Ewals Cargo Care (ECC) has acquired renown as a do-it-yourself fleet in Europe since it first got involved in the design of transport equipment in 1990. Back then, the company introduced the ‘Mega’ concept to the transport market – a curtain-sided semi in high-cube configuration specifically developed to serve the automotive industry.
The new trailer type, which could boast a load volume of 100m3 and was suitable for intermodal use, transformed ECC into an automotive powerhouse virtually overnight. Designed by ECC and built by both German brand Krone and Belgian rival LAG, the Mega was based on wide and low tyres with a wheel dimension of only 19.5’’.
Ever since the first Mega generation – dubbed XL – hit the road, ECC continued to pursue an ambitious in-house R&D agenda. The result is impressive: Since 2006, the entire Ewals fleet is compliant with the DIN EN 12642 load-securing standard.
Now the company has unveiled the second ‘Mega’ generation, named XLS, for cargo that has no fixed shape. According to the Dutch company, adding more versatility and strength to the fleet was the main motivation behind advancing the design.
While most freight in the automotive sector is palletised or boxed, bulky loads such as car tyres tend to bulge the curtain. To accommodate for such not-so-standard freight, ECC’s Fleet Manager Bart van Rens and his team went back to the drawing board to refine the Mega’s curtain design. The goal was to prevent the curtain from losing shape, even if a load was pushing against it from the inside.
“We tried some techniques to reinforce the tarpaulins without employing the traditional wooden stanchions on the inside. Instead, we tried aluminium stanchions, which we placed vertically at 40cm intervals. That way we also reinforced the curtain itself.”
However, that first attempt didn’t do the trick, according to van Rens. Despite creating an aluminium cage around the inside, the tyres still managed to push out the curtain during transit. “After driving around with a full load of car tyres for a while, the trailer exceeded the legal width limit of 2.55m, so we tried a design that actively forced the curtain inwards from the beginning to counteract the deflection.
“To do so, we had to redesign the actual curtain by integrating stretch-free longitudinal straps into the fabric from front to back. The material thickens in the middle and therefore creates a pre-tensioning effect,” van Rens explains – revealing that he also considered classic dry vans, which are traditionally used in tyre transport. However, the dry van proved to heavy for the task at hand – not to mention losing the high-cube advantage of the Mega concept.
“Also, it is impossible to load a box trailer from the side,” he adds. “We knew we had to find our own solution.”
According to van Rens, the second design delivered promising test results in an initial test and was therefore taken on a journey across Europe to test it under real-life conditions. “In order to meet and exceed all requirements, we took the vehicle on a 1,000km trip across Europe and then asked German TÜV officials to measure the deflection. All they could conclude was that we had managed to stay within the 2.55m maximum allowed width – mission accomplished.”
To be 100 per cent sure the new design would work with any kind of bulk freight, Ewals also tested the XLS with a load of so-called ‘big bags’. While the curtain proved to work hassle-free, the company soon realised it needed to improve on load securing as well to prevent the bags from moving.
“A big bag has everything but a fixed shape, so putting a strap around it is useless,” says van Rens. “Fortunately, we found a way to solve that problem as well; we call it cross lashing. We no longer position the strap in a straight line over the cargo, but diagonally – something we have already tried on pallets. Immediately, we saw an improvement during braking and cornering. In fact, braking actually tightens the straps, which is a great side-effect.”
Just like the entirely new XLS trailer, the cross lashings were also tested in a real life scenario. To meet the EN 12642 XL standard, the loaded trailer had to perform an S-turn that would develop a force of at least 0.5 G. “Even well beyond 0.5 G, all big bags remained perfectly in place,” says van Rens. “In fact, we were way beyond it when the truck’s ESP intervened, so we were more than safe.”
Unsurprisingly, ECC already has patents pending on the new trailer technology – not just because it will keep the curtain in shape, but also because it can reduce the risk of theft of cargo due to the tensioning systems integrated.
German’s leading trailer building duo, Krone and Schmitz Cargobull, have been the first companies to receive a production licence, van Rens explains. In 2013, the company already added 250 Mega XLS trailers to its fleet – 150 built by Krone, followed by a 100-unit delivery from Schmitz Cargobull.
While ECC is still busy evaluating how customers respond to the newly developed vehicles, especially those in the car tyre business, van Rens is confident the XLS model will mark a new chapter for ECC. “We have already proven that we are able to redefine the standards for load securing. Now we have taken it a step further with the development of the XLS. Who knows, it might even become the new ECC standard over time, as it is intermodal-ready, safe and secure.”