Chain of Thought

Off-Road Implications of Heavier On-Road Loads

As Material Handling Management makes the transition to Material Handling and Logistics with our September issue, you'll read more transportation-oriented news in our magazine and on our site. Of course, because material handling is still our core interest, we will emphasize stories that incorporate both. I have a good one for you.

Have you heard of the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act (SETA) of 2010? S.B. 3705 and H.R. 1799 represent bipartisan legislation now being considered by the U.S. House and Senate that would increase the interstate highway truckload weight limit from 80,000 lbs to 97,000 lbs. It would require trailers to have another axle to maintain weight distribution, as well as brakes on that axle to maintain stopping distance.

Accounting for the weight of the added axle, SETA would allow 40,000 pound shipments to increase to 55,000 pounds. This legislation has vocal proponents and opponents. The naysayers worry what these heavier trucks would do to our already crumbling roads. The yaysayers see it as a boon to material handling and logistics efficiency.

Getting more into a truckload is a clear logistics benefit, but where's the material handling connection?

Glad you asked. Because that's just what I did when this field's consultants started talking about the legislation. One firm in particular—Chicago Consulting—put out a press release about what shippers should do in preparation. It specifically addressed the infrastructure issue—the infrastructure inside as well as outside one's four walls.

“Can your current infrastructure handle added weight,” these consultants asked. “Do you have enough space? Are material handling, racking, local roads and bridges adequate?”

The inside-the-building angle intrigued me, so I followed up with one of Chicago Consulting's partners, Jeff Haushalter, and asked how this legislation would affect material handlers and their facilities.

Here's what you need to know:

1. Since the trailer cube isn't getting physically bigger (only being modified to hold more weight) you will still not be able to store more than 30 single-stacked GMA pallets in a 53 footer.

2. To achieve the greater trailer weight there will need to be more weight on an average pallet. To achieve this greater weight shippers will either have to go higher on a pallet, remove air from the boxes, or both.

3. Increased trailer loads will result in larger order “chunks” of both inbound and outbound material.

“These considerations involve re-analyzing current material handling practices while evaluating potential re-racking, equipment, palletizing changes, storage and staging space needs,” he concluded.

We'll follow the progress of this legislation as its supporters and detractors debate the implications. Which side do you camp with? Our legislators need expert insights. Now's your chance to weigh in.

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