Seems like an easy decision. Choose a trailer and go. But before adding just one or several hundred trailers, a fleet manager needs to determine what's right for the application. Considerations include space and weight capacities, laws and regulations, trailer age and regional-specific specifications.
Working with an industry professional and doing an appropriate amount of research will ensure the correct fit. So what's out there, what are the tricks of the trades and what is right for an operation?
Dry vans are the most common trailers on the road today, mainly due to their versatility in several applications. In fact, the 53-foot van trailer has the versatility to legally travel across the country. Despite the popularity of these fully enclosed trailers, many people are unable to differentiate between the two types on the market today: sheet and post trailers and composite (or plate) trailers. Given their key specifications pertaining to separate markets, the differences between a sheet and post van trailer and composite van trailer should be made clear to any fleet manager.
First, sheet and post trailers are built with plywood or a similar material. Approximately one-inch-deep posts separate each section, and logistic slots can be installed to hold the cargo in place during transport, which is especially convenient with LTL shipping. Measuring 98.5 inches wide inside the trailer, the sheet and post trailer is usually lighter but requires more consistent repair in comparison to composite trailers.
As their name suggests, composite trailers are composed of composite material, with smooth interior walls. This design reduces the chances of snagging or damaging the freight on the insides of the trailer during loading and unloading. The insides of the trailers can measure 101 inches wide, 2.5 inches wider than sheet and post trailers.
For example, a wider composite trailer would be ideal for industries transporting goods on palettes. Palettes typically measure 40 x 48 inches, or 96 inches when stacked width-wise. Considering product overhang, sheet and post trailer, measuring 98.5 inches wide, often doesn't allow enough space to load the palettes this way.
Rather, the wide sides of each palette need to be placed together, which takes up more of the trailer's available length. The extra 2.5 inches of width provided by a composite trailer often make it possible for carriers to load palettes wide and short versus narrow and long, allowing room for two additional palettes in each load. Since 90% of cargo shipped in the United States is placed on a pallet during transportation, the composite trailer is a much more efficient choice for many carriers.
A dry van's suspension is another major factor. The choice between air ride and spring ride often comes down to the freight a trailer is carrying. While carriers often opt for spring ride, as the potential long-term maintenance costs are lower, many clients specify that their merchandise be hauled on air ride suspension as they feel it provides safer transport.
Although the van trailer is the most common trailer on the road today, not all industries revolve around these units. There are other more specialized industries, such as oil and gas or aggregate processing, that require more unique trailers.