The annual Swedish Steel Prize is sponsored by SSAB, a Sweden-based manufacturer of lightweight, high-strength steels, to encourage innovative uses of its products. If I had been on the jury deciding who got the latest award announced last week, I’d have voted for Wabash National’s RIG-16 rear impact guard for trailers. It was one of the finalists in the 2017 competition, which itself is an honor, as there were 98 other entries. And Wabash was the only American company to rank so high.
But I’m not on the jury, and its members instead awarded the prize to Kiruna Wagon, a railcar manufacturer in Kiruna, Sweden, for its Helix Dumper. It’s a side-dump ore car that unloads quickly and efficiently by means of an external spiral framework that grabs the load-carrying tub, tips it to one side, then guides it down again on the car's frame. The operation is shown in this video.
Ore cars are usually hoppers that dump loads through bottom doors, which are moving parts that require maintenance and can freeze in winter; or rotational dumpers, where entire cars swivel on their couplers until they’re upside down, which requires complex and heavy turning equipment. So the Helix Dumper is a major advance, and certainly worthy of a prize.
But as I stated in my blog a month ago, I applaud efforts to make trailer bumpers stronger and better able to absorb energy from a car that crashes into a trailer’s rear end. Motorists shouldn’t do that, but they don’t deserve a death sentence if they do. And sudden death is what a good friend of mine got back in 1973 when he rear-ended a semi that had stopped on a dark night on an expressway in upstate New York. So Wabash and its RIG-16 guard will remain the winner in my mind.
Since that blog, I talked with Robert Lane, Wabash’s vice president of product engineering, who described the work that went into the new impact guard. “We have worked with SSAB for quite a while,” he said. “We have used their advanced high-strength steel in our trailers for special applications … to add strength and reduce weight.
“We looked at redesigning our current RIG,” Lane continued. “It took over two years to design, test and line up supplies and manufacturing plans for the new rear impact guard,” which handles 30% “offset” crashes in addition to full frontal impacts.
“We performed nine of our own crash tests, testing different designs with high-strength steel. The final RIG-16 design performed very well in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety offset test. SSAB asked us to submit it in the Swedish Steel Prize competition, and we were selected as one of four finalists.”
Like improved standards required by federal regulations in the mid-1990s and a more stringent Canadian standard that came later, Wabash’s RIG-16 costs more money, but not a lot, he said. It’s an option on all Wabash National vans and adds 1 to 1.5% to a trailer’s price. For its life-saving potential, that’s a real bargain.