When the economy took a dive in 2008 and the construction industry's work dried up, so did much of the market for dump trailers.
As construction begins coming back, there's a growing demand for new dumps. Demand also is being driven by other emerging trends in the market.
To get a better understanding of what is happening in the dump market at both a national and regional level, we spoke with manufacturers and dealers about what's selling and what trends they are seeing.
Mike Dye, current president of National Trailer Dealers Association and president of Southwest Trailers & Equipment, Oklahoma City, says business for dump trailers has been down significantly.
“The dump trailer market for the last four, five years, is averaging about 40% of what it has been in traditional years,” he says. “It went down in 2008 and has not recovered.”
Southwest Trailers has compensated for the lackluster dump market by beefing up its tank trailer and flatbed business.
What dumps they are selling, Dye says, are belly dumps. “Here in Oklahoma they are used for road building, but also for oil and gas drilling, to make roads out to the sites and for pad preparation.”
In Caledonia, Wis., at Amston Supply, President Michael Hribar says problems in the agriculture industry also have affected his bottom line.
“Overall, the general dump market has been soft in the last 12 months, with construction and a drought that affected agriculture,” Hribar says. “I think we should see an increase this year, with low interest rates, improving economy and pent-up demand. In general there's not a lot of good used equipment out there, so they'll be forced to buy new.”
Hribar says the demand for dumps to haul scrap has been pretty steady, and that belly dumps are being sold to operators in western Wisconsin and Minnesota to haul sand for the fracking industry.
The market for dumps in Phoenix, Ariz., evaporated along with the construction industry when the housing market fell apart in the area, according to Doug Hansen, sales manager with Utility Trailer Sales Co. of Arizona. And while the housing market nationally has started to recover, Hansen says the construction market is still very quiet.
While demand is down, Hansen says they are selling high-sided trash and demolition trailers to recycling companies in Phoenix.
“Depending on the price of metal and other recyclables, that source of demand also goes up and down,” he says.
In Charlotte, N.C., the market for dumps is returning bit by bit, according to Rick Gibson, owner and general manager of Trailer Specialist. “The market is returning. Sales started picking back up in the second and third quarter of 2012 right along with construction.”
Gibson says his company is currently selling more dumps made from steel than aluminum. “The construction industry tends to be buying heavy steel trailers in order to handle clearing debris.”
The national market & trends
Sales are reviving as the construction industry returns to life, while oil and gas drilling and scrap dealers and demolition contractors have buoyed the dump trailer business all through the recession, several manufacturers say.
Bottom dumps are being sold to petroleum and gas drillers to haul aggregate to prepare production pads amid farm and ranch lands, says Tom Bolan, vice president, sales and marketing at Clement Industries in Mindin, La.
“Bottoms are used in south Texas, Oklahoma, in certain parts of Louisiana for oil and gas fields,” he says. “There's a huge market in North Dakota,” though it has slowed as producers cut back due to low prices for natural gas.
“Side dumps go out west or up into Minnesota, where they're aggressively replacing bottom and end dumps. Belly dumps have to move over your load, but side dumps can lay down a nice edge row. And end dumps have to go up in the air,” which can be risky in strong wind. You still don't want to be on an angle with side dumps, he says, because they can turn over, too.
“Belly dumps are still a fixture in the marketplace, though, and will continue to be a huge segment in the market,” Bolan says. He adds that abrasion-resistant 450 steel has become the standard for many dump trailers.
AR-450 is also what East Manufacturing, better known for the aluminum dumpers and flatbeds it makes in Randolph, Ohio, also uses for steel, says Charlie Wells, vice president, sales and marketing. “We have steel in our product line but we don't promote it. We've focused on construction and demolition markets with tubs with 20-inch radius lower corners and no outside ribs. We also build full-frame, frameless and quarter frame dumps.”
AR-450 steel in 1/4- and 3/16-inch sheets are shaped for the bottoms and sides and welded together. The strong but lightweight steel resists denting and scraping.
East has found success with its Hybrid aluminum dump trailers, which use a half-rounded floor and straight double-wall sides from the Genesis line of end-dump trailers, Wells says. He contends that Hybrids are stiffer than traditional half-round end-dumps, so are more stable during tipping and last longer. The sides are especially stiff and don't bow under load, so are easy to tarp.
Genesis sides are welded together from oblong aluminum panels, and the structure is strong and lightweight. With no outside braces and smooth surfaces, they are also aerodynamic. “Customers say they get better fuel economy with Genesis dumps, but we haven't done any testing to prove that,” Wells says.
Corrosion from aggressive road salts has been an issue for years, so East uses galvanizing and soft-coat paint on steel parts, some of them bought from suppliers like Hendrick-son. Truck-Lite wiring harnesses and light fixtures that have “fit and forget” plugs are standard.
While Mac Trailers makes both steel and aluminum dumps, customer demand for the weight and fuel savings aluminum can bring has greatly outpaced the demand for steel dump trailers.
“The majority of what we are selling is aluminum — about 80%,” says Dan Tubbs, Mac's vice president of manufacturing.
Increasing demand for weight and fuel savings also has led Mac Trailer to incorporate dump styles and designs into its product lineup that address those needs.
Along with the traditional square design, Mac has designed a sloped nose radius bulkhead. “This design is better aesthetically and aerodynamically,” says Joe Dennis, dump trailer product manager for Mac. “The new design creates less drag, which adds up to fuel savings.”
Recently the company introduced the first Macsimizer all-aluminum radius bulkhead half round dump trailer. The radius bulkhead allows for a low profile front end with a low center of gravity, providing a 7-inch lower front end and a 6-inch lower back end, with 31 inches less flat space on the bulkhead compared to a standard flat bulkhead. This maximizes aerodynamics and helps improve fuel economy.
The Macsimizer half round also has smooth sidewalls, which create less drag resistance.
For customers who need the structural integrity of steel, but also are interested in weight savings, Mac Trailer is offering the Mac Steel Lite. It is an all-steel body incorporating aluminum components, which saves more than 1,100 pounds versus the conventional all-steel configuration.
Next Page: The 'Bullet' Survives Bankruptcy[PAGEBREAK]
The ‘Bullet’ survives bankruptcy
A bottom-dump design widely used in the West and elsewhere is the Beall Bullet, fashioned of aluminum sheeting and interior bracing that is aerodynamic in performance. Beall, the company, is now in bankruptcy and liquidating its assets, but the Bullet survives and will be produced by a new owner.
Bullet operations, including a plant in Sunnyside, Wash., have been bought by ShirAul LLC, of Scotts Bluff, Neb. Lanny Lucara, vice president of sales and marketing at Aulick Leasing, a ShirAul arm in Billings, Mont., said the acquisition was effective January 7.
“We acquired a backlog of orders, and in this last month we've taken some additional orders,” he said in mid-February. “Some demand was out there, kind of on hold, while customers were waiting to see what happened with Beall.”
With the acquisition, production continues. The Bullet is offered with numerous axle configurations and capacities for use in various states, with double-trailer combinations grossing up to 140,000 pounds, Lancara said.
The Bullet's aero design saves fuel because the trailer is easier to pull, Lancara said, but Beall couldn't use “aerodynamic” in its claims since a competitor complained in 2007. Beall never tested the trailer, but some customers reported 10% to 14% better fuel economy with it.
Beall, based in Portland, Ore., meanwhile sold off other businesses as part of the bankruptcy. Its tank trailer operations went to Wabash National through Wabash's recently acquired Walker Group, another tank-trailer and body manufacturer. And Beall's widespread parts and service business went to Polar Corp. Those two transactions were announced in January by Polar and Wabash.