Wabash shows off composite reefer prototype

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Wabash National showcased for the first time a prototype composite refrigerated trailer that it says will be as light as a dry van. And that’s counting the refrigeration unit.

Shown for the first time at this year’s Technology & Maintenance Council meetings, the composite trailer is said to offer 25% greater thermal efficiency than today’s reefers with a box that’s 20% lighter. Robert Lane, director, product and business development, told Truck News that the trailer will be 1,500-2,000 lbs lighter than today’s refrigerated trailers yet it will also boast a 24,000-lb floor rating. This will provide refrigerated carriers with a versatile trailer that can double as a dry van when necessary.

Wabash has developed composite truck bodies and a prototype composite reefer trailer.
Wabash has developed composite truck bodies and a prototype composite reefer trailer.

“The goal was to get a fully-loaded refrigerated trailer – including the refrigeration unit – that weighs less than today’s dry van,” Lane said.

He added the company also doubled puncture resistance so customers will be able to “get loads that are a little bit more abusive than you can typically haul in a standard refrigerated trailer.”

The weight savings were achieved by removing metal from the walls and floors. The box is a one-piece composite structure made of glass, resin and foam. “There is no metal anywhere in the structure itself,” Lane said of the box. The rails are still made of metal.

Even the coupler and the rails are bonded to the trailer without fasteners.

The composite trailer – still unnamed – follows the introduction of two composite bodies developed by Wabash. They are closer to full production than the trailer.

“We will be selling bodies this year with the technology,” Lane said, noting one body has been in the field for eight months undergoing testing.

It will be late 2017 or early 2018 before the trailer enters mass production. Fleets are lined up to begin testing the trailer later this year.

Lane said it’s too early to discuss pricing, but Wabash realizes it needs to be cost-competitive.

“We have to stay in the range of where we are in the industry,” Lane said. “The problem with composites has always been the cost. One of our goals was to maintain cost competitiveness and we are able to achieve it with this technology. I won’t say it will bet he same cost to customers (as current models) but it will be reasonable, given the value we bring.”

BASF said it also played a role in developing the trailer, by identifying the appropriate mix of materials to form the composite material.

“The global cold chain market is growing in excess of 15% annually. Building off Wabash National’s vision, BASF identified the best material combination to allow Wabash National to disruptively innovate in this growing space,” said Jim Reddy, new market development manager for the Performance Materials Division at BASF. “With fuel economy and environmental forces continuing to grow, it was important that we work together to create a lighter and corrosion-free trailer.”

“The growth in cold chain infrastructure and the significant investment being made in home food delivery services presented an emerging market opportunity,” added Brent Yeagy, group president of Commercial Trailer Products at Wabash National. “Our close connection with BASF and their material expertise made this concept trailer possible. We believe it could revolutionize the cold chain transportation industry.”

James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 20 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at james@newcom.ca or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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