Cobbling together van load area racking from odd lengths of timber and bits of metal and plastic seldom works well. It is not the most efficient way of transporting the tools and parts tradespeople need; the whole lot is likely to break away, along with its contents if the driver has to brake heavily in an emergency, with potentially disastrous consequences.

Nor is it all that environmentally friendly. While it can be argued that much of the wood and steel used is in effect being recycled, home-made racking tends to be heavy; and that drives up fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.

The need to keep racking as light as possible without compromising strength in order to cut fuel usage and CO2 output is highlighted by Sweden’s System Edstrom in its 2021 Green Report. “We are offering products that reduce the footprint that we and our customers leave on our planet,” says the company’s CEO, Steffen Karlsson.

One way it is doing so is by leveraging the advantages offered by high-strength steel. Using it allows companies to put key components on a strict diet that makes them thinner without making them weak.

It has enabled System Edstrom to cut the weight of its shelf frames and angle and support rails by 25%. Its shelves are 22% lighter too, says the company.

“Remember that fuel consumption increases by about 5% for every extra 100kg you carry,” the Green Report points out.

Looking at it another way, cutting the weight of shelves, drawers and the like also means that van operators can achieve a better payload. As a consequence, mobile engineers can carry more parts and equipment and are at less risk of overloading their vehicles. 

System Edstrom is doing all it can to eliminate the use of plastic in its packaging and products. In words that could have come out of the mouth of high-profile Swedish green campaigner Greta Thunberg, the report describes the material as “an environmental sinner that we now choose to terminate acquaintance with.”

You can save 3.0t of plastic if you get rid of it from 60,000 shelf frames, System Edstrom says; this is the equivalent of the weight of one newborn blue whale.

Such policies are increasingly coming into play when companies are tendering for contracts to supply products and services to major fleets. The tender document is likely to include questions about what the supplier is doing to minimise its environmental impact – questions System Edstrom will be able to answer at some length.

Still pursuing its sustainability aims, the company is placing more emphasis on backwards compatibility. 

The aim is to ensure that if one or two items break in a few years’ time, there will be no need to rip out the racks or shelves that depend on them; it will be possible to get them replaced.

Being obliged to swap out an entire load area package in favour of a new one when you shouldn’t really need to is environmentally harmful, System Edstrom argues.

“Each tonne of steel produced results in an average CO2 emission of around 1.9t,” says the report. “This means that by reducing the weight of its products, System Edstrom has cut its CO2 output by just over 123t a year.”

Rising interest in zero-emission electric vans means that avoiding drilling when installing racking is more important than ever. Accidentally drill into a live, high-voltage cable and at best you will suffer a serious injury. At worst, the consequences could be fatal.

With this in mind, suppliers are promoting no-drill solutions more energetically than ever. Typically this involves bonding slip-resistant flooring into place and securing everything to that, as well as to existing points along the van’s sides.

Bott has gone the no-drill route with the most recent incarnation of its modulo (the small ‘m’ is correct) storage package. It has been designed to accommodate the latest version of the Systainer range of parts and tools cases.

Available in two widths and six heights, and with a variety of compartments, inserts and foam inlays, the cases enable tradespeople to carry everything they need from the van to the job in hand – servicing a domestic central heating boiler, for example.

They can be stacked and linked, come with either a fold-out carrying handle or a moulded grip for your fingers, and can hold up to 20kg each. Used in combination with a worktop and a trolley, the cases can be transformed into a useful mobile workbench.

Bott has been making inroads into the UK fleet market. It recently kitted out 40 Volkswagen Transporters for M Group Services Plant and Fleet Solutions with a load area package that includes under-floor drawers and containers for storing tools and equipment. Also included are an anti-slip plywood floor and a high-powered inverter kit.

Equipped with VW’s 4Motion all-wheel drive technology, the Transporters are being used by Magdalene, an M Group Services-owned telecommunications infrastructure service provider.

Elsewhere, the RAC has had 26 Nissan NV300s intended for use by its mobile technicians fitted with racking and other items by Bri-Stor. 

Racking has been installed on both sides of the cargo area with a lockable container in place at the bulkhead end. The technicians can use it to store high-value tools securely.

Yellow grab handles have been fitted to aid entry to the rear of the vehicle. Bri-Stor-owned Hex Signs & Graphics applied the livery.

Having a well-designed racking package installed rather than dumping a pile of tools and other bits and pieces in the back of a van is likely to reassure clients that the quality of the service provided by the van’s operator is as it should be.

“In our case it’s important customers have complete confidence that they are dealing with a professional technician,” says Phil Ryan, the RAC’s managing director for business roadside. 

Van manufacturers often work closely alongside selected racking producers. Back in March LEVC (London Electric Vehicle Company) announced that Sortimo had become a new conversion partner. The latter’s SR5 fifth-generation shelving system has been customised to fit the former’s 2.9t VN5 van.

With a 5.5m3 load area, the UK-made vehicle can also be furnished with folding racking, drawers, drawer units and roof racks. Sortimo can design and apply the vehicle’s livery as well.

Much of Sortimo’s product catalogue can be accessed online through mySortimo. The virtual service allows clients to select a VN5 and the configurator shows how the final product will look, changing as options are added or removed. The guide also gives a live price estimate as the user completes steps in the configuration process. 

An electric van with a range extender, the VN5 can travel for 58 miles on battery power alone, the manufacturer claims. 

That increases to 301 miles, LEVC adds, when the range-extending petrol-powered on-board 1.5-litre generator kicks in.

Under-floor drawers like those installed in Magdalene’s Transporters present a number of challenges, not least how far they can be pulled out in order to get at the contents. 

It is a conundrum that Swedish company Modul-System has been addressing. It has come up with facelifted extra-long drawers that can be pulled out by around 80% compared with 70% previously. Move the pull-out stop and you can extend them even further, but with a decreased load capacity.

Available in lengths of up to 2m, the drawers can usually hold a maximum of 80kg; higher capacities of up to 100kg are also available. 

A reinforced crash-resistant panel is there to prevent them from hurtling forwards and causing damage if the driver has to stamp hard on the brake pedal to avoid a collision. This is twice as strong as the one previously provided, Modul-System claims.