One size fits all? 07 March 2016

As more operators face up to a new reality of short-lived contract business, bodybuilders are increasing being asked for relatively standard, but advanced, fare. Steve Banner reports

Hauliers commissioning box and curtainsider bodies for rigid chassis are regularly asking for them to be built to standardised one-size-fits-all specifications. So says West Midlands-based bodybuilder Bevan Group’s managing director Anthony Bevan, who presides over a 60—70 bodies per week operation.

“They want them to be as versatile as possible so they can be switched from one type of work to another,” he explains. Quite simple, this approach makes it less likely that an operator will have to invest in new trucks if it loses one contract and picks up another involving different cargo.

And it’s not just hauliers. “Local authorities used to run specific vehicles for particular jobs, but these days they want them to be multi-purpose,” confirms Ashley Morris, sales and marketing manager at Eastleigh, Hants-based light CV specialist VFS (offshoot of Italian bodybuilder Scattolini). “So, for example, a vehicle will be ordered with a crane as well as a tail-lift.” Councils short of cash need to get the maximum work out of everything they acquire.

How about aerodynamics? According to Bevan, on rigids adoption is limited. “Operators want radiused cappings, a collar on the cab and a deflector mounted on the roof,” he says. “However they’re not so keen on side skirts.” That is because skirts on rigids are vulnerable to damage if a driver clips a kerb or – in the case of a curtainsider – if a forklift driver gets careless. Damage has to be repaired; and that costs money.

What operators are certainly keen on however - especially at 3.5 and 7.5 tonnes – is saving weight. That’s particularly the case, given that chassis are getting heavier, in part thanks to the arrival of Euro 6. As a consequence, Bevan Group is moving away from traditional fastenings, for instance, in favour of bonding bodies. “Remember that the fastenings required to hold together a 6m box body weigh around 40kg,” comments Bevan. “That’s approximately half the weight of a driver.”

Bevan’s choice of bonding agent is sourced from Kommerling, which specialises in automotive adhesives. “It’s durable, but if you subsequently need to dismantle the body then all you need is a hot air gun to melt the glue,” he says. “The panels can then be slid apart.”

Meanwhile, Wessex Vehicle Services sales director Alex Watson agrees that weight saving is today’s big issue, especially at the lighter end of rigids. The Compton Chamberlayne, Wiltshire-based business lists temperature-controlled bodies complete with tracking and security systems for fine art removal businesses as among its specialities. It also builds bodies for builders merchants and constructed some 300 last year.

“Weight-saving involves using alloy sections and composite panels wherever you can,” states Watson. “If you work hard, you can typically take 90—100kg out of a body for a 3.5-tonner.” Wessex recommends fused reinforced thermoplastic composite sandwich panels from Omnia. Each comprises a polypropylene honeycomb with glass fibre reinforced face sheets fixed by a lamination melting process without conventional adhesives. Standard 25mm panels tip the scales at a modest 4.5kg per square metre and can be welded using a polypropylene welding rod.

“Such panels are enormously strong – in fact they’re rock-hard – but they don’t come cheap,” says Watson. “Specify them for a 20ft box body on a 7.5-tonner and you’ll add about £1,000 to the bill. But the weight saving is so significant that some operators are happy to pay the extra.”

“About 18 months ago we took 100kg out of the One Stop tipper bodies we build for Ford,” comments VFS’s Morris. “If you want this sort of saving, you’re typically looking at high-strength steel instead of mild steel, making more use of plastics and using alloy rather than steel posts... Our next step will be reducing the weight of our dropsides by, for instance, fitting 12mm rather than 15mm flooring.”

What about curtainsiders? Bevan observes taht more and more operators are asking for bodies compliant with EN 12642-XL. That requirement doesn’t cost them much, he says, although they don’t necessarily understand the significance. “In some cases they seem to think that if their body meets the standard, they can load it in whatever way they like,” he says.

Bodies built to this standard are deemed to be capable of withstanding a sideways force equivalent to half their maximum payload capacity without the need to tie down the cargo. They also have to withstand a 100% frontal force and a 50% rearwards force. However, the cargo has to be uniform, sit no more than 80mm from the curtains, be butted up against the headboard and positioned almost up against the rear doors. If part of the load is removed during a delivery run, the rest has to be repositioned if necessary and restrained.

All that said, no matter which body type you specify, the odds are you will have to wait for it. At the time of writing, Bevan is quoting delivery times of five to six months. VFS’s Morris agrees. “We’re quoting lead times of 22 to 23 weeks for anything on a Ford chassis because of the sheer volume of orders,” he says. Wessex is talking about somewhat less-daunting lead times of two to three months. “That’s chassis-dependent though, with some manufacturers taking longer to deliver than others,” observes Watson.

Bevan could boost productivity by embarking on a major investment programme but is wary of doing so in light of the 2008 crash triggered by the financial crisis. “It’s made us a lot more cautious,” he admits. “Prior to 2008 we might have been willing to take a chance, but these days any investment decision has to tick all the boxes.”

Nevertheless, Bevan Group has made significant investments in its aftercare and graphics divisions, and bought relevant companies. For operators that don’t want standardised bodies, recent acquisitions have included Stag Bodies (tippers and traffic management vehicles), PG Reeves (bodies for the drinks industry) and Supertrucks (glass-carrying systems). It has also set up a specialist products division and also assembles refrigerated bodies for rigids under contract to Schmitz Cargobull.

Before closing, one aspect gaining prominence for rigids concerns noise. Given the numbers on out-of-hours urban deliveries, bodybuilders are regularly being asked to make their trucks as quiet as possible. The CNG (compressed natural gas) concept Scania P-280 twin-axle Euro 6 rigid, unveiled at the inaugural Quiet Cities summit in London just over a year ago, was not only fitted with a Don-Bur aerodynamic Teardrop body. It also featured a low-noise roller shutter door, NAS/PIEK-certified tail-lift and a directed, tonal reversing alarm, which quickly dissipates noise outside the hazard zone.

Steve Banner

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Related Companies
Bevan Group Bodies Ltd
Don-Bur (Bodies & Trailers) Ltd
MAN Truck & Bus UK Ltd
Scania (Great Britain) Ltd
Schmitz Cargobull (UK) Ltd
VFS (Southampton) Ltd
Wessex Vehicle Services Ltd

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