Walmart debuts supercube trailer

by Array

MISSISSAUGA, Ont.—Walmart Canada Corp is now in the business of designing truck trailers.

Well not quite—it left the actual design work and construction to Mississauga, Ontario-based Innovative Trailer Design Industries (ITD)—but the retailer has undertaken a pilot project to put a new type of truck trailer on Ontario’s highways, one that carries more freight but doesn’t take up any more room on the highway.

“When they came to us, we said it’s a no-brainer. It’s fully do-able and a great idea. We haven’t changed anything within the laws. We’ve just allowed more capacity in the trailer without getting any longer,” says ITD president Benny Di Franco.

The Supercube trailer is longer than the standard trailer. It measures 18.4m (60ft 6in) versus 16.2m (53ft), but is paired with a much shorter tractor, making the overall length of the unit 23m (75ft 5in), the same size as is legally permitted on the province’s highways.

Not only is the tractor portion of the rig shorter (the driver sits above the engine and the front wheels) it is paired with a drome box which holds 15 cubic metres (521 cubic feet) or 10 percent of the trailer’s capacity. This means approximately six pallets or 2,500 cases can be carried forward of the trailer. To make loading and unloading the drome box easier, the unit slides away from the cab and towards the trailer, providing access through the front of the trailer.

“We’ve taken that air gap between truck and trailer and put more freight in there,” says Di Franco.

The trailer has 144 cubic metres (5,100 cubic feet) of space across two separate levels. This is roughly 30 percent more than a traditional trailer. The split-deck design means there is a 40cm (16in) height difference between the front deck (above the trailer’s front wheels) and the back deck. The inside height is 3.2m (126in) for the main deck and 2.8m (110in) for the upper deck.

The trailer comes with a scissor lift capable of handling 6,800kg (15,000lb), which means a forklift can be used to stock the front section of the trailer. Since the trailer is lower to the ground than models currently in use, a bogie airbag lift system raises the height of the trailer to meet standard 1.2m (4ft) docks.

The supercube weighs 6,618kg (14,590lb) or three percent more than a typical trailer, which tips the scales at 6,450 (14,220lb).

Pulling the trailer is a Freightliner tractor with a Canadian-spec’d engine (so it meets Canadian diesel emissions standards).

At this point there are two tractors and four trailers in the Walmart stable. That’s what the company is using to complete its 12-month pilot project for the Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO). The government needs to see how these units perform on the road, particularly with regard to safety, before they can be licensed for use in the province.

Andy Ellis, senior vice-president of supply chain and logistics for Walmart Canada, compared this pilot to the one required by MTO before long combination vehicles (LVCs) would be suitable for Ontario roads.

“We a pilot with the MTO to run this truck in Ontario. We have a permit to put four of these on the road. As with any pilot, it’s an experiment.

“Subject to the approval of the Ministry, then we will put more trucks like this on the road in Ontario and hopefully role them out to other provinces in Canada,” says Ellis.

Ellis was the driving force behind the project. He says his background gave him the perspective needed to look for a new way of moving goods.

“I’m originally from the UK. So I looked at the semis on the road here, and I looked at the amount of wasted space that is available on the tractor trailer unit. I thought about ways to combine the regulations from the UK and the regulations in Canada. Then I set a challenge to my team: how can you build an innovative tractor and trailer unit that optimizes the use of the cube?

“Walmart doesn’t typically weight-out on deliveries, because of the type of freight we carry. It’s boxes with small domestic appliances, electronics, clothing, apparel, which isn’t as heavy as other commodities. So when we put trucks on the road, we never weight-out. We always cube out. So the challenge was how do you put more cube on the back of the truck and take more deliveries off the road, and take amount of trucks off the road. What you see here today is a combination of that work where you’ve got no wasted space in front of the tractor unit. And we’ve optimized the total length of the vehicle.”

Ellis says the trailers should carry enough merchandise to supply two stores during one run.

While the trailer was designed on behalf of Walmart, the company has no financial stake in future sales of the tractor supercubes.