior reefer design. Hercules has improved its foaming technology for its vehicles’ side walls and ceilings to provide a flatter exterior and interior wall appearance and provide superior insulation and temperature control. “With regards to our foaming operation, we are actually in the midst of a costly upgrade of our foaming equipment, which involved the installation of ratio monitors which shut down our foam guns if the ratio coming out of the foam tanks goes out of tolerance,” says Caddick, noting the industry’s occasional problems with poor chemical reactions in foam materials led to the investment. The new equipment should be fully on line by next fall, he says.
Great Dane, which also offers new foaming techniques to ensure void-free insulation packages, has upgraded other refrigeration components typically used for dairy applications. “The use of aluminum framing for refrigeration units reduces weight and reduces corrosion, which alters strength and appearance,” explains Fuller, citing another recent development. “Also, stronger interior liners, such as Great Dane’s PunctureGuard, allow for thinner, lighter liners with greater strength than traditional fiberglass reefer linings.”
Other types of equipment advances have addressed lighting and electrical systems. On some of its models, Great Dane recently relocated electrical and air lines to a PVC conduit above the cross members and near the side walls, providing protection from road damage that might occur from a forklift or debris.
Great Dane also has introduced a “Long Life Light” system with a sealed wiring harness. “That has reduced cost by eliminating excess wiring and simplifying maintenance and the addition of lights without splicing,” says Fuller. “In the past, electrical maintenance costs were one of the highest costs associated with long-term maintenance. Electrical maintenance is now minimized to a fraction of previous costs and is supported by a 10-year warranty.”
Related to lighting, Hercules has come out with an advanced feature, reports Caddick. “Another recent innovation that is extremely popular with our dairy end users is the introduction by Grote (Industries Inc., Madison, Ind.) of a fluorescent dome light specifically created for insulated equipment and tested to withstand -20 degree temperatures,” he says.
Other Rules of the Road
Beyond new body designs, materials and parts, reefer, truck and trailer companies also work with dairy customers to address other industry issues. A recent concern has been increasing regulations affecting drivers and routes.
“Government regulations about the transportation and handling of product products will drive our business more and more,” predicts LaFrance, noting the most recent hour-of-service rule that took effect in early January has restricted driving shifts to eight hours at a time, regardless of whether that time is spent driving or waiting.
Other interventions have impacted transportation systems as well. “Government regulations like mandatory anti-lock brake systems and automatic slack adjusters, as well as the new hours-of-service rule, have increased cost,” says Fuller. “But they have also increased safety.”
A related issue has been overall driver safety. Companies like Hercules and others help dairy customers prevent or reduce injuries and worker’s compensation claims through superior design features. “We do this through the spec’ing of walk ramps, lift gates both rear- and side-loading style,” says Caddick, “and through the use of our exclusive Hercules gravity step, which allows a driver to access his load literally as if he is walking up a set of stairs, and back down a set of stairs.” df
Lynn Petrak is a freelance journalist based in the Chicago area.$OMN_arttitle="Road Trip";?>