July 21, 2019

Powering on

As vans are adapted for an increasingly wide range of uses, so the demand for more flexible and powerful electrical systems increases. Peter Ringham looks at some of the options.

Tradespeople who have racking and drawer units installed in the load areas of their vans often need an ancillary electrical system fitted. It allows them to plug in and charge up power tools and employ more powerful lighting while they are working.

In some cases they cobble one together out of lengths of cable and sockets they have scrounged, even though they don’t really know what they are doing.

The best case scenario is that it fails to work properly, keeps cutting out, and eventually flattens the battery. The worst case scenario is that it causes the van to catch fire.

It is a hazard that many racking companies have been aware of for some time, and they are doing something about it. Among those at the forefront is Modul-System, which traded as Tevo in the UK up until recently.

Some two-and-a-half years ago it launched Modul-Connect, a plug-and-play wiring and control system which it says uses a unique digital signal to control all the electrical components connected to it. This allows a variety of different items to be powered and switched along a single cable simultaneously.

“The way it is designed means that it can be installed quickly and safely, without the need for experienced electricians or complex programming,” contends vice president, Thomas Johansson.

“The time saved will of course differ between specifications, but it is not uncommon to save up to 40% on installation time compared to traditional wiring,” he claims.

Modul-System has also developed its own range of electrical products, including inverters, internal and external work lights and exterior beacons. Light bars and strobe lights are included in the line-up with extensive use made of LEDs.

“Because Modul-Connect is modular we can offer a tailor-made solution to each customer,” says Johansson. “Modularity also makes it easy to adapt if the customer’s requirements change.”

Modul-System is not on its own.

“We can fit everything from interior lighting and small inverters for charging cordless power tools to high-powered systems that will produce up to 3kW,” says Sortimo project co-ordinator, Matthew Bentham. “We can also install onboard voltage sensing software that will disconnect the supply if there is a risk the battery will be flattened.”

“We like to think of ourselves as a one-stop-shop.”

The battery protection package Sortimo offers can be programmed to cut the power if devices have accidentally been left switched on in the vehicle overnight. The last thing busy tradespeople need is to be unable to start their van first thing in the morning.

“It’s a fit-and-forget system,” says Bentham.

Sortimo can install ancillary batteries if that is what is required, and they may be essential for some types of operation. “Bear in mind that most starter batteries have a capacity of less than 100 amp hours, so if you need 2000w then your battery will only last for half-an-hour,” he observes.

Modul-Connect comes with a built-in battery guard.

“Normally you want a battery guard set to 11.7v if the electrics are connected to your starter battery to be able to crank the vehicle,” says Johansson. Some manufacturers require it to be set at 12.2v however, he adds.

“If it is connected to an auxiliary battery then you would normally set it to 10.5v, which allows you to get a bit more out of it,” he says.

Modul-Connect is electronically-fused to stop any tools or other items plugged into it suffering damage if there is a short circuit.

Nor will it be affected he says by sudden glitches triggered by the van’s software being updated when it goes into the dealership for a service. “It is a stand-alone solution not connected to the vehicle’s CAN bus system,” he explains.

While ancillary wiring does not impose a huge additional weight burden on a van, every kilo that can be saved helps given the tight payload capacity restraints that 3.5-tonners in particular can face.

“Modul-Connect offers a significant reduction,” says Johansson. “It has enabled us to lower the wiring weight from 25kg to 5kg for one of our largest utility fleet customers.”

Recently Modul-System has introduced wireless switches which communicate with the onboard control box using radio frequency. “It means you can put your switches anywhere in the vehicles and has allowed us to reduce the need for cabling significantly,” he says.

What is more, everything that has been connected can be controlled and monitored remotely using a smartphone or tablet.

“We use long-range Bluetooth, which works at a distance of up to 100 metres,” Johansson says. “You can add a SIM card if you want to control things from further away.”

Among the benefits is being able to see what state the vehicle’s battery or any additional batteries fitted are in. “You can easily check that the battery has sufficient charge before leaving for a job,” he says.

Bott’s in-house lighting, power and equipment team can design bespoke electrical solutions for fleet operators.

For the past seven years the company has been working with roadside recovery specialist Allianz Assistance, most recently converting a number of Ford Transit Customs. They have been fitted with tow dolly units mounted inside the rear hatch-type door, which can be lowered to help rescue stranded vehicles, and require the right electrical specifications to ensure they work properly.

“Bott has been very proactive when it comes to listening to what we require, offering us a number of alternatives then designing and implementing a workable solution,” says Allianz Partners technical manager, Adrian Cox.

Electrical fitters at Qi Van Systems have been trained to work on electric vehicles and the Telford, Shropshire-based company’s workshop boasts bays dedicated to electric van conversions. Their high-voltage systems mean that extra care has to be taken by whoever is working on them.

The need for efficient onboard electrical systems and the proliferation of kit that is connected to them should not be underestimated, says System Edstrom. Nor should the benefits they bring says chief executive officer, Steffen Karlsson.

“Well-equipped vehicles vastly increase work capacity,” he observes; and that has to be good for a firm’s bottom line.