Transportation & Logistics
Tuesday | 24 March, 2015 | 8:42 am

Safe passage

Written by By Corinna Petry

Metal haulers implement new tools to make the job less dangerous

March 2015 - Driver safety training and new safety technologies go hand in hand for metals shippers and for tractor-truck drivers themselves. Training prepares drivers for work that is demanding physically and mentally. Technologies offer better communications links along with automated, integrated sensing and response. 

We’ve studied the roadmap to outline the strategies used to secure the load, the truck and trailer and prevent mishaps, as well as equipment and technologies helping to make metals hauling safer for the driver and everyone else.

James Burg Trucking, Warren, Michigan, has been hauling for metal shippers for 30 years now. President James Burg and the other carriers emphasize that loading a flatbed with material that, in many cases, weighs more than the truck and trailer combined, requires a learning curve.

MM-0315-transport-image1Anyone can train a person to drive, says Burg, “but we have to show him where to place a 45,000-pound coil, and how to prevent damage to the coil in transit. Strapping it to a 30,000-pound truck and trailer—there is more on the deck than the truck weighs.”

Jerry Hack, chief operating officer for Dearborn Steel Service, a Dearborn, Michigan-based carrier with 125 rigs, agrees, saying it simply isn’t the same as loading a van, where all you have to know is how to open and close the doors. 

“In metals, we have flatbeds with eight axles under the trailer. The driver must secure the cargo and that is no small task. He has to get up on the trailer, throw chains and straps, rubber mats, wedges, paper shrouds, etc. It’s physically demanding and it’s dirty.”

Dearborn Steel Service typically only recruits drivers with at least two years’ experience, verifies that experience, then puts them through an interview process and “on-the-road demonstrations to ensure they are qualified,” Hack says.

Carriers estimate it takes two to six months for a driver to become truly expert at securing and driving metal cargoes. They have to learn the different grades of chain. “The braid of chain determines braking strength. How many chains do you need to use to secure a 40,000-pound coil? Straps also have a working load limit and braking strength limit,” Hack says. Drivers have to be educated on federal DOT regulations and the metal coil-specific standards of certain states. “There are components of regulations that talk about metal, and forward-to-rear movement.” 

Depending on the size and shape of the material, the practical application can vary, adds Hack. “You have to protect the integrity of the product. For coil that will be blanked for exposed automotive applications, you have to be careful not to damage the surface. The driver has to know the points of protection at each placement of a chain or strap.” 

With metal products, “there is a lot of touching involved. Our drivers learn the ins and outs of loading, how to properly tarp, chain and secure the load so it doesn’t shift in transit,” says Brian Thigpen, director of Scarlet & Gray, a Dayton, Ohio-based carrier.

“When you have multiple products to load, it’s sometimes difficult to secure it as you would a homogenous load,” says Joe Ulrich, vice president of sales for Ruan Transportation, Des Moines, Iowa. “Drivers need to know how to strap down a coil, a bundle, a beam. It is harder to maintain a good standing under the driver record program managed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration if your loads aren’t safely secured.”

Ryder Dedicated, Miami, which manages transportation and logistics operations for metal distributors, also places “a tremendous focus on safety,” says Vice President Steve Martin. “We created a Flatbed Safety Council. Drivers and management across accounts meet to identify best practices and potential risks that need to be understood.” 

On an individual account basis, “what works well is to go to the job site and be on the ground observing the operation, then work with that team.” 

Ryder performs a safety audit and creates a risk assessment profile for every client based on shipping locations, where deliveries are made, and what type of road and load restrictions are in place throughout the customer’s shipping radius. “We fold that into our operating route guide and we will institute that as part of the driver handbook.”


Digital driving

Satellites, video cameras, sensors, electronic logs, data collection and analysis, and vehicle performance diagnostics are just some of the tools available to truck operators. What’s more, new technology is emerging all the time, making driving safer and smarter. 

James Burg Trucking has been using GPS since 2003. “We know where our trucks are within the last 10 minutes,” according to the company owner. 

McNeilus Steel Inc., Dodge Center, Minnesota, just installed Rand McNally’s TND 760 devices across its private fleet. “We used to have another [GPS] provider but our drivers complained that it didn’t have turn-by-turn satellite directions,” McNeilus Transportation Manager Mark Johnson says. Rand McNally combined electronic log with GPS mapping and directions. “Drivers really enjoy it.”

The device looks like a tablet with an 8-inch screen. Mounted on the dash or on a movable arm, there are only a few buttons to touch so distraction is kept to a minimum. The TND 760 system cost McNeilus $700 per vehicle and was so easy to hook up “that our mechanic did several of them while trucks were fueling.”

Event recording is a tool that serves multiple purposes. A dashboard camera records the road ahead and, in many cases, also records the driver. “Dashcams” continually shoot video but records up to 12 seconds bracketing an incident.

McNeilus Steel plans to look into that technology in the future. “You can use it as a training tool—not as a disciplinary thing but what can we learn from this near miss?” says Johnson.

“We have employed video event recorders since 2007,” Burg says. “It gives us a solid defense when someone else does something wrong. Even the sudden movement of the vehicle in any direction triggers the recorder and saves video” for several seconds before and several seconds after.  

“Let’s say traffic is backing up and the driver was looking in the mirror but needed to have eyes up front. He then looks ahead and does a hard stop. We show the driver the video, ‘Here’s what you did wrong.’” Dashcam backs up company claims when facing legal questions and trains drivers. “And the drivers actually like it because it’s to their benefit,” Burg says. 

As of 2014, lane departure sensors became standard on newly built tractors, says Ulrich at Ruan Transportation. The sensors detect whether the truck is in the lane and, if not, the brake is automatically applied.

Steve Tam, vice president-commercial vehicle sector for ACT Research in Columbus, Indiana, a market analysis and forecasting firm, agrees that many safety tools have been readily adopted.

“The thing everyone is enamored with now is [programming] to monitor trucks’ operating performance: maintenance reminders, breakdowns, service requests,” he says. All the truck manufacturers have developed proprietary systems that allow drivers to communicate with the truck. “Some are looking at predictive metrics, indicating the driver should pull into a mechanic now to fix this today or take it in for service next week.” Trucks will also be able to communicate with the service facility to make sure the mechanic has the needed parts in stock. “That maximizes uptime, keeping the equipment and the driver productive and generating revenue.”


Tam also cites collision avoidance systems and connected vehicles as concepts gaining traction. “Volvo is leading the way. Volvo’s corporate goal is zero preventable deaths.”

According to Burg, “we’ve had lane departure technology since 2007, and collision mitigation has been available for four years. That’s where the brakes automatically apply to prevent or mitigate a collision. It’s emerging still. To get the most advanced systems, you must have all the other related technologies, like electronic stability control. What that does is when the driver moves suddenly, it applies the brakes to assist the movement to another lane.”

Burg spoke recently with a technician for a proving grounds, where new vehicles are tested and validated. “He said he spent the last six months trying—and failing—to crash a car driven at 80 and 90 miles per hour,” because it featured all the latest safety systems.”

Though these systems are highly attractive, it might be another entire generation before virtually every metal-hauling vehicle on the highways and byways is equipped with all these tools. “My 1994 Kenilworth is still on the road. I will employ the technologies as soon as I buy new trucks,” says Burg.

Tam and others agree. Well-maintained tractor trucks can readily last 20 years and beyond. “Of the total population of Class 8 trucks on the road today, their average age is 9.8 years,” Tam says.

Others see the growth of manufacturing and commerce generally will compel fleet expansion and the purchase of the newest trucks and their built-in technologies. 

“We are going through an aggressive growth phase: adding new equipment, adding drivers and new lanes to meet demands of the rebirth of manufacturing in America,” says Scarlet & Gray’s Thigpen. “So we are becoming more efficient and modern in our methods.”

In the end, Burg believes the use of such technologies will pay for themselves because they will help “make your average driver as good as your best driver. That is the same for any automatic shifting system for fuel economy. You will increase the performance of the truck even under your worst driver.” 

Over at Ryder Dedicated, Martin sees the technologies as improving the route-running life for drivers, which will make metals hauling more attractive to qualified candidates. MM



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