Military vets build and install the Aerosmart aluminum skirts at SA Concepts’ plant in Springdale, Ark.
Here’s a novel approach to making trailer skirts: Use reclaimed materials, consult with a veteran fleet executive to be sure you get the design right, and employ U.S. military veterans to assemble them while they attend school.
That’s what Sustainable Aerodynamic Concepts is doing in northwest Arkansas. Using sheet-and-post sides from retired trailers, it makes aluminum skirts for long dry vans and reefers. Each Aerosmart skirt consists of three panels that are individually replaceable if damaged. The skirts have 6-inch-deep flexible bottom edging made of rubber from old conveyor belts.
Sheet-and-post sides from donated trailers become Aerosmart aluminum skirts at SA Concepts’ plant in Springdale, Ark. Rubber edging comes from old conveyor belts.
Last spring the Aerosmart skirts were tested for effectiveness, and in January the company received EPA SmartWay verification, according to vice president of sales and marketing, Drake Vanhooser. They’re further described at www.saconcepts.org.
Vanhooser says he got advice from Carl Tapp, recently retired as maintenance vice president at PAM Transport in Tonytown, Ark., on the product’s design and how to deal with fleet managers. PAM is near SA Concept’s headquarters in Springdale, Ark.
"Carl has been a huge help to us at SA Concepts,” Vanhoosen says. “His experience in the trucking industry gives him a perspective that few people have. He knew the tough questions that buyers would ask, and has helped us prepare to answer those questions and meet those challenges."
A non-profit company, SA Concepts so far has hired six vets of the Army, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard to assemble the skirts. It pays each veteran $40,000 a year for 25 hours a week, while they draw GI Bill benefits to attend college.
"The GI Bill has done a lot to help soldiers get an education once they leave the military,” he says. “Unfortunately, the GI Bill doesn't cover all of life's expenses, especially for soldiers with families to support. We wanted to create a program that would help these veterans stay in school, finish their degrees, and reach their career ambitions."
Each can stay on with the company for up to three months after graduation. The work-your-way-through-school program is approaching its one-year anniversary.
As a non-profit organization, SA Concepts relies on donated materials. The first batch of 150 trailers was a gift from Walmart Transportation, also headquartered in Arkansas. One 53-foot trailer supplies enough material for 10 sets of skirts. Rubber for the flexible bottom edging is from Goodyear in Akron, Ohio.
“They’re more susceptible to damage than others, but you’re getting the benefit of a completely sustainable product,” Vanhooser says of the skirts’ recycled aluminum. He is about to sign a deal with a composites manufacturer to supply flexible post-type brackets, which will replace the current metal bracketry.
The trailers’ wood floors are also recycled. Drake’s father, Don Vanhooser, turns them into industrial and home furniture. His specialty is long conference tables, but he’s also crafted cabinets, desks, shelves and end tables (www.facebook.com/saconceptsNWA).
The Vanhoosters have business backgrounds and manage other ventures, most involving facilities maintenance. A third man, Jon Hamlin, acts as legal counsel and handles administrative tasks.
They are not military vets themselves, but started the veterans-hiring program because “we always wanted to help people,” Drake says. “We had a lot of friends who are veterans.”
They got into trailer skirting after seeing fairing-equipped trailers on highways, and hit on the idea of using material from trailers that would otherwise be scrapped. Tapp suggested that they expand their offerings from the current long-trailer product to skirts for pup trailers, which less-than-truckload fleets have begun using. That’ll be their next project, Vanhooser says.
Product and sales questions should be directed to Drake Vanhooser at 765-760-3763 or [email protected]