Equipment

6 Steps to Better Work Truck Body Upfits

February 2016, TruckingInfo.com - Department

by Mike Antich, Editor and Associate Publisher - Also by this author

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Upfitters will assemble exactly what’s spec’d, but need an advance warning of any special materials required. And, do the specs account for how the truck will be used and include input from the workers who’ll use it? Are the chassis’ wheelbase and cab-to-axle dimensions, among other things, correct for the body? Photos: Auto Truck Group
Upfitters will assemble exactly what’s spec’d, but need an advance warning of any special materials required. And, do the specs account for how the truck will be used and include input from the workers who’ll use it? Are the chassis’ wheelbase and cab-to-axle dimensions, among other things, correct for the body? Photos: Auto Truck Group

Upfitting a truck chassis to perform a specific task requires planning and coordination among suppliers, fleet managers and end users. So says a panel of experts assembled by Work Truck, an HDT sister magazine, who speak from experience in offering ways to optimize the spec’ing and upfitting process.

Involve the people who will be using the truck

The first mistake most fleet managers make is not involving the actual end-user in discussions. We constantly make every effort to involve the actual end-user, branch manager, or field technician in all upfit discussions. After all, those are the people who know how the equipment will allow them to perform their jobs safely, effectively and efficiently.

— Bill Byron, senior medium/heavy duty truck specialist, Donlen Fleet Management

Ask drivers and technicians for input on what they require to do their jobs on a daily basis. This will assist a fleet manager and upfitter designing a package to provide the necessary tools and equipment, while also ensuring the proper chassis selection. 

— Steve Swedberg, truck engineering and ordering specialist, Emkay

Missing important operational factors (dock height, overhead height, forklift floor, load needs, etc.) can lead to a bad design that won’t meet field personnel needs. This may cause considerable wasted work effort and may cut into employee productivity. Work with your truck engineer to complete a site visit, see what the operating conditions are.  

— Joe Brightwell, truck operations manager, Wheels Inc.

Understand operational requirements

Consider such factors as usage, terrain, weather, annual mileage, payload, maintenance, cargo, and cargo loading requirements. Don’t miss key performance requirements, such as the gradability and startability, which can greatly affect maintenance and longevity. For example, it is not uncommon for a landscaper’s truck with a 10-foot dump bed to climb steep grades of 10-11% while pulling a trailer. Specifying the wrong powertrain components can cause serious performance and maintenance issues on a vehicle such as this. 

— Bill Gooden, vehicle upfit consultant, LeasePlan

Have realistic delivery expectations

Establish expectations and match them with supply chain capabilities. Consider the full scope of order-to-delivery — from the creation of specs through the keys landing in a driver’s hand. Stay current with OEM build schedule information to avoid a last-minute order placement and set realistic timing estimates with your company’s field operations and management team. 

— Ken Gillies, truck ordering and engineering manager, GE Capital Fleet Services

A realistic timeline must consider such factors as weather delays, rail car shortages, and delivery time for upfit equipment. Typically, a vehicle with upfit requirements can take as much as six to nine months from order to delivery. 

— Howard Goldman, vehicle purchasing manager, Merchants Fleet Management

Consider all options

If a vendor is unaware of the upfitting requirements or that a vehicle is on the way, he will not be prepared and material will not be on the ground. This could add weeks or even months to the overall lead time. Be sure to consider all options at the time an order is placed and clearly identify the exact upfit you want. 

— Mike Sturges, regional truck manager, ARI

Standardize where possible

Standardize your upfit package, if at all possible. Many fleets allow the use of too many specs or options. The ability to cascade, or move vehicles from location to location, becomes more difficult without a certain level of standardization. Furthermore, the ability to benchmark locations against each other also becomes more difficult when trucks are less similar.

— Chris Foster, manager, truck and equipment, ARI

Fleet managers can get a lot of pressure from their field personnel for very specific upfits. A close examination of equipment used across the fleet will usually yield a solid set of specifications that will perform admirably in all but a few circumstances.

— Joe Brightwell, truck operations manager, Wheels Inc.

Associated benefits to standardization include cost reduction — not just to the vehicle, but in volume discounts for every upfit component — as well as reduced lead times and improved quality, and more consistent build. Standardization also supports the quality assurance process and minimizes the need for individual inspections and quality control. 

— Ron Wiggins, Truck Spec Analyst for ARI

Start planning early

Recognize that the process can be long: identifying which vehicles will need to be replaced in the next order cycle, deciding on what chassis to replace those vehicles with, nailing down upfit specifications, locking down hard quotes, ordering the replacements, actual production, and transportation. It all takes time, so start your planning cycle early enough.

— Joe Brightwell, truck operations manager, Wheels Inc.

Get vehicle orders in early enough to secure allocation with the manufacturer. Sometimes we receive orders one hour prior to final order cut-off. What can happen is the orders will be accepted, but days, or even weeks, later the manufacturer may respond that allocation is full and either the orders are canceled or the manufacturer rolls the orders over into the next model-year. If upfit equipment was ordered at the time the vehicle order was placed, it either cannot be returned or returned only after paying restocking fees. 

— Joe Birren, truck design consultant, Donlen

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