The genius physicist Albert Einstein once said, “If you can't explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.” This philosophy acts as a backbone of Pauline Dawes’ idea to truly revolutionise the trucking industry. It is very simple: By using the empty space between the wheels on trailers, the sector can cut down on the amount of journeys being made, saving money, fuel and carbon in the process.
It was while working as a director in the logistics sector, and doing an MBA at Manchester Business School, that Dawes was struck by the idea for SOMI Trailers.
“I was driving down to one of our sites on the M6. It was the usual car park of traffic so I had time to think and I remember looking to the side and could see underneath the trailer of the truck next to me. I said to myself, ‘Why aren’t we using that space?’ My life changed completely after that,” she says.
That moment came ten years ago – “it took ten seconds to think of it and ten years of engineering to get it right” – and now SOMI Trailers is off and running, currently trialling its technology with a number of corporates and on the lookout for licensing partners to scale-up the use of the trailers across the world.
About a third of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions created in the US comes from its transport sector. Globally, around 14 percent of GHGs are attributable to transport, with emissions primarily coming from the burning of fossil fuels to power engines.
But it is trucks and large vans that generate most (83 percent in the US) transport-related pollution.
The key to the SOMI offering (SOMI standing for ‘same outside more inside’) is the unique use of the extra space between the wheels, engineered to make use of every crucial millimetre of space available. In a nutshell, the trailers are able to carry eight extra UK-sized pallets at 1.65 metres high — that’s 34 in total, rather than the usual 26. Making use of the space under the trailer, and accessed via the rear doors, the SOMIs are double-deckers but only four metres high. They can be used as a conventional flat trailer, loaded with or without a forklift, and also be multi-temperature, depending on which company is using them and why.
“It is not just about inventing something. It’s about inventing something that can be replicated easily, and easily manufactured,” she adds, reflecting on ten challenging years in bringing SOMI Trailers to life.
So, what are the real benefits of using what Dawes and her team (including both of her sons at various points in the company’s history) have created? Well, she claims that using her trailers will save the cost of one in four trips, increasing capacity at peak times and giving the sort of flexibility in use that no other trailer can. For companies currently paying around £5 to move each pallet of goods, the savings possible sit at about £100,000 a year.
“Somebody once said to me, ‘This is like when we realised you could put a car on top of a truck roof; nobody’s going to go back to carrying 26 palettes when they can carry 34’.”
Officially launched late last year, the company has spent time trialling the trailers with a range of big companies, including Nestlé and Marks & Spencer. The next step is to convert these trialists into large-scale users across Europe and the US.
“Lots of big companies see us, and they say, ‘show me how it works again’ because they almost can’t believe it,” Dawes says. Financing remains a challenge (“especially for women”) and finding the right people to build the trailers in different parts of the world under license will be crucial. “For the States, Asia and Europe, the height limit for trucks is 4 meters or 4.1 meters. And that’s where our trailer comes in. It’s not a replacement for these huge trucks you see in the UK, it’s a replacement for the average trucking trailer you see all around the world.”
Next up is a potential partnership with Senergy, which could see solar panels integrated into trailers to help power the mechanisms within, plus designs for a shorter, 11-metre trailer for quicker deliveries, which carries the same amount as a normal trailer does.
“It has been a lot of work and I’ve cried myself to sleep sometimes, wondering if I was wasting my time and my money. But you’ve just got to keep going.”