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