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Van trailer decking systems becoming more popular

The trucking industry’s mantra, in the face of a productivity-choking regulatory environment, has been to do more with less – to squeeze more profit out of its existing assets. Few companies today are adding capacity and are instead...


The trucking industry’s mantra, in the face of a productivity-choking regulatory environment, has been to do more with less – to squeeze more profit out of its existing assets. Few companies today are adding capacity and are instead looking to generate more revenue out of their current equipment and drivers, even as regulations like the new US hours-of-service rules implemented last year provide an opposing force.

One clever way fleets are boosting their productivity is by spec’ing trailers with decking systems that allow them to increase the carrying capacity of a typical 53-ft. van trailer by 30-40%.

Con-way Freight is the most notable company to implement a fleet-wide roll-out of decking systems. In January 2011, the company announced it was retrofitting 16,800 trailers with the Lift A Deck 2 decking system from Ancra International.

That announcement, and a subsequent improvement in Con-way’s operating ratio, which some observers attributed to its improved carrying capacity, has spawned plenty of interest in such systems.

“It has been a growing trend,” Brian Larocque, managing director of Ancra Canada told Truck News. “Con-Way Freight did a huge change-over and retrofitted the majority of their existing fleet and that got a lot of attention from a lot of fleets. They realize that to compete with that, they have to go to a similar type of equipment.”

Decking systems can be ordered factory-installed or retrofit into existing van trailers.

“It’s more cost-effective to do it when you buy the trailer new, and some trailers like reefers you just can’t retrofit in the field,” Larocque pointed out.

In addition to allowing fleets to take advantage of the trailer’s full cubic capacity, the systems also have proven to reduce freight claims since cargo is not stacked directly on top of other cargo.

Typically, publicly traded LTL fleets that use decking systems have an operating ratio that’s nearly twice that of carriers that do not, Larocque noted.

Before decking systems like Ancra’s Lift A Deck 2 or Kinedyne’s K2 Kaptive Beam were introduced to the market, many fleets would cobble up their own makeshift decking systems, using loose beams and decks that had to be stored when not in use.

The advent of fully integrated decking systems like the ones mentioned above, mean they travel with the trailer at all times, simplifying operations. Still, some training is required when a decking system is first installed.

“It’s a learning curve for any operation,” said Mark Arnold, manager, process improvement with Kinedyne. “You’re literally changing the dynamics of the trailer. It really requires a re-education of the employee base.”

When loading a trailer, the person responsible must not think only of the best way to place freight horizontally and laterally within the trailer, but vertically as well. And this of course means placing the heavier freight along the bottom.

“The deck will hold a lot more than you really should put up there,” Arnold warns.

Once the systems are installed, maintenance requirements are usually minimal. Some systems require greasing but Ancra’s Lift A Deck 2 does not.

“Other than a periodic inspection, very little (maintenance is required),” Larocque said. “It doesn’t require grease. Other systems do, but especially in a reefer, as you can imagine the last thing you want in there is grease.”

Ancra’s system uses machined aluminum for the tracking and footing. Larocque said it also incorporates multiple locking plugs for additional durability. That does add about 50 lbs of extra weight per trailer, but Larocque said most fleets feel the additional durability is worth the trade-off.

“We are carrying a little more weight in our extrusion,” he said. “I think our system is the most robust one out there. From what fleets tell us, they have lower maintenance costs and less headaches with our system.”

For its part, Kinedyne’s K2 Kaptive Beam system is flush-mounted.

“A lot of trailer OEs over the years have been looking at ways to make that wall as smooth as possible, to not have anything protruding out of the wall,” said Scott Frazier, national product manager, engineered solutions with Kinedyne. “When we designed the K2, that was the main idea, to make a flush system.”

Calculating a return on investment, without an intimate knowledge of a fleet’s application, is a tricky business. But a payback comes easily to fleets that can take advantage of the extra carrying capacity.

“Typically, if you’re on a dedicated run hauling the same types of products, you can see a very quick payback, within half a dozen loads,” Larocque said, adding for the average fleet, “We’ve been told an 18-month payback is realistic.”

Of course, a van trailer decking system is more beneficial to some fleets than others. Some applications just seem like a natural fit. For example, Larocque recalls one customer that was shipping bathtubs and ceramic tile in separate trailers. By installing a decking system, it was able to consolidate the cargo and reduce its shipments in half.

Regardless of the type of freight you’re hauling, the need to maximize productivity is universal.

And this is why decking systems are receiving some extra attention these days.

“Fleets need to utilize as much cubic capacity as the vehicle has to offer,” Arnold said. “They more air they ship, the less profitable they are.”


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