Two refrigerated trucks left the Brakebush Brothers' chicken plant in Westfield, WI, for California a week apart. Both were carrying the same loads along the same route to the same stops along the way, and dropped off the same products at each stop. Both had the same backhauls on the return trip. But, when they returned to Wisconsin, one had burned 100 fewer gallons of fuel.
With diesel fuel prices averaging $2.40 a gallon nationwide-according to the U.S. Department of Energy's July 11 statistics-the potential to cut fuel consumption by 100 gallons per run could mean huge savings for Brakebush.
So what accounted for the different fuel readings? Both trucks were identical, with one major exception. The driver of the vehicle that burned less fuel shortened the load after each delivery with a ceiling-mounted, BH-2000 track bulkhead from Randall Manufacturing, Elmhurst, IL. The other truck's trailer was not equipped with a bulkhead.
Typically, Brakebush drivers log about 90,000 miles a year delivering product to thousands of foodservice accounts across the country. They can make anywhere from one or two stops per week to 10 or 12, depending on the route. As product is removed from the trailer at each stop, drivers end up "cooling a lot of dead air," explains Brian Marshall, shop supervisor for Brakebush Transportation, the company's separate transportation division. "We are not a multi-temp carrier but a single-temp carrier with multiple stops. We wanted to shorten the trailer so that we weren't cooling dead air unnecessarily."
"Because of fuel issues, many companies are using multi-temp bulkheads to shorten the load," explains Chuck Carey, national accounts manager at Randall Manufacturing. "When you're making two stops, why would you want to refrigerate an entire trailer when you've already dropped off half the load? You can use a movable bulkhead to just keep the half that you need to have refrigerated cold."
That is the latest use for the bulkheads-a combination of compression-fit foam with a vinyl outer layer-that are typically used to divide trailers into multi-temp zones. Brakebush, which operates a fleet of 37 tractors and about 100 trailers, began using the bulkheads to shorten its loads about a year ago, and has since installed them in 20 trailers.
Driver Safety Concerns
These ceiling-mounted track bulkheads generally lift up to the ceiling for easy storage when not being used. Depending on the size of the load, they can slide forwards or backwards against a load via a roller track or no-bind trolley, with little effort on the driver's part.
For Brakebush, key to selecting the Randall bulkheads was the electric, push-button motion. "We don't want to have to worry about the driver hurting himself lifting and lowering bulkheads. The floors inside the trailer are usually pretty slippery, and we don't want the drivers falling," says Marshall. "With these [units], we use power from the reefer unit to run the motor, which does it automatically."
Other units rely on pulleys for motion and locking mechanisms to secure them in place. But in either case, bulkhead manufacturers are thinking about the driver in their latest designs. "We've all become more conscious about the safety of the driver," says Matt Nelson, vice president of marketing for bulkhead manufacturer FG Products, Rice Lake, WI. "A driver who is moving a bulkhead around and throws out his back is no good to a company."
FG Products offers two track bulkheads models. The CubeSaver is designed so that each half of the bulkhead can be moved forward or back independently via a lift-assist. The SmarTrack is similar, but each bulkhead half is attached to a common crossbar that prevents it from moving independently forward or back.
ROM Corp., Belton, MO, offers a ceiling-mounted track option on its LoadMaker and Center ZoneMaker bulkheads. Both offer seals built right into the track to prevent added temperature escape, and will pop out of their tracks when hit to prevent damage and driver injury, says Dan Caffrey, national account manager at ROM.
Fellow bulkhead manufacturer ITW Insulated Products, LaGrange, GA, also offer several ceiling-mounted track bulkhead models.
And, because these bulkheads are permanently mounted inside the trailer, there is no chance for them to go missing, and no need for extra storage space within a warehouse when they are not being used, Brakebush's Marshall adds. "A bulkhead inherently can be very expensive, so we wanted it attached to the trailer so that there would be no way a driver could take it out of the trailer and forget it on a customer's dock." They're also virtually impossible to steal.
Another advantage of having the bulkheads inside the trailer at all times is the guaranteed fit. "With portable bulkheads, the driver may just take any one and it may be short or not the right size for the trailer," says Randall's Carey. You may have a 102-inch trailer and a 100-inch bulkhead, and then you have a 2-inch gap where temperature escapes."
Besides Brakebush, other users of multi-temp, ceiling-mounted track bulkheads are retailers The Kroger Co., Cincinnati, and Wal-Mart Stores, Bentonville, AR, and foodservice distributor Sysco Corp., Houston.
"A few years ago, there were only a handful of companies who used them, but we've been seeing that number grow. There's a lot more interest in them," says FG Products' Nelson. "In Europe, they use almost 100 percent track bulkheads. I think here we'll start seeing a lot of people utilizing them, especially in the grocery business."
Ceiling-Mount Offers Flexibility
Large, high-profile users like Wal-Mart and Kroger have sparked interest in ceiling-mounted track bulkheads across the industry. "We're seeing a lot more people asking questions about them," notes John Miller, general manager of refrigerated operations at Schneider National, the Green Bay, WI-based provider of trucks and trailers. "It's more exploratory in nature right now, but they're seeing the large shippers using them and it's prompting curiosity."
There are certainly situations when companies can benefit from their use, he adds. "A lot of times, people are sending out different [less-than-truckload shipments], and they may have opportunities to send it out as one truckload with multi-temp zones. It also becomes viable from a large distribution center that is sending multiple products to a local DC or to local stores with multiple stops, as in direct-store deliveries," he says.
"It gives a shipper a lot of flexibility. If what you have is a single-temp load, you can still use it. You're not just locked into using it solely for multi-temp loads," Miller adds.
"The flexibility is the key word with this equipment," adds Dale Frank, national sales manager for temperature-controlled products at trailer rental firm XTRA Lease, St. Louis. "It's about how many things can I do at the lowest cost."
One complaint customers in the past have had with ceiling-mounted bulkheads was that they sagged in the middle over time as stiffeners weakened. The main reason for that was the weight of the bulkheads. Bulkhead manufacturers have addressed the problem by using more lightweight building materials-such as polystyrene cores-and by better placing the stiffeners for more support.
"We're also upgrading the perimeter seals on our bulkheads, and using a more durable vinyl, polystyrene core instead of polyurethane because polyurethane absorbs water and becomes heavy and prone to bacteria," Randall's Carey notes.
"FG is always trying to use materials that are steam-cleanable, and use foams that do not absorb water because that allows bacteria to grow, adds weight and causes the adhesives to come undone," adds Nelson.
"We've seen multi-temps that do not hold the right temps any more because water has gotten in between the liners," says XTRA Lease's Frank. "That becomes a breeding ground for pathogens.
Multi-Temp On The Rise
"We're seeing more and more companies going multi-temp. I think it's because of more awareness by the customer and more of a watchful eye of the government over food safety and holding temperatures," XTRA Lease's Frank adds.
For Carrier Transicold, Athens, GA, sales of units for multi-temp transportation are going up year after year, according to Mike Murdock the company's trailer product manager. Almost 20 percent of all truck refrigeration units and evaporators currently sold by the company are going into multi-temp trailers.
"With multi-temp, companies are able to optimize requirements for different food types. It's driven by customer demand for quality," he says.
And, as multi-temp grows, customers are also looking for the flexibility that track, ceiling-mounted bulkheads bring. "They give customers flexibility on how they arrange the compartments. They're going with more flexible bulkheads because one day they may need 50 percent deep frozen and one day they may need more chilled," Murdock notes.
As for Brakebush's Marshall, he couldn't be happier. He plans to keep outfitting more trailers with the ceiling-mounted track bulkheads whenever he can. "We just love them. They've been very successful for us," Marshall says. "Over the course of a year, the savings can really add up."