By Tom Kelley
Trailers are nothing new in route delivery, with side-load versions long popular at larger distributors, and cargo-style trailers frequently dedicated to grocery store and big-box accounts. But today, savvy distributors are increasingly choosing the cargo-style trailers as their primary route-delivery option.
Compared with more traditional choices for route delivery, cargo trailers can reduce package handling and the potential for driver injury by simplifying palletized order delivery. Equipping a cargo trailer with a lift-gate and a pallet-jack lets one route serve both dock delivery and ground delivery accounts, all without manually handling cases. Many distributors using the cargo trailers have noted the ability to add multiple stops to each route, thanks to increased driver productivity.
A minimum-length 28’ unit is one of the most popular route trailer lengths because it allows two trailers to be connected and hauled in a “doubles” configuration, enabling multi-trailer relays to replace cross-dock operations. Individually, the 28’ trailers are not only highly maneuverable because of their length, but also because they are typically spec’d with a single axle, eliminating the “scrub” resistance of tandem axle configurations in tight turns.
Another configuration that is growing in popularity for route delivery is a 35’ to 36’ tandem-axle trailer spec’ed with a rail lift-gate and 12’ 6” exterior height. The standard exterior height for most trailers is 13’ 6”, but since route delivery operations don’t involve stacking pallets two-high, eliminating the extra height reduces cost, weight and wind resistance. In addition to the extra cargo capacity from the added length (vs. 28’ units), the tandem-axle configuration ensures proper weight distribution, especially when a heavily loaded pallet is at the end of the lift-gate.
Two mega-distributors, one in the beer segment and one in CSD, have deployed a significant number of these mid-length trailers, presumably after considerable research into the productivity and performance of various trailer configurations.
For larger distributors that operate inter-warehouse transfer runs, or those servicing big-box accounts with truckload deliveries, Great Dane has seen increasing demand for trailers that maximize cargo space while reducing trailer weight. “As a standard production model for these customers, Great Dane recently introduced an updated version of the Champion CP Composite dry freight trailer, specifically designed for the beverage industry,” says Great Dane VP Chris Hammond. “This trailer’s light-weight composite panel construction also allows for a truly snag-free interior.”
When the ability to withstand concentrated weights and higher duty cycles is more important than initial cost and maximizing interior width, it’s advantageous to upgrade from composite trailer wall construction to a more traditional “framed” wall construction, commonly known as “sheet and post” construction.
While the composite construction maximizes cubic space, making it well-suited for truckload deliveries, the sheet and post construction tends to be better suited to the rigors of route delivery operations, and to modifications like adding curb-side doors.
Strick, a long-time innovator in dry-van trailer manufacturing, specializes in building trailers using sheet and post construction. The company eschews competition in the high-volume generic trailer market in favor of custom building dry-freight trailers for customers with special needs. “Since the recession has abated somewhat, we have put tremendous focus on building our dealer network to better serve beverage distributors who still tend to be regional or local, in spite of continued consolidation in the industry,” says Charlie Willmott, EVP of Sales for Strick.
Specializing in route delivery vehicles since its inception, the Hackney division of VT Hackney pioneered the design of lightweight, all-aluminum, side-load bodies and trailers.
To address competition from cargo-style trailers, Hackney continues to innovate with features designed for productivity and safer operation. Key among these innovations is the company’s Dockmaster configuration, which brings the best of side-load and end-load attributes together in one trailer. The Dockmaster can be loaded and unloaded from both the side and the rear, facilitating bulk dock deliveries and route-sell walk-up deliveries on the same route, with a single trailer.