All in for aluminum

FOR MANY YEARS, Wilcox Bodies Ltd in Mississauga, Ontario, has been building aluminum mechanics bodies with an all-steel subframe as a one-off manufacturing process for the company's Canadian customers.

When Wilcox took those bodies to shows in the United States, the reaction invariably was very positive. The company floated the idea with its distributors and received nothing but upbeat feedback.

“It seems like nobody down there provides it,” general manager David Dick says. “I believe there is a pretty high ‘want’ for it. Some people have made them, but nobody carries a standard production line of them.”

Wilcox decided to tap into that market. The original plan was to simply change the sidepacks from steel to aluminum and use a steel floor, but Dick says the more he and the rest of the management thought about it, the more they thought they should take it a step further. They would create a new body similar to the existing body, but the crane tower would be the only thing made out of steel.

By June, Wilcox had manufactured its demo. And now it's preparing to roll out the first aluminum mechanics bodies.

“It's highly anticipated in the market,” Dick says. “We've been in this business since 1962. Our company has always tried to come up with new ideas of how to change a truck body and let the user utilize our product even better. This is one thing we've come up with that isn't really seen much out there. It's going to be really beneficial to our customers. We're excited about it.

“We're not putting down the steel body. This might replace some of those bodies going out, but that body will still exist. This new body will complement it. There will be benefits for both.”

Definite advantages

He says the benefits for the aluminum body are:

  • Weight and fuel savings.

    “By changing the material and structure, it's going to able to provide the same service to the end user but, depending on the configuration somebody puts in, there could be a 30% savings in weight,” Dick says. “The customer can carry a lot more. Right now, when they're loading up, a customer says, ‘Here's the truck. This is the crane I need.’ By the time the mechanic gets in there, he can have 1000 pounds in tools. Plus, they have to carry their other equipment and what they're lifting. At that point, you're probably overloading the vehicle or getting close to the overload point. This will let them, without worries, carry more in the payload area and toolboxes, compressors, cranes. On our 108-inch body, we dropped 1300 pounds. It'll top off at 2300 pounds on the standard 10,000 unit. That also translates into fuel savings.”

  • Elimination of rust.

    “The steel checker plate isn't rust-resistant — that's typically the first place to rust,” he says. “Anything that's being weathered by salt on the road and is metal that's showing on a steel body is automatically going to have a rust problem. With aluminum, you'll never get any rusting on it.”

  • Increased durability and longevity.

    “We have a customer here — Superior Propane — that has been using aluminum service bodies for years,” he says. “They're turning their trucks over about every 10 years. They bring their bodies back in, we sand-blast off all the paint, take off the doors, put on new hinges, and by the time they leave here, they look brand new again. The longevity of an aluminum body is forever if it's taken care of.

“The aluminum body is a little more expensive. But five years ago, aluminum was a lot more expensive than steel, so this would have never even taken place then. But steel prices have increased dramatically, so steel and aluminum are really close in price. The aluminum body might be a little more expensive, but they will save money on fuel and have a body that lasts much longer. It'll be worth the extra money.”

Wilcox started with the idea of manufacturing three models — the 4000, 6000, and 10,000. When the company created the 4000 and saw that it was successful, Dick went back to the engineering staff and said, “OK, we're going to go to the next two. There's no other company out there that is doing what we're going to do.”

Even though the company's testing showed that an aluminum 14,000 would pass the certification process, it decided that would produce a body only with a floor composed entirely of steel.

Ultimately, Wilcox decided on five standard aluminum mechanics bodies: WAB96D56 4,000 (for up to a 16,000 ft/lb crane); WAB108D52 4,000 (for up to a 16,000 ft/lb crane); WAB108D52 6,000 (for up to a 40,000 ft/lb crane); WAB132D52 6,000 (for up to a 40,000 ft/lb crane); and WAB136D54 10,000 (for up to a 62,000 ft/lb crane).

Different models

The WAB96D56 4,000 fits a chassis with a 56" CA dual rear wheel, and has a body length of 96", width of 96", and height of 48". The crane tower and rear sub-frame section is constructed of steel tubing, from rear to front, with a sub-frame of aluminum tubing and a floor fully constructed of aluminum checkerplate. The rest of the body is constructed of smooth aluminum.

The WAB108D52 4,000 fits a chassis with a 60" CA dual rear wheel, and has a body length of 108", width of 96", and height of 48".

The WAB108D52 6,000 fits a chassis with a 60" CA dual rear wheel, and has a body length of 108", width of 96", and height of 48".

The WAB132D52 6,000 fits a chassis with an 84" CA dual rear wheel, and has a body length of 132", width of 96", and height of 48”.

The WAB136D54 10,000 fits a chassis with an 84" CA dual rear wheel, and has a body length of 136", width of 98", and height of 48".

The crane tower of the aluminum mechanics body will be constructed in the exact fashion as the steel bodies. The difference comes with the rest of the understructure, floor, and body.

“Our steel bodies are made of an engineered steel tortional crane tower and subframe, covered by steel checker plate flooring and attached to 12-gauge side packs,” Dick says. “Our aluminum mechanics body, on the other hand, will have the same crane tower, outrigger tube, and rear sub-frame section made of steel, but will be at the rear attached to an aluminum sub-frame, aluminum checkerplate flooring, and aluminum side packs.

“The result will be a lighter body with the same functionality of our steel bodies, saving in payload of the truck and fuel usage of the truck. The advantages obviously are the weight gain and fuel savings, but the user will also carry more in the load space and compartments, therefore better utilizing the truck for the job.”

All hardware on the bodies (steel and aluminum) is of stainless steel, including all fasteners, handles, locks, and hinges. The mechanics bodies feature a “wash-out bottom”, which creates an additional 3" opening in the compartment to fully utilize the space available in the compartments. All doors are double-paneled for strength and durability. Wilcox uses automotive bulb-type weather stripping in all door openings. The standard bumper is a 10" reinforced.

Steel body

Contrast the aluminum construction with that of the 6000 steel body:

The compartments are formed from 12-gauge satincoat steel complete. Compartment tops are 12-gauge one piece and form a full-length drip rail over side doors. Wheel panels have a one-piece rolled rib and are completely removable. The overall width of body is 94", with sidepack height of 42" to 60" and an overall compartment depth of 21".

The understructure is shear-plated to chassis. The body has crane-tower support in the rear curbside compartment suitable for supporting a corner-mount crane up to 70,000 ft-lb. The crane tower is attached to the sub-frame.

All doors are double-panel, 20-gauge satincoat steel with “V” groove bends for water run-off. Doors have stainless-steel pins-strap style hinges. All locks are polished stainless-steel slam locks recessed with gasket into the door panels and fastened with stainless-steel hardware. All doors have automotive-type weather stripping to provide a watertight seal. Doors are primed behind the hinges and primed and painted behind the locks.

The bumper is formed from 1/8" steel checkerplate, is the full width of body, and has a 10" wide step. The riser plate is the full height at the rear of body. The outrigger tube is constructed into the bumper to accept double outrigger legs.

All seams and joints are sealed prior to painting. The body is primed with epoxy primer, and the top coat is polyurethane paint.

Dick says he expects the new aluminum body will account for up to 30% of the total mechanics body sales in the first year. He says Wilcox, which is making 300 steel mechanics bodies per year, will be producing as many as 150 aluminum bodies by the beginning of 2008.

“Once it gets out in the market, we expect it to grow quite a bit,” he says. “Up here in Canada, aluminum is probably half of our business. But in the US, steel is about 95% of our business. About 25% of our total mechanics body sales are in the US, but with the release of this new body, I think 50% of our business will be in the US.”

Wilcox did not have to make any adjustments in its 23,000 sq feet of space — divided between two buildings for warehousing and production — to accommodate the manufacturing process of the new aluminum body. The company bought some new automated CNC machines and presses to be able to meet the demand.

Dick says this is just another step in the growth of Wilcox, which specializes in manufacturing custom service, utility, crane bodies, emergency-rescue units, and toolboxes out of steel, aluminum, and fiberglass. The company also is a licensed re-mounter of ambulances for all Canadian provinces for the ministry of health and is a distributor for Stellar Shuttles and Compressors, Liftmore Cranes and V-Mac Compressors, Theiman, Tommy and Canadian Power Liftgates, Auto Crane Cranes, and Vain Air Compressors. Its customer base includes hydro companies, aerial and digger derrick manufacturers, natural gas companies, construction companies, truck dealers, fire departments, and a number of ministry of health, transportation, and correction agencies.

“Our customers know what we do,” he says. “So once they know this new body is the same quality and uses the same products with more benefits, then the word of mouth will spread. We have some customers who have been waiting a long time for this to come. We're really excited about the possibilities.”

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