Five Ways That Great Dane Is Future-Proofing Its R&D

Meeting the demands of tomorrow means knowing—not just thinking—that your equipment is up to the challenge. Great Dane’s commitment to the research and development of cutting-edge products isn’t simply a bullet point on a press release. You can see it in action at the Engineering Technology Center (ETC) at the Great Dane campus in Savannah, Georgia. The ETC dwarfs Great Dane’s previous R&D facility (it’s 150 percent bigger) and features industry-leading testing facilities.

The R&D results are infused in the trailers, chassis, and truck bodies that roll off the production line and into your lineup. But ETT wanted to see more, to pull back the R&D curtain for a behind-the-scenes peek at how Great Dane puts trailers through its R&D paces to churn out expectation-crushing equipment.

Here’s what we saw.

The ‘FleetPulse Test Bench’

Tucked inside a bay in the lab is a bogie without wheels, with wires, cables, and airlines sprouting from all corners and crevices. “This was the original test bench for FleetPulse kits,” said Jay Nelson, Great Dane’s testing manager, who served as our guide through the ETC. Nelson. 

“Establishing kitting here was necessary to implement a process at the plants. Not only was the component function checked, but purchasing and packaging were also fine-tuned during this time at the R&D Lab”.   

This kitting operation has moved to each of the plants now. This test bench is still in operation to test new sensor technologies and functionality improvements in Fleet Pulse.

The ‘Clean Room’

This high-tech test room houses test machines that run small material tests. Think: quality control (QC) and physical property tests on Everest reefer foam insulation, composite trailer panels, composite reefer liners, aluminum and steel, fasteners, paints and coatings, and adhesives.

“It’s the room where proof-of-concept bench testing starts. With success at the bench test level, we can scale up these new concepts to trailer-sized portions and build those into the next test trailer,” said Nelson.

When not bench testing new structural concepts, QC testing is run continuously on composite panels, fasteners, and coatings. “We have recently added a Leco digital camera to improve weld QC productivity.”

The Corrosion Test Cell

Trailers roll through the world’s toughest environments—roads coated with de-icing chemicals that cling to undercarriages and threaten to eat through them. This test cell is home to Great Dane’s ASTM B-117 Salt Fog corrosion chamber and its Ascott Cyclical test chamber.

“The ASTM B-117 test has been around for over 60 years and was the first original type of corrosion testing used for product development and QC work,” said Nelson. “B-117 has been surpassed in precision with the new cyclical tests, which more closely replicate real-world conditions by providing both a wet spray segment and several drying segments. Nonetheless, B-117 and cyclical testing have their place with QC and product development, and both are run daily.”

The cyclical chamber can be tuned to test to various specifications. Currently, Great Dane is using it to simulate Detroit conditions—eight days in the Ascott Cyclical chamber is equivalent to one year in Detroit. 

Practically every component of Great Dane trailers has been through this chamber, from J560 electrical boxes on the nose to the paint system on the rear frames and almost everything in between (wheels included).

The Thermal Test Bay

Behind a set of massive doors lies the Thermal Test Bay—a gigantic room that allows Great Dane to apply a thermal load to its trailers. What’s a thermal load? Great question. Here’s Nelson with the answer:

“A thermal load is simply heating the inside of the trailer and cooling the exterior using the Test Bay’s 10-ton chiller unit. We measure the electrical power input required to hold the inside at 114°F while holding the Test Bay at 58°F. The electrical power input for steady-state is proportional to the Overall Conductance of the trailer.”

The “Overall Conductance” is measured in UA, which removes the trailer’s cooling unit from the testing and relies on clean, simple electrical energy to render a result. Great Dane’s team of engineers also measures the air loss of the trailer by applying a small pressure to the inside of the trailer (1/54th of a psi) and measuring the airflow to maintain that pressure.

“This new Thermal Test Bay is efficient and easily provides repeatable results. Approximately every eight years, we must transition to the next generation of trailer foam, as required by environmental regulatory changes for Global Warming Potential, Ozone Depletion and Green House Gases. The thermal bay is used for testing design changes in Everest trailers and Alpine Truck bodies when it’s not testing new foam,” Nelson said as we continued our tour of the ETC.

The Road Simulator

Standing in front of the massive 2.3-million-pound reaction mass that powers Great Dane’s road simulator, Nelson explains that this road simulator is more than a million pounds heavier and accommodates trailers that are more than 10 feet longer than the first road simulator Great Dane built in 1979.

“Its proprietary test methods allow our engineers to design stronger, more durable, lighter-weight trailers faster,” Nelson said, looking at the monstrous workhorse. “Before the road simulator, testing required a test track where thousands of miles would take months of driving on a test track—now it takes weeks, is repeatable, and is fine-able.”

The new road simulator is designed to test trailers up to 28 to 60 feet long, as well as three-axle busses and shorter truck bodies and platforms. A mere 75 hours in the simulator is equivalent to a trailer, chassis, and truck body’s lifecycle.

The Long Combination Test Bay

On the surface, the Long Combination Test Bay looks like a typical shop bay, but look closer, and you’ll notice the 78-foot-long, 30-inch steel I-beam cast into the concrete floor that allows Great Dane to anchor the trailer when pulling and pushing on it. “This bay is used for testing trailers with pintle hooks, rear impact guards, converter dollies, and trailer brake fatigue testing,” Nelson said as we walked the length of the room.

Only the Beginning

As our tour of the ETC ended, it was clear that the facility marked a new era in Great Dane R&D. Today’s trailers work harder and more efficiently than ever, and Great Dane knows that expectations will only go up. We shake hands with Nelson and thank him for the tour. As we watch him walk back into the ETC, our minds spin with the equipment possibilities being developed behind those doors, but we know we won’t have to wait long to see them on the road.