Full Speed Ahead
by Lynn Petrak
Trailers, trucks and reefers move products along more rapidly, safely and efficiently.
It’s not enough to get product from Point A to Point B anymore. For one thing, Point B has given way to Points C, D and E, as a greater variety of retail and foodservice channels mean more places to which dairy companies must ship.
For another, dairies continue to develop more diverse product lines that are refrigerated, frozen and, in some cases, shelf stable. Add to that the dual drumbeats of food safety and fuel economy, and it becomes clear that navigating the cold chain isn’t a straight shot anymore.
The changing landscape of transporting perishable consumable goods has certainly affected modes of transportation. Trailers, trucks and reefers have continued to evolve to accommodate changes in the food and beverage industries, including the dairy sector.
Some of those profound changes are organizational. “The whole industry has gone through major consolidations, and as larger companies are buying out smaller dairies, they to go a much longer distance,” says Adriano Melluzzo, vice president of industry sales for Miami-based Ryder System Inc., which offers transportation management and dedicated contract carriage, among other logistics and transportation solutions. “So a lot of these companies are going to tractor/trailer combinations in lieu of straight trucks.”
Mergers and acquisitions are not unique to the dairy industry, either. “Because of consolidation in the truck-body industry over the past decade, many of the companies the dairy industry would have purchased an insulated truck body from in the past have either gone out of business or been purchased by their larger competitors or holding companies and changed at an elemental level,” says Jeffrey Caddick, purchasing manager for Henderson, Ky.-based insulated and dry dairy equipment provider Hercules Manufacturing, adding that as result, dairies are looking at wider range of options. “We built what our customers want. While we consider ourselves smart about building truck bodies, we also recognize and respect that our dairy customers know about delivering milk and ice cream.”
As dairies, consolidated or not, become increasingly competitive, versatility has become another key contributor to the way products are transported. “In the dairy industry, you have more companies carrying more products; dairies are loading things like yogurts, ice creams and juices. Although most are still single temperature operations, we are seeing more dairies coming in with multi-temperature trailers with multiple side doors,” says Tracey Maynor, vice president, branch sales and operations for Great Dane Trailers, Atlanta.
Melluzzo, too, says dairies are looking at broader temperature capability. “They are trying to minimize and utilize their fleet as much as they can. That’s why you have dual-temp and, in some cases, multi-temp with three compartments,” he says.
Also tied into the climate of competition, trucks today are often used for more than just hauling. Brian Scales, president of Canada’s Drake Truck Bodies, points to advances like bonded wall panels that use advanced glue instead of rivets to give walls a smooth, clean look and allow for the easy application of full-size decals. “Dairy companies are finding value using their truck bodies and trailers as marketing media,” he says. “Increasingly, these companies will decal the entire side of the truck body or trailer with their company logo or marketing message.”
To be sure, there are other industry realities that have resulted in innovations in designs of trailers, trucks and reefers. Driver safety and ease of use, for example, are on the wish list of many dairy operations. “In the dairy industry, they are looking for bodies designed and equipped to make them easier for the driver to get into and back out of, thus decreasing workers comp claims,” Caddick says.
Advances in interior features like flooring have also emerged in recent years. “We have made an effort to design a floor specific to the dairy industry, which has a textured top that allows dairy cases to slide easily and provides a driver with an anti-slip surface,” Maynor says.
Lifts, too, have been a focus of continual improvements. Scales, for instance, cites Drake’s recent development of a Slick Lift. “This lift gate is unique because the platform is part of the truck body floor. It is also a ‘direct lift,’ using two low-maintenance hydraulic cylinders,” he explains, listing benefits like quicker delivery times, lower worker compensation claims, reduced injury and increased productivity.
Issues and Innovations
In addition to new trailer, truck and reefer designs that stem from daily business realities, other dairy industry trends impact what and how products are hauled.
Food safety is one of those key trends. Maynor says Great Dane works with dairy customers to ensure insulation is effective for the protection of frozen or chilled products. He cites the company’s recent development of ThermoGuard, a glass-reinforced thermoplastic lining for reefer interiors that reduces the outgassing effects of insulation.
Improving insulation also has been a focus at Hercules, which offers pressure foaming in fixtures through foam guns with ratio monitors that serve to virtually eliminate the possibility of foam voids. “The ratio monitors prevent you from shooting another shot if your gun is performing off ratio, which means that 100 percent of the time, we are shooting good foam,” Caddick says. “Bad foam degrades quicker, compromising insulating value.”
Effective seals also keep out moisture and allow for correct refrigeration and freezing. “Things like copper seals around the doors are important for product integrity,” Maynor says, adding that Great Dane offers a dual-seal setup on its side doors.
Last year, Johnson Truck Bodies, a Rice Lake, Wis.-based division of the Carlisle Co., made its new TripleSeal door gaskets standard on its refrigerated truck bodies, a component that limits heat and moisture transfer to interiors.
Puncture guard features, on areas like sidewalls, are another relatively new example of safety-driven innovations, Melluzzo says, adding that more advanced coatings help prevent moisture from reaching the interior.
Tools that regulate temperature also help ensure product integrity and safety. “One thing that has become very much in demand lately has been the use of data loggers, because of the concern of food safety,” Melluzzo says.
Meanwhile, just as food safety is a top-tier issue for dairies, so too is fuel economy, especially in the light of current environmental, geopolitical and economic situations. “I am getting a lot of requests, because of fuel crunches, for hybrid refrigeration units,” Melluzzo says.
Meanwhile, Maynor says advances like Great Dane’s ThermoGuard were developed not only for product integrity but for fuel efficiency. “The big thing to happen in fuel economy as far as a trailer goes is ThermoGuard — that will absolutely save fuel units,” he says.
Scales points to Drake’s latest B-Train trailer system as a development that centers on efficiency. “It allows one truck to haul two trailers, saving the fuel and costs associated with a second truck,” he says.
Increasingly, trucks are equipped with computers and other electronics that enable users to track products, drivers and regulate or evaluate the environment.
Melluzzo says Ryder has been working on innovations in this area. “One of the things that we’ve been piloting over the last few months is an onboard computer system called RydSmart, with an onboard computer and GPS. It is a fleet information tool that allows you to get the road speed, miles per gallon and stops,” he says. In addition to that pilot program, Ryder offers a web-based information center that acts as a virtual fleet manager.
Lighting, too, is more sophisticated. “LED lights, both exterior and interior, really taken off in the last few years. They are more reliable than incandescent or fluorescent light and will live longer and are not as susceptible to damage and vibration,” Maynor says.
Adds Caddick: “Lately, the most popular options are either fluorescent or LED strip lighting for the interior, and LED lighting for the exterior.”
The choice of materials is one way to extend the life of a truck, trailer or reefer body. Johnson Truck Bodies recently switched to stainless-steel hardware as an option for new truck bodies or for replacement parts, because stainless offers a longer usable life than traditional chrome or powder-coated hardware.
Protection against corrosion is another way that dairy transporters can get more out of their existing bodies.
Great Dane is set to introduce a new corrosion protection called CorroGuard, to be available on suspensions and support gears of all of its trailers.
Fleet maintenance and management programs are available as well, if dairies need to outsource any work. Ryder, for its part, offers an expansive program that also includes the use of rentals.
Lynn Petrak is a freelance journalist based in the Chicago area.$OMN_arttitle="Full Speed Ahead";?> $OMN_artauthor="Lynn Petrak";?>