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Are fleet engineers on the road to Damascus?

27th August 1983, Page 87
27th August 1983
Page 87
Page 88
Page 89
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Page 87, 27th August 1983 — Are fleet engineers on the road to Damascus?
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EARLIER in the year before the introduction of heavier maximum weights Tim Blakemore and I met four fleet engineers representing different aspects of the industry. Three were from the operational side and one from a manufacturer, and all had positive opinions on the attitude of the vehicle bodybuilding industry.

Mike Goss is regional fleet engineer for Cleanaway, a national waste disposal company which handles liquids as well as solids. His fleet consists of every type of chassis axle configuration including artics.

For 38-tonne operation he looked at six-wheeled tractive units with the view to increase payload for liquid tankers. He also uses a considerable amount of Ampliroll demount equipment with some older Dynasor and some inherited cable-winch MuItilift equipment.

In the past nine months, Cleanaway has started a glass recycling service which employs lorry-mounted cranes, and a demountable collection body has been introduced to help develop this side of the business.

Mike is responsible for 95 vehicles in the London region which extends from the Thames up to the Wash and across to the South Midlands. Nationally, the company has about 370 vehicles.

Dennis Brown is group transport manager for Allied Mills with responsibility for the whole of the UK including Scotland and Northern Ireland. He has fourwheelers and eight-wheelers in the fleet plus a few six-wheelers which are mainly tractive units. Sixty per cent of deliveries are bulk powder and about 20 per cent is in small bulk delivery. This is a unique operation to the UK termed Alley bulk.

He has been testing an attachment for a four-wheel tanker — a Danish idea called the "Spider weigh-off system" which caters for weighing part loads. A computer in the cab gives a readout and at the end of the day produces its own invoices. He, too, was looking at 38 tonnes but using triaxle trailer configuration for a start. However, he had to ascertain whether the customer could absorb the extra tonnage and whether access would be possible.

Manoeuvrability is one of his biggest problems. He has to deliver to many sites that were established in Victorian times.

He estimated his strength to be about 400 vehicles.

Martin Clark, regional transport engineer for the CEGB, hails from the West Country. Vehicles under his control include many which are built for specific applications but the fleet covers the whole spectrum from small 4x4s through to very heavy off-road vehicles as well as more conven tional service and haulage vehicles.

He joined us late owing to a mechanical failure with his car. It happens to us all.

Dermot Elrnsworthy of MAN has interests which extend to commercial vehicles bodywork, "And does not just stop at mountings.

The product is a tool to fulfil a particular job, the chassis is only 50 per cent of this, he said. There is not sufficient awareness of how these two important parts of the vehicle should dovetail together. It is important to have the closest co-operation between chassis manufacturer and the bodybuilder and, wherever possible, to include the end user as well for he is the chap at the end of the day who has to use it.

The better the liaison is between the two, the more chance the vehicle has to do the job it is intended for, he maintains. TB: How can we improve liaison?

MG: Is it possible to introd standardisation, so that with vehicle manufacturers' operation, the chassis and wl ever equipment put on it wc have a standard set of b, mountings?

Then, in the field, if there problems with that partici chassis there would be terchangeability for 1 specialist equipment on the without having to drill anoi set of holes in whatever replr ment chassis is available. DE: It would be nice if life wa simple as that.

MG: Why not? We have to E somewhere.

DE: It is just not as easy as t There are two opposing schi of thought in the chassis rm facturing field. There are if who go for rigid frames and r tively soft suspension, and a who go at it the other way at with a rigid suspension and on the frame to flex.

Body design has to be con tible with the chassis on whii is mounted. The way in w the two types of body are duced should be quite differE DB: I don't think that bodybi ers keep up with modern tre They have all gone for lig and lighter bodies but som them are so frail they way the breeze because they t just not got the right materia them.

DE: I think something emerge given time. There problems which polarise arc the 3.5 ton gvw level. 1,525kg is a complete anon There has been representE by manufacturers and SMMT to get this figure ali with the other legislation ot tons.

There are only a few veh that can genuinely get unde magic figure without drop the spare wheel, and withou ception it includes diese gined versions.

This is one area that change. Bodies have got lic and lighter in this area, V 1, caters for a group which an sically non-professic operators. continued o 3 question of plating and ising frightens them to and 0-licences and tacho-is are something they don't rstand at all so they will I them whenever possible.

; are in a state of flux reing the 32/38-tonne busi, and now that we have it, on't really know now if we it anyway.

It should have been 40 as anyway.

(es, it would have been nice le 44 tonnes but the whole p is a compromise between aquirements of industry and -onmental considerations. as have been getting lighter h is, in one sense, a mark of press by using different ,rials. All other things being I, it should result in an in3e in payload.

Is the change in taxation g to alter the incentive 4?

4 don't think so because the payload is needed to pay he extra tax. I want lighter as but I don't think the right ; of materials are being . The bodybuilder has not on the new alloy materials

h are much stronger than were 10 years ago. Just one e problems we suffer from perators is cracked corner Materials is one of the )ns but incorrect design is her one. There is such a range in the bodybuilding stry from the top end of the :et, with firms like Wilcox h have a good product, to mall chap under the railway who has to cut costs.

e latter produces something ooks the same but the small ges in design may lead to failure. He uses inferior 4rials because he is not .e of what is on the market probably would not use it 'ray because of the cost.

Chassis manufacturers by large produce a comparable uct but there is a fantastic e in quality from bodybuildand it is a problem recog by the more responsible ents of that part of the inry.

ere is a code of practice beformulated at the moment ;r the eyes of the SMMT 4h incorporates minimum gn criteria. It is being drawn y the bodybuilding commitwith assistance from the mercial vehicle manufacturcommittee.

le code will contain conctional criteria such as dboard loadings, stress ts on body mountings, and loads imposed on an area basis as far as the floor is concerned.

A similar operation is underway with the Association of Chassis Engineers regarding chassis extensions, wheelbase changes, etc.

Many chassis have to be modified before your special equipment can be added. I have no doubt that type approval for the multibuild stage processes will come. One of the purposes of the code of practice on the chassis is to establish some sort of basis on which a type approval system could be formulated. As yet, there is no British standard but it must be in the industry's interest to seek to influence the Department of Transport on how it should be done.

TB: What is the reaction of operators to type approval on bodies? If not type approvals, some more rigid control?

DB: There should be a code of practice.

BB: We have had a code of practice for headboards for many years but nobody specifies them.

DE; There are two problems. No one builds to the code.

BB: But they would if the operator was prepared to pay. DE: In 99 per cent of cases he is quite unaware of their existence. BB: Our three engineers here today would not admit to that.

DE: But do they specify them, and if not, why not?

DB: Because the bodybuilder does not generally offer them when we ask for a light, strong body that is man enough for the job.

DE: In most cases, a strong code of practice headboard would add to the weight and would be more expensive. Would you be prepared to pay for this?

DB: Speaking for my own company, yes.

TB: What do you think of more rigid control limiting the choice of bodywork? There has been a complaint made against the type approval of chassis, but would it not be more so with bodies?

DB: If the band was wide enough we could accept it providing we knew that the bodybuilder was building to a standard, irrespective of all the extras that have to be added to meet the requirements of our individual trades. Then we would be able to specify with confidence. DE: You are asking for an infinite number of bodies designed to give you the versatility that you need to do your job, DB: We have that now.

DE: The less reputable bodybuilder is getting most of his business on the point of price, to a large extent through the chassis retailing trade. The dealers claim that there is no money because of the tight deals that they have done and try to make up their margins on the bodywork. BB: More and more people I talk to are Looking for a two to three vehicle life cycle from bodywork. DE: That is true at the top end of the market but at an inverse proportion to the gvw. At the light end of the market despite financial restraints people are paying a little more for a quality chassis and writing it down over a longer period of time.

Because of the financial restraints affecting all of us at the moment, and likely to be with us for a little while yet, there seems to be some sort of trade off by spending more on the chassis and using a less expensive body. MG: W can't accept that. It may be so at the lighter end of the market but not in my line of business. If you have a five-tonner with a panel box on the back end, you can say that the chassis and the box will last virtually the same. Anything above 14 to 16 ton, whatever equipment you put on the back end, you are looking for it to last two or three chassis even if it's an ordinary tipper body, DB: Yes, because the bodies are becoming more specialised.

DE: OK, but then you are paying more for that body in the first in DB: That's why we are looking for more quality, DE: That is accepted, but there is an alternative viewpoint in which you pay as little at the front end as you possibly can and then when it starts to fall apart you keep it going as long as you can and buy another cheaper one.

It is false economy but when you can't afford a premium quality body in the first place maybe there is not a lot of choice.

But at the top end of the market I don't think that applies. There they are going for quality and in the long run it does make sense.

DB: Bodybuilders chasing bodies is something we all strive for I know. On my heaviers I am looking for half a million miles, then I can have them retanked. I look for 15 years use out of a tank.

TB: Is chassis life expectancy changing?

MG: Yes, it is reducing the standard of workmanship and the quality of manufactured equipment is poorer. You can no longer get what you used to without any problems.

Take fabrication: you ask for straightforward British standard welding, but the bodybuilder will say: "There is no real requirment for it. If we do start using a BS standard or code of practice the fellow down the road will be able to undercut the price and we lose the business."

MG: Normally they would not offer it but if you insist it's "yes" but at a premium price coupled to a delivery of 12 to 14 weeks if you are lucky.

BB: As a vehicle manufacturer you have to conform to Construction and Use Regulations and other standards but the bo dybuilder has no such constraint.

DE: No, they don't and the shortcomings are recognised. Hence this code of practice being drawn up. Now that won't be a panacea because some will conform to the standards and some won't.

Those that do follow the code will, it is hoped, refuse to build below the standard set. But the economic facts of life are likely to militate against that.

It will probably depend on cashflow. If the salesman is looking to make up on the profit erosion that has taken place with the deals that are done on the chassis, he will look to recover some of that loss on the body.

It happens at 10 tons and under. There is a great temptation for the dealer to quote a premium price then to get the job done by a railway arch builder.

MC: That is true. A lot of lightweight bodies are used by one man operators and they pay for what they think is the best — but they are not getting it.

DE: Whenever something goes wrong, whose fault is it if a tailboard falls off or the frame cracks?

MG: Are you offering us a warranty?

DE: We are not in a position to give a warranty on the body. MG: I think you should as a vehicle manufacture if the body was ordered at the same time as the chassis and built to a code of practice. It should be no different to any other proprietary item. It is common practice on the Continent.

DB: Isn't it in the manufacturer's interest to have a body fitted that he approves of. Most manufacturers do have approved lists so why should they not stand the waranty? We don't say that we get a load of rubbish but we would like to see the life factor improved because it is definitely getting shorter and shorter. Not necessarily guaranteed, but a longer life.

MG: Specialist equipment that we buy ranges from £1,400 to £30,000. That's just the equip+ ment. And we find we are not getting 10 years' life out of that investment. It is rather expensive to throw away and to bring in another one.

I've alreay mentioned fabricated sections and quality of welds. Normally you might say there is no real problem there but we find from the body industry, because there are no standards or code of practice and because of economics and profit margins, the quality is tending to drop and we as the end user are left picking up the tab.

MC: I use mainly Welford bodies and have had some unhappy experiences with some of the small bodybuilders. If there is type approval, some of the small companies would disappear because they do not have the design knowledge that is needed. Some don't even have a drawing office, they build almost by eye. TB: Would it be a bad thing if the industry lost those bodybuilders?

MC: Yes, because of the small jobs that they are able to do. I have tried to establish a dard body over the last years that is built in exacth same way whether it is I Transit or an eight-wheeler. DE: So you produced the s fication?

MG: Yes. We find that the way to get what we want produce a specification. Al tenders quote on that spec.

left to the builder after beinc what you want, he will corr with something which he say is the same but it won't I DE: Having done that, compatibility do you haw tween different types of cha MG: We build that in fror start by standardising ci makes of chassis. We use ' and Leylands. A code of pr: would need to have a with gree of compatibility with sis. This may involve a charge but irrespective of chassis it would fit, it shot., covered by a warranty. DE: Incompatibility is one I problems I run into. It reflet the vehicle chassis manufa( because when the driver round to the front of the vi it is the name that he blam any fault with the vehicle.

This ultimately leads tt satisfaction for the end USE that is something we a seeking to avoid. It is lest problem in Germany be there are only three manuf ers who dominate about cent of the market. In th there are 30 or 50.

MC: I normally specify the sis first.

MG: Chassis can be dardised throughout the saving on spares and stocl, improving servicing downt BB: How big do you have before you can justify you body shop?

DB: My company's East division has 500 to 600 ve and it is cost-effective on alone. If the work wa: outside it would ke bodyshop working on ful so it would be ours in all b name above the door. TB: Do you have operators, Dermot, who their own bodybuilding fac DB: Seventy-five per CE MAN sales are tractive uniI can think of no one who an in-house facility, only E of a group. The paint within Allied Mills givt control over the quality end product.

MG: To what extent shou operator become involved velopment?

DB: We are forced to s otherwise they don't off,

lipment to do the job.

: If you suggest a new way of ing something or new terials they will say OK, but your head be it. There is no irantee.

de do quite a lot of acid work I use a second coating on the de of the tanks. If we specify ;ertain type of lining, the lder will apply it but we won't ept any comeback.

they are in the business of lding a certain type of body to a particular job, then they ■ uld be able to say yes or no our suggestions. Normally y ask us what we think is !ded.

: Many manufacturers don't 3'n to the bodybuilder and n't get the bodybuilder olved in the early stages of a v model. They do criticise the ssis on occasions.

o give an example, I transed some Powell Duffryn Dy,or equipment from an ERF Issis to a T45 Constructor ht. The wheelbases were ch the same but I had no end rouble. We needed two tanks I in the end it meant leaving the spare wheel.

'here are bits and pieces bed the cab, and the cab itself is ihtly longer.

Ve get good service from the a people today so the spare is so important but it is running 1200x20 which is a bit unial.

lut, anyhow, it stopped us ifling as we had before.

Vhy not buy another ERF? II, the reason was the trans;sion on the type of work the licle is doing. With a lot of op hills and sharp bends, the cer box stands up better than Fuller.

: Nothing wrong with the T45 : on this occasion there was a mpatibility problem with sting body equipment.

The fuel tank had to have a cut out of it to clear the ram I required some juggling of issis components. I don't obt to that but life could be de a bit easier.

: Where should the engineer rt with the specification?

;: Do you think that specialist lybuilder will have any inance with the chassis menuturer when he places air aners and pipes, etc, with the ited number of units that may ply to him.

On the Continent, it operates other way round. But in the there is a much wider choice. : It should be up to the bodyIder to contact the supplier of specialist equipment if there ny problem with fitting it.

But where is the interface between the chassis cab manufacturers, bodybuilders and the ancillaries? No one seems to want to take responsibility. Power take-off is a case in point. If the bodybuilder recommends a stronger non-standard unit to go with a piece of hydraulic equipment and at some time later it fails, all he will do is offer to replace it with something else. But it leaves the operator in limbo and we have to pay again. DB: That's where I say the vehicle manufacturers should carry it on their warranty.

DE: I think what you are really saying is that there is a lack of professionalism. I understand what you say about the warranty but I would not want it to happen because it would involve the operator in a lot of hassle. It would involve extra cost which would have to be passed onto the operator at some stage.

DB: But by avoiding the hassle yourself, you are passing the problems onto the operator.

DE: No, I don't mean to do that. We can provide a list of approved bodybuilders. But if it were to mean anything at all, we would have to take an interest in the product, If something goes wrong and the bodybuilder falls down, the operator would expect to come back to the chassis manufacturer for satisfaction. And the manufacturer would not be able to recover the money. DB: I don't see why you do not on other component parts.

DE: It would take a lot of adminstration but it would make it ea sier for you and provide marketing benefits for the chassis manufacturer.

MC: In doing this, the bodybuilder would have to shoulder more responsibilities. In producing an approved list you would say there are the firms to use but equally a black list would make their work invalidate your warranty.

MC: There is such a wide range of equipment to take into account when you consider that he does not know what the operator will do with it in many cases.

DE: But this must be down to the one who specifies the vehicle. MC: From square one the manufacturer says you can have optional equipment fitted but it is down to the dealer to know what the vehicle will be used for.

TB: It is a question of suitability of the purpose.

MC: I take the problem away from the dealer by buying the chassis and then buying the body.

MG: That is the problem. If you do that now with all the bits and pieces that you want added to the chassis, and something goes wrong, you can't go back to the chassis manufacturerer because you haven't given him the requirement of use and he can't be held responsible. What we have found so far is that if you do go back to the chassis manufacturerer he can wield the big stick much more effectively than the operator to get some sort of satisfaction.

MC: I find the opposite. The dealer as part of the package would send the vehicle to the bodybuilder and does not provide quite what is wanted.

DE: The question of warranty is BB: How difficult is it to match bodies to chassis and wheel bases? Are there sufficient wheel-base dimensions to suit your general needs? Is there a problem and is it getting better or worse?

MC: There is often not enough choice in axle or tyre capacity. The odd half-ton off the front axle would often get you out of all of the problems.

BB: You are all operating special vehicles, in your own way, of one type or another.

MC: For normal haulage requirements the available chassis range is adequate but it is a different matter when considering specialist requirements. There is not enough leeway.

BB: Should chassis mountings be standardised?

DB: If not, there should be some close liaison with the bodybuilder. I have had to tell the bodybuilders that they have fitted the wrong ones. We as operators have to keep up with developments so why can't they?

DE: There needs to be professionalism at the retail end so the manufacturer knows who is good and who is bad— That brings me back to the code of practice that the bodybuilders are formulating. Otherwise they will lose work to the railway archmen on price.

MG: Who put the work that way to the railway and builder?

DE: The retailer.

MC: It's the dealer who is looking to save the odd 50 notes which the customer never sees anything of.

DE: I know you will tell me that we should stamp on these people, but unfortunately we can't because the manufacturer is essentially a wholesaler and title passes with the sale of the product. There is no contractual relationship whatsoever as far as what happens then.

The alternative to a code of practice might be some form of type approval but no one in their right mind would want that, I am sure.

As Dermot was the only one present representing a manufacturer, we left him with the last word.

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