September 30, 2021

On Deck: Common Types of Flatbed Freight

Flatbed freight comes in all different shapes and sizes, but what's the most common type of cargo being hauled on open-deck trailers? The short answer: large loads of in-demand commodities.

When shippers need to move bulkier, sturdier freight, flatbed trailers have a distinct advantage over their dry van cousins. For one, a trailer without a roof or walls makes for simpler loading and unloading. Freight can be stacked, situated and secured from multiple angles with the help of machinery. Vehicles and heavy wheeled equipment can also be loaded onto flatbed and step-deck trailers using ramps.

While they may seem primitive, flatbed trailers offer amazing versatility in the freight shipping world. If it's not too heavy, too wide or too tall, it can probably be loaded onto a flatbed trailer and transported. Certain open-deck trailers can also haul an oversize or wide load with special permits.

In reality, a handful of industries experiencing healthy demand in the emerging post-pandemic economy are filling flatbed trailers with all manner of materials. Here's a closer look at the most common types of flatbed freight moving along American highways.

Building & Construction Materials

Thanks to the red-hot residential real estate market, homebuilders and construction companies are keeping busy with new housing and remodeling projects. Ongoing supply chain disruptions and raw material shortages have caused shipment delays for residential construction contractors. Even with shipping snafus and a recent slowdown in housing starts, though, flatbed trailers still carry the bulk of building and construction materials to job sites, warehouses and home improvement stores.

Lumber, steel, brick, siding, piping and prefabricated structures are among the types of construction-related cargo finding their way onto flatbed trailers for over-the-road transport. With forklifts, cranes and overhead hoists, this type of flatbed freight can be safely loaded onto trailers.

As history has proven, a booming housing market can only sizzle so long before it begins to fizzle. Until then, flatbed trucking companies will continue to take advantage of the increased demand for building materials amid a long-running driver shortage.

Landscaping Materials

While landscaping may not require as many materials as homebuilding, there's a good chance those materials are also being transported to their destinations on flatbed trailers. Depending on the size and scope of the landscaping project, a larger job may very well require a full-size flatbed trailer.

Standard flatbed trailers are 48 to 53 feet long and 8 feet, 6 inches wide. The maximum height of freight on the trailer deck is also 8 feet, 6 inches. Those dimensions allow for stacking all sorts of landscaping materials, from sod to stone to shrubs to saplings. For larger commercial landscaping projects, flatbed hauling is a great choice for hauling prefabricated concrete panels or bigger blocks used to build retaining walls.

Scrap Metal, Tires & Recyclables

The usefulness of flatbed trailers extends well beyond homebuilding, landscaping and construction. Certain commodities like metal, tires and other reusable materials can be recycled, and flatbed trucks are the perfect vessel for loading and hauling this type of unconventional freight.

Baled tires are a common type of flatbed freight. In 2019, trucks hauled more than 303 million scrap tires in the United States, with 40 million being culled for resale. And while the market for scrap tires has waned some in recent years, 76% are recycled in products such as rubber mulch, tire-derived fuels and rubberized asphalt.

Flatbed trailers also lend themselves to transporting scrap metal, which can be unwieldy and difficult to load without the help of heavy equipment. The demand for aluminum, iron, copper and especially steel remains strong in the U.S. scrap metal market and is expected to hold steady through 2021. Flatbed hauling is also ideal for carting crushed cars to recycling facilities.

Oil & Gas Equipment

Flatbed loads don't always consist of tightly arranged pallets or stacks of lumber running the length of the trailer. Sometimes flatbed trailers carry one or two larger pieces of assembled equipment. The energy industry, in particular, regularly needs to move oil drilling, refining and pipeline equipment across long distances.

Building an oil or gas well is no small undertaking. Construction lasts about 20 days, followed by three weeks of drilling, according to a 2016 study by Texas A&M University. On average, 27 trucks arrived at well construction sites each day, with flatbed trucks bringing in the bulk of the rig equipment.

Oil prices hit a three-year high in October 2021, with OPEC+ deciding to hold steady at 400,000 barrels a day. The steadily increasing oil demand, though, has led U.S. energy firms to add more oil and natural gas rigs in late September for a total of 528—almost twice the number in operation in September 2020.

JLE's fleet of more than 300 trucks offers premier shipping and transportation services for these types of flatbed freight and many others. Through an unwavering focus on accountability, integrity and performance, JLE has become the country's 26th-largest flatbed/heavy specialized carrier.