BLAINVILLE, Que. – The Transport Canada test track in Blainville, Que. looked like a truck stop this September, with at least 25 tractors and trailers in various stages of undress and readiness alongside the high-speed track and several...
BLAINVILLE, Que. – The Transport Canada test track in Blainville, Que. looked like a truck stop this September, with at least 25 tractors and trailers in various stages of undress and readiness alongside the high-speed track and several more hammering down the straightaways and hitting the highly banked curves at 100 km/h.
This is the eighth set of Energotest trials since FPInnovations launched its PIT program in 2007. It is the same game – testing fuel-saving technologies – with repeat visits by some product developers and new players who have come forward with cash and hopes of getting good fuel-saving scores that will help them market their products (see related story, pg. 13).
What had representatives from FPInnovations, semi-trailer manufacturer Manac and paper giant Cascades on a high, though, was a modified “wedge” box trailer they and the University of Laval mechanical engineering department modified this summer.
Based on the results of wind tunnel tests at the University of Laval and the National Research Council, Manac rebuilt the top front edge of the roof to give it a high-radius curve and sloped the rear 10 feet of the roof, dropping its height over the rear doors by six inches.
The wind tunnel tests recorded a 12% reduction in aerodynamic drag. PIT’s job was to learn whether this translated into reduced fuel consumption on the road.
The wedge trailer, which has a sloping floor and Michelin 255/70 R22.5 duals, has the same extreme height as a standard trailer and an internal volume equal to that of a standard 53-ft. trailer. If Manac puts the modified design into production, it will incorporate a lifting system into the suspension to raise the trailer floor to dock height.
FPInnovations writes in its press release that this trailer is a combination of European technology and Quebec engineering and manufacturing expertise. When questioned about this, FPInnovations clarified that the modifications were inspired by a fascinating trailer called the Teardrop, designed and built by trailer manufacturer Don-Bur in Stoke-on-Trent, England; there was no collaboration with Don-Bur.
Let’s check in with the Old Country: Don-Bur made its first Teardrop prototype in 2007 for London retail giant Marks & Spenser. The Teardrop caught on like wildfire – fuel savings average 11.26% – and Don-Bur has manufactured over 2,500 Teardrops to date.
The Teardrop’s key, patented design feature is a roof that rises from the front and then slopes downward toward the rear, resembling a flattened water droplet shape.
“Our trailer patent specifies an upward slope to the front and downward slope to the rear,” explains Richard Owens, marketing director, Don-Bur.
Although Owens notes that the high-radius curve on the front edge and the sloping roof of the modified Cascades trailer could win FPInnovations a “friendly Intellectual Property Rights Letter” from Don-Bur, had the trailer come out of a workshop in England, what FPInnovations, et al actually created, Owens explains, is a design called a fastback, not a drop shape.
Fastback? Another British trailer manufacturer, The Cartwright Group of Companies in Cheshire, handcuffed by the Don-Bur patent on the full curve profile, designed a trailer it calls the Cheetah Fastback: it has a sloping curve that extends for the rear 50% of the roof.
This fastback shape, which car manufacturers have used at least as far back as the 1930s is, if not by intent, but certainly by design, what FPInnovations is billing as a “state-of-the-art” and “cutting-edge” semi-trailer.
It is a wonderful thing that it has finally occurred to us to soften our prehistoric shoebox trailer shape, but we are years behind the curve. Don-Bur and Cartwright have refined their aerodynamic trailer designs to high art: Their work displays a superb integration of trailer and tractor and the development of daring shapes and concepts foreign to our shores.
By comparison, our efforts to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear more resemble the experimental, early days of flight.