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Ride Solutions for Heavy-Duty Trucks and Trailers

Learn about the 108+ year history of Hendrickson International and the pioneering work they have done producing world-class suspensions for commercial trucks and trailers.

Episode 99: In this episode we discuss ride solutions for commercial trucks and trailers. Our guest is  David McCleave who is the Director of Marketing and Aftermarket at Hendrickson International and he talked to us about the history of Hendrickson, the changes it has underwent over the last 100-years, the many different solutions they provide the trucking industry, and the direction that Hendrickson is headed in the future.

Watch the Video

Show Notes:

History of Hendrickson Int.

“We’ve been in business for 108-years,” said McCleave.

Original walking suspension by Hendrickson
  • Started with Magnus Hendrickson from Sweden in 1913 in Chicago Illinois.
  • Famous for the walking beam suspension a.k.a. the equalizing beam.
  • Started with an exclusive deal with International but got approval from International to sell to other OE manufacturers.
  • 1978 sold to John Boler
  • John purchased many heavy-duty companies to expand the Hendrickson portfolio.

Focus on Vocational Trucks

“We have not migrated away from the core of our company. The vocational side of the business has always been important to us,” explained McCleave.

  • First trucks made had cranes attached for unloading supplies.
  • Over the years this has expanded to include construction, agriculture, logging, mining, military, and other applications.

Advancements in Modern Suspensions

“Sometimes when you look under the trailer it may look like not much has changed, when in reality lots have changed,” said McCleave.

White semi driving down highway.
  • Modern suspension increases the amount of payload being carried with lower weight.
  • There is a heavy focus on equipment uptime.
  • The changes in suspension have resulted in fuel improvements.
  • New “recipes” of steel to lower weight but increases strength.
  • Tweaked recipes for rubber components to create a longer lasting product.

Suspension for Trailers

“The trailer division at Hendrickson, is the largest division of Hendrickson,” reported McCleave.

Hendrickson trailer division.
  • They have never manufactured a mechanical trailer suspension, only air ride system.
  • Mid 1990’s saw the introduction of the INTRAAX system, (fully integrated axle to the beam). Took out a lot of weight and added to the strength of the suspension.
  • Created self-damping air shock.
  • Hendrickson brakes both on drum and disc.
  • 3, 5, 7-year extended warranties available on wheel-ends, designed for maximum uptime.
  • They also sell tire inflation systems.
INTRAAX (fully integrated axle to beam solution).

 Lift Axles

“Our lift axles provide improved traction when backing under trailers in soft soil or wet conditions versus traditional 6×2 set ups,” explained McCleave.

  • Maintains vehicle handling characteristics by keeping the drive axle behind the fifth wheel.
  • Ideal for diminishing load carriers such as: bulk haulers, grocery, livestock, beverage, or other applications experiencing empty back hauls.
  • Includes integrated lift axle, suspension, and automated controls
  • Available in 20,000-pound capacity.
  • Compatible with drum brakes.
OPTIMAAX liftable forward tandem axle and suspension system.

Complete Transcript of Episode:

Jamie Irvine:

You’re listening to the Heavy-Duty Parts Report. I’m your host, Jamie Irvine. And this is the show where you get expert advice about the heavy-duty parts you buy and sell, and keep you informed about what’s happening in the industry. Welcome to the Heavy-Duty Parts Report. I’m your host, Jamie Irvine. Commercial trucks and trailers operate in some of the most difficult environments and do the toughest jobs. And in order for them to do that job, they have to have a ride solution that not only provides comfort for the driver, but also safety and of course, they have to be able to stand up to the tough environment these trucks and trailers are working in. So today we want to talk about ride solutions and I’m very happy to have David McCleave from Hendrickson international on the show. Now David holds a bachelor degree in marketing from St Ambrose university and a master’s degree from DePaul university out of Chicago, Illinois. David McCleave serves as director of the global after-market for Hendrickson. He leads their aftermarket strategy and corporate integration, and he’s been in the heavy-duty parts industry for over 22 years now. So we’re very happy to have him on the show. And he’s got a lot of experience, both on the OES and the independent service channel. So without further ado, let’s welcome David to the show. David, happy to have you here. Thanks for being on the Heavy-Duty Parts Report.

David McCleave:

Oh, thank you for having me Jamie, looking forward to the opportunity.

Jamie Irvine:

Yeah, so let’s get into it. Let’s talk ride solutions. Hendrickson’s a global leader in manufacturing and supplying medium and heavy duty ride solutions. Could you start by telling us a little bit of the history of the company for those that may not know?

David McCleave:

Okay. That will be quite a test, it does span over 108 years, and we’re very proud of that as a matter of fact. Really it started with Magnus Hendrickson and he’s from Sweden. I want to say it was in the late 1800’s. When he came over from Sweden, you could say, he’s an engineer, but he didn’t go to school for an engineering degree. Uh, but he’s that type of the phenom character, if you will. But he did come over in the late 1800’s. And in 1913 is when he started the Hendrickson company and that was in Chicago, Illinois. And that is where he began to make trucks. And the first Hendrickson trucks that were made actually had cranes mounted on them. So you could get construction equipment, stone, rock, lumber, to the site and get it offloaded quickly and efficiently. So that’s really where it started. And then what we’re famous for, whatever everybody’s tends to know us for, is the walking beam suspension. For a lot of your listeners they understand it to be an equalizer beam because it equalizes a load over the two axles. It’s called a walking beam by many of us because it does exactly what Magnus intended it to do, and that was to walk over the terrain without losing any articulation benefits, without losing any loads and stability benefits as well. That was a tricky thing to understand back in that day. And he did invent that walking beam in 1926. It started out to be pretty much exclusive with International. And once it became very popular, other truck OEs came and asked to use it. This probably wouldn’t happen today, but Hendrickson asked International if it was okay to sell it to other truck manufacturers, they gave them the approval, and then often off they were running. That’s kind of how it all started. And then to kind of fast forward a little bit, they continued to make investments and continued to grow. They had affiliates in Australia and over in Europe and then it was 1978 when the Hendrickson family sold it to John Boler. And we are still owned by the Boler family today and we are a privately held organization.

Jamie Irvine:

That’s a great recap – that’s awesome. Sorry, I didn’t mean to cut you off. Was there more?

David McCleave:

Yeah, absolutely, because it all started out as a truck company and it was shortly after John Boler purchased the company that he then sold the truck manufacturing piece. So some people in the market will know that HME, who people know make fire trucks today, HME stands for Hendrickson Mobile Equipment. However, when John sold that business off, they could not use the name Hendrickson. So they go by the acronym HME. So that’s where the truck manufacturing piece went to. And then we just started to focus in on suspension and ride solutions and that’s when he ended up and turned around and bought Turner Trailer Suspension. So people are familiar with the trailer suspension, HT, that means Hendrickson Turner. So that’s how we got into the trailer suspension side of the business. And then the lift actual side kind of spun out out from underneath that. John also purchased a bumper company called Nash brothers in Chicago, and that’s how we got into the bumper business. It was not one big sole company that Hendrickson had developed, but it was all truck related. And then John Bowler started taking it to the next level and to where we are today.

Jamie Irvine:

It’s always fascinating to hear the background and the history and origins of a company, because you can actually oftentimes see those early origins still playing a big role in the company today. So like you said, Hendrickson has been around now over a hundred years and really on the vocational side, that’s where the business started, but you’re still very well known for providing solutions for vocational trucks. So can you tell us a little bit where we are in 2021 and how Hendrickson is still focused on helping the vocational people and that sector of the trucking industry?

David McCleave:

Yeah, absolutely. Jamie I’ll tell you that absolutely was the core. You’re correct, we have not migrated from the core. And I think anybody that works for a great company will tell you that you don’t want to deviate from the core too far. So yes, we’re very fortunate to have great engineers, great leadership that puts us in a position where we do get a lot of great investment from the family to innovate products. And the vocational side on the truck side of it is something that we’ve gone out to protect and we’ve done so in pretty good fashion. So the walking beam suspension is actually still around today, the old RT suspension we still sell that today. It hasn’t changed a whole lot over the years, but what we did migrate to is the rubber occasional suspensions. It provides the same thing that the RT walking beam did, but even better, meaning I can give you a better ride when you’re empty with a rubber suspension, and I can give you even better roll stability when I’m loaded with the rubber suspension. I can actually lower the center of gravity if you will, for high CG trucks. So the rubber suspension is really where we’ve taken off and we’ve had, we’re actually now on our third iteration, we just launched the new HaulMAAX EX this year. So we started out with what was called a Hendrickson. It was called HN it was a suspension company from Europe and we bought them. It was Nord. And we called that the HN Hendrickson Nord. So that was our first rubber suspension on the vocational side. We evolved that to the HaulMAAX, which did great for us for 20 years. And now we’ve evolved that to the third generation rubber, which is HaulMAAX EX. And I don’t want to short side the trailer side as well on the vocational side. And we’ll talk more about trailer in the show Jamie, but we’re very, very heavy on the vocational side with the trailers as well. So the vocational markets are certainly something that we absolutely focus on and we work very hard to protect every day.

Jamie Irvine:

So as you mentioned, David, over the years, some aspects of heavy-duty truck and trailer suspension, hasn’t changed a lot, that walking beam that was created all those decades ago is still in use in production today, but things are changing with commercial vehicles and from a suspension standpoint, what kind of advancements have you seen over the last few years and, and where are we headed?

David McCleave:

Yeah, you know, it’s funny when you look underneath the truck or a trailer, you know, sometimes it looks the same for a while and you think, no not much has changed when in fact a lot has changed. I think the areas that we need to understand is what’s important to fleet customers, right? And total cost of ownership is made up of a myriad of variables. So obviously in the vocational segment, it’s increasing payload, equipment uptime, obviously on the on-highway side equipment uptime, low/no maintenance items and fuel improvements all start to tie into that TCO. And so over the years, what we’ve done is we’ve worked very closely with our steel suppliers in coming up with some exclusive, I’ll call them recipes or grain structures to the steel, to where you can continue to get the strength that you’re looking for, but get weight out of it. We’re a fabricator, we make a lot of fabrications. You know, our steer axles are fabricated, our lift axles are fabricated, we fabricate hangers, beams, all that kind of stuff. So it is very important to say, hey, if we’re going to get the weight out of it to improve payload or fuel efficiency, we can’t compromise the quality or the longevity of that component. So it may look similar, but in actual reality, there’s a lot of difference in there. So from that standpoint, it’s changed quite a bit on a suspension side. And the same thing happens with rubber. A lot of people don’t understand this, but we design it, we test it, we validate it and we have this crazy modeling programs where we can tweak the strength and position of higher components and we can start to tweak the recipes of the rubber components because rubber absorbs energy. And that’s why we use rubber, we want the energy to be absorbed. So it’s not impacting the frame rails or the drive axles or any other attaching components. So we’ve done a lot of changes in that area. I’ll give you one big change and that is you can go back many, many years and on the front of a truck, you would see a leaf spring that probably had 12 or 13 leaves on it going way back in time. We’re down to a single leaf now on the front of that truck. So that’s an enormous amount of weight over the years that have been taken out and we haven’t compromised the quality.

Jamie Irvine:

That makes a lot of sense. We’re just going to take a quick moment to hear from our sponsors, we’ll be right back. Do you want to make your marketing stand out? Well you can’t sound or look like everyone else. Do you sell heavy-duty parts? It’s time to create your unique message, a message that truly stands out and we can help. Our team provides consulting and marketing services to heavy-duty companies. Go to heavydutypartsreport.com/stand out to learn more that’s heavydutypartsreport.com/standout. We’re back and before the break, we were talking about the history of Hendrickson. We got a chance to hear kind of the story of how the company evolved. And then we started talking about vocational applications and how suspension has changed over the years. Now, I’d kind of like to shift gears, David and by some estimates, there is three times the number of trailers on the road than trucks. So what products does Henderson supply specifically for trailers, let’s kind of shift away from trucks and focus on trailers now.

David McCleave:

So probably your viewers don’t know this Jamie, but the trailer division at Hendrickson is the largest division at Hendrickson. And another thing they may or may not know is that Hendrickson has never manufactured a mechanical trailer suspension, the only thing we’ve ever done is an air ride suspension for trailers. So a couple of little tidbits for your listeners out there on Hendrickson, but, obviously it’s air ride suspensions, both in the tanker or a flatbed. You will see what’s called Intraax, integrated air axle and brake. And that came out in the mid- nineties and revolutionized trailer suspensions. And that is a fully integrated axle to the beam welding. And there was a patented technology involved in all of this, taking out a lot of weight, giving it a greater structural integrity, which was the roll stability of a trailer where all of the old connections were u-bolt and u-bolt weld. So we took all the responsibility that connection on and really revolutionized the industry there. So that can be fixed to the frame of the trailer. And then we also take that suspension and we put it to a slider box and that’s what you’ll see on drive ends and things like that. So that’s for diminishing loads, right? So you can slide those axles as a load diminishes. So you can make sure that you’re keeping the loads equal on the axles on the trailer and the tractor. So you’ll see that those are the suspension types. We recently about five years ago, came out with a new slider suspension called Ultraa-K where we took out another hundred pounds of material. But we addressed something that I think is important, we may even talk about later in the show, but we talked to fleet councils all the time and if you talk to a fleet shocks are a pain in the neck and a lot of them are somewhere else. Yes and what happens in our conversations with various fleets was that the law says you got to have brand new tires on the steer axle and that’s a big investment. I am going to make sure that I’m watching the shock performance on the front steer axle. And in some cases I may have a routine that changes them out every certain period of time, not every fleet, but some fleets will. On the drive axles, again it’s on the power side. We’ll look for leaks, any other issues and when I see a problem, I’m going to change it. Where a lot of people don’t understand is that the trailer legally only has to be seen once a year for their DOT inspection and these trailers, as you know, Jamie, they go all over North America and they get dropped and sometimes they don’t get picked up for months, they’re just hidden all over the place and the fleet doesn’t always get to see them all the time. And so maybe that one time a year, and during that time period, the shock has fallen off, it’s broken and now there’s a DOT infraction. So fleets like to tell us that I will probably change my steer axle shocks on a regular maintenance schedule, I am definitely going to change them on the drive axle when they need it and I’ll change them on the trailer when I know they’re missing. So we wanted to try to address that issue. And we came out with Ultraa-K took out a hundred pounds and it also came out with the self damping air springs so we could remove the shock. So that was a big, big change in the market. And it took a pain point away and it took some maintenance costs away from the fleet and that improves uptime and that’s what we want. Equipment makes money when it’s running, not when it’s down especially if it’s unplanned downtime. So the other thing on the trailer side is you got Hendrickson brakes, both on drum or disk. And you’ve got Hendrickson three, five, and seven extended warranty on wheel ends, which means don’t touch the wheel end for three years, five years or seven years. Those are all again, designed for maximum uptime. And I say low-maintenance cause nothing’s maintenance-free okay, but we don’t want anybody opening those wheel ends up for three years or five years or seven years. So we’re starting to take on that responsibility and that accountability, we want one place for that fleet to go if there’s ever a concern or questions. And by dressing out that entire suspension, you know, it’s Hendrickson designed, tested, validated products, then they’ve got one source to go to and I think that’s also very efficient. And the last thing I’ll probably say to you is that we also have a tire inflation system. We have two of them, one constant pressure where if it’s leaking we continuously put air into it like many other tire inflation systems do. And then we have a patented product, which is Tiremaax Pro, which not only inflates, but it’ll also deflate. And that’s important because tires are cold in the morning, need air and when they’re on the highway running, heat builds up, air expands. The fleet wants a certain target rate that they want to stay with them and that will inflate and deflate to, in that target rate. And hopefully prolong the life of the tires, which is one of the top three maintenance costs for fleets. So that’s kind of what that trailer portfolio looks like.

Jamie Irvine:

Yeah, it’s a complete portfolio, which I think is important for fleets. When they’re looking at like, what do I want to spec on my trailers? How do I want to make sure that I mitigate those maintenance costs. I really appreciate you giving us that overview. I did have a couple of questions. So one of the things that I heard a lot when I was talking to mechanics is that they said that when trucks switched to the air ride suspension, this affects trucks, but also trailers as well, especially in vocational where they’re like, let’s say it’s an oil field company or a logging company, and they’re running down gravel roads and things like that. The air ride suspension made it so that drivers actually drove the vehicles harder and in the end, especially with trailers, ’cause it’s just like a box on wheels behind them, they don’t care. It’s actually doing a lot of damage because they’re just driving it so hard. Did that ever come up from the manufacturer’s perspective when you got feedback from fleets and was that ever addressed or is that an issue that is kind of just in the minds of mechanics and maybe isn’t even real?

David McCleave:

Hey look I am not going to question those technicians, they are much smarter than I am and they do a wonderful job of supporting our product out there. We really appreciate all their efforts and their feedback. What they’re saying though is absolutely true. You know, you get concerned as a manufacturer in a component supplier when you do make something that rides so nice, the impact that it can have on the driver and on the equipment. You know, I will say that a big response would get back on the trailer side though, is air versus a mechanical is, and many of us seen this, an empty trailer going down the highway with the mechanical suspensions, bouncing up and down all over the place. That’s not good for the door hinges or anything else. With that air ride, that air spring is going to absorb a lot of that road impact and that’s what it was designed for. So yes, I can see where in some cases, things do get driven a lot harder. And Jamie you, and your experience with the Canadian market and the logging there is no doubt those guys will abuse that equipment and it’s up to us to design componentry that will stand up to what they want to do. We hit a home run every time? Absolutely not. But what we do though, is we continue to go back and design and improve quality for them so we can keep it up. The tractor side as you seen over the years, air ride getting into those hard vocationals, you get, you know, North America, certainly Canada and us are a lot different than other areas of the world where we’ll get excavators to go in there and rip stuff out so it makes it a little easier for air ride to get into. So one of the things we did to address that though on the tractor side was we created Primaax Ex. It’s a vocational air ride suspension. It’s the most dominant air ride suspension spec today that is approved for 100% off road where, like our HAS suspension or the OEM tractor suspensions are typically rated for about 25% off road. So we try to address it, but you’re getting some robust components within it, besides the air spring to give them what they look for in those environments. And the same thing holds true on the trailer side, where we we’ve got some heavy duty options for them there to address it, but yeah those technicians are correct. And when it feels good and if I don’t feel it, I’m going to drive it harder.

Jamie Irvine:

I really appreciate the way that you’ve kind of talked about Hendrickson’s view on this, because whether it’s an on-highway an off-highway, whatever the situation is, you know, Hendrickson takes responsibility has done their part to try to make the best possible products available and products that actually are designed for specific applications. And I think really it must be a two-way street because the fleets have to do their part to educate drivers. The mechanics and technicians can do their part to give feedback to the fleet maintenance managers and operators. And so this is where we come together. And I think that, like you already mentioned working with the industry and being part of things like TMC. This is where the whole industry can come together. And we can really come up with solutions that maximize that uptime, make sure that people are getting what they expect. And also if there is a problem where there may be using a piece of equipment in an improper way, or even just not specing the right thing for the vocation, they can be educated about that and make better decisions, this results in them being able to operate within the timeframe. Like you said, if you have an on-highway, you might have a trailer that’s sitting a long time, it’s got to be able to make it to that one-year inspection. And if you have a vocational application, it’s got to be able to stand up to that abuse for the period of time that’s reasonable for that equipment.

David McCleave:

Yeah Jamie you’re a 100% correct that I’ll tell you that we can’t do this by ourselves. You’re right, we need that fleet feedback and TMC to your point, that is a great forum for all that. And I think the other thing that’s great about TMC is that you get other suppliers in there with some similar issues and challenges, and the industry does start to come together. Even though we may be competitors we still come together for that common cause and maximum uptime for that fleet and trying to address any of those challenges. We’re driven by trying to eliminate as many of those factors as we can or mitigate them. Eliminating is a tough word to do sometimes, but mitigating them. And we’re also driven by the competition. We are not going to sit on our laurels and, you know, and pat our back or anything like that. I think the other thing that you mentioned is very critical, and that is the after-sales support, both in parts availability, but in educating on why the parts correct for the system and the impact that has, or the impact of a non-genuine part may have. But it’s the service side. And when a fleet says I’ve got an issue or a challenge, we’ve got an army of people in the field, in their service environment, that is a serious situation, we’re going to address that. And again, we work really hard to make things right, and do the right thing. And I can’t tell you that we do that a 100% of the time, but what we’re going to do is we’re going to strive to that goal and what we’re going to do from that is, hey, listen, we’re going to eat humble pie, we’re going to be thankful for what we got, we’re going to take care of what we have.

Jamie Irvine:

Yeah, that’s absolutely right. And when it comes to this, you know, it’s one thing for us to talk about it in the perspective of like, let’s go over what you manufacture. It’s another thing to hear a story of how maybe all of this comes together to actually improve a situation for a fleet. Do you have any stories you can share of where people have been able to solve a real problem with Hendrickson’s great products?

David McCleave:

Great question. And I think a lot of it is really the product we put out there. You know, I mentioned Tiremaax Pro the tire inflation and deflation system. How do we continuously improve tire life? The tire guys will tell you the same thing that they get that same question all the time. So it’s, it’s how do we do that? And inflate and deflate was one way to do that. We’re now coming out with a new product on load based inflation. So based on the load, you know, we could inflate and deflate if that fleet chooses to do so. Those are challenges and issues that each of these fleets will have. You know, we’ve had situations to your point where a truck has been specced incorrectly. Ride height was incorrect and what do we do about that? We get out there and we work with the service centers and give them the right components and get it done right so that they can get the truck back up in operation. But I think really to your point we listened to the fleets and they said, look it, on the trailer side, shocks are a problem. And I think Ultraa-K was a great solution to address that shock issue, at least on the trailer side. On the tractor side, it’s a lot different because like I mentioned to you before, they pay, that’s the most expensive piece of equipment they purchased, right. So they’re gonna take care of it. It does see that regular maintenance but what can we do there and how can we do it? The road inputs and the frequencies are felt a whole lot differently at the driver level with the tractor dynamics than it is with the trailer, 53 feet behind you. So there’s a lot more challenges there that we need to figure out how to overcome and technology is definitely going to get there. I think the other thing was Optimaax is a forward liftable axle. So what that is on the tandem of the tractor, you replace the forward axle with the liftable axle and what does that do? You’ve got grocery customers out there and it’s a diminishing load. So as a load diminishes I don’t need all my axles on the ground to support the load. So guess what, if I can get the axles off the ground I’m going to, that’s going to save on some tire wear. It’s certainly gonna help me with fuel efficiency, and in some cases depending on how they can negotiate or work with the tolling authorities, they can save some, some tolling money. So we’re starting to hear some success stories around that, with the liftable forward axle that we have for the tractor side. So to your point it’s not one, it’s not two, it’s a number of challenges that we try to consider in trying to help overcome for the various fleets.

Jamie Irvine:

You’ve been listening to the Heavy-Duty Parts Report. I’m your host, Jamie Irvine. And we’ve been speaking with David McCleave, director of global aftermarket for Hendrickson International. To learn more, go to Hendrickson-intl.com. Links will be in the show notes. David, thank you so much for being on the Heavy-Duty Parts Report.

David McCleave:

Hey Jamie, thanks for having me and hope I can come back and visit again.

Jamie Irvine:

I was just going to say, and I look forward to you coming back and us going deeper on some of these subjects.

David McCleave:

Absolutely. Thank you, Jamie.

Jamie Irvine:

Okay. Take care. Thank you so much for tuning into this week’s episode of the Heavy-Duty Parts Report. I’m your host, Jamie Irvine. And I just like to remind everyone to focus on cost per mile and let’s keep those trucks and trailers rolling.

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