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Saving Your Soft Wares

TORONTO, Ont. - It's strange, really, that flexible materials like webbing and vinyl tarps are often the keys to securing and protecting cargo - particularly when you consider that loads are often so massive that they need to be moved by cranes, f...

SAFETY FIRST: It's important to keep a careful eye on the condition of your tie-down straps. Reef knots won't do in a pinch.
SAFETY FIRST: It's important to keep a careful eye on the condition of your tie-down straps. Reef knots won't do in a pinch.

TORONTO, Ont. – It’s strange, really, that flexible materials like webbing and vinyl tarps are often the keys to securing and protecting cargo – particularly when you consider that loads are often so massive that they need to be moved by cranes, front-end loaders, or forklifts.

There should be little surprise that they tend to be under a great deal of stress.

Still, by selecting the proper products and using them appropriately, you can ensure they last as long as possible…and avoid load security fines that can range from $200 to $1,000 in the process.

One of the first steps to ensuring you have the right cargo straps for the job is to look for the proper labels required under the U.S. cargo security rules that were introduced in January, and are expected to be included in Canada’s version of the rules that now appear to be postponed until next year.

The manufacturer’s name has to be printed within 18 inches of the end of the strap, along with the working load limit shown in pounds and kilograms.

Without that information, the web is down-rated to 1,000 lb. per inch of width, so a three-inch strap normally rated at 5,000 lb. will only be recognized at 3,000 lb.

It’s also important to watch over the condition of the strap. A reef knot may appear to be a quick fix for a damaged strap but it’s not. The new rules don’t permit knots in any tie-downs.

One of the best ways to protect the straps is to ensure that they’re protected from the rubbing and cutting caused by any corners and edges on the loads they secure, says Larry Harrison, general manager of Kinedyne, a leading maker of cargo security devices.

“It actually is a consumable,” he says of the straps. “Your load is shifting and moving. There will be damage.”

But at a cost of about $200 to $300 for a set of straps, the equipment should be thought of as an investment, and you can protect it by using corner protectors or carpets to shield the straps from cuts and abrasions.

One cultural difference can even be responsible for extending the life of equipment used by Canadian drivers.

Canadians tend to store their straps on a winch, while U.S. truckers tend to stretch them over the decks of empty trailers, locking them in place on the other side, Harrison says. (The U.S. approach is thought to reduce the chances for theft.)

“The Canadians have way less abrasion because the strap is not in use.”

It’s also important to beware of the damage that can occur because of over-zealous tightening efforts. Some drivers will mistakenly use their full force and weight to secure loads, Harrison says.

“They’ll take a logistics strap and give it all they got. They’re pulling the track right out.”

Drivers who use “cheater bars” – the longer bars used to add additional leverage to a standard winch and winch bar – could actually damage or break the winch, he adds.

That leaves the force to slam your body straight into the pavement.

Regulations are pretty clear about the limited number of cuts or snags that a strap can have, so it’s important to familiarize yourself with them.

And Kinnedyne’s Rhino strap designs include threads that mark the inside limits of cuts, to help show when they’re out of service.

It’s also important to consider the insurance coverage offered by anyone who sells load security devices, Harrison adds.

If you are in an accident, “everybody will sue everybody.

“If something ever failed, are you covered?”

In terms of coverage, Danny Watters of Till-Fab Inc. – a Norwich, Ont. company that makes tarping systems – says it’s also important to remember the true purpose of your tarps.

“They are load-covering devices. They are not load bearing devices,” he says.

“The load has to be properly tied down inside.”

While a tarping system may not actually hold a load in place, that doesn’t mean it’s immune from damage.

Rub the wall of a van trailer against another trailer, and you may get away with a scuffmark.

Rub a tarp against a solid object, and you’ll likely get a tear, he says.

But if you maintain them properly, the systems and their frames should last 10 years, and the tarps themselves can last five to six years, Watters says.

It’s simply a matter of taking care of the equipment.

Tarps, for example, have to be properly secured and as taut as possible at all times.

“Otherwise, the whole system is always moving around. It’s wearing away,” he says.

“Once they get flapping, the life expectancy is one tenth what it could be,” agrees Tony Campbell, general manager of Cambridge Canvas.

But that can also require folding any loose areas of the tarp, rather than allowing it to simply drape over pockets of space when you’re covering irregularly shaped loads.

When cleaning a tarp, it’s also important to limit your use of cleaners to a mild solution of soap and water, Watters adds. Aluminum brighteners, often used when cleaning trailers, will actually harm the coating that protects the tarp in the first place.

Like their strapping counterparts, tarps should be protected from snags and tears by covering any corners with small pieces of carpet.

A tarping system that lasts a decade can equate to a cost of just over $30 per week, making it a manageable investment.

But the cost can increase dramatically if you have to replace it within five years.

Since a tarping system can last a decade, it’s also important to ensure that the size you select doesn’t limit your ability to haul future loads.

Watters recommends a system that offers 48 feet of deck space and 102 inches of width, leaving the space for 12, four-foot-wide skids.

An interior height of 13.5 inches may seem excessive over the loads that you’re protecting now, but it will offer you the flexibility to take on larger loads in the future, he adds.

As well, be sure to spec a grade of vinyl that will last, Campbell says, noting that a 14-ounce vinyl – while significantly lighter than its 18-ounce counterpart – will also last half as long.

And he warns against companies that offer repairs that seem too cheap to be true. They probably are.

While all shops will use the same heat guns to apply patches to holes, cheaper shops may not subject tarps to the same level of inspection.

(Cambridge stretches tarps over light tables to find the smallest holes, before they become real problems.)

“If you’re hauling drywall or any product that’s expensive and susceptible to damage, you should have it inspected and repaired two times a year,” he says of tarps.

If that seems excessive, imagine the cost of damage to drywall at the top of a load that has been exposed to the elements over the course of a weekend.

It’s always a matter of protecting your investments.

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