Recrusul Carves Niche in Brazil's Refrigerated and Tank Markets

Feb. 1, 2000
A COMPANY that began making ice for local fishermen to cool their catch has grown into one of the leading trailer manufacturers in Brazil.Recrusul SA,

A COMPANY that began making ice for local fishermen to cool their catch has grown into one of the leading trailer manufacturers in Brazil.

Recrusul SA, located in Sapucaia, Rio Grande do Sul, can trace its roots back to 1937. There the small electric generator plant produced the ice that kept fish fresh for the trip to market.

Today the company continues to make it possible for fish to arrive at its destination in top condition. The former ice producer now is a premier manufacturer of insulated trailers and truck bodies and is a key source for transport and stationary refrigeration systems.

Located 25 km (16 miles) from one of Brazil's major port cities, Porto Alegre, Recrusul has successfully employed a niche marketing system to establish itself strongly in the Brazilian trailer industry-particularly in the areas of refrigerated, liquid, and dry-bulk transportation.

Not surprisingly, the company that began as Industria e Comercio Refrigeracao Cruzeiro do Sul Ltda continues to offer refrigerated products-throughout the channel of distribution. The company produces its own refrigeration units, bus air-conditioning, and refrigeration equipment for refrigerated warehouses. It also is a major manufacturer of refrigerated trailers and truck bodies.

"Transport refrigeration is a growing market that has a good future here in Brazil," says Paulo de A B Gomes, director of sales engineering. "We try to cover food processing, food storage, transportation, and distribution."

As a manufacturer of van trailers, the company produces refrigerated vans exclusively.

"It requires more technology and capital to manufacture refrigerated trailers," Gomes says. "We don't want to be in the dry-freight business. We would rather be in markets that require special knowledge. To manufacture refrigerated trailers, you must know about chemicals and some manufacturing techniques that you don't need to know if you are building dry-freight trailers."

Tanks and dry-bulk trailers also require specialized expertise, and that is another niche that Recrusul serves.

"We don't try to conquer all of these markets," Gomes says. "But our economy fluctuates. We must be somewhat diversified to survive. That is why we specialize in tank trailers and reefers. That also is why we offer equipment for food storage and distribution companies. These industries may be doing well when things are slow for truck fleets."

Refrigerated Lineup Refrigerated trailers built for the Brazilian market tend to be heavier than those built in the U S. Geography and road conditions combine to subject trailers to severe stress.

The typical refrigerated trailer uses 304 stainless steel heavily, including top and bottom rails, and the rear door frame. Ten-leaf steel spring suspensions are standard, as are axles with 15.8-mm (.62 inch) wall thickness. Three-axle trailers are typical.

"Trailers have to operate under rough conditions," Gomes says. "Loads are heavy, and the roads sometimes are not that good. That's why we use heavy suspensions with 10 leaves and axles that have thick walls."

Standard suspensions are manufactured in Brazil by KLL, a company created by former Recrusul employees.

"We developed our own running gear in 1976, but we have been outsourcing lately. In 1994 we stopped manufacturing our own axles, and in 1999 we began buying suspensions."

Recrusul produces two types of refrigerated trailers-foam sandwich panels and conventional sheet-and-post construction. Lengths range from 7,500 mm (24.6 feet) to 16,000 mm (52.5 feet). By shaving sidewall thickness, Recrusul can produce a refrigerated van capable of transporting 30 ISO pallets measuring 1,000 mm x 1,200 mm (39.37 inches x 47.24 inches) and generating available cargo area up to 98 cubic meters (3,461 cubic feet).

The transportation of hanging beef remains common in Brazil, so Recrusul offers a choice of meat rail configurations, both transverse and longitudinal. Other options include pneumatic lift axle, electronic height control for air suspensions, a choice of cargo control equipment, mobile and fixed bulkheads, and antilock brake systems.

Included in the standard features of Recrusul refrigerated trailers are a 20-liter water tank, food and tool box, and an articulated rear bumper that swings out of the way if it is dragged across an obstacle such as a ferry landing.

Truck Body Manufacturing Recrusul also manufactures refrigerated truck bodies using polyurethane foam sandwich panels that the company produces in a plant located on the same site in Sapucaia do Sul where it produces trailers.

Body lengths range from 4,100 mm (13.5 feet) to 8,800 mm (28.9 feet). The company offers a choice of three panel thicknesses-50, 80, or 100 mm (1.97, 3.15, or 3.94 inches).

Recrusul offers conventional sheet and post construction. However, by using sandwich panel construction, Recrusul can offer insulated vans produced without heat-conducting metal.

Options include longitudinal or transverse meat rails, a choice of bulkheads, three-panel rear doors, side doors, step ladder, pallet guide, and interior shelving.

The panel-production plant can generate insulated panels up to 16 meters (52.5 feet) long. Like cutting a slice of cheese for a sandwich, a bandsaw slices slabs of polyurethane from a large block. The slabs, each cut to the specified width, are placed on a large fixture where they are bonded between sheets of fiberglass.

The resulting panels can be used to produce truck bodies or trailers. However, the plant also can use the same technology to build panels for insulated doors or the walls of refrigerated warehouses.

Cooling Things Down Mechanical refrigeration is another major product line at Recrusul. Products fall into two distinct categories-industrial refrigeration and transport refrigeration.

The company's industrial refrigeration division manufactures mechanical components such as compressors, condensers, evaporators, and separators, along with complete systems such as freezing tunnels that rapidly freeze high volumes of produce by moving it through a spiraling conveyor line. With its insulated panel production, Recrusul can offer refrigerated warehouses complete facilities-including walls and insulated doors.

The transport refrigeration operation includes two major areas-bus air conditioning and truck and trailer refrigeration. Roof-mounted units are the most popular for standard passenger buses, but a rear-mounted unit is available for double-deck models. Recrusul also manufactures air conditioning for the cabs of tractors and other industrial equipment.

The company manufactures its own truck- and trailer-mounted refrigeration units and handles Thermo King models built in the U S.

Recrusul produces its own line of refrigeration units using Kubota diesel engines, Bock compressors from Germany, and Danfoss pressure controls. Recrusul produces the evaporator and condenser coils.

Part of the Recrusul plant in Sapucaia do Sul is dedicated to produce these products. However, its Refrima SA subsidiary is the primary assembly location for truck, trailer, and bus refrigeration.

Refirma is located in Manaus, a port on the Amazon River. To stimulate job growth in this region, the Brazilian government set up a free trade zone. Recrusul can import the major components of the refrigeration units without paying tariffs by assembling the units in Manaus. Recrusul does so by shipping by truck the components it manufactures from Sapucaia in southern Brazil to Belem at the mouth of the Amazon. The components then travel upstream by barge seven to 11 days until they reach Manaus for assembly.

Tank Manufacturing Recrusul entered the tank manufacturing business in 1980. Tanks are sold three different ways-direct to the fleets, through dealers, and through representatives. In addition to serving the domestic market, Recrusul exports trailers primarily to Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Peru.

"Africa is another market," Gomes says. "We sell trailers in Angola, Nigeria, Mozambique, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates."

Recrusul produces tanks for a wide range of markets, including milk, food products, chemicals and acids, petroleum, and dry-bulk applications.

Tri-axle semitrailers are the most common. However, B-trains are becoming more popular, and single-axle pup trailers are available. The company also manufactures tanks for straight-truck operations.

Getting Started Although it can trace its start back to the ice production operation that began in 1937, Recrusul SA began as a company in 1954 in nearby Marcelino Ramos, Rio Grande do Sul. Early on, the company provided solutions for transporting perishables, producing its first refrigerated trailer in 1958.

A flood destroyed the plant in 1965, but Recrusul recovered, moving into its present location in Sepucaia in 1967.

Today Recrusul employs 800 people. The company's manufacturing operation has 37,000 square meters (398,268 square feet) under roof. This includes new facilities for producing insulated panels for trailers and truck bodies. An adjacent plant produces the doors and panels for refrigerated warehouses.

Also new is a spacious human resources building that houses a wide range of services to Recrusul employees. These include a large cafeteria, medical and dental care, and banking services. The building also contains classrooms for employee training.

"The economy has been slow here, and we have downsized some," Gomes says. "But we have established ourselves as experts in markets that we know will continue to grow."