For more than 40 years, Smithway Inc. has been hauling chicks — literally. The Fairview, N.C.-based company offers trailers and truck bodies used to transport chickens for commercial use. It has curtain-sided trailers plus teams with Great Dane Trailers to produce chick trailers that are completely self-contained, ranging from 24 feet to 53 feet (7.3–16.2 meters) long.
The units are powered by diesel generators, and they have an emergency backup generator as standard equipment. They are air-conditioned and heated with electric duct heaters.
According to the company’s website, “In today’s environment of extreme hot and cold temperatures, as well as ever-increasing disease-control issues, these new curtain trailers provide delivery options for started pullets all the way up to market-ready birds.” That means that the insulation and protection of those trailers are of the utmost importance. The chicks need to be protected from the elements and secured in a way that will not spread disease and allow for transportation in the most humane way possible. So when the company needed new specialty trailers for hauling chickens, it turned to FF Adhesive & Insulation Inc.
The local contracting company provides spray polyurethane foam (SPF) insulation, acrylic coating, and silicone coating solutions. The company has more than 30 years’ experience in the business and employs 13 people.
“They originally called us because we’re local here,” said Jake Leonard, president of FF Adhesive & Insulation Inc. “I’ve never known anything about the chicken industry; I thought there’s just the chicken trailer. All I see is flat beds with the feathers all flying off of the chickens and stuff like that, but these guys design this.”
Leonard does know SPF, but this niche was new to him. As he learned more about Smithway, he saw how complicated it was.
“They were in the chicken business, then started hauling the chicks from the grow house — from the hatchery — to the grow house. They got to haul the chicks to the grow house, and then they designed the trailer and all that stuff,” Leonard said. “So basically, long story short, they had some new problems during COVID and then got ahold of me and we came here, put our heads together, and came up with a good solution with the polyurea coating on there.”
Passed With Flying Colors
The problem was that the fiberglass liner on the trailers, which had been installed by a previous company, was delaminating from the plywood. “And as the semis are hauling chicks back and forth with the bouncing and dinging, the fiberglass would pop off of the plywood,” said Jed Stellmacher, the owner of Oak Ridge Foam & Coating Systems, Inc., the coating and SPF vendor on this project.
For this job, the FF Insulation team would be applying SPF, also called spray foam, and coatings to new steel 50-foot (15.2 m) Great Dane Trailers. They opted to go with the 2-pound (0.9 kg) InsulBloc closed-cell spray foam insulation and OR 93 polyurea.
But before the products could be installed, Oak Ridge first needed to test out the products for this specific type of application. “Once we got hooked up with these guys, we went through tests of it,” Stellmacher said. “These guys soaked the samples in a harsh chemical that the chicken industry cleans everything with, and it passed with flying colors with it.”
FF Insulation used a crew of four on the job. First, they started out by emptying the trailer. Then, they installed 1-foot by 4-foot wood framing (0.3x1.2 m) and sprayed 2–3 inches (5.1–7.6 cm) of the closed-cell spray foam on the walls and ceiling. The crew trimmed down the foam as needed and installed sanded plywood over the foamed areas.
“We tested a couple of different designs where we did plywood on the walls and we’re trying to save weight, just foaming the roof and keeping it smooth, and then just foam and then polyurea,” Leonard said. “And it was wavier than he was liking on that because he tried to have a certain standard. The trailers are quite expensive. So the next trailer we did was frame veneer. We started with a CDX plywood, a rougher plywood, sprayed that and its rough texture. Then we went to a standard plywood. I think probably the main thing before applying the polyurea is getting the prep. I think that was the biggest problem: prepping it properly before the polyurea was sprayed on it.”
Prepping is so important because “whatever the poly sprays to, that’s the form it takes,” Leonard said. “So if you got a little rougher looking area, you got some seams showing where they’re not sealed up, it basically will show it on there. You can see each individual plywood almost, so we got it to where we can’t see the plywood. It looks like a big white wall.”
Once prepped, the crew applied the spray foam using a Polyurethane Machinery Corp. (PMC) PH2 pump. Next, they sprayed 60–80 mils (1,524.0–2,032.0 microns) of the polyurea using a Gusmer plural-component system (made now by Graco). They then again lightly sanded as needed before topping off the system with Sherwin-Williams’ Acrolon 218 coating in white.
Lastly, FF Insulation painted any areas that were not coated using the OR 93 and then installed the ventilation and electrical equipment in the truck.
Overall, the area coated was 1,600 square feet (148.6 m2), and for one unit it took on average of three working days to do the framing, spraying of foam, and polyurea application.
The crew wore face masks with respirators, Tyvek suits, and gloves, but they did not need fall protection. Luckily, there were no environmental concerns because the work was done in a controlled environment inside a building, and no local laws factored into the process.
Once the job was done, it looked great and Stellmacher was pleased, which was most important. And now, Leonard said, they have a good process. “I think we’re ahead of the game as far as sealing any crevices. Anytime you’re putting a live being in there, you’ve got moisture from nothing but its breath,” he said. “But waterproofing has worked well for us. We’ve already redid one of the old-school trailers; we had to remove the plywood and reapply it and then seal it back up with the polyurea. So we haven’t been doing it that long with the polyurea, but we haven’t seen really much failure or any issue. I mean, it’s a completely seamless system, so it’s really a lot better than the other systems that was put out there on the trailers.”
Care for the trailer cabins, the chickens, and the client combined to close this project on a good note.