Rack ’em up

Demand for van racking solutions is increasing, not just for the booming parcel delivery sector but in a variety of industries

Demand for LCV racking solutions is increasing, not just for the booming parcel delivery sector but in a variety of industries – and the solutions provided are becoming increasingly complex as customers look for a mix of strength, durability and weight.

This article was originally published in the March 2021 issue of Commercial Vehicle Engineer magazine. To read the full issue, click here.

The courier and delivery services sector enjoyed a boom during 2020 – indeed, the market was anticipated to grow by 23% year-on-year. The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the already fast-growing online shopping market as people have clicked to shop when they haven’t had the option to go to a physical store, and as a result, parcel delivery services have been in demand like never before.

In turn, this is driving requests for specialist van racking solutions for parcel delivery vans. It was this demand that led Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles to launch a new delivery van conversion for its Crafter model, in partnership with Bri-Stor Systems.

The delivery van conversion features racking on both sides with foldaway shelves to give drivers day-to-day flexibility for whatever they are delivering. Six telescopic load poles mean both smaller packages and larger parcels can be secured and protected as required throughout the cargo area.

The conversion also features a walk-through bulkhead with roller shutter door, so drivers do not have to stand with the side or rear door wide open in rain searching for a parcel. This also has the added benefit of increased security with load doors open for less time.

“We recognise the importance of home delivery as a critical service to many people and industries, and that a standard panel van doesn’t always fit the bill,” says Nick Axtell, specialist sales manager at Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles. “Our aim, along with our recognised partner Bri-Stor Systems, was to develop a versatile and adaptable vehicle that maximised the load bay for delivery drivers.”

Security was also an important consideration in the conversion. “We were aware that users will be going to and from their van often and wanted to ensure the van was secure at all time in the most convenient way possible, without requiring the delivery driver to follow any unnecessary steps,” says Axtell. “That’s why the interior roller shutter and auto-locking technology was chosen for this conversion.” 

Weight, strength and durability

One important consideration was ensuring durability while also offering the best weight performance. “Bri-Stor have an on-site sheet metal manufacturing facility and powder coating plant meaning we can reduce transportation of materials, too,” Axell adds. “The vehicle features a phenolic floor with polypropylene linings to side panels, and the racking itself is a high-strength, lightweight steel with a durable power-coated finish.”

Andy Gear, sales and marketing director at van racking manufacturer Modul-System, agrees that customers are increasingly looking for a combination of lightweight, strength and durability in their van racking solutions today.

Lightweight solutions are sought because operators want the maximum payload possible, Gear says. “Not just for compliance but the more they can carry on the vehicle the more first time fixes they can do and reduce repeat visits.

“Modul-System’s products have developed over the years, we have put a huge amount into research and development for lighter products,” he says. “We no longer use traditional wooden floors and linings, we have our own lightweight flooring solution. Also, we no longer screw it into the vehicle, it is fixed on tracks so you can second life it as you are not drilling through it.

“On the racking it is all about the weight. We use high-strength steel, which is manufactured to be the lightest you can get. It is similar in weight to some alloys, but it is one of the strongest you can get. Some of our customers, the applications they use them for are not particularly gentle so anything lightweight has to be durable, so we use ultra-high strength steel for our products.”

The quest for ever-lighter solutions has gathered pace in recent years with the advent of Euro-5 and subsequently Euro-6 engines in petrol and diesel vans, which were heavier than previous engines. “So as the vehicle’s payload decreased, they had to find that payload another way,” says Gear.

“There has been a massive shift over recent years to reducing the weight of conversions.”

Electric considerations

The challenge to make ever-lighter racking solutions continues as more operators turn to electric vehicles, Gear adds. “The less the vehicle weighs the more range you get on the batteries,” he says.

“Where operators get 1,000-1,200kg payload out of a diesel engine [on larger vans], they are going to be want to be up near that as that is what they need to make the vehicle work economically.

“As we get bigger electric vehicles like the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, Volkswagen Crafter and Ford Transit, to make them viable in big fleets the demands on the vehicle and the infrastructure will keep on growing.”

Gear adds that many van racking products that Modul-System produces have been designed to be used in electric vans, but that development continues. “The payload journey will carry on – there is no end point, you are always trying to improve.”

However, as more operators convert to electric power, it is creating new issues for van racking manufacturers.  

“The big thing on electric vehicles is preserving operational power so you aren’t draining the vehicle battery to use ancillary equipment,” explains Gear. “Vans have to be able to go out and do a day’s work, many use accessories in the van such as power tools, battery chargers and electrical equipment.

“Things like inverters for drills put strain on the vehicle’s electrical infrastructure. You don’t want to drain your drive battery – if you are working all day with a power tool you don’t want to go to drive home and you find you’ve only got 30 miles left on the battery and a 50-mile journey.”

Bespoke designs

Ancillary electrical items are increasingly popular in van racking solutions, as are bespoke designs. “We see much more emphasis on the electrical side and a lot more people wanting bespoke storage such as drawers, service cases – flexibility is the big thing,” Gear says.

“They want a vehicle they can use time and time again and, if needs be, move it between disciplines.”

Alison Bell, marketing director at Venson Automotive Solutions, which provides fleet management services for a range of customers including housing associations and facilities management providers, including arranging van racking solutions, agrees that more companies are going for bespoke solutions, and looking for ones that can be used for multi-trades.

“As a fleet management company, we are talking to fleet customers about making a vehicle fit for multiple trades so you have the resilience and ability that if you need to swap vehicles around in the fleet that you can do that rather than having a number of conversion specifications that are basically dictated to by the trade,” she says.

“For example, you might have a number of vehicles that are racking up the mileage due to the area they are working in and other vehicles that are not doing so much mileage and if the vehicle is fitted for multi-trade they can be moved around. Or if you have a vehicle off-road, can you move another vehicle in to take over.”

Bell adds that when working with customers on designing van conversions, the starting point has to be understanding what the customer wants to achieve from the conversion and if there are any specific requirements that they have.

 “It is looking at how those businesses operate when it comes to the stock or materials they use in their business. Are the drivers having to carry a lot of materials in the vehicle or are materials being delivered to a premises so the driver doesn’t have to carry so much on board?

“Or, if they are a bathroom fitter or something, it could be they need the ability to have shelving that isn’t fixed and can fold flat when it isn’t in use against the side walls of the van so they have cargo space for large items?”

Future

Bell and Gear agree that demand for van racking solutions is set to continue to increase in the future, not only with parcel delivery firms but also through sole traders who have set up businesses recently in sectors such as window cleaning or plumbing.

Bell adds that there will continuing emphasis on reducing the weight of a van racking solution as more shift to electric and plug-in hybrid vans. “Racking manufacturers are already looking at the ability to lessen the payload in terms of racking solutions.”

She adds that conversion specifications will become more complex as a result, but there will also be an emphasis on solutions that last the life of the van – or even longer if they can be moved into another vehicle.

This article was originally published in the March 2021 issue of Commercial Vehicle Engineer magazine. To read the full issue, click here.

Dan Parton
Dan Parton is a former editor of Truck & Driver, the UK’s biggest selling truck magazine. He is now the editor of our three commercial vehicle titles: The Van Expert, The Truck Expert and Commercial Vehicle Engineer.

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Rack ’em up

Demand for LCV racking solutions is increasing, not just for the booming parcel delivery sector but in a variety of industries