December 15, 2019

Managing the load

Dan Gilkes looks at some options for the safe handling of loads.

When it comes to loading goods and materials into vans or onto dropside trucks, there are plenty of options available. Fork-lifts, cranes and hoists can all play a role on site, if they are available at the loading or unloading area. However, for most van operators, powered materials handling equipment will need to be part of the vehicle itself.

That predominantly means a tail-lift, or in some cases a small vehicle-mounted crane or hoist. There is certainly no shortage of manufacturers, distributors and agents capable of installing and servicing a tail-lift, with the likes of DEL, Palfinger, Dhollandia and others all active in the UK. Many vehicle suppliers and their dealers can also provide tail-lifts, particularly when ordered with a ‘ready-to-go’ type of Luton van or dropside conversion.

There are several things that should be considered before opting for a tail-lift though. As with any additional equipment that is mounted on a van, the effect on payload may be a primary concern, particularly for those already operating close to the permitted weight of the vehicle. The weight of a tail-lift will have to be offset by a reduction in carrying capacity, to remain within a van’s gross weight, which is particularly important at the popular 3.5-tonne limit.

There are different types of tail-lift on offer. Column lifts are usually seen on Luton bodied vans and on dropsides. They have a manually folded platform that is raised and lowered by chains within the columns. They offer the fastest cycle times, making them a popular choice for multi-drop delivery. Rear frame column lifts take the idea a stage further, by using the folded platform to actually cover part of the opening at the rear of the vehicle, in effect becoming part of the rear door.

Tuckaway lifts are chassis mounted with hydraulic cylinders mounted below the truck body. They provide quicker access to the rear of the vehicle if the lift is not required. Cantilever lifts, which are predominantly used on heavier vehicles, are also chassis mounted, but with a platform that folds up behind the vehicle. Though typically slower to use than a column lift, the hydraulic rams provide increased lift capacities.

Service and maintenance

As well as choosing the type of equipment, companies should also take into account the need for regular service and maintenance, as a tail-lift is not a fit and forget device. As with any lifting equipment, the tail-lift will be covered under LOLER (Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998). As well as insisting that equipment should be strong and stable enough for its intended use, LOLER calls for ongoing thorough examinations by a competent person, with records kept. Recommended inspections should be at six-month intervals, or after 300 hours of use.

The good news for companies that don’t have their own team of service engineers, is that there are plenty of service and repair agents for tail-lifts, such as Alfa Tail Lifts, along with manufacturer and vehicle dealers capable of handling this type of work.

The tail-lift is a mature sector of the commercial vehicle market, but that doesn’t mean that manufacturers aren’t constantly looking to improve their designs. With vehicle chassis getting heavier, thanks to AdBlue tanks, increased safety and driver assistance technology and the growing call for comfort items such as air conditioning, much of that engineering and design work is focussed on trying to reduce the weight of equipment, while maintaining lift performance. This is being achieved through improved design, but also through the use of more advanced materials.

The latest model from Hiab group company DEL is a prime example. The fifth generation of DEL’s DL500 tail-lift is 15-20kg lighter than the previous model, making it a popular choice for 3.5-tonne vehicles. It features stronger steels, allowing thinner profiles to be used, along with greater use of composites. The DL500 is also now bolted together, rather than welded, making it far easier to repair if damaged.

The lift features a redesigned catch and additional anti-tilt design to improve platform operation, along with no lock protrusion, making it easier and safer to use. The DL500 also gets a quieter chain roller, for smoother operation and reduced maintenance. Maximum lift capacity remains at 500kg, despite the lighter overall weight. The revised DL500 offers increased safety, both for operators and for passers-by, with a range of gates, fences and ramps available.

Palfinger is adding to its tail-lift line-up in the coming months, with the launch of the MBB C500 Van Flex. The company already has an MBB C500 full width tail-lift, but the Flex model offers improved operational versatility, thanks to a vertically folding platform. It uses the same mountings as the standard C500, but with the hydraulic rams all positioned to the left of the vehicle. This allows the stowed platform to sit on one side of the van, providing access to the right-hand rear door when the lift is folded away. Once the platform has been lowered, it can be unfolded to provide a full width surface.

The company has also launched the V-range of vertical column lifts, formerly known sold the Ratcliff brand. Available with 500kg operating loads for vans and 1,000kg models for trucks, the V-range is offered with multiple platform depths, safety gates, ramps, trolley stops and a plug-and-ply Anderson lead option. Palfinger claims that its V500 LQ is the lightest column lift on the market, at around 150kg, yet it still offers a 500kg lift capacity. It can be provided with an anodised aluminium platform or a mesh platform to suit the operation.

As mentioned, there are plenty of tail-lift manufacturers and suppliers around. While initial purchase price will be important to any company, finding the right equipment for your application may well depend more on your requirements for maintenance and back-up.