Putting rivalries aside for a better industry

June 1, 2013

Dylan Thomas probably didn't give much thought to trailer manufacturers when he wrote A Child’s Christmas in Wales in 1952. But he may have inadvertently described what happened at the recent Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association convention.

“It snowed last year,” Thomas wrote. “I made a snowman and my brother knocked it down and I knocked my brother down and then we had tea.”

So what do a couple of bickering brothers have in common with a trip to the recent TTMA convention? More than one might think.

When a trade association is functioning as it should, competitors at least temporarily put aside competitive differences and work together to address issues they both share. They stop being concerned about the quality or the presence of the other guy’s snowman. They in effect have tea together.

The month’s Trailer/Body Builders is a partial depiction of the trailer industry working together. It’s easy for us to deliver a report on the high-profile portion of this year’s TTMA convention. We show the events, and we tell you what the speakers had to say. But that’s only part of the story. Most of the work that TTMA or any other effective trade association accomplishes is done behind the scenes. Meetings and conference calls are held throughout the year—not just during the convention. This type of work is more difficult to portray in words and pictures, yet it is important to anyone who shares the road with trucks and trailers.

This year’s convention produced a fair amount of cooperative fruit, even though no major regulatory proposals are approaching that would add a sense of urgency. Instead, these industry volunteers just quietly worked on small steps to improve trailer safety. For example:

The TTMA Engineering Committee, consisting of engineers from the industry’s largest trailer manufacturers, approved a wide range of recommended practices and technical bulletins. None were new documents, but they still required significant time to review and think through.

These recommended practices and technical bulletins address a number of critical issues: How much concentrated load should the floor of a van trailer be capable of withstanding? Can better connections between trailers and tractors be developed? How should air brakes be tested—especially if the length of the trailer has been modified? What should be done if a crack is detected in the beam of a platform trailer? What is the best way to wire a trailer?

The TTMA Tank Conference also approved some proposals during the TTMA convention. Tank trailers have their own set of issues not found with other types of trailers. That’s why TTMA established the Tank Conference years ago.

Several of the engineers who are part of the TTMA Engineering Committee also serve on the association’s Tank Conference. Besides working with one another, this group also works with other organizations such as the National Tank Truck Carriers, the trade group for people who operate tank fleets. Together the groups develop ways to make tanks safer on the highways and to help those operate the tanks avoid injury.

Some tanks carry hazardous materials. Some are pressurized. And the cylindrical shapes of tanks makes climbing and walking on them difficult. The Tank Conference and other groups have been asking: Can ladders be made more ergonomic? Can walkways at the top of the tank be improved? Better yet, how can tanks be redesigned so that people have little or no need to climb on them in the first place?

With that in mind, the Tank Conference approved a jointly developed publication that addresses the Cargo Tank Risk Management Committee’s Vision 2020—a plan for creating safer ladders, walkways and dimensions for tank trailers. The Tank Conference also approved a revision of a technical bulletin addressing the operation and maintenance bottom-loading systems for cargo tanks.

Given the relatively small number of trailer manufacturers in North America, TTMA conventions will probably always be more of a family reunion than a massive event like the Mid-America Trucking Show that Trailer/Body Builders covered last month.

As Bryan Dodge, one of the speakers on the TTMA convention program said, “In this room, there is a major amount of competition, but in essence you’re still family. That is so not possible in other industries.”

Yeah, we know. Dodge probably says that wherever he speaks, but that doesn't keep it from being true.