Van, Truck, Trailer, Bus and Coach Aftermarket News in Ireland

Trailer manufacturing: Does innovation trump size?

With a total output of 45,300 trailers and bodies for rigid chassis in 2013/14 and a turnover of £1.3bn, it is in the midst of opening an £80m factory in Wuhan, China, in conjunction with Dongfeng Motor Group. The first of the 500 trailers the new operation is scheduled to construct this year are about to roll out of the doors.unnamed-6

Closer to home, Schmitz has just invested over £24m in its Altenberge, Germany, factory to enable it to set up innovative manufacturing facilities for chassis I-beams.

Each beam is cold-formed on a 16m line from a blank without a welding seam. The key benefit of the approach Schmitz is taking is that a pair of I-beams can be turned out in a mere five minutes rather than the half-hour that used to be required.

The firm points out that removing the need for welding means a far more consistent product quality. It also means that the stress placed on steel by the application of heat is eliminated.

The fact that the European Union’s recovery from recession appears to be stuttering and Russia’s economy is facing potentially serious problems does not appear to be denting the trailer maker’s confidence. “In the current business year we are aiming for a turnover of around £1.44bn and a production volume of 47,500 units,” says Board Chairman, Ulrich Schumer.

While UK trailer manufacturers do not all boast the same scale of Schmitz-Cargobull, they can still compete through innovative design and by tailoring what they produce as closely as possible to the needs of operators.

With an annual output of 2,500 to 3,000 trailers and bodies for rigid chassis and a turnover of £50m, Stoke-on-Trent-based Don-Bur is a fraction of the size of Schmitz. It has nonetheless won widespread acclaim for its aerodynamic and visually-distinctive Teardrop trailers and for its success in constructing lifting-deck trailers.

Argos has just placed an order with Don-Bur for 19, 60-pallet-capacity lifting-deck box-van semi-trailers at the trial length of 15.65m.

“British operators tend not to want standardised products,” says Marketing Manager Richard Owens. “Instead they want trailers built to their exact requirements because they know they can benefit massively from them – and that’s something we can do.

“As consequence, each trailer we make often differs substantially from the next one under construction and even repeat orders for the same product differ one from the other,” he continues. “An operator may want a step that tips at a different angle this time round, for instance, and that’s something we’re happy to help with.”

“UK hauliers like bespoke trailers,” agrees SDC Trailers Director, Paul Bratton. “They want curtainsiders with all sorts of different deck configurations and they know we’re willing to make what they require.”

“OK, one of our Teardrop trailers is going to be more expensive than a standardised product, but look at the fuel savings,” says Owens.

“Admittedly Schmitz Cargobull has massive buying clout; but SDC negotiates extremely keen deals with its suppliers, too” Bratton says. It is, of course, easier to cater to the needs of British hauliers and make modifications rapidly if you manufacture in the UK. SDC, which makes just over 7,000 trailers annually, has three British plants.

Schmitz Cargobull shut its Harelaw, County Durham plant in 2010 and relocated its UK head office to Warrington in Cheshire. More recently, however, it has teamed up with Halesowen-based, Bevan Group to manufacture refrigerated bodies for the British market.

The UK’s absence of any restriction on trailer height, other than the practical one of being able to get under motorway bridges, gives domestic builders considerable scope for creativity. By contrast, Continental trailer manufacturers generally build to the European 4m height limit which is also the one imposed on trailers used on cross-border work.

Double-deck trailer has proved to be a hit for a UK manufacturer
Double-deck trailer has proved to be a hit for a UK manufacturer

None of this should be taken to imply that companies such as Schmitz Cargobull lack design flair or are afraid to attack relatively low-volume areas of the market.

Schmitz itself has just unveiled the latest version of the S.KO folding-wall box trailer. It goes some way towards providing a box body with the ease of access offered by a curtainsider but with better security for the cargo.

The company has also responded to new German regulations scheduled to begin coming into force next January that will require hauliers transporting asphalt in tipper trailers to ensure they are fully insulated. A Schmitz trailer that meets the legislation will debut at the IAA Show in Hanover in Germany this September.

It is not having things entirely its own way in international markets, however, with Don-Bur’s Teardrop starting to attract interest in North America. “We’re getting a lot of inquiries from Canada in particular,” reports Richard Owens.