Features & Interviews TNB News

Body converter series: the construction industry

06 May 2021 #Features & Interviews #TNB News

Throughout May we will be shining the TNB spotlight on commercial vehicle bodybuilders. This week, we take a look at the construction sector.

Construction firms demand a wide variety of vehicles, from adapted vans to 44-tonne articulated tippers for aggregate hauliers, but whatever the vehicle, durability is always essential. The role of the bodybuilder is to understand the nuances of every customer’s business and provide a vehicle that is optimised for their requirements using a combination of the latest technologies, materials and manufacturing techniques.

According to Thompsons Tippers, versatility is becoming just as important, with the firm producing both rugged steel tippers and payload-optimised aluminium bodies.

David Penman, Thompsons Tippers general manager, says, “We need to build bodies that can work on tarmac at the beginning of the week, maybe then do quarry jobs on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and  possibly ending up carrying recyclables at the end of the week. Customers want a weight-optimised product designed to handle a much broader range of payloads, while also being offered with a full range of detail options to suit their individual specification preferences.”

Aluminium bodies fitted to an 8×4 chassis are, says Thompsons, often fitted with a steel floor liner to provide the additional strength and robustness required when carrying abrasive payloads. The typically 300kg steel liner weight can be offset by fitting a lighter alloy base beneath the liner. Fitting alloy rather than steel wheels can also save around 240kg.

Manufacturers have also embraced the increasing flexibility required by the sector. The Renault Master, for example, is available in six different chassis types: platform cab, Luton low loader, chassis cab, tipper, Luton box van and dropside. Once the ideal chassis is selected, Renault Trucks will also provide a list of accredited converters. The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, too, is available as a single- or double-cab in various sizes and weights plus a new tractor head (optimised for motorhome conversions). However, Mercedes-Benz has also built its Germany-based Bodybuilder Centre to promote European-wide collaboration between converters and the manufacturer.

Manufacturers such as Citroën, Isuzu Truck and Iveco go even further, providing turn-key solutions for dropsides and tippers ranging from 2.5 to 7.5 tonnes. However, a company may choose to approach a commercial vehicle bodybuilder because their existing vehicle is not specialised enough for a particular industry or use. A specialist bodybuilder can help extract every operational benefit from a chassis, be that payload or return on investment.

A bodybuilder can also work collaboratively with its customers, devising a bespoke vehicle based on a deep-rooted understanding of the business and its operational needs. As an example of the diverse requirements of the sector, Bevan Specialist Products worked closely with its customer, Capital Roofing Centre to make the managing director’s vision of an unusual, more complex body design a time-saving reality. Based on a 26-tonne DAF XF 510 chassis, the dropside is equipped with a rear-mounted Atlas 135.2E crane with brick and block grab, but to save time by negating the need to drop the sides each time the bed is accessed, the roofing supplies company instead sought a gantry platform and retractable step ladder.  As a safeguard, a sensor triggers an alarm if the system is not correctly stowed before driving away.

Of the project, which was completed in just a month, and in reference to the company’s specific requirements – which, for longer lasting aesthetics, included aluminium front and rear bulkheads rather than traditionally used steel, plus stainless steel finishings – Capital Roofing managing director, Wayne Johnson said, “Bevan was recommended to us by the truck dealer – they pushed it through their system very quickly, but they also did so without compromising quality. Presentation is all-important, so we wanted to keep the vehicle looking as good as possible, for as long as possible. Steelwork can become shabby over time, while standard bolts tend to rust and could easily spoil the vehicle’s white paintwork.”

Working with specialists can help release operational benefits, but also enhance return on investment. J&J Franks switched to using a a new, lightweight steel tipper body from Thompsons, to maximise payload. Commercial director Paul Lewis says, “A typical standard steel bodied eight-wheeler will give a payload of 18.5 tonnes, whereas with our new trucks we are getting 19.26 tonnes – that’s three quarters of a tonne more, on each and every trip. Over a five year life, this gives us a minimum of £10,000 extra revenue from each truck.”

The latest body – the Loadmaster X-Lite – is typical of a sector that is embracing new materials and manufacturing techniques. For example, the latest Hardox steel, 500tuf, is 20% thinner without compromising durability. Lighter weight results in greater payload and increased operational efficiency: fewer loads and reduced emissions when running empty.

Schmitz Cargobull has also continued to reengineer its established bodies to meet the sector’s evolving challenges. The modular frame of the company’s S.KI tipper chassis has been redesigned to save up to 180kg, depending on length and frame specifications. Despite reduced weight, the body is more stable thanks to comprehensive crossbeam revisions.

In response to the need for flexibility and the vast array of use cases throughout the construction industry, the chassis is entirely modular and can be specified in four different frame lengths: 7.2m, 8.2m, 9.6m and 10.5m. All sizes are available in standard, light and heavy-duty versions to suit operational requirements.

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