For the past year, LCL Bulk Transport Inc has been hauling chocolate in a tank trailer fitted with a vibration system. The test went so well that the Green Bay, Wisconsin-based food hauler ordered 12 more.
Called The Shaker Tank, the patented trailer can unload chocolate in a fraction of the time required for a typical tanker in that service. In addition, there is less product heel, and the tank is easier to clean. Customer and driver reaction have been very positive.
“This is a revolutionary trailer for chocolate hauling,” says Hans Schaupp, president of LCL Bulk Transport. “We're changing the market through innovation, and The Shaker Tank certainly is part of that effort. We're using technology to improve our processes, boost customer service, and build the best driver force available.
“The vibration system cuts unloading time to two hours or less, a significant improvement over the unloading process for the tanks that are typically used for chocolate. We've seen a big reduction in heels with the test trailer, and the next-generation Shaker Tank should have no heel at all. It's not uncommon to see heels in excess of 100 gallons with traditional chocolate trailers.
“While customers get a more complete delivery, The Shaker Tank also will help with driver recruiting and retention. Traditional chocolate hauling was hard physical labor, and drivers needed to be very well trained. It would take two to four hours to hand unload each shipment.
“The vibration system in The Shaker Tank eliminates the need for the driver to scrape out the chocolate by hand. The trailer's closed-loop unloading system also means drivers don't have to go up on top to open the domelids.”
Schaupp worked with the engineering team at Brenner Tank Inc to develop the tank system. “I saw the way vibrators were used to speed unloading on railcars transporting sugar,” he says. “I couldn't help wondering why we couldn't do that for chocolate.”
For the Brenner engineers, the biggest concern was that a series of vibrators would create cracks in the tank, but they decided to pursue the project anyway. The engineers spent about two years working on the project, and they figured out how to make the vibration system work without jeopardizing cargo tank integrity.
Under the agreement between the carrier and the tank builder, Brenner will build foodgrade versions of The Shaker Tank exclusively for LCL Bulk Transport. Brenner can build chemical versions of the trailer for other customers.
“While we currently have 12 Shaker Tanks on order, we'll add more in the future in response to customer demand,” Schaupp says. “At the same time, we believe there still will be a need for the three-holer tanks that have been used for hauling chocolate for so many years. The three holers will still have a place in certain traffic lanes.”
Three-holer chocolate tankers account for most of the 160 trailers in the LCL Bulk Transport fleet. The carrier also runs 100 tractors.
Along with Brenner, tank builders supplying the LCL Bulk Transport fleet include Walker Stainless Equipment Co and Polar Tank Trailer LLC. The new Shaker Tank has a 6800-gallon capacity, and the various three-holers in the fleet hold anywhere from 6500 to 6800 gallons. All of the tanks are built to sanitary standards and are insulated. Hardware includes Fort Vale domelids, Girard vents, three-inch outlets, and Waukesha foodgrade pumps.
LCL Bulk Transport has standardized on Mack tractors. The most recent additions have been the Mack Vision with a 70-inch mid-rise sleeper. Specifications include Mack 460-horsepower engines, 13-speed transmissions, and tandem-drive axles; Holland fifthwheel; and Michelin tires. Gardner Denver's tractor-mounted Hydrapak system is used to power the pumps on the trailers.
The fleet makes LCL Bulk Transport one of the largest — if not the largest — of the foodgrade tank truck carriers serving the chocolate market. The carrier has been a chocolate hauler since the 1970s, but that wasn't its first cargo.
The family-owned company started in 1926 primarily hauling refrigerated and dry freight cargoes. Tanks were added in the 1970s. The Schaupp family felt that the opportunities were better for tanker operations after the trucking industry was deregulated in 1980. They shut down the refrigerated and dry freight business in 1989.
LCL Bulk Transport launched its move into foodgrade tanker operations by purchasing 57 transports from a Midwest carrier that was hauling sugar and chocolate in the Chicago, Illinois area. In the 1990s, the carrier exited the sweetener business to concentrate on its steadily growing chocolate operation.
Today, the carrier serves a majority of the chocolate manufacturers in the United States. The fleet hauls a wide range of chocolate and chocolate-based products, including cocoa butter, chocolate liquor, sweetened and unsweetened chocolate, dark chocolate, and milk chocolate.
Chocolate is part of the edible oil family, and the carrier has targeted palm and other vegetable oils for backhauls. “We haul edible oils for food processors,” Schaupp says.
LCL Bulk Transport provides service throughout the United States and the Canadian provinces of Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec. Interline service is available for customers in Mexico. LCL Bulk Transport's drivers generally are out no more than seven days at a time, although some do request longer runs.
Operations are conducted from terminals in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, and Elkhorn, Wisconsin. Technology plays an important role in the process of managing fleet activities. The carrier runs management software from Innovative Computing, and tractors are equipped with Qualcomm's satellite tracking and communication system.
Security is stressed throughout the operation, and it starts at the terminals. For instance, the Elizabethtown terminal is fully fenced, and access is through locked gates.
LCL Bulk Transport employees and customers follow an elaborate security seal procedure to ensure the integrity of each chocolate or edible oil shipment. Shippers seal key trailer points (domelids, pump cabinet, and hoses) after loading.
Once the shipment is delivered, and the tank is cleaned, wash rack personnel seal the same key points with seals of a specific color. Drivers reseal the trailer with a different color seal during the pretrip process. If any seal is found to be missing during the pretrip, the trailer is recleaned.
“We do everything we can to safeguard our trailers and protect the cargoes they haul,” Schaupp says. “I believe that eventually we will use digital electronic seals for shipment security. We just aren't to that point yet.”
Tank cleaning also is a rigorous process at LCL Bulk Transport. “A good cleaning system is essential in this business,” Schaupp says. “We want to do as much in-house as possible both for cost and quality reasons.”
He explains that chocolate is a sensitive product to clean out of a tank trailer. For instance, too much steam can burn the chocolate and stain the tank. While the stains can be buffed out, it's time-consuming and expensive.
Plenty of trial and error went into the cleaning system and procedures that the carrier selected for its terminals in Elizabethtown and Elkhorn. The wash system consists of a Darlington Dairy stainless steel cleaning unit, Sellers spinners, a boiler, and foodgrade detergent.
Cleaning starts with a 190°F pre-rinse that lasts an hour to an hour and a half. During that process, a wash worker will use a pressure washer to remove any chocolate residue in the tank. It can be a labor-intensive effort. Chocolate also is scrubbed off the manway and tank exterior.
A wash cycle follows for 35 minutes with foodgrade detergent at 187°F. Next comes a sanitizer cycle for 35 minutes with 187°F water, and the process finishes with a 15-minute drying cycle.
Disposal of chocolate heels has always been an issue, but the carrier is developing new strategies to address that challenge. When a trailer arrives at the wash rack for cleaning, it can contain more than 100 gallons of the thick brown confection. Typically, chocolate heels are sent to local farmers for use in animal feed.
However, managers at LCL Bulk Transport are looking at more effective disposal methods. “We'd like to turn our chocolate heels into an energy source as we're already doing with our vegetable oil heels,” Schaupp says. “We're using the oil heels as fuel in boilers at our terminals. We get five to 10 gallons of vegetable oil heel out of a trailer. We use natural gas as a backup fuel for the heaters.”
Turning back to chocolate, the carrier wants a system that would make it possible to turn the product into a biomass. “We believe we could use waste chocolate in a digester application to generate both heat and electricity,” Schaupp says. “We're not that far from achieving this objective.”
This willingness to think out of the box has enabled LCL Bulk Transport's managers to see the chocolate hauling business in a different light. “We believe we're changing the market through innovation, Schaupp says. “We're using technology to improve our processes so we can deliver the best possible transportation service to our customers.”