Used to raise a trailer’s nose to match a fifth wheel’s height or to rest the unhooked vehicle upon, the landing leg is somewhat of an unsung hero in the highly diversified transport equipment market. Much like the fifth wheel, it is a vital part of each and every articulated trailer around the globe – and a key element to ensure a seamless exchange of trailing equipment – but widely perceived as a commodity.
The landing leg’s unobtrusive appearance – a hollow steel beam with a square or round foot and a folding or detachable crank handle on the side – could be one reason why it has to lead a shadowy existence in everyday transportation; but appearances can be deceiving. Different requirements and types of use call for different sizes, designs and materials, while differences can also be seen in the equipment and handling of the landing leg in the field.
Veteran drivers, who hook and unhook a combination several times a day, know that usability and ease of operation are key to modern landing leg design. That is, next to the ability to support the trailer when unhooked and lifting the nose whilst backing up the truck.
To Zoran Tomic, Director of Global Landing Gear Product Planning & Market Development at SAF‑Holland, that kind of first-hand knowledge is most important when evaluating the company’s landing gear portfolio. “Direct feedback is immensely important to develop a modern landing leg – regardless of the brand or region.
Unhooking a semi can be a very physical job and we try to make it as convenient and safe as possible. To do so, we at SAF-Holland try to be as close as possible to those who actually use our product in the field.”
According to Tomic, a strict research and development regime has seen SAF-Holland establish itself as a byword for advanced landing leg technology in both Europe and the US, especially in regard to strength and longevity. In a world exclusive, the company’s global landing leg specialist agreed to share his knowledge with the Global Trailer audience.
Q: The landing leg, quite literally, is the mainstay of every articulated trailer, yet often seen as a commodity. Do transport businesses need to pay more attention to it?
A: Yes, landing gear carries a significant static and dynamic load by supporting the trailer during the trailer to truck coupling and uncoupling process; as well as during the trailer loading. As a result, the structural capabilities of the landing gear need to completely eliminate the possibility of failure.
Q: How do you make sure that possibility is fully eliminated?
A: From an engineering point of view, structural integrity can only be ensured by meeting and exceeding all testing requirements defined by local authorities in the country of us; but you also need to adjust to market trends, of course. In the US, for instance, we have recently seen an increase in the trailer-to-truck ratio and consequently, the number of hook ups is up too. As a result, the overall performance of landing gear has become more important for success of the transportation business, contrary to its perception in the market.
Q: Did the growing competition from Asia change our perception of the landing leg at all?
A: Yes, this is particularly obvious in the aftermarket segment of the industry, even though many imported products don’t comply with minimum structural and performance requirements. Overall, the landing leg is now seen as a consumable instead of a high-tech piece of equipment.
Q: So how do you make sure the SAF-Holland product is perceived as a stand-alone product different from the competition?
A: Our design is innovative, highly efficient and protected by international patents, which is a solid basis. We don’t focus so much on brand building, but make sure we deliver on performance first. Using proprietary technologies is essential in that context. For example, our structural tubing is made from HSLA material and uses SAF-Holland’s Black Armour corrosion protection, which cannot be easily or cheaply copied. To ensure consistent quality, all our manufacturing facilities are ISO certified.
Q: Speaking of performance – which sections of the landing leg are most prone to damage when in operation, and how do you address these issues?
A: It’s safe to say every structural component is exposed to damage during operation, but the screw and lift nut – which are responsible for heavy lifting – are especially prone to damage. To address this issue, SAF-Holland utilises a patented ‘Floating Nut’ design, which protects the screw and nut from impairment.
Q: SAF-Holland is present all around the globe. How do you make sure your landing legs stand up to frigid Canadian cold as well as the blistering Middle East desert heat?
A: Our landing gear product portfolio has the greatest depth and breadth in the industry, offering a variety of models for different applications all around the globe. The key ingredient is high-quality grease rated for very cold to very hot operating temperatures – next to an in-depth understanding of the local market and the technology used in the region. But we don’t just bring new technology to a certain region, we also learn from it. Due to our global footprint, we are actually able to source know-how from every corner of the world, which has created many unique, patented features over time that have helped our clientele save time, weight, fuel, effort, and even reduced the potential for operator injury.
Q: What’s the average life span of a landing leg?
A: If maintained properly, the landing gear can exceed the life of the trailer – depending on the brand, region and application.
Q: In line with that, it does seem like the development of landing gear is somewhat ‘slow and steady’. Are there any recent trends regarding the technology or the material used in landing leg manufacturing?
A: The emphasis in modern landing gear product development is on improving ergonomics to better suit current driver demographics. For instance, it has to be easy to lift and maintain. In addition, we try to extend the service life by offering a more comprehensive warranty and applying our high-tech Black Armour coating.
Q: Has the idea of an automatic landing leg ever been discussed at SAF-Holland?
A: Yes, we have offered both electrical and pneumatic automated landing gear, but due to a significant cost increase, the market has been slow to accept such technology. But that doesn’t mean we don’t continue to refine the technology for those who demand it.