Innovators: Estes Express Lines turns its attention to the rear of the rig to boost capacity, productivityadmin
Hearing the ghost of disgraced Chicago White Sox outfielder “Shoeless” Joe Jackson hint, “If you build it, they will come,” fictional Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella defied all naysayers and constructed a baseball diamond in the middle of his cornfield.
Mike Palmer, vice president of fleet services for Estes Express Lines (CCJ Top 250, No. 12), must have been within earshot.
Estes, with a fleet of more than 7,000 tractors and nearly 29,000 trailers, is among the nation’s largest less-than-truckload and truckload carriers. Size and scale matter in the trucking business, but the Richmond, Virginia-based carrier remained flummoxed by the amount of “empty space underneath the trailer,” Palmer said.
Management saw the opportunity cost of not being able to pack in more cargo. “We always cube-out before we weigh-out,” he said.
Three years ago, Palmer was cruising the 2017 North American Commercial Vehicle (NACV) tradeshow floor with Justin Bell, vice president of engineering for Strick Trailers. Palmer was venting his frustrations with the additional tractors needed to haul cargo that otherwise could have fit in the dead space between the trailer floor and the road surface, which led to his “Field of Dreams” moment.
If he built it – or at least prodded the design of it – more pallets would come.
“We were just talking about how the space between the landing gear and the axle could be used,” Bell said. “It just kind of blossomed from there.”
Flexibility without compromise
The list of wants and needs was long, but Bell noted that Palmer mentioned several critical items that were required. “You can’t go super-low on the belly, because you’ll create ground interference,” he said. “You have to be able to drive a forklift over [the belly], and you have to be able to use it as a standard trailer, otherwise it’s going to be too niche.”
Palmer worked with Bell and Strick Trailers to develop an elevator system for the Monroe, Indiana-based manufacturer’s 28-foot pup trailers, allowing them to hold six additional pallets per trailer in an additional 104-cubic-foot area that previously was occupied by wind and road noise underneath the trailer floor.