WEL Net­works up­grades and im­proves its Ford Rangers to be fit for pur­pose.

New Zealand LCV - - CONTENTS -

IT’S NOR­MALLY EX­OTIC ITAL­IAN su­per­cars that of­fer up light­weight or im­proved ver­sions of their mod­els, but now there are a cou­ple of light­weight, heavy duty Ford Rangers roam­ing the streets.

A con­cern about over­load­ing ve­hi­cles prompted en­ergy and elec­tric­ity provider WEL Net­works to col­lab­o­rate with lo­cal au­to­mo­tive and engi­neer­ing busi­nesses to mod­ify the de­sign of its fleet of utes.

Main­tain­ing and mon­i­tor­ing WEL’S ex­ten­sive lines net­work of­ten re­quires at­tend­ing re­mote ru­ral lo­ca­tions, so it’s a bal­anc­ing act be­tween car­ry­ing too much gear – or not enough.

The move came about af­ter the Hamil­ton-based elec­tric­ity dis­tri­bu­tion com­pany recog­nised its utes could be over­loaded while trav­el­ling to work­sites, and staff were hav­ing to com­plete nu­mer­ous trips to get the right gear to the site. Over­load­ing meant that faults staff could not even take a pas­sen­ger, or would have to make a round trip to re­trieve gear. “Crews would go out to re­mote sites near Raglan, for ex­am­ple, then have to come back to pick up a fuse car­rier… it’s quite frus­trat­ing,” says Gen­eral Man­ager WEL Ser­vices, Mat O’neill.

“Strip­ping out es­sen­tial work gear was not an op­tion and that’s why the com­pany had to come up with an in­no­va­tive so­lu­tion,” he says. “We’re al­ways look­ing to see how we can do things smarter across the busi­ness and that also ap­plies to our ve­hi­cle fleet.”

So, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with its staff and four au­to­mo­tive and engi­neer­ing busi­nesses, WEL looked at so­lu­tions to in­crease the ve­hi­cles’ load-car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity.

The re­sult was two trial Ford Rangers, pur­chased from Hamil­ton’s Fairview Mo­tors, that have been fit­ted out with sus­pen­sion up­grade kits – us­ing heavy duty Ped­ders and Lovells shocks, springs and bushes – com­bined with lighter cus­tom-built canopies al­low­ing for an in­crease in the GVM (Gross Ve­hi­cle Mass) for the ve­hi­cle from 3.2

Heavy duty sus­pen­sion com­bines with light­weight com­po­nents to in­crease the Ranger’s GVM from 3.2 to 3.5 tonne

tonne to 3.5 tonne.

The sus­pen­sion up­grades were done by SAS Au­toparts and Au­to­mo­tive So­lu­tions. The canopy fit-outs were de­signed and built by Auto Trans­form and Ac­tive Man­u­fac­tur­ing.

The steel decks were re­placed by al­loy, with alu­minium used to make brack­ets, shelv­ing and draw­ers. Plas­tic bins carry gear like tools, per­sonal pro­tec­tive equip­ment, fuses and ca­ble. The mod­i­fi­ca­tions al­low for an ad­di­tional 300kg in weight to be safely car­ried.

In mak­ing the mod­i­fi­ca­tions, staff safety was para­mount, says WEL Net­works Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Garth Di­b­ley. “When you do many miles on the road you have got to have a ve­hi­cle which is safe for peo­ple to use and op­er­ate. It is their of­fice, so I want a safe of­fice.”

He says the mod­i­fi­ca­tion sys­tem is also recog­nised in­ter­na­tion­ally: “We’ve adopted an Aus­tralian so­lu­tion us­ing a process autho­rised by the New Zealand Trans­port Agency, so we are able to set these utes up as 3.5 tonne GVM ve­hi­cles, and have new com­pli­ance plates is­sued be­fore they’re reg­is­tered.” With the re­cent changes, the ve­hi­cles are now both safe and com­pli­ant, he says.

“Un­der the Health and Safety Act we are re­quired as a prin­ci­ple to en­sure that the equip­ment that we pro­vide our staff is suit­able for the task they are re­quired to un­der­take.”

“These are ve­hi­cles that you can now drive on the road and I have ev­ery con­fi­dence that when they are at max­i­mum weight and ca­pac­ity, the guys have got good ac­cess to their gear on the back, and we have some mar­gin as to what we can and can­not carry.”

There are other ad­van­tages, he says: “We won’t chew out tyres the way we were, the ve­hi­cles will last longer, and are safer.”

It also means the utes can eas­ily carry two staff, a re­quire­ment when at­tend­ing high-risk weather re­lated out­ages.

Mat says the changes were made in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the work­ers: “We dis­cussed this with the faults staff, talked through the changes re­quired, and the level of equip­ment re­quired. We’ll also use feedback from the field to select the pre­ferred de­sign for the re­main­der of the fleet.”

The dif­fer­ent de­signs are cur­rently be­ing tri­alled and the pre­ferred op­tion will be used to mod­ify an ad­di­tional 12 utes over the next year.

Hamil­ton’s WEL Net­work liked the Ford Rangers on its fleet, but car­ry­ing so much equip­ment, needed a light weight but heavy duty so­lu­tion, so de­vel­oped a bolt-on sus­pen­sion and weight-sav­ing pack­age with a num­ber of lo­cal busi­nesses.

Ped­ders and Lovells shocks and springs help in­crease the load car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity - to the point where the loaded utes can now legally carry a pas­sen­ger, some­thing not al­ways pre­vi­ously pos­si­ble.

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