Another ton makes dollars, not cents

Titan Trailers | Thin-wall aluminum trailers are lighter and are built without a steel frame

A peak behind the upholstery panels of a Cessna 180 will shed some light on how to design a grain trailer capable of carrying an extra ton.

Airplanes, like grain haulers, make more money if they weigh less. An extra 2,000 pounds carrying capacity in a hopper bottom trailer means an extra 30 to 40 bushels per load, depending on what is being hauled. That translates directly into bigger cash flow for the owner.

A drastic reduction in trailer weight is what Mike Kloepfer, owner and chief engineer at Titan Trailers, has accomplished by marrying a modular hopper structure to his double thin-wall aluminum concept.

The result is an aluminum hopper trailer that’s 2,000 lb. lighter than other aluminum trailers, simply because Kloepfer’s double skinned hopper has the strength to replace the conventional frame.

Like an airplane or an F1 car, the skin carries all the mechanical forces. There simply is no steel frame under the unibody vessel.

“My intention never was to design a unibody trailer. I set out to see how much weight I could trim from a grain trailer without compromising strength,” says Kloepfer.

His hopper wall design consists of two layers of thin structural aluminum panels, separated by a honeycomb type spacer. Thickness of the wall is determined by the width of the spacer.

“The thickness varies a lot, depending on what part of the trailer we’re talking about,” he said.

“Different areas have different structural needs. In some areas the wall needs to be 2.5 inches thick. In other areas we only need one inch.”

Kloepfer said the twin layers in combination with 100 percent welding of all seams creates a grain container with tremendous structural integrity.

He said one unexpected side benefit of eliminating the frame is that sidewalls are now six inches lower than those on conventional trailers. The top of the Titan unibody trailer is lower than the roofline of the tractor, providing the operator with better visibility, easier loading and better fuel economy because of less wind drag. It also presents less of a sail in strong prairie side winds.

“Safety enters into this picture, too. In any vehicle, a lower C of G (centre of gravity) lessens your odds of rolling over. That’s why you always want the lowest C of G possible.

“Six inches lower might not sound like it’s significant, but look at it this way. You’re taking six inches of grain from the top of your load and moving that weight down to where it’s six inches below the bottom of your load. Now it’s significant.”

Kloepfer concedes that many people are leery of anything manufactured with welded aluminum. However, he said that if it comes from the right shop, a welded aluminum structure is better than anything held together by rivets or epoxy.

“You see a lot of trailers across North America that are riveted or glued together, but very few welded trailers,” he said.

“That’s because welding aluminum is a real art, and if you can do it, you can create things you can never create with any other technology.

“Here’s why aluminum gets such a bad name. Guys who are excellent steel welders try welding aluminum and they can’t make it work. So everyone blames the aluminum. Aluminum is not the problem here.”

Kloepfer also uses an aluminum fifth wheel assembly and an aluminum landing gear.

Skeptics might say those two components carry so much load and take so much abuse that aluminum should not be used.

“The story on that is we’ve been putting aluminum fifth wheels on garbage trailers for 12 years without a problem. We supply garbage trailers to some of the biggest garbage hauling companies in North America,” he said.

“Our reason was simple. We cut 500 lb. off the weight of a trailer with an aluminum fifth wheel. That’s 500 lb. more garbage the trailer can haul each trip. So we have mastered that technology. What we’re doing now is to apply what we’ve learned to a grain hopper trailer.”

Kloepfer said the new Titan trailer addresses a serious concern that drivers in Ontario and Quebec have always had with long trailers, such as the 53 foot unibody trailer. Many elevators still have a ramp going up to the dump pit. Longer trailers have liftable axles in the middle, but they don’t always lift high enough. A five inch lift is common in the industry. He said it’s always a bad deal when the middle axles hang up on the peak of the ramp.

“Drivers sometimes actually take a run up the ramp to get the trailer to jump over the peak. That can be a pretty dangerous move, especially when the trailer jumps off the fifth wheel.”

Middle axles not only have to lift but also steer. Conventional mid-mounted steering axles have always been limited in their ability to lift, thus preventing them from operating in some conditions.

Titan tackled both the lift and steering issues at the same time by developing what it calls the ParaMax high-lift steering axle suspension. The ParaMax middle axle is rated to 25,000 lb. and can be raised 13.5 inches. The steering angle is 30 degrees.

The system employs a high-travel parallel linkage with the king pin set at 90 degrees to the ground, allowing the suspension to lift higher. This allows the trailer to travel rutted roads and in rough conditions without the tires hanging up on the ground.

The left and right sides are independent of each other so trailer ride is smoother. This puts less stress on the axles and the trailer unibody and the tires last longer.

Kloepfer thinks there’s room for more open-minded thinking in the manufacturing business.

“I see where it (aluminum) can be used where you carry a lot of product and put a lot of weight on the ground. It’s viable in sprayers and those big western Canada air seeders,” he said.

“But I think there’s a general paranoia of aluminum on the part of manufacturers. They have a stigma about aluminum.

“If you go back to before World War Two, Kenworth was using aluminum frames in their trucks. It was an option, but it was available. They had extruded aluminum rails that were the same as extruded steel rails.”

For more information, contact Mike Kloepfer at 519-688-4826 or visit

About the author



Stories from our other publications