Working double time

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COWLEY, Alta. – Profit margins are slim enough in trucking when you’re hauling paying freight. When you’re hauling a trailer full of air half the time, you’re probably not making a lot of money. But that’s just the nature of the business for log haulers, who often find themselves running empty half the time. With that in mind, Glen Transport has worked with manufacturer Western Trailer to develop a multi-use trailer that allows drivers to haul logs to the mill and then convert it to a chip van for the return trip.

“We’ve got eight of them in operation and they’re doing really, really well,” says Shane Stewart, vice-president of commerce with Glen Transport.

The trailers are running on a 530-mile round trip starting out with a load of chips in Sundre, Alta. The trailers are pulled up Hwy. 22 to Hinton where the chips are offloaded and then the trucks travel about 100 km unloaded to Edson, Alta. where they pick up a load of logs to haul back to Sundre, explains Stewart.

Whether hauling chips or logs, Glen Transport has been able to get to within five per cent of the capacity of a traditional trailer.

“This design has never been done before by anybody,” says Western Trailer sales rep Ryne Brockway.

The trailers feature hydraulic motors that deploy or retract the sidewall curtains as well as a roof. The entire conversion process takes about two and a half hours, Stewart says, but that hasn’t prevented the trailers from paying big dividends already. While the multi-use trailers cost up to $100,000 more than traditional B-trains, Glen Transport estimates it has saved about $1.32 million between April 2005 and April of ’06.

The mills are loving it, says Stewart, since the increased efficiency allows them to better manage inventories and reduce their hauling costs. Glen Transport meanwhile, has been able to reduce its need for drivers by 30-40 per cent due to the increased productivity. (The company has also increased the pay rates for its drivers as a result). The mills have been willing to fork out a rate increase that helps offset the increased purchase price and operating costs of the trailers, Stewart says. But that’s not to say they aren’t without their challenges.

The extra mechanical components mean the multi-use trailers are more difficult – and costly – to maintain, Stewart admits.

“Normally on a trailer, you only have to worry about tires and brakes,” points out Brockway. “But there are a lot of moving parts in there. Anytime you get all those moving pieces in a multi-use trailer, obviously you’re going to have additional maintenance costs.”

Glen Transport certainly isn’t the first log hauling company to utilize multi-use trailers – it’s been done in regions such as Quebec and New Zealand. In Western Canada, Trimac Bulk Systems also used a combination log/chip hauler on the same route that Glen Transport now runs. Trimac’s dual-use trailer was of a different design than Glen’s and issues soon arose concerning the increased TARE weight, loading and unloading difficulties and the trailer’s propensity to get damaged. The experiment ended before a second version of the prototype ever made it beyond the drawing board.

Glen Transport, however, remains undeterred by Trimac’s experience and it is already working towards building a second version of its current trailers. And it has some support.

The Forest Engineering Research Institute of Canada (FERIC) has been a major promoter of multi-use trailers. The organization has conducted a study that suggests there’s room for 238 multi-use trailers in the Canadian forestry industry. Most applications that are well-suited for dual-use trailers are three-legged, triangular routes in Quebec, Alberta and B.C. Introducing 238 multi-use trailers into the industry could reduce the need for 135 chip trucks and 158 log trucks, according to FERIC.

FERIC says that while mills and haulers stand to benefit, the environment would also come out a winner if the industry should adopt the widespread use of multi-purpose trailers. If 238 dual-use trailers were put into service in Canada, FERIC says that would reduce required travel by 16.5 million km/year, resulting in fuel savings of 10 million litres/year and a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions of about 27,000 tonnes/year.

That’s caught the attention of environmental groups and as a result, Glen Transport has received a $25,000 grant to help offset the cost of integrating the expensive trailers into its operations.

While it may be unrealistic to expect dual-use trailers to become the norm in Canadian forestry operations, both FERIC and Glen Transport are convinced there’s a time and a place where the units make sense.

Stewart says as sawmills continue to be consolidated or shut down and hauling distances continue to increase, the time is right to explore new solutions to the evolving transportation needs of forestry companies. Focusing on two-way hauling is just one way to accomplish that, he adds.

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