With tough legislation in place anyone involved in the transportation of perishable goods has no option; a refrigerated vehicle, whether fitted with a cooler, freezer or both, is required. We take a look at what's new in the world of fridge/freezer vans.
Times may be tough, and set to get tougher, but there are still businesses out there willing to invest. Last April saw temperature-controlled vehicles specialist Paneltex buy Long Stratton, Norwich fridge van converter Somers Refrigeration. Since then the Hull-based business has pumped £500,000 into its new acquisition, increasing its production capacity by around 20 per cent to approximately 500 units annually. Staff levels have been boosted by roughly 30 per cent.
Things at Westbury, Wiltshire refrigerated bodybuilder Trumac aren't quite so rosy, however. It's gone into administration with an immediate loss of 30 jobs, but both administrator Harrisons and property agent Edward Symmons, the vendor, were making optimistic noises about finding a buyer at the time of writing. Acquired from GRP via a management buy-out in 2003, and subsequently rebranded as Trumac after the names of the two owners — Jarvis MacDonald and Heather Trueman, both former GRP directors — the firm apparently has a strong order book.
Aside from its acquisition by Paneltex, one reason for Somers continued health is its link with Citroën. It produces conversions for the manufacturer's Ready to Run range as well as conversions based on other makes of vehicle, and the 4,000th fridge van it has recently turned out just happens to be based on the latest Berlingo.
Fitted with a new design of insulated bulkhead, plus newly-developed insulation mouldings for the rear doors now available across the entire refrigerated Ready to Run line-up, it's equipped with a GAH AF20 roof-mounted freezer.
The vehicle meets ATP standards. ATP is shorthand for the agreement that governs the cross-border carriage of chilled and frozen food and the equipment that operators should use to transport it. ATP will eventually be displaced by a new European standard to be produced by CEN, the European Committee for Standardisation. Fraser Hale, product development director at Hubbard, is one of the UK delegates to the CEN working group concerned.
Somers has recently extended its association with Citroën with the launch of a Nemo built to chilled specifications. A Nemo capable of carrying frozen goods is imminent. Thanks to its ownership by Paneltex, Somers has also been able to contribute a box-bodied refrigerated 3.5-tonner to the Ready to Run portfolio based on a Relay 35 L2 chassis cab.
With a 14.0m3 load area, a more-than respectable payload capacity of up to 1,100kg and an interior height of 1.9m, it can be equipped with internal racking with an eye to the needs of door-to-door delivery operations. It's available in both chilled and frozen guise, with GAH Javelin fridge units fitted in both cases. In addition Somers is now equipping all Ready to Run fully-frozen van conversions with longer-lipped door seals. The aim is to provide better insulation as well as making it easier to close the doors.
One of the biggest challenges owners of refrigerated vans face is how best to get damage to their vehicles rectified after an accident. Somers has worked to improve the design of the rear doors it fits to make them easier to repair, and to make it simpler to sort out any glitches with the door-locking mechanism and the wiring. Its takeover by Paneltex means it can now offer repair facilities in Hull and Andover as well as in Norfolk, along with a mobile repair service.
All this area of its activities has been rebranded, logically enough, as The Repair Network. As well as dealing with accident damage The Repair Network refurbishes box bodies, chassis cabs and refrigeration systems of all makes and can handle dry freight as well as fridge vehicles.
RVL's list of customers reads rather like a who's-who of the temperature-controlled transport industry and encompasses small- and medium-sized businesses as well as large ones.
One client is Surrey-based Loseley Bakery, which may have the unusual distinction of being the first company to acquire an LDV Maxus 3.5-tonne chassis cab fitted with a fridge box. It arrived earlier this year. Equipped with a Hubbard twin-evaporator fridge unit, the 3,500mm dual compartment body can handle both chilled and frozen products. It's used to deliver cakes and quiches to tea rooms, delicatessens and other outlets within a 30-mile-or-thereabouts radius of Loseley's Guildford headquarters. It delivers ice cream and dairy products too.
Savona Provisions is another RVL customer. It uses triple-compartment bodies built by the company on 7.5-tonne chassis and fitted with twin evaporators. Accessible from the kerb, a nearside chilled compartment is divided from the offside frozen one by a fixed longitudinal bulkhead with a through door. Moveable bulkheads divide these pallet-width lanes from the ambient rear compartment.
RVL is not a company that ignores technical innovation. It's devised a vacuum-formed modular triple rear door assembly for insulated bodies destined for 3.5-tonne chassis. The slam-lock assembly is designed to cut weight, boost payload and enhance the vehicle's appearance and is set to offer a saving of up to 175kg over a standard rear frame and door assembly.
It's designed for chilled applications, but RVL intends to develop one for frozen use.
What's more, it's come up with a special meat handling system for some new 5.6-tonne Mercedes-Benz Sprinters going into service with Weddel Swift Distribution, which has been supplying high street butchers for over 100 years. Working in conjunction with the van's meat rails and hooks, it makes unloading heavy carcasses via the rear doors a lot easier.
Supplied subject to a contract hire agreement with Petit Forestier, the single-compartment vehicles operate at chilled temperatures.
It's interesting to note that Weddel Swift is running vans at 5.6 tonnes rather than 3.5 tonnes. What Van? has remarked on several occasions that one of the big changes to vans over the past 20 years is that they have got a lot heavier thanks to extra stiffening of the bodyshell plus the installation of safety devices such as airbags and options such as air conditioning.
While virtually all of these developments are to be welcomed, one consequence is a reduction in payload capability. In other words, a modern 3.5-tonner typically cannot carry as much weight as its predecessor of 20 years ago.
That's a particular problem for operators of refrigerated vehicles who are additionally burdened with the weight of fridge units and insulation. This means that precious few temperature-controlled 3.5-tonners can shift more than 1,000kg, with businesses tempted to venture above the 3.5 tonne barrier as a consequence so that they can haul more weight.
Aside from Weddel Swift, one company that runs fridge vans at above 3.5 tonnes is pet-food specialist Anglian Meat Products of Watton, Norfolk. Earlier this year it acquired four Sprinter 4.6-tonners with four more in the pipeline. They're used to transport ambient as well as refrigerated products. "They can carry a payload of about 1,700kg, around 600kg more than we could transport in the 3.5-tonners we used to run," says transport manager, Paul Collyer. "That's allowed us to increase the productivity of our distribution operation."
Operate at above 3.5 tonnes and you are of course drawn into the whole web of operator licensing and Drivers' Hours legislation. Your vehicles will have to be equipped with a tachograph, and your drivers will have to use it.
Tachodisc, one of the UK's leading suppliers of digital and analogue tachograph products and services, points out that new legislation comes into force on 10 September 2009. It will require drivers of goods vehicles grossing at above 3.5 tonnes to undergo 35 hours of training during the following five years in order to obtain a Certificate of Professional Competence. Without a CPC they will be unable to drive anything heavier than a 3.5-tonner from 10 September 2014 onwards. Flout the rules and you're in line for a £1,000 fine on conviction.
Not all fridge vans sold in the UK are turned out by converters. A minority are produced by the vehicle manufacturers themselves. Mercedes-Benz's off-the-shelf line-up includes Vitos built to both chilled and frozen specifications. The former can maintain temperatures at between 0°C and +12°C while the latter will pull them down to -20°C.
A Long-bodied Vito 115CDI Sport Chiller has just been acquired by Lowestoft, Suffolk fishmonger Alan Snow of World of Fish. Rather more luxurious than the vans run by most fishmongers, it boasts cruise control, air-conditioning, a leather-trimmed steering wheel and gearshift and 17in alloy wheels among other goodies and was supplied through Norwich Mercedes dealership Orwell Truck & Van.
"I really like the shape of the vehicle," Snow enthuses. "Unlike the ugly fridges you see on the roofs of so many vans, the Kerstner unit fitted looks more like part of an air management kit. "The Sport Vito really stands out from the crowd and is an eye-catching advertisement for the business," he adds. He's using it to deliver to restaurants, pubs and caterers.
RVL's modular triple rear door referred to earlier has been fitted to a battery-powered refrigerated 3.5-tonner developed by the firm in conjunction with Micro-Vett of Italy. Complete with an electric refrigeration system, it was built for service with a supermarket's central London home delivery operation.
A stakeholder in electric vehicle specialist Zeroed, Paneltex is involved in the development of battery-driven vans and trucks too. It's working in conjunction with its Zeroed partners, with home delivery specialist Ocado and with Isuzu Truck.
Between them they've come up with a 5.5-tonner equipped with lithium-ion phosphate batteries offering a 100 mile range between recharges. Waste heat from the electric fridge unit is used to heat the cab. As well as producing no exhaust emissions, both the electric vehicles referred to run quietly; good news if you have to make early morning deliveries in residential areas.
Sophistication is a byword of the reefer business these days and that can be no bad thing where perishable goods such as foodstuffs are concerned.