Something’s Gotta Give

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Next time you’re out shopping for new or replacement cargo securement straps, note the pricing on the available product.

There’s not a huge difference between the highest and lowest priced product. In a market where pennies count, cost could be a determining factor—all things being equal. But that’s the problem. For the slight difference in cost, there could be a huge gap in quality. The problem is there’s almost no way to tell.

In January 2006, Today’s Trucking’s sister publication, highwaySTAR ran a story about the poor quality-control standards of the cargo strap manufacturing sector called, “A Ticking Time Bomb?”

It never ran between these covers, but the essence of the story was that labels attached to cargo straps don’t really say anything about the quality of the product you’re buying.

In that story, I quoted two of the leading cargo strap makers in North America, Ralph Abato, director of sales and marketing at Ancra International, and Larry Harrison, now president of Kinedyne Canada Ltd. Both agreed there were some serious quality issues with cargo strapping labeled and sold here as having an indicated working load limit rating when in fact under testing certain product proved to be considerably less robust.

“The biggest issue is the influx of importers and local sellers of strap assemblies that don’t meet any standards at all,” Abato said at the time. “They either don’t understand the standards or don’t care. They don’t do any testing, and they put out vastly inferior product that’s basically mislabeled.”

Harrison had a similar view. “We’re seeing a lot of off-shore product being sold on Canadian shelves, and frankly, some of that material just isn’t up to standard. I think if some of that product was tested by the manufacturers, they’d be embarrassed by their own results.”

That story was prompted by a story in the Dec/Jan 2005 issue of the Australian trucking trade publication, Trailer/Body Builder Journal. It had reported results of testing the magazine had commissioned to determine if various brands of cargo strapping available in that country lived up to the markings on the strap.

Testing was done to published standards, and of 13 brands tested — purchased randomly over the counter — five failed, some by a significant margin, the magazine reported.

Abato says the manufacturing and testing situation hasn’t changed. Many of the sellers of this product are simply incompetent, don‘t test, or import sight-unseen, he says.

“I often liken this to table lamps in the U.S. You cannot buy a $10 table lamp here without the UL Laboratory tested logo on it. It must pass Underwriters Lab certification [CSA here in Canada]. Yet, you can drive down highway any day past load straps securing tons of cargo on trucks that were made to no standards.”

If it’s not bad enough that you can’t trust new product, research and testing recently completed in Germany on cargo straps made there and distributed here suggest that straps subjected to normal wear and tear degrade faster than was once thought.

Current tolerances for slightly damaged cargo strapping [minor tears, abrasion, holes, etc. (49 CFR 393.104)] is based on 25-year-old data, says Abato, and much has changed since then.

“We did some testing on our own brand new material to simulate in-service wear, and frankly, we were surprised by what we found.”

LEFT: Edge cuts and ­surface abrasion have a big affect on straps.
MIDDLE: Among single defects, edge cuts proved particularly lethal.
RIGHT: Straps that get beat up in service suffered reductions in braking strength by 70 percent.

Researchers tested several samples of four-in. continuous woven cargo strap, each having a rated breaking strength of 20,000 lb. In pull tests to determine the actual breaking strength, all samples exceeded the rating. The worst broke at 20,058 lb. The best went to 21,047 lb, indicating the straps were of rated quality.

Test results from 10 four-in., 20,000-lb strap samples, each having a 10.2 mm cut made in one edge (10 percent of the strap width, or 0.4 in.) showed breaking strength was diminished on average by about 55 percent to about 9,100 lb.

Break strengths for the test ranged from 7,864 lb to 10,570 lb, down from 20,000 lb.

In a test designed to determine the effects of abrasion, 10 four-in. straps were subject to 500 cycles of a rough-surfaced bar exerting 25.6 lb of pressure on the straps before they were pulled to breaking. The damage was visible, but not severe.

The results showed an average 30.5 percent degradation in breaking strength, down to 13,911 lb. Break strength ranges for this test were from 12,195 lb to 15,617 lb, down from 20,000 lb.

A third single-defect test was done, making a straight cut across the face of the strap to 10 percent of its depth. Breaking strength diminished on average by 35.1 percent to 12,993 lb.

Then, to simulate real-world use, testers damaged the straps as described above, and subjected them to up to 100 load/unload cycles to only their working load limit (6,600 lb).

Straps tested with a 10-percent edge cut and abrasion wear failed at just 15 cycles to 6,478 lb—or about 32.3 percent of their rated breaking strength. Viewed the other way, the straps subject to that wear had lost nearly 70 ­percent of their rated strength.

“While this testing illustrates the actual breaking strength of brand new, high quality straps under controlled conditions, it leaves me wondering about the durability of in-service straps that have been subject to all sorts of wear, including exposure to road salt and various other chemicals—and to UV,” says Abato. “I wonder too, how some of the lesser-quality off-shore cargo straps would fare in tests like these. Until now, we’ve been operating on the assumption all strapping is created equal, and we know that’s not the case.”

FMCSA and CVSA are said to be interested in this testing, and Abato says more testing is planned on actual in-service, used straps.

“There’s still some question about how we’ll qualify those used straps, but we’ll be looking specifically at estimated UV exposure,” he says. “There are no hard and fast numbers we can use for comparison, and no way to measure to quantify UV exposure in the real world, but we’ll be getting some interesting results, I’m sure.”

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Jim Park was a CDL driver and owner-operator from 1978 until 1998, when he began his second career as a trucking journalist. During that career transition, he hosted an overnight radio show on a Hamilton, Ontario radio station and later went on to anchor the trucking news in SiriusXM's Road Dog Trucking channel. Jim is a regular contributor to Today's Trucking and, and produces Focus On and On the Spot test drive videos.

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