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Cut the weight, move more freight


You may not be able to bring your semi-truck to the gym or a Zumba class to help it shed those extra pounds, but there are ways fleets can tip the scales in their favor and get their trucks to lose some weight so they can move more freight.

Bison Transport recently added 40 new Freightliner tractors to its fleet, and as the Winnipeg company’s equipment acquisition and innovation manager Steven Orbanski explained to Truck News, lightweight spec’ing these trucks was one of his first orders of business when he stepped into the role this past February.

“If the weight on our equipment is too heavy, we can’t haul as much payload as we could (otherwise),” Orbanski said. “The problem is really prevalent in the reefer industry, and this is where this project came from…we needed to shave a lot of weight out because we’re not able to compete on that side with our heavy one-truck-fits-every-application kind of deal.”

Orbanski needed to cut the truck and trailer’s weight down enough so it could fit a minimum of 45,000 lbs of payload into the reefer, but there were few areas he could find to trim weight from the trailer itself.

“There’re only minor items we were able to do on the trailer side,” he said. “We’re experimenting with some lighter dolly legs and lighter-weight hubs, but there’s not really a lot that we’re able to shave out of there because we need that insulation and volume in (the reefer).”

Bison used aluminum dolly legs to cut some weight, and has been challenging OEMs to find additional ways to pull more weight from the trailer. With the trailer only permitting so much in terms of cutting weight, Orbanski started focusing on the truck itself.

With 25% of Bison’s business hauled by long combination vehicles, the company was unable to shave pounds from the heavy-duty trucks it uses to haul the dual trailers.

“On that note, we were able to play with a few items,” said Orbanski.

The first was to move away from a 15-liter engine and employ a 13-liter, which saved approximately 550 lbs, not only because of the engine weight, but also the fluids it carried and bracketing required for the engine’s installation and support. Next, Orbanski used lighter-weight disc brakes, where he was able to cut about 100 lbs. Bison was also able to reduce the weight of the truck frame, since it did not have to support as much force with the lighter engine, which ended up saving upwards of 200 lbs with the reduced frame thickness and gauge.

“We were also able to, on at least one of the models, shorten the hood because of the smaller engine,” Orbanski said. “So shortening the hood and taking out that frame and extra bracketry was a couple hundred pounds there as well.”

Mike Palmer, manager of fleet product support for Freightliner Manitoba, said the three main ways fleets can utilize lightweight spec’s is with the engine, cab configurations and chassis options.

In addition to using the 13-liter DD13 Detroit engine, Palmer pointed to exhaust configurations.

“If the fleet chooses an underslung exhaust compared to vertical exhaust, the weight savings is approximately 115 lbs,” he said.

Palmer also said the use of a 13-gallon diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) tank rings in at around 15 lbs less than a 23-gallon DEF tank.

Orbanski added that the carry weight alone in the smaller DEF tank saves just under 800 lbs. Palmer also underscored that a Detroit DT 12 automated transmission weighs approximately 340 lbs less than an Eaton Fuller UltraShift Plus 13-speed. Brake drums are another area to shed some weight.

“When spec’ing brake drums, there are SteeLite and CastLite drums, which are about 15-17 lbs lighter than regular drums,” Palmer said.

Wheel and suspension components are two areas Jason Stubbs, national sales manager for Maxim Truck and Trailer, said fleets can cut weight from their trailers.

Stubbs said going to aluminum hubs or lightweight steel hubs, spec’ing the trailer with a lightweight suspension and the overall design of the trailer, specifically the usage of more aluminum like cross-members, all reduce weight.

On the truck side of things, Kevin Bowen, national truck and bus sales manager for Maxim, said there are several ways to lightweight spec’ a truck, including 6×2 axle configurations (where permitted), lighter frame rails, aluminum axle carriers and cross-members and lighter-weight drive axles.

“The higher use of plastics in component manufacturing lightens a truck,” Bowen stated, “but durability is compromised.”

Stubbs concurred, saying that lighter-weight components often cost more and are not as resilient as their steel counterparts. “A lighter-weight spec’ is not for everyone because the additional cost and durability needs to have a payoff,” said Stubbs. “Also, weight in some applications is not a concern.”

For Orbanski, he said Bison is always looking for ways to shave weight from its trucks and trailers, as long as it doesn’t compromise the service it provides.

“Trying to spec’ for application is a change we are going through,” said Orbanski. “Lightweight really drove this and it’s driving it to other areas of the business. We just try and do our homework, and weight is always a great reduction. It’s always going to be there for us, to try and remove weight out of our equipment wherever possible without hurting the longevity or function that (the truck) needs.”

The use of aluminum components is certainly one of the key factors to trimming pounds.

Using an aluminum air tank instead of steel saves about 30 lbs; an aluminum fifth wheel sheds around 100 lbs compared to a cast iron fifth wheel; and Alcoa Ultra One aluminum rims are five pounds lighter than regular Alcoa rims, according to Palmer.

A smaller fuel tank can also help lighten a truck’s load, which could be a practical option given the need for less fuel with a lighter truck.

“We did some calculations on the fuel mileage we were expecting, the routes we wanted to run and where the driver should be able to fill up,” Orbanski explained. “Basically, we wanted to run Winnipeg to Toronto without a fill, and doing that we went from 300 US gallon tanks down to 200 US gallon tanks.”

Orbanski said despite the obvious benefits in fuel economy, exploring lightweight spec’s was predominantly about Bison trying to better compete in the reefer industry.

“If you have four guys bidding on a job and one of them can haul way more payload than you, however they do it,” he said. “Operations being able to do that right away and acquire more business was our number one.”

After fuel savings, Orbanski said Bison was able to shorten the wheelbase of the lightweight spec’d trucks due to the curtailing of the hood.

“Drivers are able to have a little bit more maneuverability,” he said. “And this is without losing any of the driver comforts we have. Driver retention is also a huge priority for us…we were able to keep the same high-rise cabin sleeper with all their fridges and inverters, Bluetooth radios…all that stuff that they enjoy.”

Orbanski said Bison considered going even smaller, but after offering drivers some sample trucks to look over, the feedback was that the drivers preferred having some extra space.

Bowen pointed out that many of the lightweight spec’s currently available are designed more for the US market due to the country’s maximum 80,000-lb gross vehicle weight rating for a tandem axle tractor-trailer combination.

“In Canada, our weight laws are less stringent, so these weight saving options have not proven to be as popular,” he said. “The suppliers of these components design them for trucks that are out at no more than 80,000 lbs. That would be okay if someone was traveling continually in the US, but we all know in Canada that is not the case. Our Canadian road and climate conditions are much harsher.”

Bowen added that in 2020, stricter greenhouse gas emission regulations will force manufacturers to use a higher percentage of lightweight components in the assembly of transportation equipment. Well, shedding some weight is seldom a bad thing.


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