LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Wabash National has begun working on a trailer that – with the exception of brakes and tires – will run 10 years with no maintenance required, say company officials.
The company made the announcement at the Mid-America Trucking Show in March.
Internally dubbed the Wabash 10, the trailer aims to raise the bar for life cycles in the trailer industry.
Rod Ehrlich is responsible for developing the trailer.
“Today, most fleets are looking at a 10-year life expectancy but during that 10 years we do have maintenance issues,” Ehrlich said. “We are sitting down with the fleets and specifically talking about what they’re spending money on.”
The trailer box typically lasts 10 years without maintenance, but numerous other components decrease the life of the trailer, Ehrlich said. Wabash will be addressing each link of the chain and strengthening the ones that traditionally cause headaches for maintenance managers.
“Let’s look at the money trail and focus on what we can do to drive the cost out of it,” said Ehrlich.
Everything from LED lights to suspensions will be under microscope.
“Even with the LEDs today, corrosion still haunts us. We’re not seeing trouble-free operation today with lights,” Ehrlich said.
Ehrlich has been working with Truck-Lite to develop a better LED lamp that will resist corrosion and other forms of damage.
Other areas of concern include the rear frame powder coat which currently only provides five to seven years of acceptable performance. Undercarriage coating is also not durable enough to last 10 years, but, according to Ehrlich, the wax-based, soft coatings resist chips and rust better than enamels.
Air-ride suspensions typically require attention every seven years on average, so improvements are needed in this area as well, he said. Also, the axle camshaft currently requires annual lubrication so that too will have to be addressed. While a sealed camshaft can be spec’d, extending the lubrication period to five years, it’s still well below the 10 year target.
Axle wheel ends rarely last beyond five years, Ehrlich said, so that too will be an area of focus. And standard slack adjusters are also a component that requires regular lubrication and a warranty of well under 10 years.
Wabash is confident it can build the industry’s first 10-year maintenance-free trailer, Ehrlich said.
The company has already identified several areas where maintenance issues need to be addressed, including corrosion problems caused by new road salts and high maintenance areas in the undercarriage and electrical system. Company officials promised Wabash will release five improvements per year until the trailer becomes a reality.
Wabash reaps benefits
of operational turnaround
Bill Greubel, chief executive officer for Wabash National, announced some good news at MATS. He said the company, which was drowning in debt just a few years ago has turned the corner. Wabash National carried a US$440 million debt load in 2001, but this year it is less than $200 million, Greubel said.
“We really believe that by 2005 we will be debt-free,” he said, “Certainly today is a heck of a lot better than a year ago. We’re very excited about where we’re going.”
The trailer industry hasn’t seen a replacement cycle for two and a half years, so an aging trailer fleet will result in increased sales in the near future, Greubel said, adding fleets that alter their buying cycles for tractors in light of further impending EPA emissions restrictions may have a compression of capital available that could be used for trailers.
Dick Giromini was also on-hand at the MATS to talk about the operational turnaround at Wabash. He said the company has realized an 800 per cent improvement in safety performance since July 2002.
“You probably couldn’t even walk through our plant a couple years ago without getting hurt,” admitted Greubel.
Quality improvements in trailers have also been achieved, he said. When the turnaround began two years ago, only one of 76 trailers passed their first inspection. Now, there’s a yield rate of 86 per cent. Also, the company has been delivering its products on time more frequently with a 99.2 per cent schedule attainment. That’s up from 75 per cent when the turnaround began, Giromini said, adding Wabash has also reduced warranty costs by 34 per cent. Productivity is also up at Wabash by 48 per cent since July 2002. Daily capacity has increased by 23 per cent with 1,200 fewer associates. Now, Wabash is capable of building 75,000 trailers per year utilizing a five-day workweek, said Giromini. Cost optimization is another area where Wabash has reached new heights, he added. The company has realized US$65 million per year in sustainable improvements while reducing raw material costs by $16 million. And there have also been improvements when it comes to standardization. Giromini concluded by saying there is still room for improvement and the company isn’t done restructuring yet.
“There’s been a lot accomplished and we’re very proud about what we’ve accomplished,” Giromini said. “But the job is never done. We must be better today than we were yesterday and better tomorrow than we are today.”
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