Going Ape Over Reefer Spec’ing? Talking to Your Dealer Can Help

by Katy de Vries

BURLINGTON, Ont. – Ensuring a reefer unit is spec’d appropriately for its application is a complicated process – but a critical one, as one South Western Ontario reefer manufacturer found out.

“Our most unique application was a laboratory from New York City wanting to transport a load of orangutans, so all the questions that you would ask when you’re spec’ing a refrigerated truck came into play and took on a different meaning,” says Leonard Patterson, president of Arctic Traveler of Burlington, Ont.

“We needed to look into all aspects of delivery, but in addition to the usual questions, we had to figure out how long orangutans’ arms are and if they would be able to get them through the cages. We also had to account for any coffee breaks the driver might take and equip the unit with alarms in case it were to fail while the driver was away from his truck. That reinforced just how important it was to assess the application prior to outfitting the truck,” Patterson says.

Finding the right combination of reefer, trailer and application can be tricky. But working with the supplier or discussing your needs with the dealer will help simplify the process, says Steve Helgeson, ThermoKing’s national service manager for North America,

“Understanding the functionality and the purpose of the product is key for efficient use,” Helgeson says.

According to Carrier’s trailer product manager, Mike Murdock, there are four key variables that customers consider when purchasing a reefer unit. (Along with Arctic Traveler and ThermoKing, Carrier Transicold is a major player in the reefer manufacturing business.)

“Reliability and durability is number one, followed by life cycle costs and then product protection and quality. And customers also look at driver retention issues as well,” Murdock says.

The industry is becoming increasingly sensitive to the reliability factor, Patterson adds. Although planning ahead is very important, especially in this business, he points out, customers look to the past as well and will tend to stick with a product that has given them success.

User-friendliness is also an important consideration, says Anthony D’Angelo, communications director for Carrier Transicold.

“Drivers want a unit that is as user-friendly as possible, they don’t want to have to mess around with it, they just want a reliable unit so they can get on the road,” D’Angelo says.

Trends in the refrigerated unit industry show manufacturers are achieving their goals in taking the guess-work out of their products and creating simple and easy-to-use systems, says Wayne McLeod, general manager of the Advanced Temperature Control business unit for Arctic Traveler.

“The driver just has to turn the unit on. We’ve basically taken that area of responsibility away from the operator because his job is to drive the vehicle, deliver the product and bring the money back in for the company. He shouldn’t have to be required to set the temperatures as well,” Mcleod says.

Resale value is another area of concern, says Ken Moneypenny, general manager of 401 Trailers in Ayr, Ont.

“I think you have to bear resale value in mind when you’re spec’ing the unit, number one is to buy the right piece of equipment for the job but then close behind would be resale value,” says Moneypenny.

“This would mean things like going air ride rather than spring ride, then you’d want a lightweight trailer instead of a heavyweight trailer and even getting the highest cube possible and still able to do the job required.”

Resale value is linked to the life cycle costs of the unit, which the purchaser must consider – not just the initial purchase price, but also things like the cost of maintenance, cost of fuel and diagnostic testing costs, he says.

New customers often want to put together a package as inexpensively as possible, Helgeson says. But in doing so, they sacrifice some of the room in the trailer, which leaves them with an undersized unit with little or no reserve.

“Air flow is the most critical thing to be aware of and there has to be the proper amount of space in order to envelope the product with the proper temperature. Aside from that, with a vehicle that has been undersized, the user is disappointed with its operation and it all goes back to it wasn’t spec’d properly,” Helgeson adds.

An important part of the spec’ing process is to tell new customers what they can expect, Patterson says. It is a matter of education, he says.

For instance, a customer should understand the relationship between the unit and the insulation he puts on the truck.

Each variable relates back to whether the equipment is properly spec’d for its application.

Dealers all have their own ways of assisting customers in spec’ing units, but whether they do it with a computer program that tabulates a customer’s needs or by sitting down to discuss applications face to face, the same basic questions must be answered. These questions cover everything from product type to how many stops have to be made each day, and how long the doors remain open at each stop. What type of door is on the trailer? Is it long-haul or distribution delivery? Will the trailer be segregated?

These questions are essential to spec’ing a reefer unit for serviceability and longevity.

Of late, data recording capabilities have also emerged as an important industry trend, say manufacturers.

“We are seeing more interest in data recording because our customers’ customers are more concerned with product quality,” says Murdock.

Other trends include fuel alternatives such as natural gas, which is being considered by ThermoKing, says Helgeson.

McLeod says Arctic Traveler has a roof-top condenser in the prototype plans.

But regardless of any new products or new versions that are launched, spec’ing will remain the most important part of the process.

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