Cool Tools: Truck Upfits
Published: October 2010
A properly upfitted service truck helps organize tools, supplies and frequently used replacement parts and equipment, enabling an electrician to work more efficiently and be more productive.
Vans organized for easy access and stocked with routinely needed tools and equipment reduce time workers spend searching for items and going back to the shop or supply house.
Vans remain the most popular service truck choice for electrical contracting companies. Box vans mounted on cab-over-engine vehicles are growing in popularity because they offer more cargo space. Pickups with various storage upfits or equipped with utility bodies are other options.
This report focuses on upfit products including racks, storage cabinets and boxes, shelving, cable reel holders, and barriers to separate the driver from the cargo area. It does not include utility bodies. Upfit manufacturers’ websites are a good source for information about products and for comparing product features of available equipment.
Upfit packages with basic components that can be installed in different configurations are popular, and upfits also are available for cargo trailers.
Most upfit products are primarily steel or aluminum, but components of lighter materials also are being used.
Manufacturers work hard to engineer products to be functional, durable and easy to use, and many improvements are devoted to achieving those goals. Shelf bins with plastic dividers are designed to enable the user to remove a bin from the truck and take it to the job site.
Advances in hardware facilitate opening and closing, and some drawer designs can be locked in several positions. Cargo barriers typically have been steel mesh so the driver can see through, but clear plastic panels are an option. Some units have door-glides to facilitate opening and closing. Drawers can be locked in three positions: closed and locked, closed but unlocked, and open and locked in place.
Michael Sover, senior product manager for Knaack, said upfit products for electricians vary by the type of vehicle.
“For vans, the popular products are bulkheads, shelving units, drawer units, wire spool racks and conduit carriers. For pickup trucks, they are truck boxes, ladder racks, drawer units and conduit carriers. For box vans, it’s basically the shelving units and wire spool racks. As you can see by the nature of these products, they all are built to help the electrical contractor organize his work space, so he can work more productively and efficiently,” he said, adding that the market for upfit products is very stable.
“There hasn’t been a need for many upgrades in overall design, materials and durability,” he said. “Some products may have little tweaks in terms of different handles or a different coating used, but they are more small adjustments than overall product changes.”
When evaluating upfit products, Sover said buyers should consider the overall quality, durability and features of the product. He recommended buyers ask what is available for their vehicles and if upfits offer everything needed. Customers must determine which products will work best with their applications to help with organization and productivity.
Knaack Weather Guard (www.knaack.com) truck cargo products include van roof racks, bulkheads, shelving, special storage options and accessories, including drawer organizers, cable reel racks and conduit carriers.
Weather Guard pickup truck accessories include new low-profile side boxes, which complement a complete line of low--profile saddle boxes; these boxes mount just above the bed rail to keep rear sightlines open. Automotive-style latches provide one-touch opening. Pickup ladder and conduit racks also are available.
Christensen Manufacturing’s John Healey said work-winch racks are in high demand because they make securing ladders easy and fast.
“Electricians also like full-access tool boxes because it is easy to access their contents and can accommodate plastic storage bins as well as dividers, offering more accessibility and organization than ever offered before. Practically all of the electricians who purchase these toolboxes from us get at least one box with the combination-interior-with-bins option.
Upfit customers want functionality and quality, Healey said.
“Many contractors have been down the ‘less-expensive’ route and understand that you get what you pay for, and they are willing to pay more for equipment that performs better and lasts longer,” he said. “With equipment designed with function and longevity as the most important considerations, cost is less important.”
Christensen (www.ladderracks.com) products include System One ladder racks for pickups, vans, service bodies and for interior body mounting, and Work Winch tie-down systems to secure cargo.
Full-access toolboxes are available in a variety of sizes and interior configurations. For maximum use of storage space, new stowaway drawers mount under toolboxes, leaving bed space open. Drawers slide out for access and optional trays are available. To compartmentalize drawers and trays, dividers are available.
Tradesman packages are available to fit different sizes of trucks and include contractor rack, work winches, full-access toolboxes with open interiors, and stowaway drawers.
Adrian Steel’s Shawn Buckland said upfit packages for the electrical industry are popular, and aluminum toolboxes for pickups are in demand. For box vans, upfit packages can be customized to fit customers’ needs.
“Quality, adjustability, durability and customer service are basic considerations when comparing upfit products,” Buckland said. “Customer service is used in the context of whether purchasing the product was easy and if the customer is happy with the installation on the vehicle.”
Adrian Steel (www.adriansteel.com) cargo van equipment and accessories include safety partitions, shelving, drawers, cabinets, files, hooks and accessories. Trade packages, designed to best use interior spaces, are available.
The new AD series is engineered to optimize work van storage and accessibility with adjustable shelves and a heavy-duty rails system to accommodate a diverse range of cargo.
Pickup accessories from Adrian include ladder and storage racks that keep loads off pickup bed floors; aluminum tool boxes providing secure, weatherproof storage of tools and equipment; and shelving for trucks with bed covers; it’s a wide selection of accessories.
Adrian offers an electrician package for box and walk-in vans that includes shelving, bins, drawers, cabinets, interior ladder racks and various accessories.
A large selection of cargo trailer accessories includes shelving units, drawer and cabinet modules, lockers, storage bins and ladder racks.
Jenn Voelker, marketing manager for Leggett & Platt (Masterack products), said the truck market recently is trending to greener, more efficient vehicles, generating the need for making upfits for smaller, more fuel-efficient van models.
Masterack (www.masterack.com) lightweight composite Contour and QuietFlex product lines are designed to fill that need, Voelker said. The company’s van upfit product line includes partitions, steel and wire shelving, storage systems with cabinets and drawers, and cargo barriers. Prepackage van interior components are available for various trades. Masterack’s electrician van package contains lockable cabinets with plenty of drawers for small parts. Wire reel holders are standard.
For pickups, aluminum utility racks are available to fit most models, work tops and interior packages.
Truck upfit equipment is available through upfit dealerships and truck dealerships. Typically, truck dealers handle upfit installations in large fleets; incentives for commercial vehicle upfits often are available.
Most commercial truck managers understand needs of various the various trades, including electricians, and maintain working relationships with upfit distributors who carry those products and can correctly install them. Working with the commercial truck manager, the upfit distributor can recommend and provide quality products, which meet all needs of customers. From the buyer perspective, many truck and upfit customers prefer the single source, turnkey delivery provided by commercial truck dealers.
Purchasers of multiple truck fleets and several delivery destinations may have the vehicles equipped through an upfitter located near the vehicle’s assembly plant, a process known as “ship through.” Before final shipment, vehicles are diverted to an upfitter for equipment installation, then returned to the manufacturer’s traffic system for delivery to the truck dealer, providing fleets with a standardized installation and savings on the transportation costs of shipping vehicles or upfit equipment to multiple locations for installation.
Contractors with 25 or fewer vehicles typically purchase vehicles from truck dealers and take them to a local upfit distributors for equipment installation.
Knaack’s Sover said contractors can shop for upfit options through distributor networks.
“Most distributors who upfit vehicles have the tools and experience necessary to do any type of custom or unusual installation,” he said.
Adrian Steel’s Buckland said he uses ship-through option for large fleets, but all the company’s equipment is installed by a company distributor.
“The three-year, 36,000-mile warranty will be void if the installation is not performed by our distributor,” he said.
GRIFFIN, a construction and tools writer from Oklahoma City, can be reached at email@example.com.