Trailer Talk

Is There a 'Great Future' in Plastic Trailers?

Plastics -- specifically, molded structural composites -- might constitute the future of trailers. Some are used in Europe, and Wabash National is ready to build them here.

December 9, 2016

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<p><strong>Dustin Hoffman's character, Ben Braddock, listens as Mr. McGuire (Walter Brooke) advises him to seek a future in "plastics." <em>Photo: Tom Berg, from "The Graduate" (Embassy Pictures, 1967), via YouTube.com.</em></strong></p>

In that oft-cited scene from the 1967 movie classic, “The Graduate,” Mr. McGuire (actor Walter Brooke) tells young Ben Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) what he should do for a career. “Just one word,” Mr. McGuire says in a hushed tone. “Plastics. There’s a great future in plastics.” There was, and still is.

Plastics have replaced steel, aluminum and other metals in many consumer products and industrial applications. And plastics might constitute the future of trailers. Some are already used in Europe, and Wabash National is ready to build them here.

Four fleets have committed to join a launch program for company’s Cold Chain series refrigerated van trailer. It’s made of molded structural composites, and Wabash showed a prototype at the TMC Expo in Nashville early last year.

Werner Enterprises, K&B Transportation, Combined Transport, and Leonard’s Express will acquire some MSC trailers for testing, Wabash has announced. Three dealers -- Regional International, TEC Equipment and Wick’s Truck Trailers -- will help bring the plastic trailers to market. 

The reefer van is made out of a proprietary molded structural composite “with thermal technology” (MSCT), which improves thermal performance by up to 25%, said Brent Yeagy, president and chief operating officer, in a statement. It’s up to 20% lighter than metal trailers and has improved puncture and damage resistance.

Also, its MSC floor system promises ratings of up to 24,000 pounds, which is 50% stronger than a standard aluminum floor. And it has no crossmembers. 

“Refrigerated carriers see the superior performance benefits in our new molded structural composite technology,” he said. “Many carriers have been very interested in participating in the launch program so they can better understand the value of the performance benefits on their operations.” 

“We’re excited to show the progress we’ve made since we introduced our prototype trailer in February,” added Robert Lane, director of business development for Wabash National’s Commercial Trailer Products. “We’ve spent the past eight months in R&D undergoing further testing and qualifications and finalizing repair procedures. This reefer is unlike anything on the market today.”

Wabash National's MSC reefer trailer will go into initial production in next year's first quarter. Four fleets will test them in everyday service. Photo: Wabash National  
Wabash National's MSC reefer trailer will go into initial production in next year's first quarter. Four fleets will test them in everyday service. Photo: Wabash National

“The composite is a mixture of fiberglass, carbon fiber and resin,” said Larry Adkins, applications engineer for Wabash, who commented for a recent story in HDT. “Carbon is for strength. It’s used only in areas where strength is needed, and some areas don’t have any. It’s needed in toward the center of a trailer,” which supports the load like a bridge span. Another advantage: “Composites are more corrosion resistant (than metals). Chemicals have no effect on the materials.”

Molded structural composites are used in aerospace, automotive, marine and commercial construction. Wabash has a group of MSC refrigerated truck bodies now in fleet testing, and claims that this is the first time MSCs are being used in the North American trailer industry. 

Production and field testing for the initial launch trailers will begin in the first quarter of 2017, Wabash says. If they perform and hold up to everyday service as the company thinks they will, Mr. McGuire will again turn out to be right about plastics.

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Author Bio

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Tom Berg

Senior Contributing Editor

Journalist since 1965, truck writer and editor since 1978. CDL-qualified; conducts road tests on new heavy-, medium- and light-duty tractors and trucks. Specializes in vocational and hybrid vehicles.

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