Racking firms are taking a whole series of measures to reduce the impact of their systems on a vehicle’s fuel consumption and gross payload.
Van owners who want to rack their vehicle’s load area out, and are eager to save some cash, sometimes resort to a do-it-yourself solution. Using odd bits of timber and metal they’ve scrounged, and with the help of a drill and some fasteners, they knock together a few shelves and hope that they’ll do.
Odds are that they won’t. Unless the individual who has executed the installation is a real craftsman, they’re unlikely to come anywhere near matching the sort of integrated storage systems that specialistcompanies such as Sortimo, Tevo, Bri-Stor, Edstrom and Bott can create.
A home-made package probably won’t include drawer units or cabinets. What it is likely to be, however, is heavy. All that extra weight will bump up the van’s fuel consumption and the owner’s carbon footprint.
Sweden’s Modul-System is one organisation that has been concentrating on bringing the weight of its racking down.
Marketed here by Tevo, its UK arm, the latest P3 designs are said to be up to 30 per cent lighter than traditional steel racks. They made their British debut at the Commercial Vehicle Operator Show last April.
The weight loss comes mainly as a consequence of using what Tevo refers to as a T-track framework made from high-tensile rather than mild steel. As well as being light in weight it makes it easy for a wide variety of different modules to be installed.
The way in which the modules are constructed allows them to be altered in line with the changing needs of the owner’s business. Drawers can be rearranged or removed completely, and the drawer unit fitted with doors to turn it into a locker instead.
T-track also allows the flexible position of items such as top shelves and handles.
Tevo handles the Thule Professional range of roof racks for commercial applications in the UK too as part of a pan-European arrangement Thule has with Modul-System.
If lightness is a real imperative then the storage equipment can of course always be constructed out of aluminium. Such an approach has its drawbacks, however, says Simon Morley, sales manager at Edstrom.
“A steel shelf that will cope with a 60kg load will only cope with 20kg if you make it the same size out of aluminium,” he points out. “The only way around that limitation is to make your aluminium shelf three times thicker. If you do that, then you lose your weight advantage.”
While aluminium doesn’t corrode, steel is more durable when it comes to taking the knocks storage units can receive, he contends. What’s more, if you use high-tensile steel, then you can enjoy at least some of the weight advantages aluminium can offer.
Edstrom nevertheless offers a range of aluminium shelves for customers who insist on them. Not everybody wants to put heavy weights on their shelving, and there’s no denying that aluminium will keep looking good for many years to come if it isn’t ill-treated.
Storage system prices vary hugely depending on what the customer is looking for. Kitting out a short-wheelbase standard roof Ford Transit to meet the needs of a plumber can cost anywhere from £500 if all that is required is some shelving to a whopping £5,000 if he wants his van transformed into a mobile workshop with vices, additional lighting and so on, says Morley.
The items fitted can usually be transferred to the customer’s next van once disposal time rolls round for his current one; and possibly to the one after that and the one after that. All the major racking companies offer this sort of transplant service.
“We’ve got a customer who has kept the same equipment for 17 years and simply switched it from vehicle to vehicle,” Morley says.
Using a van’s roof to carry long items such as ladders has its advantages. However, there are limits on how much weight it can take and a bulky load strapped to a roof rack can affect fuel consumption.
While conventional ladder racks are acceptable for most types of van, clambering on top of a high roof van to load or unload ladders or pipe tubes is a potentially hazardous practice. That’s why a number of companies have developed packages that allow drivers to lower ladders down the side or down the rear of a van, and put them back again, without leaving the ground.
The Rhino-Safestow from Rhino Products is a good example. It’s marketed alongside a range of roof bars and racks designed for commercial use, and the business has also developed an easy-to-fit-and-release ladder clamp under the SafeClamp banner. Securing items to racks so that they don’t break away in an accident is vitally important.
Onboard storage specialists are continually coming up with bright ideas to make the lives of their customers just that bit easier.
Sortimo, for example, has developed L-BOXX, a suite of four plastic boxes of different sizes that can be clipped together and transported inside a van within a specially-designed unit. They have a hinged handle on top plus handles on each side.
If a mobile engineer needs a couple of different sets of tools plus some parts, then all he needs to do is stack and clip the appropriate boxes together and use the handle on the top-most one to carry them.
Depending on their capacity, the containers can accommodate everything from pre-cut foam inserts in which the tools rest to suspension file racks.
Racking suppliers regularly design packages that are tailor-made to meet the exact needs of individual customers.
Bri-Stor, for instance, has come up with one for the Transits used by engineers at digital TV specialist DAS TV. As well as shelving and trays it includes heavy-duty straps to keep 75kg cable drums in their place, not to mention a four-bar extruded aluminium lightweight roof rack with lockable ladder clamps.
Hixon, Staffordshire-based Bri-Stor has recently invested over £7m in its business, including £2.5m in new machinery.
Last February Bott delivered two Mercedes-Benz Sprinters it had equipped as mobile incident command units to Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service. Each vehicle is fitted with generators, emergency lighting, sirens and a public address system, not to mention highly-sophisticated communications equipment installed in conjunction with Primetech.
Returning to the, rather lesssophisticated, light commercials run by most tradesmen, one of the big benefits of a well-designed racking package is greater efficiency.Because there’s a place for everything and everything, hopefully, is in its place it’s a lot easier and quicker to find things than it is if everything you are carrying is strewn higgledy-piggledy all over your van’s load floor. With the time you save you can complete more jobs in a day and hopefully earn more money. It also makes it less likely that you’ll leave tools behind. A blank space on a tool board will be immediately obvious when you look inside the vehicle’s cargo area first thing in the morning, which should prompt you to hunt down the missing item before you depart. Its absence won’t be so easy to spot if you transport everything in an untidy pile; and you’ll end up having to go back and fetch it.