THE Greenlaw family's inspiration has been 10 years in the making.
Bob Greenlaw was involved in industrial commercial warehouse construction and became familiar with the food industry. He noted that a lot of effort was being expended in attempting to make the warehouse more efficient, but very little in making deliveries more efficient. Trucks were largely the same as they had been for 40 years. The delivery drivers' routine was slow, tedious — even dangerous — as they climbed in and out of their truck while making multiple stops in the city.
On a 1994 family vacation — in the car on the way to Tennessee — he thought out loud: “If you could design a truck that could load through the rear and unload from the side, you'd have something the industry could use.”
Shortly after they got back, he set out designing a truck. It became a family project in the years to come. Bob saw the project nearly to its completion, passing away from cancer in March 2004 — three months before the final prototype was finished.
His son, Robert, believes he has the truck his father envisioned: Omni Delivery Systems' multi-level, side-access, center-wall delivery vehicle with three temperature zones that are set with movable bulkheads. Now that the prototype — done by Drager's Industries Inc in Pearland, Texas — has been rolled out, Greenlaw is interested in licensing the patented elevator system to manufacturers of truck bodies and trailers, or marketing the truck to end users in the distribution industry.
“The best market would be one where they'd like to improve cube utilization, safety, ergonomics, and productivity,” he says. “More beverage companies are refrigerating their goods, so this would give them a way to do that from the refrigerated warehouse. Some food companies have used refrigerated versions of the beverage truck, but they are very challenging because they have to drive those goods out in the parking lot to load them in the side. It's either freezing in the winter or your ice cream's melting in the summer.”
Specs on the 28' straight truck include: Sterling Acterra straight truck chassis, 46,000-lb GVWR (12,000 lb front axle, 34,000 lb rear tandem); 22,000-lb payload capacity; 600-cube floor capacity (10 pallets at 60 cube each) and 600-cube reserve capacity (10 pallets at 60 cube each) for a total capacity of 1200 cube; 102" width and 13'6" height; 19.5" Accuride wheels with Michelin XZA 265/70R 19.5 14-ply tires; and Thermo King MD-II dual evaporator reefer (freezer/cooler).
The Omni truck body can be mounted to other truck chassis, made to different lengths, and constructed as a trailer instead of a truck.
Greenlaw says three primary benefits all lead to a bottom line of increased net profits:
He says there will be fewer injuries, with lower worker compensation and less driver “down time”; and better driver longevity, with less turnover and lower hiring/training costs.
A driver won't have to enter the truck or trailer, there will be no bending over to lift cases, and less strain and fewer back injuries.
“The definition out of the Grainger catalog says that ergonomics is ‘the science of adapting workstations, tools, equipment, and job techniques to be compatible with human bodies. Ergonomics fits the job to the worker rather than fitting the worker to the job,’ ” Greenlaw says. “Right now, to unload a conventional van, the driver is literally a slave to the truck, whereas our truck is designed around the human body.
“From an ergonomic standpoint, we wanted to build a trailer you could still load at a warehouse — through the rear, at dock height — but when the driver gets to Wendy's or McDonald's or 7-Eleven, he could access the cargo from the sides of the truck at a much lower level. And not just access one or two places on the side, but anywhere. Right now, companies put the frozen section up front and have only one door for the driver to climb in, gather the cases, and push them toward the door. Then the driver has to climb around the cases, hop out to the ground, and then he's ready to load a two-wheel dolly and go inside.
“We wanted to keep the driver out of the truck so his work is safer and faster.”
He says there is a side rail so the driver can easily access the first few cases off the pallet by stepping up on it. Also, the doors come past the floor so that when the driver is standing by the side of the van, he's actually standing in the doorway — and not outside, leaning in.
He says there will be faster delivery times, with more stops per route and less inconvenience for the store; and delivery cost savings in the form of customer incentives and greater market share.
There is total access to the cargo through multiple side doors, cases are unloaded while standing on the ground, and there is instant access to any temperature zone.
“With the continuous side doors, the driver doesn't have to work from the rear,” he says. “He can access the frozen, the cooler, and the dry goods, if you're doing multiple-temperature stops.”
Greenlaw was able to build continuous doors on the side because a center wall provides the structural support.
“It's like a backbone,” he says, “so you can make the floor as thin as possible and the sidewalls don't carry the main loads.”
The floor is 15" lower than in a typical reefer, so Greenlaw uses hydraulics or air bags that provide a gradual incline over the length of the truck body when the rear is raised for dock loading.
He says with higher capacity trucks, a company can reduce its fleet, which will require less vehicle maintenance and insurance; and fewer drivers will mean a reduced payroll and a lower insurance risk.
“The logic went like this: If you could deliver more in a day's time, and do it safer and faster, how could you carry more on your truck without making it longer and more difficult to drive?” he says. “We observed that in most trucks, the pallet is only 5' or 6' tall. After that, it starts to crush cases of goods that are on the bottom of the pallet. We saw that most vans, having an inside height of 9' to 10', have a lot of unused space. So we designed pallet lifts. You can roll a pallet and drop it on any one of the pallet lifts. They run with hydraulics, and with one punch of a button, the pallets are raised up. A second pallet goes underneath the first.”
He says the design relies on the integrity of the pallet. Future models will include a thin-gauge metal sheet, so that if a pallet were to collapse, there wouldn't be “sudden failure.”
Each elevator is powered by two hydraulic pumps, so that if one system fails, the other system holds and powers the lift. Chains operate the elevators, and each cylinder also has a safety fuse so that if fluid escape exceeds a prescribed amount, it shuts off. Mechanical locks hold the elevators in the raised position as an additional safety feature.
He says improvements to the prototype will include: reducing the vertical height to 13' (or never higher than 13'6"); shortening the truck length by using 48" pallets instead of allowing 60" in each bay; shortening the rear overhang to avoid “high-centering”; building a “drop frame” trailer that is standard height over the fifth wheel and lower over 17" wheels; using insulated metal panels on the walls and roof instead of FRP; installing a roll-up door in the rear that coils on itself; improving the side doors and seals; and using air/hydraulic lift kit made by PowerGear to raise the truck.
Future improvements in the interior/mechanical design include: installing an aluminum floor; removing the center wall and elevators in the rear-most bay for easier dock-leveling and pallet entry; mounting all hydraulic pipe and controls outside the truck; using a battery-powered remote control to operate pallet elevators; installing a dual-evaporator reefer unit; and removing diagonal braces to allow for standard bulkheads.