Maximum Payload Minimum Downtime

Industry experts point to trailer specifications as the key to maximizing your payload while reducing downtime.

In a perfect waste hauling world, every aluminum transfer trailer in a solid waste manager's operation would deliver the ultimate payload potential with each trip. Weight savings, durability and downtime would be non-issues. Trailer specifying in that world would be unnecessary.

But in the real trash-hauling world, maximizing payload depends, in part, on purchasing the right equipment. Consequently, trailer specifying is an important first step in the trailer buying process.

Specifying, or “spec'ing,” trailer type, size and other key features can help managers maximize trailer use and reduce operating costs. Trailers should be spec'd for the best possible payload potential for their operation, with an eye toward reducing maintenance and downtime. Spec'ing also allows waste haulers to make key choices regarding safety, appearance, resale value and other issues.

But specifying the right trailer takes some knowledge, know-how and hands-on experience. Whether spec'ing their first trailer or their 100th, managers must determine their operations' weight per cubic yard of refuse mix; the number of tons to be moved per day, whether trailers are top-loaded or compactor-loaded; and the distance of the haul to the landfill. These factors largely dictate the type of transfer trailer that is right for the job.

Knowing Your Trailer Options

Two trailer types suited for today's hauling demands are ones with aluminum live floors and trailers that are tipping platform-compatible. These lighter weight, more versatile trailers largely have replaced the once popular self-ejecting or push-out trailer.

A good rule of thumb for deciding between live floor or tipping platform trailers is to determine how many tons of waste the operation hauls per day. If it hauls 800 tons or less, the aluminum live floor trailer's heavy duty work capacity and versatility in loading and unloading make it a good choice. However, if an operation exceeds 800 tons per day and tipping platforms are available at the landfill, the tipping platform trailer may be a better choice, as it creates two to three tons more payload potential.

Once the trailer type is decided, managers can determine the best size by figuring trailer capacity. Use this simple but effective formula:

Legal payload capacity (in tons) ÷ pounds per cubic yard of refuse = trailer capacity needed (in cubic yards).

Tapping the Vendors' Know-How

The next step in spec'ing the right trailer is determining what custom features are necessary. What is critical to one hauler may not be as important to another, so each hauler must spec according to his situation. In this case, the trailer manufacturer can be a valuable resource.

Often, the best trailer specification results from combining the hauler's experience and first-hand knowledge of the operation with the manufacturer's design and engineering expertise. Jack Yingling, fleet manager for Kephart Trucking, a long-distance municipal solid waste (MSW) and construction & demolition (C&D) debris hauler in Bigler, Pa., says, “Whether it's for one trailer or 300, I find out from my operations people what they need the trailer to do, and I write the initial design spec. Then, I send it out to four or five manufacturers to get their input and let them rework the specs. I need their expertise.”

Neil Silvarole, president of Silvarole Trucking, Rochester, N.Y., also relies on the expertise and service of his trailer manufacturer. Silvarole Trucking hauls local and long-haul MSW and some C&D debris from transfer stations mainly in New York to landfills in New York and surrounding states. The company owns about 100 live floor trailers, and runs about 40 per day, six to seven days per week. The company doesn't operate tipping platform trailers because so few of the landfills where it dumps can accommodate them.

Reinforcing the Rails

Silvarole specs trailers that are as lightweight as possible, but says he also focuses on strengthening his trailers against the harsh work environment. “A big issue for us is damage to the top rails by the loaders at the transfer stations,” he says. “We also spec high-impact floors, so they don't dent as easily during loading and unloading.” To cover parts that get damaged, Silvarole orders identical trailers so they can use parts from each other if needed.

Top rail damage at transfer stations can be a problem for many overhead-loading operations. To help withstand hits by the loader bucket, managers can spec reinforced top rails to prevent damage to the sidewalls and to reduce side bow. Rail size varies among manufacturers from 4 inches to 9 inches. The very top of the rail should be a minimum of 5 / 8 of an inch thick.

The bottom rail should be spec'd as deep as possible to repel load shock. Bottom rail depth ranges from 4 inches to 5¼ inches.

Some operators may buy a trailer with less sturdy top rails and use a steel cap that fits over the top rail to protect it. However, this is not recommended. A steel cap may cause maintenance problems due to galvanic corrosion between the two different metals.

Additionally, managers should specify trailer walls made from high-yield aluminum within the industry standard range of H 32-34 for greater metal strength. The H factor refers to the metal's hardness — the higher the number, the harder the metal. Wall thickness should be determined by the number of loads hauled, the distance to the dump site and the amount of C&D waste included. The greater these factors are, the thicker the walls should be. Trailer walls should be between 5 / 32 inches and ¼ of an inch.

To withstand the rigors of compactor loading, trailer sidewall thickness should be a minimum of ¼ of an inch. Also spec additional horizontal bracing to the rear 8 to 10 feet of the trailer.

Minding the Floor

Another issue for top-loading operations is floor crossmember depth. Loading puts a lot of stress on floor crossmembers and the outside trailer. Fleet managers can help prevent damage by spec'ing the deepest crossmember possible. Typically, crossmembers range in depth from 4 inches to 5¼ inches. Deeper crossmembers have more shock resistance, which will result in a stronger, more durable trailer floor.

Managers also should spec the proper floor slat design for their operation. When hauling solid waste, they should spec a 3½-inch-wide slat with 3 / 16 -inch belly thickness and a double ridge design to better absorb load impact. For C&D hauling, fleet managers should consider increasing the thickness of the 3½-inch slats to a ¼-inch belly and ¾-inch ridge height for extra support.

For compactor-loaded trailers, managers should spec longer wear pads on the live floor. Wear pads should range from 6- to 12-foot intervals, depending on the type of compactor used and where on the trailer floor it hits.

Kephart Trucking has hauled MSW for 15 of its 25 years in the hauling business. Unlike Silvarole, which operates with nearly all live floor trailers, Kephart primarily runs tippers from transfer stations in the New York City and New Jersey metropolitan areas to landfills in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Kephart's 220 trucks travel more than 250 miles one way, six days a week. As a result, “Trailer weight is very important with the long hauls,” Fleet Manager Yingling says. “I spec our tipper trailers to haul a 115 cubic yard capacity. These trailers weigh less than 13,000 pounds each, which nets 50,000 pounds of payload per trip.”

Yingling also pays particular attention to the tires and wheels. “We run every tipper on super single tires and wheels, which saves us 500 pounds per trailer,” he says. “We also save 30 to 40 percent in tire repair and replacement costs with an automatic tire inflation system.” This keeps punctured tires inflated until they can get out of the landfill or transfer station, he says.

When spec'ing, Yingling and Silvarole both note the importance of details. “You've got to pay attention to the seemingly unimportant things such as ladders, latches and hinges,” Silvarole says. “[They] can turn out to be big hassles for drivers or maintenance problems if they're a poor design or are in awkward places.”

Down the Road

In addition to the bigger issues of weight savings and durability, looks are an important factor in trailer spec'ing as well. “Trailer appearance is important to me when I buy,” Silvarole says. “So is resale value. If you buy a good quality trailer that holds up, you can resell it and make some money.” Silvarole says he keeps his trailers four to five years, and then sells them used.

Yingling and Silvarole say they try to keep abreast of any innovations in the industry that may help cut costs and improve operations. “The next step I'm looking for is to have a more aerodynamic trailer to help improve fuel mileage,” Yingling says.

Silvarole chuckles. “I'm waiting for the day when someone invents a trailer without a center bar,” he says. The center bar spans the width of the trailer at the middle and rear top of the body to help reinforce the sidewalls. It is particularly vulnerable to hits by the loader bucket during the loading and tamping part of the operation. Silvarole laments, “Our shop's biggest complaints are center bar abuse at transfer stations.”

Last but not least, safety is a crucial issue to keep in mind, fleet managers say. “Due to increased environmental scrutiny and regulations, we've learned to haul waste in a safer, more environmentally efficient way,” Yingling explains. “That includes spec'ing things like safe ladders and hand-holds for our employees who work on the trailers; tarping systems that are easier for our drivers to use and that will keep materials inside the trailer; and tailgates that won't leak,” he says.

“We've learned to be a good neighbor in this industry,” Yingling continues. With careful trailer specifications, other hauling companies can do the same.

Mark Sabol is product manager for solid waste equipment for East Manufacturing Corp., Randolph, Ohio. For more information on trailers, floors and tippers, visit