Racking and shelving: Travelling light

Date: Monday, July 10, 2023   |   Author: Steve Banner

Cutting out excessive weight in storage systems has become increasingly important as operators switch to electric vans.

Van operators should always ensure that their vehicles are not transporting any unnecessary weight. The more kilos you carry, the more energy you burn, and the higher your fuel bills.

“Remember that fuel consumption increases by about 5% for every extra 100kg you carry,” a spokesman for load area storage equipment specialist System Edstrom observes.

If you are an electrician, a plumber, a mobile mechanic, or involved in any one of a dozen or more trades, then one of the best ways of cutting down on pointless burdens is to have well-organised, properly-fitted, load area racking and shelving. 

If you have clearly-visible storage areas for all the parts and tools you may need and you can see quickly if anything is missing, then you are less likely to end up carrying two of everything. Doubling up on items pushes up your vehicle’s weight and increases its total cost of ownership; and that includes expenditure over and above fuel.

The more kilos you cram into the cargo area, the quicker your tyres and other components will wear out. 

Furthermore, if you shoehorn too much on board you run the risk of running overloaded. That can lead to a prosecution if you are caught, and a hefty penalty if you are convicted.

Any racking that is installed must be light in weight itself, while remaining durable. All the leading racking suppliers are carefully re-engineering their products with a view to trimming off a fraction of a kilo here and there, and that goes for cabinets and vice-holders as well as shelves and bins.

Their efforts have become vitally important as light commercial operators steadily switch to electric models. The higher a vehicle’s unladen weight is, the shorter its range between battery recharges is likely to be.

Re-engineering can involve employing different materials such as high-strength steel, which allows thinner gauges of metal to be used without products being weakened. System Edstrom’s use of it means that its shelf frames and angle and support rails are 25% lighter, and its shelves 22% lighter, than they were previously, says the company.

Rival Modul-System has developed Modul-Floor, a lightweight aluminium sandwich floor which it says offers a 15% to 20% weight-saving when compared with a traditional 12mm plywood bed.  

“What is more, it’s glued into place,” says vice-president Thomas Johansson. “That means we don’t have to drill any holes, thereby eliminating any risk of corrosion, and also means that we don’t come into conflict with the battery pack on electric vehicles.”

This last consideration looks set to become increasingly important as transport goes zero-emission.

Modul-System has also come up with a lightweight lining for a van load area’s walls and doors made from a polypropylene honeycomb rather than ply. It offers a near-40% weight reduction says Johansson.

Mobile technicians may need to do some of their work inside their vehicles, so it is worth noting that Modul-System offers a workbench which it says is around 60% lighter than the equivalent product made from wood.

Not to be outdone, System Edstrom has redesigned its extendable vice-holder which it says is now 56% lighter than the previous offering. Its foldable vice-holder is 30% lighter, it adds.

“We’ve also introduced two brackets so that it can be secured to a shelf frame instead of by bolts through the floor with electric vans in mind,” says the firm.

Rhino’s new MR4 range of modular racking has benefited from a weight reduction, with extensive use made of high-tensile steel.

Even small electric vans used by tradespeople can benefit from a racked-out interior, a point underlined by Bott at the recent ITT Hub Show, held as usual at the Farnborough International Exhibition and Conference Centre in Hampshire. It had kitted out an ultra-compact Goupil G2 van, which was sitting on the Bradshaw EV stand: Bradshaw distributes the made-in-France Goupil range in the UK.

With a range of up to 62 miles depending on the batteries chosen, G2 is also up for grabs as a pick-up with or without a mesh waste cage and can carry almost 600kg depending on the variant selected. The little van could be the ideal tool for a tradesperson who has to tackle a repair job in an urban area and needs to get as close as possible to the location in question.

Van makers have long been conscious of the potential racking has to enhance the appeal of their vehicles, and most of them have marketed ready-to-go-to-work packages over the years. 

On the positive side, they can be made available quickly. On the negative side the scope for modifying them to meet the precise needs of the trades people who will be using them tends to be constrained.

Renault Trucks is rolling out Trafics under the Multitrade banner, with racking sourced from Bott.

The package provided in the long-wheelbase high-roof model includes a workbench, and a load area electrical system that can be used to recharge power tools.

While off-the-peg shelving is readily available across the industry and can be purchased online from many racking suppliers, companies like Bott are also eager to tailor packages to meet the needs of individual fleets. It can offer 3D visualisations that allow customers to see on screen what their racking will look like once it is installed, and request any changes.

Bott has recently been busy working on 17 panel vans operated by XYZ Machine Tools and used by the Burlescombe, Devon-based firm’s maintenance and installation team. 

The vans have been equipped with Bott’s Vario3 racking. Systainer3 cases are an integral feature to make it easier for small parts and consumables to be packed, loaded and unloaded as and when necessary.

It should not be forgotten that racking specialists are often adept at installing storage systems and related kit at customers premises as well as in their light commercials. XYZ’s electronics room at Burlescombe now features large storage cupboards to house diagnostic equipment and tools and adjustable-height benches sourced from Bott.

Enhanced safety is one of the great benefits of correctly-installed and well-designed racking. Tools and parts that are properly-secured in drawers and bins are less likely to start hurtling around a van’s interior under heavy braking, endangering the driver and any passengers being carried.

This of course presupposes that the racking itself does not break loose, and businesses should make a point of ensuring that any packages they specify comply with ECE R17-07. Compliance means that racking has withstood a crash test equivalent to a collision at 50kph without coming adrift.

Bulky free-standing pieces of kit may be less easy to keep in place than screwdrivers, nuts and bolts and fuses.

Aware that this is the case, Sortimo is offering telescopic restraint poles which can be inserted into fixing rails on the inside of the load compartment’s roof and into securing points in the floor when used vertically. When deployed horizontally they can be inserted into the ProSafe cross-members of Sortimo’s racking system, or into slots in the sidewall cladding.

The poles bring a further benefit, Sortimo contends. Trades people can attach the firm’s ProClick tool bags to them to ensure they are easy to access.

If a pole is not being used then it can be collapsed and kept in the van using
a storage bracket or tray until it is required again.

Manoeuvring heavy items out of the rear or side doors of a van can be problematic and can potentially lead to musculoskeletal injuries requiring time off work. 

In response, Modul-System has introduced a new extendable base frame with a platform capacity of up to 250kg. It can be slid out of the doors thereby making whatever is sitting on it easier to access.

“In addition to increasing the load capacity we’ve managed to reduce the weight by 25%,” says Johansson. 

The platform is made from sandwich material topped with aluminium, the handle and front part are made from aluminium too, while the support structure is constructed out of ultra-high-strength steel. With safety in mind the platform locks once extended.

There is nothing to prevent the unit from being used to accommodate a drawer unit which can be slid out so that the user can get at the contents of the drawers without having to climb into the van.

Sortimo has developed a similar slide-out package with the same capability. In addition, it has rolled out C-Boxx, a 20kg-capacity, 17-litre, portable lidded container which
can be used in conjunction with the firm’s shelving. 

A foldable handle enables it to be lifted and carried over to the job a technician is engaged in so he or she can make use of its contents.

Aware that there is a constant risk that all those tools that racks and bins can accommodate will be stolen, Bott has recently gone into a partnership with light commercial security specialist ProtectAVan.

It offers deadlocks, slam locks, alarms, and a host of other devices designed to protect your vehicle and its contents from thieves. 

Investing in such products is becoming even more essential given the unrelenting tidal wave of van crime. So it makes sense to ensure all load area drawers and cabinets are lockable; and the keys kept securely.


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