Sizing Up Your Shipments

Sept. 17, 2007
Indications are the truck size and weight issue is about to emerge from its long hibernation. The issue did not go willingly to rest. A mutual agreement

Indications are the truck size and weight issue is about to emerge from its long hibernation. The issue did not go willingly to rest. A mutual agreement of the Association of American Railroads (AAR) and American Trucking Associations (ATA) set aside motor vehicle size and weight a number of years ago to allow the two to join in support of new transportation legislation.

With the contentious issue on the sidelines and a freeze on longer combination vehicles (LCVs) imposed by the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA), much of the discussion has focused on infrastructure needs. But with rising fuel costs, acute driver shortages, and changes in hours of service rules, motor carriers are again looking at ways to improve the efficiency of their fleets.

“If the industry doesn’t become more productive, if we can’t substantially reduce our empty miles or wait times at loading docks, and if we don’t have more rational size-and-weight regulations, the number of trucks on the road and the number of miles trucks drive will double in the next two decades,” said Bill Graves, president and CEO of the ATA. “Congestion that we experience today will pale in comparison to what we will have 25 years from now.”

Hardly an opening salvo for a pitched battle with the railroads, Graves' remarks in September 2006 linked the size-and-weight issue to other efficiency improvements the motor carrier segment deems necessary. It’s clear the issue is back on the table. Tony Furst, director of the Office of Freight Management and Operations for the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) commented at an industry event in August 2007 hosted by the Northeast Ohio Trade and Economic Consortium (NEOTEC) that size and weight will have to be addressed.

While the delicate maneuvering continues in preparation for hardcore negotiations on new regulations, there are steps shippers can take to improve the efficiency of the network as it operates today. Addressing some of Graves’ concerns, better planning and scheduling can help reduce wait times at docks loading and unloading shipments. Meanwhile, carriers are hard at work balancing lanes to reduce empty miles. The other improvement shippers can facilitate is in load optimization.

A number of tools exist to help shippers and fleet operators improve density in their trailers. Load planning software for trailers and rail cars may be part of larger information technology (IT) suites already operating at many facilities (or may be added for a nominal fee). Then there are smaller, stand-alone systems and Web-based applications for load planning—down to pallet configuration.

If you are planning truckload shipments, axle load calculations and US Bridge Formula calculations are important. Safety and regulatory compliance both come into play. One such system, Load Xpert’s Axle Load Calculation Software handles the calculations for weight distribution, center-of-gravity, and the US Bridge Formula along with Canadian and international rules. It’s companion Load Planning Software can help optimize truckload and railcar shipments of paper rolls, pallets and skids. (

The concept of three-dimensional load building is not new, admits Optimum Logitics LLC., but there are a variety of complex business rules and constraints that must be accounted for in transportation. Its Web-based LoadPlanner and ShipmentPlanner can be linked to enterprise planning systems as well as transportation management and warehouse management systems using XML messages. Using high-level business rules and constraints, it classifies objects as items, orders, containers, etc. to do multi-tier load planning. (

Multi-stop loading is possible with CargoWiz, says developer Softruck. It includes rules like “taboo on top” to avoid loading a heavy item on top of other products. A 3D step-by-step load layout helps order shipments in multi-stop runs. (

TransPack Software Systems’ TransLoad does load planning with map-based load consolidation and role-based security. It also performs floor-loading calculations for non-palletized loads. (

The Cube-IQ database accesses user-defined containers and boxes to build loads. Loading and stacking rules can be defined for each orientation of a box. MagicLogic Optimization Inc. says the system can load in reverse (drop) sequence and can load around unusable spaces in a trailer or container. (

Advanced Logistics Systems Inc. claims its Web-based system not only plans truck, aircraft, and sea container loads, it will build mixed pallets and features computerized carton selection. (www.

TOPS Pro software optimizes case size and pallet pattern, calculates compression/stacking strength and, with MixPro, can build mixed pallets. Its companion Maxload Pro handles load planning and optimization. (

Cargomanager helps with loading a trailer, container, pallet, or “any other rectangular-based enclosure,” says Gower Optimal Algorithms Ltd. For cost-effective packaging, it offers palletmanager. (

Keeping it Legal

Commercial vehicle size and weight regulations come in many sizes, from federal requirements down to state rules. The national weight standards apply to commercial vehicle operations on the Interstate Highway System. Off the Interstates, states can set their own commercial vehicle weight standards.

The federal standard sets a limit of 20,000 pounds on a single axle or 34,000 pounds on a tandem axle vehicle. Gross vehicle weight is limited to 80,000 pounds. A separate bridge formula was established in 1975 to reduce the risk of damage to highway bridges. It requires more axles or a longer wheelbase to compensate for increased vehicle weight (depending on the number and spacing of axles in a combination vehicle).

There is no federal limit for overall vehicle length on the National Network (which includes the Interstate Highway System and highways certified to the Federal Highway Administration by the states). On trailer length, federal law says no state may impose a length limitation of less than 48 feet (longer for grandfathered rights) on a semitrailer operating in a tractor-trailer combination on the National Network. It also says no state may impose a length limitation of less than 28 feet on a semitrailer or trailer operating in a truck tractor-semitrailer-trailer combination (twin trailer) on the National Network.

States can lose their entire National Highway System apportionment if laws or regulations establish weight limits for commercial vehicles operating on the Interstate Highway System that are higher or lower than the federal weight standards.

Size standards are enforceable through civil action.

For more information on federal size and weight regulations, see weight.htm

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