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Refrigerated trailers: Keeping cool with the rules

17 July 2014 #Features & Interviews #Logistics #News #Sales #Trailer

Ever thought about the impact that the combination of a blazing hot summer’s day and being stuck in a seemingly-endless motorway traffic jam is likely to have on the contents of a refrigerated semi-trailer? Supermarket chain Morrisons clearly has.

In order to guarantee the integrity of the cargo in such difficult circumstances all the semi-trailers in the latest batch it has sourced from Fraserburgh-based Gray & Adams come with Carrier Transicold Vector 1950 fridge units with dual-discharge slim-line evaporators rather than a single-temperature system with fans. “We’ve purchased the trailers for operation in the south of England where there is more traffic congestion, which means that loads are likely to be on the vehicles for longer periods,” says Morrisons Head of Engineering, John Ward.

The new semi-trailers have something else in common; they have all been built to the new 15.65m length that is the subject of a long-term nationwide trial involving a number of operators and backed by the Department for Transport. Semi-trailers at 14.6m are involved in the national trial too.

Morrisons will have over 100 15.65m semi-trailers in service by the autumn, says Ward. “They offer tremendous cost-savings,” he reports. This is because they are capable of carrying 30 pallets – four more than a standard 13.6m single-deck trailer, translating to a 15% increase in productivity.

Ward believes that the 15.65m trailer is also to be preferred to a 13.6m with a lifting deck. “We’ve just ordered another clutch of 13.6m lifting-deck trailers, each of which can carry up to 40 pallets, from Gray & Adams,” he observes. “They’re excellent pieces of equipment but they’re significantly more expensive than a 15.65m single-decker, from our viewpoint that is the best solution for the majority of our deliveries.”

With four manufacturing sites in the UK and the Republic of Ireland, Gray & Adams boasts an annual turnover of around £100m and the order from Morrisons is but one example of the extent to which demand for refrigerated semi-trailers is rising.

“So far as we’re concerned, orders are close to where they were pre-recession,” says Schmitz Cargobull (UK) Managing Director, Paul Avery. “The market is improving.

“Customers are not only buying, they’re buying in bigger numbers than they have in recent years,” he continues. “We’ve received orders for 95 from Tesco and 113 from Asda.”

The used market is looking healthy too, he adds. “Operators are after second-hand dual-temperature trailers in particular and there’s a definite shortage of them,” Avery says.

Steve McCue, UK and Australia Sales Manager for French manufacturer Chereau concurs. “Last year was the best we’d had in Britain for fridge trailers since 2007,” he noted. “Things are going well this year too. We’ve sold 155 so far and I think we could reach 250 to 300.”

Nor is it solely the supermarket chains that are generating business although they do wield significant marketplace influence. Last December saw Arla Foods acquire a dozen Insuliner trailers built by Peterborough-based Lawrence David and fitted with Carrier Transicold Vector 1550 equipment.  Designed to operate at between 2°C and 8°C with an optimum temperature of 5°C, they are based at one of the world’s largest fresh milk dairies at Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire.

“While the big supermarkets tend to account for 800 to 900 fridge trailers annually in a total market that typically varies from 2,500 to 3,500, not one out of the 155 I’ve referred to has gone to them,” says McCue.

No matter whether they are purchasing potatoes, tinned fruit, or ice cream, supermarkets drive a hard bargain, and the same is the case when they buy trucks and trailers. “As a consequence I don’t bother quoting for supermarket business,” he admits.

While extolling the virtues of their build quality, McCue cheerfully admits that Chereau’s products are not the cheapest on the market. The strengthening of the pound against the euro could be making life slightly easier for him, however.

“If the euro moves up or down by just 10c then that can equate to a difference of as much as £2,500 to £3,000 in the price,” he observes.

What makes life rather more difficult are changes in the market due to mergers and takeovers. “Ten years ago I could have named 100 end-users who ran more than 50 fridge trailers each,” says McCue. “Now I’d struggle to name 50.”

Currency movements are not the only challenges to fridge trailer makers. There are regulatory hurdles to be overcome, too, many of which also apply to dry freight trailers.

The longer trailers for Morrisons referred to earlier have to meet turning circle requirements that at 15.65m typically mean that either command- or self-steer axles have to be fitted. The latter have been specified. “They help to ensure that our long trailers are able to access a very high proportion of our 400 large stores nationwide,” says Ward.

Refrigerated trailers are also used on cross-border work and must also meet ATP (Accord Transport Perissable) requirements. This means they have passed strict standardised tests conducted by independent test houses that measure their thermal efficiency. There are several ATP categories covering everything from chilled to deep frozen.

Some trailer builders take the view the view that it makes more sense to ensure everything is ATP-compliant rather than offer two classes of product. “Everything we build is to ATP Class C,” says McCue. That means they are capable of transporting loads from 12°C down to -20°C.

Almost all temperature-control systems on trailers use refrigerants such as R-404A, which is classed as a fluorinated gas or F-Gas.

Tougher regulations governing the use of such gases are being introduced by the European Union. Although they have yet to be finalised, it is certain that the EU will seek to reduce F-Gas emissions significantly over the next few years.

As a consequence, trailer fridge unit suppliers have been casting round for alternatives. Carrier Transicold, for example, has been trialling a system in conjunction with Sainsbury’s called NaturaLINE.  Initially developed for shipping containers, it uses CO2 as a refrigerant, and while R-404A has a Global Warming Potential of 3920, CO2 has a GWP of just one, Carrier Transicold points out. GWP represents how much a given mass of a chemical contributes to global warming over a given time period, compared to the same mass of CO2.

The gases used are not the only environmental concerns affecting fridge units. Noise output is a worry too, especially if deliveries to supermarkets are being made in the early morning.

Thermo King has come up with the multi-temperature SLXe Spectrum Whisper Pro, which is PIEK-certified; in other words, its sound level measures 60dB or less at a 7m radius.

Achieving this level has involved everything from the careful placing of noise-absorbent materials to re-tuning the exhaust system. The unit is even fitted with geo-fencing controllers so that it automatically switches to low-noise mode when it enters a controlled zone; and it all means that people won’t be kept awake late at night because there’s a delivery to their local supermarket.

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