Smart, clean and lightweight,” is all Clarke Petrick, CEO of newly established trailer brand, Air Tip, will say when asked to summarise what the company’s only model is all about – yet the true story behind it is much more complex.
A geo physicist by trade, truck driving in remote Australia has always been Petrick’s secret passion – yet the bulky design of most side-tippers on the market kept irritating him. “Especially the hydraulic tipping mechanism was a thorn in my side,” he says. “It’s complicated, dirty and not very friendly to the environment. Plus, you needed a PTO-equipped prime mover to be able to use it, which can be a real restriction in rural Australia.”
Back in 2010, Petrick therefore decided to go back to the drawing board and create a more efficient, less complicated design that would finally wave the old hydraulic system goodbye.
“Removing the oil infrastructure was the main goal at the beginning,” he recalls. “If you don’t need a PTO, you can save on both set up and maintenance cost while bringing more flexibility to the fleet. No truck will need a hydraulic pump or hydraulic oil tank anymore.”
According to Petrick, waiving the PTO will also simplify the procurement process, reduce each vehicle’s tare weight and allow for additional fuel capacity on every truck. Due to the loss of PTO, pump, oil tank and the oil itself, he is expecting a weight advantage of up to three tonnes per combination.
Instead of a classic hydraulic system, the aptly named Air Tip concept is using compressed air to tip the bin. Using the same air lines as a common semi to provide the required momentum, Petrick replaced each hydraulic hoist with heavy-duty airbags.
“We used conventional pneumatic lines and fittings to ensure it’ll be easy to source replacement parts anywhere around Australia,” says Clarke – revealing that the Air Tip airbag system is comparable to a normal air bag trailer suspension. “Every mechanic is familiar with that kind of suspension, hence servicing our technology is not specialised and should remain simple.”
According to Petrick, a standard truck air compressor will charge each trailer for tipping in about five minutes’ time; the process will occur automatically once all brake air supply requirements are met. “The waiting time is equivalent to the time taken to load each trailer, or travel about eight kilometres down the road,” he explains.
But there is more to the Air Tip concept than just an innovative tipping mechanism. Ever since he sketched the first draft, Petrick’s main priority was to reduce the overall tare weight of the unit without compromising on structural integrity. To achieve that goal, he developed a special monocoque design where the bin itself is acting as a structural component, waiving any need for a sub frame between the rear axle group and the front.
“By thinking of the unit as a whole, and not just the sum of its parts, it made sense to adopt a monocoque structure,” says Petrick. “The monocoque design can not only save weight, but also add strength. Over the years, the idea has been used in other transport equipment such as fuel tankers, fridge vans, stock crates as well as tip-over axle trailers, so we believed it was smart to introduce it to the side-tipper industry as well.”
Based in Alice Springs, some 2,700km northwest of the tourist capital of Sydney, Clarke has recently introduced a third, improved Air Tip generation to the market. “We travel a lot to present the unit to transport businesses around the country,” says Petrick. “Wherever people show interest, we bring in the unit and have them test it. It’s the only way to prove the concept is a viable one.”
According to Petrick, integrating the Air Tip into an existing fleet is simple. “Using the Air Tip principle, any prime mover can now be sent out on a tipper job. The Air Tip only requires the standard red and blue braking lines; it can be towed and tipped anywhere irrespective of its position in a road train configuration.”
As there is no requirement for hydraulic lines, the Air Tip side-tipper can also be towed behind any standard trailer and any type of dolly, making for a truly flexible design.
Australia’s critical transport industry had a first opportunity to examine the Air Tip design up close at the recently held International Truck, Trailer & Equipment Show in Melbourne, and Clarke’s verdict was positive. “ITTES is Australia’s largest truck show, a fitting forum to release this world first technology. We believe in the product – and the simplicity of operation has certainly prove our point.”