Paul Stanley's grounds maintenance team at Havant Borough Council traditionally used panel vans with 16ft trailers to transport mowers to and from site. Paul recognised that the vans weren't used to their optimum. So he approached KFS Special vehicles, and together they came up with a solution that delivered tangible efficiency savings, reports Ann-Marie Knegt.

Havant Borough Council's grounds maintenance department traditionally used panel vans with a 16ft trailer to transport equipment such as mowers, verge trimmers from the depot to site. Fleet and transport team leader Paul Stanley recognised that these panel vans were not used to their optimum capacity. “At the end of the season they were used to carry salt around for winter maintenance operations. For the rest of the year, they were largely unutilised, which was a waste.”

Paul decided to look for a specialist vehicle solution that could be utilised effectively all year round, and more importantly all day round. He approached KFS Special vehicles in Andover and explained that he was looking for a truck that was purpose-built to transport plant and equipment to and from site, but which was equally versed to carry any other type of heavy goods.

Paul required a good payload for this, but in order to get a 7.5 tonne vehicle he needed to obtain more O-licenses (operators license). However, the cost of training staff that had passed their driving test after 1997, could be as high as £1,100 per person. Therefore that option was rapidly crossed off.

Havant BC's ride-on mowers that weigh as much as 700kg, while a push-along mower weighs approximately 280kg. During each drive to site the panel vans used to transport at least one ride-on and two push-along mowers, with the added weight of a tool box and various equipment such as hedge cutting equipment, plus the combined weight of three crew members. This meant that the total gross vehicle weight of the vehicle had to be under 3,500 kg with a payload of 1,320 kg, while offering enough space to carry all that without being overloaded.

Paul also required a drop-down full-width tailgate, wider track rear axle, to fit large mowers between the wheel boxes; removable drop sides; and a removable toolbox large enough to carry the various hand tools the crew required.

Paul and Steve Elwell from KFS crudely taped out the floor areas that the mowers took up, and measured the space of the actual equipment the vehicle was required to carry.

Based on these requirements, KFS designed a vehicle with a lightweight aluminium body, and a beavertail fitted with a tailgate. Paul explains that this removed the need for a trailer, and provided so much space that the removable tool box that was used to store strimmers and blowers during the main part of the year never had to be removed at all.

“However, after we installed this box we found that with a little bit of rearranging we could keep it all year. Instead of fitting the ride-on mower on the back we fitted it on the front. We are now putting the machine safely on the front with two smaller machines behind, meaning that we have a better load distribution. Rather than putting all the load on the backend of the truck, and causing the components to stretch, we are extending the life of the vehicle by loading it correctly.”

Havant BC acquired three Plant and Go vehicles, and moved two three panel vans into other services, while the trailers were auctioned. Paul explained that he is now getting a greater use out of the vehicles because they are used all the time instead of 19 weeks of the year. He also outlined that the vehicles can be used for many other tasks, such as transporting leaves, salt or topsoil.

Paul explained that the vehicle greatly improved working conditions for his team. “We don't have to manhandle equipment on and off trailers. This vehicle is purpose built for grounds maintenance and parkland care, but it is also useful for other services where you have to shift a heavy load, or deliver goods somewhere.”

The vehicle is only 550mm high, and this offers the operator considerable health and safety benefits since there is much less risk of injuries when stepping on and off, and for loading heavy plant. KFS has also integrated a purpose-made extruded aluminium planking system with an integral ribbed finish to enable grip in any weather condition.

However, these were not the only benefits that the new vehicles delivered. The depot from which the grounds maintenance team operates is only small, and parking facility is limited.

“We have made an efficiency saving on our parking space as well, because rather than a van and a 16ft trailer we now have 48ft of extra space available.

“We kept two panel vans in service, and we managed to extend their life. Two are used for verge cutting operations to carry hedge cutters and strimmers on the back. So we now have five vehicles on the fleet. But next year we may even consider another Plant and Go truck,” concluded Paul.