For many mobile workers, the van is their office. You wouldn't expect office staff to work efficiently if the computers, phones and other tools of their trade were on the floor, yet many engineers and delivery drivers have to spend time rummaging through parcels, boxes or parts and tools flung casually into the back of the van.
Racking and storage systems can bring order to this chaos, improving not just efficiency but company image – after all, a neat and tidy van creates a good impression. A van already has a chamelon-like ability to become whatever you need it to be and a racking system enhances this, whether it is a parts delivery van or fully-equipped workshop with power supply and washing facilities.
Can you justify the cost? Sortimo reckons a well-organised van can save engineers 26 minutes a day. Saving even 15 minutes a day translates into a £5,000 saving over four years, based on standard charge-out rate of £25 per hour.
Racking systems make the most of the available space and can even make it possible to downsize from, say, a Renault Trafic to a Kangoo or from a Ford Transit to a Transit Connect. Smaller vans not only have cheaper running costs, but they are more suitable for operations such as domestic appliance servicing, where engineers need vehicles that are manoeuvrable in narrow residential streets.
The huge growth in mobile servicing has focused attention on helping engineers become more efficient. Fixed-price maintenance contracts mean engineers are carrying a lot more parts on their vans because companies cannot afford to make two trips to fix the machine – it eats up the profit on the contract. The van becomes an extension of the warehouse, with replacement stock going directly to the engineer.
Bespoke or modular?
There are two methods for racking out a van – a bespoke design specifically tailored to your requirements or a system using modular components.
Bespoke systems are popular with utility companies that often need to incorporate rest and eating areas into the van, as well as heavy-duty equipment such as compressors. Obviously, the cost is higher, and for many companies, a cheaper modular system will fit the bill and is faster to fit.
With modular systems, you can have as much or as little racking as you need along the sides, the bulkhead and rear doors, then choose from a variety of storage systems, including tool boards, racks, parts bins and worktops.
With so much choice available, where do you start? All the leading companies now offer a 3-D computer-aided design service so you can see exactly how the kit will look in a particular van. Indeed, says Chris Lawder, of TVL, it can be worthwhile deciding on the racking system before you buy the van.
H-Modul produces data sheets for the most popular vans, each showing various layouts for that model. It's a good starting point, as you can then add or subtract according to your requirements.
There is plenty of choice in the market and do check out the van manufacturers themselves. Some offer racking systems through their Special Vehicle Operations units – LDV pioneered this – or as a dealer-fit. QI Systems and Bri-Stor are the best known of the UK companies; H-Modul is Swedish and Bott and Sortimo are German. TVL (The Van Liners) is a fitting specialist that also imports the Italian Modulcar range.
Competition means prices are keen but, with van racking systems, price is also an indication of quality, so check you are comparing apples with apples. Systems cost upwards of £350 for a small car-derived van to £2,500 for a large van. Cost also depends on the accessories – cupboards cost more than a tool rack, for example. Top-of-the-range kits will last the life of two or three chassis. Sortimo, for example, offers a three-year guarantee on its systems.
Weight rarely seems to be an issue on larger vans, but can come into the equation on smaller vehicles with less payload and carrying a lot of kit or parts. The characteristic hole-punched steel panels in van racking systems, designed to increase layout flexibility help here by removing excess metal.
Steel is essential for sturdiness, but you can save weight by specifying hi-tensile steel, which is thinner gauge but equivalent strength, or with aluminium shelves, drawer fronts, drawer inserts and tool boards. Sortimo has standardised on high-strength tensile steel and says the system is 20 per cent lighter than the previous racking.
Manufacturers carry out a safety check to ensure the equipment does not endanger the driver in the event of a crash. Sortimo, for example, carries out a head-on impact test with a fully-loaded racking system weighing 980kg.
There is a huge variety of boxes, cupboards, bins, sliding shelves and racks to choose from, with slight differences between the manufacturers. Sortimo doors, for example, all fit flush, so there is no risk of snagging things on door handles. H-Modul sells a ball-bearing drawer runner so heavily-loaded drawers open easily, even when the vehicle is on a slope.
H-Modul has developed a compact two-part kit for the high-cube small vans that fastens to the upper part of the van, leaving the floor space clear. The storage kit is suspended from a frame with three vertical struts that fasten to the interior roof rail.
There is a choice of five pre-assembled racking systems:
Whatever system you choose, check that fixing it to the van won't invalidate any paint warranty. New van models, including Ford's Transit Connect, incorporate interior fixing points for racking and other systems, but older models may not. Sortimo's solution is to fix the racking system into its Soboflex laminated birchwood sub-floor, not into the floor of the van itself.
Not all racking systems require a wall liner, but they do play a valuable role in protecting the body from knocks and thus enhance residual values. Indeed, many leasing contracts ask users to return the vehicle in good condition – and that includes any internal dents in the load area.
Liners can be traditional plywood or white polypropylene. Plywood has the merit of being cheap and easily replaced, while the white polypropylene reflects light, creating a more user-friendly work environment. It's also easier to wipe down if it gets wet or dirty.
Roof-mounted storage maximises the available space for bulky items such as ladders and pipes, but poses a safety risk to workers. Even on small vans, short workers may have to climb on a step to release the ladder. Roof systems which allow the ladder to be lowered from the ground overcome this hazard and can also boost efficiency by speeding up ladder lifting and lowering times.
TVL has introduced a rear-operated ladder demounting system that works on a similar principle to a folding loft ladder and is gas strut-assisted. And QI launched a lightweight automatic ladder loading system this year.
Bott: 01530 410600
Bri-Stor: 01889 271202
H-Modul: 01628 528034
QI: 01952 292166
Sortimo: 0800 027 5644
The Van Liners: 0870 752 1000