Wabash National Corporation offers outlook on the future of merchandise transportation with composites

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Robert Lane, VP, Product Engineering of Commercial Trailer Products, provides an overview of Wabash’s contribution to pushing composite materials forward in ground transportation, how they will help freight efficiency and provide a realistic solution to growing environmental concerns.

Wabash National Corporation was first introduced to the benefits of using composites by seeing them featured in marine applications. Composites have increasingly been making their way in other major industries such as Aeronautics, Automotive, Construction, etc. What kind of developments stemming from composites technologies used in those industries do you think could also be relevant and applicable for trailers?
"A common issue facing every composite industry is end-of-life disposition.  Wabash will have to address this issue for our internal waste stream as well as customer product.  We are very interested in the current research related to recycling glass, carbon, and other composite materials.  We also believe continued development in these major industries will drive material costs down and performance up, further enabling the expansion of composites into our industry."

Part of your presentation delves into increasing structural loading, providing floor systems that can handle more weight, etc. How does Wabash’s combination of improved design and product optimization differentiate it from what is currently on the market?
"In 1996 Wabash introduced the DuraPlate panel to the industry.  This composite panel allowed us to create a trailer with more cargo area, longer life, and higher resistance to damage.  Within 15 years the composite panel trailer had become the dominant technology in the industry.  Our molded structural composite (MSC) technology offers significant weight savings, freight and thermal efficiency, and trailer utilization to our customer.  This combination of benefits is unparalleled in the industry."

Cost has been one of the main barriers to composites becoming the default material of choice, how has Wabash succeeded in overcoming this issue, and bring both affordability and performance to their products?
"We were able to find the right mix of technology and design to achieve the proper mix of cost and performance.  This means we do not have to rely heavily on carbon to achieve the performance goals. Instead, we have tailored the design to work with alternative materials.  During this process we worked extensively with our industry partners to merge their materials expertise with our trailer experience to achieve a value proposition that is attractive for our customers."

With environmental concerns progressively growing into a very pressing issue, reducing fuel consumption and lowering greenhouse gas emissions have become major goals for all transportation means. How has adopting composites in trailers provided a realistic solution to these challenges?
"Composites allow us to attack weight in new ways, and reducing weight impacts fuel consumption regardless of how the carrier uses it.  For instance, by taking 1,000 lbs out of the trailer design, a carrier can put more cargo into the trailer and reduce the total number of trucks required to move freight in the U.S.  Even if the carrier doesn’t add the additional freight, then the truck will use about .5% less fuel because less horsepower is needed to move the lighter trailer.  While .5% may not seem like a lot, over 30 billion gallons of diesel fuel are used to haul freight in the U.S. annually. So we could potentially save 1.5 billion gallons a year.  Additionally, in the future, composites will allow engineers to create more aerodynamic shapes into the base semi-trailer design to further improve fuel and freight efficiency."

How do you imagine composites’ place in the future of merchandise transportation?
"Composites allow engineers to create lightweight, high-performing, aerodynamic designs that traditional materials can’t tolerate.  As composites continue to gain traction in other industries, cost will continue to decline and acceptance in heavy-duty trucking will accelerate.  We already see composites becoming commonplace in the heavy-duty truck market and pushing into the trailer market. There is no evidence that these trends will change or slow down. I believe composites will become an integral part of the tractor-trailer market in the near future."

To learn more about how composites can make groundbreaking changes to the merchandise transportation industry, register now and attend the symposium. The Future of Composites in Transportation, June 27-28, 2018, Chicago, IL, USA.

More information: www.wabashnational.com
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