There have been a lot of new developments in the area of lightweighting these past few months.

Wabash National announced a prototype of a lightweight and thermally efficient composite trailer. In development for three years, the goal was to increase the payload of refrigerated loads and that gets the payload capacity closer to that of a dry van. While Phase 2 of the Greenhouse Gas Emissions regulations were not the driving force behind this project, the company hopes that the change in material will have a positive impact on meeting the new regulatory requirements.

A new light-weight brake drum technology being commercialized and set for release in 2018 could revolutionize the braking industry.   Accuride’s light-weight Aluminum Metal Matrix Composite (MMC) Brake drum for the Class 8 Truck Market weighs in at 61.5 lbs., which is 50 lbs. per wheel end lighter than standard cast iron,  21.5 lbs. per wheel-end lighter than the lightest air disc brake system and 27.5 lbs. less than the lightest S-Cam System.   In addition, the light-weight MMC brake drum is proving its value by offering increased life cycle, significantly lower operating temperatures and increased performance.   This will be one to definitely watch in the upcoming 18 months.

Our own Confidence Report on Lightweighting found that:

  • Lightweighting costs money, and the trailer market is too cost sensitive for it; 
  • Much of the chassis construction is formed and laser cut steel, there are not many castings;  
  • The hubs are iron, not aluminum; and 
  • Painted or galvanized steel wheels are much more common than lightweight forged aluminum.

However, flatbed trailer manufacturers are seeing a steady increase in aluminum construction and they are forecasting that trend will continue.

The impending implementation of GHG Phase 2 is getting suppliers more interested in lightweighting and may address some of the concerns we surfaced in our Confidence Report. Perhaps this is the opening manufacturers and suppliers have been waiting for. It could be the door that allows them to show more of their technology and their ability to optimize trailer systems…and actually get paid for it.

At our recent workshop during ACT Expo, Bill Van Amburg, senior vice president at CALSTART, said he believes four to seven percent of vocational vehicles will be lightweighting to achieve their fuel economy goals. Trailer manufacturers and suppliers will have to respond and give trailer buyers options for lightweighting that previously were not on the table.

Sure looks to me like lightweighting is getting its day in the sun. And I say it is about time!