In addition to PRISMA, Wabash used Structural Composites’ CoCure strain tunable coating technology for the trailer’s interior and exterior wall, roof surfaces and interior floor. The technology allows polyester resins and coatings to be combined with polyurethanes on the factory floor. The strain tuning aspect refers to the ability to change the urethane blend ratio, thereby altering the resin properties – in particular, the strain to failure.

Wabash and Structural Composites also developed a method that allows direct lamination of metals. The CoCure Hybrid Metal technology improved performance, reduced cost and was rapidly advanced from the lab to deployment on road-qualified trailers, according to Lewit.

Lane adds that Wabash experimented with vacuum infusion and RTM for the composite parts. The floors of the trailer were open molded, and the walls were closed molded. Lane says that in the long term though, the company is leaning toward making more of the trailer’s big parts through closed molding because it will be more environmentally friendly and lead to better part consistency and output.

By incorporating molded structural composites instead of aluminum, Wabash improved the trailer’s overall thermal performance by up to 25 percent. The trailer’s floor is also up to 20 percent lighter than it would be with steel, and the system is far more puncture- and damage-resistant than conventional constructions. In addition, the company indicates that using molded structural composites for the floor system means the trailer can handle more weight – up to 24,000 pounds – compared to conventional refrigerated vans that are rated for up to 16,000 pounds.

For Wabash, all of those advantages translate to a financially-viable solution. Lane says that one of the biggest barriers to the integration of composites in the trailer industry has been cost. Many resins are cost-effective but suffer from poor mechanical properties. Structural Composites’ PRISMA and CoCure technologies give Wabash scalable technology that provides great performance at an affordable price.

The properties of the trailer, in turn, mean increased savings for Wabash’s customers. “When we talk about improving the thermal performance of a refrigerated trailer, that means real dollars to the customer because they’ll use less fuel if it’s more thermally efficient,” says Lane.

He adds that customers are also attracted to the possibility of hauling less weight down the road, which also leads to greater fuel efficiency. Lane explains that the federal highway system in the U.S. mandates the weight of a trailer, tractor and payload cannot exceed 80,000 pounds. “So if they’re already hitting that 80,000-pound limit and we give them 20 percent lighter weight in the trailer, then they can put more freight in the trailer,” Lane explains.