Perils and Potholes

March 1, 2008

Though trailers may seem the unglamorous part of the equipment and machinery mix, they are no less vital in making things work, as equipment both huge and small must get to where the work is. As the expansion of compact earthmoving and other equipment continues, trailers to haul such machinery must be studied and adjusted to meet the needs and requirements arising. High on the list are both weight and weight distribution issues. Safety is a huge factor as are structural issues.

Weight Is a Factor With Compacts
Bri-Mar Trailers of Chambersburg, PA, has been around for 13 years. It was one of the first manufacturers to build hydraulic dump trailers. The exploding market for compact equipment isn’t creating as many issues for this trailer maker as much as it’s created opportunities.

Though the equipment is getting more compact, it is still heavy, according to Micah Goldstein, president and chief executive officer of Bri-Mar Trailers. “The challenge, therefore, is how do you build a trailer that will not bend under pressure from the more compact loads? When equipment was bigger and the load was spread over a larger surface area of the trailer, you had fewer structural challenges to deal with. Now, as equipment gets smaller and potentially heavier, it requires companies to have good engineering to assure that the trailers can handle loads concentrated in smaller areas.”

Bri-Mar is reinforcing its trailers differently than it used to. Some trailers have gone from a 5-inch channel to a 7-inch channel. On some of the main frames, it has gone from channel frames to tube frames, and on others it has added more cross-members. It is paying special attention to where the main load is located, and is trying to reinforce in those areas in an effort to keep costs as competitive as possible.

“Contractors don’t want to pay any more money than they have to for equipment, but on the other hand, we don’t want our warranty claims to increase either,” says Goldstein. “If someone does have a problem with our trailer, we make it right.”

Overloading is a common phenomenon with trailers, according to Goldstein. “People like to place more on them than they should and as a result when you take this heavier, compact equipment and overload a trailer, you can get yourself in trouble. There is liability risk involved.

“For this reason, in 2008, we are adding a line which will have some 16,000 pound trailers. Typically we’ve only had 14,000-pound GVWRs [Gross Vehicle Weight Rating], so we are adding and going up to the next step and offering a heavier axle and heavier tires as well as engineering the trailer so it can handle heavier loads.”

The real issue with compact equipment, according to Goldstein, is not what happens under normal road conditions. But if a pothole is hit, or the trailer goes over a bump or railroad crossing, a concentrated shock is placed on that trailer. Trailers have not been built to handle such abuse in the past because their size and weight has not necessitated that. With compact equipment, it isn’t that more weight has been taken out, as much as that the equipment has been made more condensed to make them smaller.

Bri-Mar, which has been in business since 1995, has a core business of hydraulic dump trailers. These double as equipment used for both hauling earthmoving or other equipment, or use as a vehicle to transport material to the dump. The front can be raised up and the material dumped or unloaded from the back.

Most of the trailers have hydraulic systems and function both as a dump truck, as well as an equipment hauler. It’s very common for skid steers or related equipment to be placed in the trailers. Bri-Mar also manufactures a full line of equipment-hauling trailers and hydraulic tilt deck trailers, which would be what more people would be placing mini excavators on.

They sell through a dealer network of a few hundred dealers scattered throughout North America. “We have exclusive dealers to which we give a territory and then they sell their product in a protected area,” says Goldstein. “This could include a rental operation purchasing their trailers for rental applications. The rental market comprises approximately 20% of our business.”

Bri-Mar belongs to the National Association of Trailer Manufacturers (NATM), which is a great clearinghouse for ensuring it is in compliance with the strictest of the states when it comes to transport regulations. That compliance insures that it’ll then meet compliance regulations in all other states as well. “If you can satisfy New York and Connecticut you can pretty much satisfy anybody,” adds Goldstein.

“From my prospective, the most important thing that we can do, as equipment trailer manufacturers, is to all understand that the way equipment is made is changing, the way the weight is distributed is changing, and that the person who is purchasing the trailer needs to make sure his compact equipment—with its more concentrated weight—is considered. Ask questions from whom you are buying your trailer, to be sure the loads you are trying to haul can be handled by the trailer you’re about to buy and be pulled with your towing vehicle. I hope our competitors are out there making sure of that too. My kids are out on the road. It’s all about safety,” says Goldstein.

Bri-Mar has an engineer on staff to make sure it is on top of those changes and to insure its equipment is ready to go. Engineers must understand where the load is going to be on the trailer, how it will be distributed, if the couplers are going to stay on the ball, and whether everything is going to come apart or not. The company also uses contract engineers on an as-needed basis.

Sam Gayman, regional rep with Bri-Mar, sees a trend toward tilt trailers, as opposed to ramp-loading trailers. “People like the convenience of simply tilting the deck, rather than dealing with the ramp issue,” says Gayman. “The other issue is regulatory. It’s more and more important to adhere to weight, not overloading equipment, and there are two ways to rate a trailer.”

Bri-Mar takes a conservative approach to this in that it rates the trailer independent of the towing vehicle. Some manufacturers will take into account the possibility that the towing vehicle accepts some of the payload from the trailer, or the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR), meaning the total for the trailer and its contents. Some other trailer manufacturers may have the same trailer, spec-wise as Bri-Mar does, including the axle rating and tire rating. But they in turn may also rate their trailers as being able to haul, 2,000–3,000 pounds higher, (this happens primarily with gooseneck trailers), because they are counting on the towing vehicle to accept up to 20% of the payload, according to Gayman.

“We think in the future that will be reversed,” adds Gayman. “We take the conservative approach regardless of whether the truck takes the payload or not, we’re just using the trailer components to rate the GVWR. The brakes on our trailers are rated to take a certain load. We don’t assert that we can be rated at a higher weight amount by assuming the truck’s brakes will be able to pick up the slack.”

As roads get beaten up and accidents happen with catastrophic results, agencies are taking a more critical view of such factors as this, according to Gayman. Frequent road stops to be sure everything is hooked up properly, the lights are working, and the brakes are functioning properly are always a good idea.

Bri-Mar manufactures its trailers with brakes on both axles. Pennsylvania, for example, requires brakes for trailers with a GVWR, 3,000 pounds. However not all states have this requirement. “As a result, there are manufacturers who offer 10,000- to 12,000-pound trailers with one braking axle,” says Gayman. “That’s not a gamble we want to take. The industry does still have some catching up to do.”

The concentration of weight in compact equipment is actually tougher for trailers to handle if you do not have that trailer built properly. All the weight is on a smaller area. “This can beat the living daylights out of an improperly produced trailer,” says Gayman. “Something such as a forklift is a nightmare for trailers to handle. All the weight is on four tiny tires, and it tends to be quite top-heavy.”

What is unique about the Bri-Mar hydraulic tilt trailer is that it contains a powered cylinder. They are powered up and down, and most other trailers work on a passive cylinder working with the use of simple gravity to tilt. In other words, as the fulcrum is pulled past the trailer, everything levels out. This gives an advantage for hauling more than one piece of equipment.

For the future, the company is trying to accommodate the concentrations of weight better on compact equipment by scrutinizing the existing equipment to handle those, including subtle modifications to its products. Being a smaller manufacturer, products are limited, so the next move is to go to longer trailers and those with higher GVWR in order to carry more weight.

“At the same time that there are growth trends in compact equipment, there are also trends for regular equipment such as skid steers to get bigger and bigger as well,” adds Gayman. “Our compact equipment end of the business remains at about 20%. We’ve carved out our little niche–some of our competitors are ten times our size–and are going to try to hold onto it and grow it reasonably.”

Safety Always an Issue
Most of the Landoll Corp.’s utility tag trailers will accommodate all the compact equipment on the market, according to Jim Ladner, marketing manager. These range in size from skid loaders up to equipment of 14,000 pounds, and everything in between. They have three different series of trailers: a five, six, and seven ton of utility tags. That covers some 90% of the compact equipment in use today. They manufacture trailers from five tons all the way up to 60-ton capacity.

“A job site doesn’t simply operate a mini-excavator,” says Ladner. “It also may have a skid loader, cable plow, or a compactor onsite, so there are several different things to consider. From a trailer standpoint there is always the concern that a small utility trailer and its equipment are being towed by the proper-sized vehicle.

“Most of these contractors will have a half or three-quarter ton pickup which their supervisor or job foreman drives around in. But if you put an 18,000-pound GVWR trailer on there with a 12,000-pound skid loader on it, you are an accident looking for a place to happen. There’s a very real need to be sure you’re matching not only the trailer and the equipment but also the tow vehicle itself.”

This, in effect, becomes an entire team, which then is not only legal in meeting the road restrictions for that area, but is also safe on the road in any case. Ladner asserts that in the case of compact equipment being rented by the home owner, rather than a professional, there can be a sacrifice of safety in an effort to simply get by.

“Sometimes limited training is an issue too,” adds Ladner. “People aren’t usually pulling trailer loads everyday, and, therefore, there is limited training involved, so there are always issues to be dealt with. Safety is always one of our primary concerns as a manufacturer. We go to great lengths with our operator manual by listing all the cautions, the warranty, the capacities, and the limits, making sure that is delivered with the trailer itself.

“Overall, the key is to know what your equipment weighs. The temptation is to place equipment on a trailer, simply because it fits on there. But, it also may well overload the trailer. If you match the capacity of the trailer with the equipment you’re hauling, and have the truck with the tow capacity to pull that combination load, then you have a safe vehicle to set out on the road.”

Landol uses a classification system that calls some of their trailers LT-10, with the second series of numbers referring to the deck of the trailer. For instance, the LT10-20 has a 10,000-pound capacity trailer with a 20-foot deck. The capacity refers to payload capacity. A trailer with the abovementioned size, the weight of trailer, tear-weight, and load together, would have a GVWR of 13,200 pounds.

“In evaluation of trailer capacity, the weight, GVWR, of the trailer always must be considered,” says Ladner. “When you’re looking at which trailer to purchase, be sure to factor in the weight and payload. These are small details that must be paid attention to.

“A residential user who is worried about returning his trailer by 2 p.m. may not be paying attention to the details when it comes to the weight of what he’s hauling. This may even happen with a contractor who is in a hurry to use the labor force out on the jobsite waiting for equipment.

“In haste, careless, costly, and dangerous mistakes may happen. Death is a possibility. Tires can be blown, control lost, brakes can go out. If you are not matched to the proper weight of that trailer and its load, it’s subject to a very high liability risk, and that person or company is taking on a very undue hazard for moving that piece of equipment. As soon as the person—whoever that may be—hits the public road, they’re fully liable for any decisions they’ve made regarding that trailer.”

All of Landol’s trailers have a full tilt deck. None of them are built with ramps. They tilt down and many contractors like them because, he says, there are fewer workmen’s comp claims as for those with ramps. The load angle is very acceptable for all the compact equipment. It has a hinge and a fulcrum point, similar to a teeter-totter, so that it’s well-balanced, and, when unlocked, the deck will tilt down to the ground.

When the equipment is driven up onto the approach-plate, the equipment is on the same angle at which the entire piece will be loaded on. It’s especially useful for tracked equipment, as there is a strain on a short piece of the track when a traditional ramp is driven over and the transition is made onto the main flat deck.

It’s important as well, that in the course of loading things, there are safe conditions for the loading. The trailer deck should be clean and clear of debris, especially sand and gravel. Equipment should not be skidding around both when being loaded and during transport. Also significant is the supply of tie-down D-rings to tie down the equipment. All compact equipment has tie-down locations on it for chaining or binding. These recommended locations should always be used, on the trailer as well as the equipment.

“Those locations are designed for tie-downs,” says Ladner. “If locations other than those are used for tie-downs, you may actually damage both the trailer and the equipment, because it may not have the strength that is needed to enable the equipment to be held onto the deck. A chain can be run through Lash rings or D-rings and then into a tie point on the equipment in order to tie things down properly.”

The only other thing in this truck-trailer marriage is the braking system, according to Ladner. There have been changes in braking systems. Nationwide, until just recently, only electric brakes were legal throughout all the states. Changes continue in the surge-brake category.

With electric brakes, when the trailer is hooked up by electric wire, the vehicle brakes will automatically activate the brakes on the trailer. With surge brakes there is an actuator on the hitch itself so that when the tow vehicle starts to brake, the trailer will push forward on this actuator and that causes the trailer brakes to activate. Surge brakes are becoming more popular as these systems become legal in more and more states.

“The overall concern is with guys bringing Chevrolet Suburbans in, or even full-sized one-ton trucks; they may not have the right connector for that braking system, or the lighting system on the trailer,” says Ladner. “Brakes are the biggest issue, but if the ball is simply hooked and connectors are left unconnected, meaning the only brakes are those in the vehicle–not the trailer, this can be a tremendous risk.”

In a nutshell, everything is about the towing vehicle, trailer capacity, the brakes and light system, and, finally, the safe operation of the trailer hauling the compact equipment. The explosive growth in compact equipment has meant a greater demand for trailers for them. But the down housing market has also affected the volume of manufacture-compact equipment dramatically. “We’ve been recently seeing less demand for compact equipment trailers on that side of things,” adds Ladner. “The market for regular and larger-sized equipment trailers continues to be strong.”

The Importance of Brake Adjustment
Michael Stewart, with the parts department at Palmetto Lawn and Leisure, a Lexington, SC John Deere dealership, which deals largely with compact equipment hauling, says to be sure to keep a few basics in mind, such as checking trailer tire air pressure. Also, it’s important to keep an eye on wheel bearings, brakes and lights. Of course you must be sure you’ve strapped the equipment down properly as well, through the use of correct chains, binders, straps or whatever it is you are using as a fastener.”

All of the trucks at PL&L are able to pull any of the compact equipment that the business sells. It has one gooseneck trailer for the bigger equipment and the two trucks used are also GVW-rated for all the equipment being hauled. Smaller, single axle trailers are used mainly for compact mowing and other machinery. Its trailer supplier is Currahee, Inc. of Mount Airy, GA.

All of the trailers it uses have its own brake systems. “We find that, especially when you are pulling an empty trailer, that you definitely want to check your brake adjustment and not have it too tight. We’ve had cases where that was the case, the brakes were too tight and one of the trailer tires blew out on us. Just a slight hit of the brakes, if they’re not adjusted properly, can result in a lock-up and subsequent tire blowout. In a nutshell, be sure your trailer brakes are adjusted properly for the load you are carrying—or the lack of one.”

Getting It There
TripleJLogistics of Edmonton, AB, can move equipment up to 300,000 pounds on its equipment trailers, and up to as high as 600,000 pounds in special cases. On the smaller end of things it can move compact equipment as well, though heavy equipment is its specialty. The trailers that TJL uses and has access to are determined and engineered according to weight regulations.

“We’re hauling million-dollar machines every day worldwide and across North America, with the majority of our work in the US,” says John Toews, owner, TripleJLogistics. “If you place too much weight on a boat or plane, it’s clear what will happen. It’s really no different with a trailer. They have to be built for the loads you are hauling.”

TJL takes pride in being able to haul anything and everything. If, for some reason, it cannot haul some particular equipment, it will place it on railroad lines and have it hauled. TJL also has access to air transport.

“We try to save our customers as much as possible in moving equipment, including compact equipment,” says Toews. “One customer we’re working with right now can actually save money by shipping their equipment in pieces. How many other companies can, and will, take apart equipment, and then reassemble it to save their customer thousands of dollars? This is a service industry, if you are not willing to go the extra mile, then why are you in this business?”

In addition to mini-excavators and other compact equipment, TJL also handles large equipment, including a wide assortment of cranes, including truck cranes, tower cranes, rough train cranes, oil tanks—anything and everything, and to all major ports in the world.

The A. Montano Co. Inc. in Saugerties, NY, deals with all kinds of heavy equipment: excavators, backhoes, wheel-loaders, dozers, and forklifts, as well as some compact equipment. For transporting equipment to various destinations, A. Montano gives TripleJLogistics the details. TJL then arranges everything: handling the logistics, making arrangements with the trucking company, working out the specifics for each machine when it comes to moving it, and obtaining the proper permits.

“There’s a lot involved and they’re always professional,” says Oilda Barreto, with A. Montano Co. Inc. “If there are ever any problems, John Toews, TJL’s owner, is right on the phone with me asking what is wrong and fixing the problem. They’re on top of things and that’s important in the trucking industry.

“We do worry about weight differences with compact equipment, as sometimes we end up logistically needing to transport partial loads, which become a problem because they are overweight or too wide. As with everyone else, we face challenges with compact machinery hauling, in that the machines are still heavy, if not heavier than before, and take up less space for their weight—thus they definitely create weight issues for us.

“It’s an issue that’s out there, and TJL is a good problem-solving company, so trailer weights do get worked out. Since they are a Canadian company, and with the way the U.S. dollar has come close in value to the Canadian dollar, I think this is opening the door for US companies doing more business with Canadian companies. But the case with TJL is that their service surpasses any trade-off with the change in the currency rates. Plus, they’re funny, and that always helps.”