There are no prizes for working out that the most important part of running a refrigerated vehicle is temperature control in the load area.
Most refrigerated vehicles are equipped with temperature monitoring kit which, along with the independent temperature checks regularly carried out by retailers on receipt of a cargo, should be enough to ensure that items do not slip through the net; but there is, of course, no guarantee.
If checks prove that a load’s temperature has risen or fallen to unacceptable levels during its journey, then it will probably have to be scrapped, and it’s not just food that can be rejected under these circumstances. Pharmaceuticals, for example, are often transported under temperature-controlled conditions.
“I know of one instance where a cargo was rejected because the temperature in the van’s load area had gone haywire,” says Duncan Read, boss of Leeds-based fridge van conversion specialist GRP. “It was worth well over £100,000.”
It’s a situation that greatly concerns Transfrigoroute, the trade association for the refrigerated transport industry. Secretary Alan Lines expressed his worries to What Van? last year, and is sorry to have to report that matters have not improved.
One way of addressing it would be to ensure that all temperature-
controlled conversions comply with the ATP – Accord Transport Perishable – regulations that govern refrigerated vehicles used on cross-border work. The rules set the standard of insulation that has to be fitted, but do not apply to vehicles used solely within the UK.
Lines believes this anomaly will be dealt with by the forthcoming introduction of an updated version of ATP likely to make compliance mandatory no matter what sort of work a vehicle is employed on. “It could be in place within the next three to four years,” he says.
Making ATP mandatory will not be a cost-free exercise, and end-users are likely to see cost increases.
In the meantime, body builders and van conversion specialists need to educate operators on the importance of working with suppliers who treat quality as a priority, says Read.
While leading body builders and conversion specialists are doing all they can to improve the quality of their products, alas it doesn’t come cheap. In the current economic climate some cash-strapped operators have decided to ignore quality and opt for low-cost low-grade conversions that are not fit for purpose, or durable, says Read. “They’re certainly not standing the test of time, especially if they’re being used on arduous work; transporting meat or fish for example,” he says. “As a result they’re failing to hold their residual value.”
If a fridge body or van conversion is so poorly constructed and specified that it cannot hold its temperature, then the load may deteriorate while in transit. A low-grade body may also not stand up to being moved from one chassis to another once the first chassis has outlived its usefulness.
The temperature-controlled bodies RVL?has designed for 7.5-tonners operated by fresh fruit and vegetable supplier Fresh Direct (UK) can be re-used up to three times, like all the bodies it builds. It provides a ten-year body construction warranty as standard.
While it shouldn’t be treated as an alternative to investing in quality equipment, Quartix points out that a tracking system can be linked to a van’s fridge unit to alert home base if the temperature around a load is deviating from pre-set norms. If that’s happening, then appropriate action can be taken; and the cargo will hopefully be rescued.
Tough economic times are not preventing some refrigeration equipment manufacturers from investing in product development.
Carrier Transicold, for example, has recently expanded its NEOS range of fridge units with the launch of the 100S, aimed at light commercials with load areas of up to 6.0cu m. Alternator-driven, and with a roof-mounted condenser, it features a slim-line evaporator designed to steal the minimum amount of cargo space.
Driving a system from the alternator rather than directly from the engine means that it’s not dependent on the engine’s speed, points out Carrier Transicold. The cooling capacity is constant which means that the load area’s temperature can be pulled down faster. What’s more, there’s less load on the engine, which is good news for fuel consumption.
Relying on the alternator has the further advantage that the absence of an engine-driven compressor reduces the need for refrigerant hoses and fittings. That means that there is less potential for leaks.
So why not equip all refrigerated LCVs with alternator-driven units?
“Because not all van manufacturers offer large enough alternators,” replies Scott Dargan, operations director at Carrier Transicold. “Remember too that with features such as heated windscreens and heated seats, modern vans place a big load on their electrical systems anyway.”
No matter what type of system you select, a unit with enough capacity to handle the job comfortably is essential, he says. So is adequate insulation.
Companies that are willing to invest will be in pole position once the economy starts to show positive indications of improvement. Read believes that he can already see some signs that things are getting better. “Many operators who put their plans to replace vehicles on the back-burner over the past couple of years have concluded that they have no option but to change them now,” he says.
The past few months have certainly seen some big orders placed for refrigerated vehicles by fleets.
Part of the giant Tesco supermarket group, home delivery specialist Tesco.com, has ordered 770 Iveco Daily 35S11 3.5-tonners fitted with six-speed AGile semi-auto gearboxes. It’s also acquiring 25 EcoDailys powered by compressed biomethane.
All the vehicles are fitted with triple-compartment insulated bodies constructed by Solomon Commercials of Lancashire so that they can carry ambient, chilled and frozen goods. They’re equipped with either GAH or Hubbard fridge units.
Running vehicles on compressed biomethane should make deliveries more environmentally-friendly. But that’s not the only way in which fridge van operators are reducing their impact on the environment.
Asda has chosen Hubbard 360 Alpha AEL electric standby units for the 32 multi-compartment insulated-box-bodied Sprinters that operate out of Morley, Leeds. “The units enable noise and pollution levels to be kept low while vehicles are awaiting loading,” says Hubbard sales director, Dougie Stoddart.
The 50,000sq ft Morley site serves West Yorkshire and replaces the service previously operated by five local Asda stores, increasing the firm’s long-term capacity for home delivery slots in the area four-fold.
It’s yet more evidence of the willingness of food retailers to invest in providing a home delivery service; good news for sales of refrigerated light commercials.