They are all called Buckles – just like the Buckle on your trouser belt

Trousers have buckles of different styles.  Simple hole and peg, loops or clamps on the material.  Load restraint equipment is the same.  Different styles do different jobs.

It all started with just a rope.  In the old days a driver knew how to form an eye at one end of his rope, how to tie it to a simple rope hook on his lorry (not truck in those days!).  He threw the rope over the load and then did a few magic twists at the other end, pulled a loop through the twist, coupled it to another rope hook and, hey presto, he had not only created a reduction gear of 2 to 1, his strength was doubled!  Bigger drivers got it tighter and very big drivers could sometimes break the rope!

All worked well at the time, or so they thought! Ropes were made from jute or hemp which rotted, stretched and came in varying thicknesses and qualities.  However, loads came adrift and people got killed or badly hurt; and this happened a lot.
Enter the new world of mechanical tensioning, ropes of man-made fibre, alloy steels, sophisticated body attachment systems and – UK Construction and Use Regulations with roadside checks by inspectors having opinions.  Is it safe or isn’t it?

What did the haulage industry really need?  It needed design standards, it needed system interchangeability so that load restraint equipment was compatible with a haulier’s other equipment; it needed recommended industry application procedures.  It got most things and it got VOSA, the H&SE and EU directives!  Britain also got European based hauliers not just delivering and collecting loads in Britain but able, legally, to undertake internal haulage work.  This meant that Britain also needed to comply with EU directives for safety reasons.  We are getting used to it now but with such a complex subject it will take a long time to become second nature. Look at www.fta.co.uk… and see downloads/loading/enforcement – excellent.

It is up to manufacturers and retailers to ensure that load restraint products are made of approved materials, tested to perform consistently and meet legal requirements.  It is up to hauliers to select restraint equipment from the market that meets the demands of the loads they carry for their customers, is compatible with their own vehicle systems and, lastly but most importantly, meets the law and does everything safely.

Let’s get down to basics and look at how a ratchet restraint system works so that it can secure a load.

A ratchet operates via toothed wheels that are turned to wind in a webbing strap (or lash) that is located over a load. The ratchet “tensions” the webbing to a predetermined force and thus the webbing, the ratchet and the hooks at each end that secure the webbing to the bodywork have to be designed individually to operate safely in excess of the maximum tension exerted on the webbing. More importantly, the safe working load limit (SWL) of each component in the system must also be adequate to cover the overall tension exerted. Put even more simply – the rated SWL load of the system has to be under half the certified capacity of any individual piece of hardware in the system (i.e. ratchet & hooks) and even lower at one third of the certified capacity of any webbing used in the system. Ignore these rules at your peril!

Now webbing needs attachments fitted at either end.  One to secure the ratchet end to the body of the vehicle and the other to secure the lash end also to the body on the other side of the vehicle.  The loose end of the lash is looped through the ratchet and tensioned as mentioned earlier but the hooks frequently have to do specialist jobs and fit in with different loading systems on truck bodies.  You can see in the specification sheets issued by many cargo restraint manufacturers that there are several types of “hook”.  Each is designed to do a different job.  These “hooks” and the specific webbing used (once again – learn how to identify different types and capacities of webbing from websites such as www.gtf.eu and www.spanset.co.uk)  will lead you on to identifying a system’s Rated Assembly Strength (RAS). RAS is the minimum level in kgs or whatever at which the assembly will break in laboratory test conditions. Remember that, breaks in a laboratory under test. This RAS leads on to the Safe Working Load (SWL), or in the US Working Load Limit (WLL), which is a portion of the RAS.  This SWL or WLL portion is rated by the manufacturers and usually represents a third of the RAS.  That SWL or WLL is the figure that never should be exceeded.  Got it?  You have to learn it!

Security is also becoming a strong issue with many operators not only due to the sheer cost of the load restraint equipment that goes walkabout but the fact that “other people’s equipment” may not be to the same quality or capacity level as their own or it might have been abused or abraded etc. The haulier using the equipment is liable. To overcome this problem many operators now specify their company name and logo be printed onto webbing. This printing is done before an assembly is sewn together and thus cannot be removed without destroying the equipment or replacing all of the webbing. A smart move and it affords protection for the haulier who uses quality load restraint equipment on his vehicles.

I have a thing about safety, be it dismounting from a truck cab or moving carefully about vehicles and loads. I have seen poorly lashed loads twist chassis like a corkscrew and “explode” on corners allowing sheet boarding to fly across the road like Oddjob’s bowler hat. Quality load restraint equipment not only protects the public – it protects you!

Now I have been told to say this! These are my views and are not to be taken as a strict interpretation of the law. You are responsible for ensuring that you meet all legal requirements in any matter of safe load restraint. Look at the European Commission’s website www.ec.europa.eu/transport for European Guidelines on Cargo Security (or punch it into Google) and settle in for a long read!

Off my high horse now!


Priorities and achievements belie the mind of the reader

Sometimes I get totally bored by cars, trucks and construction equipment. The magazines often regurgitate the same stuff and a month or three off the trade press can be quite refreshing. Nothing is going to change that much. Nothing is going to be reported just once and if it is really important it will be reported, dissected, criticised etc. to the point where sometimes I want to scream. Keep up to date with Car Magazine and Construction News and you will see what I mean. In fact, quite frequently I have been told when at home to stop arguing with the radio or television because it cannot answer back. Yeah! And sometimes I cannot stop its frequently biased banter! But back to the trade news proper. Being an avid reader of newspapers and New Scientist all the really tasty bits appear there in condensed form even though, sadly, they are usually written by a spare journalist who has been given the job of writing a specific article. Whether they know one end of a diesel engine from the other, whether they think that Adblue is for raunchy advertising or a Euro 6 is a round in the Eurovision song contest is irrelevant. They plough in.

Sometimes non-trade articles are written by what I think are called stringers. People that write articles on anything and just keep up a regular supply of “informed” verbiage to several publications at a time. A classic example of this the following story and, later, an article written by an American journalist.

I was hanging around Detroit in the US at the time and remember that there was a splendid lady, a senior manager in Product Planning in the Ford Design Studio in Dearborn. Her metier was door casings for cars, vans and trucks. Nobody knew more about door casings than she. She could turn the description of a quadruple fabric cascade of matching colour shades running from the top of the door belt rail, down through the handle aperture and on to the glove pocket then curling round the base of the door into a story worthy of a film. The enthusiasm, the use of descriptive language that painted pictures in the air, her immaculate haute couture presence more Christian Dior than Vivienne Westwood and that perfect hair and make-up – it all held the assembled company in thrall. She was going to get her message across come what may. It started as she entered the studio with a ricochet tat tat from her heels that were de riguer to command the attention of the room, a room full of men and where the shortest, me, was only a miserable 6’ tall. She had a sidekick, a clone of herself, a girl aged early 20s who carried her files, ran messages and who spoke to all assembled before the great entrance by her boss. She was the warm up act and was in awe of her boss and it showed. It showed her what a woman could do in a man’s world and she was determined to do the same. Aggression – a “you aint seen nothing yet” type of attitude.

And now for the back story. A lady journalist was given the job of interviewing this female power house. Did she write about her rise to fame through the ranks, her months spent studying plastics and fabrics and doing Florida tests for fade and abrasion tests for durability, doing clinics for market sector acceptance etc? Nah. She wrote about how this woman got up at 4.30/5.00 every morning and immediately went into her exercise regime under the whip of her personal trainer. Her half hour of yoga and meditation followed by her macro biotic diet of a breakfast. She reported how a hair stylist was wheeled in every other day. Professional make up advice and a personal shopper and colourist ensured that she was up with but not in advance of business fashion, how her clothes were finely tailored and carefully assembled so that co-workers (awful word) did not feel that she was wearing the same outfit twice. This woman was going to succeed even if it took 30/40% of everything she earned. And the lady journalist on the story was going to make sure that she was held up as a beacon of commercial success to every woman who read the article. I am already on very thin ice here so maybe it is better that I do not go on.

So now think of the horny handed engineer who has worked out how to adhere a complete car body shell together with superglue and thus saved the planet all the power required to do 200 spot welds. He will get a “well done Charlie, you can keep your job” accolade but also a “but do not expect to be promoted because you are too useful where you are” message loud and clear. “You just know too much about body assembly for us to risk losing you Charlie”. Oh, “have a small bonus to keep you going”. And this is all it takes to ensure the continued application of the man’s nose to the grindstone.
Men and women. They are so different, so very different; we have no option but to try and understand each other as we try to get along together. Maybe that is why the population is roughly 50/50 and not 80/20. See Fishers Principle. Possibly that could be a musing for another day!

Hector Armstrong

The Commercial Vehicle Show

After a lifetime in the truck and construction industry a visit to a trade exhibition brings all manner of memories and opinions flooding back.  To see stands for products that were once a personal responsibility has its emotional side but those products are now different, the people are different and the bigwigs now are barely recognisable as the reps and marketing assistants that were remembered 10/20/30 years ago.  It is always a pleasure to be recognised and invited to sit and take tea and chat awhile.  Frequently the deference still appears in a small way but those were the old days.  The trick is to get off the stand quickly whilst the pleasure of being greeted lasts but not forgetting appropriate compliments on the stand layout, the exhibits and, of course, to the individual that has greeted and entertained one and his/her achievements in their career.  I always felt proud to see people that I had picked for lower jobs achieve greater things later in life.  Proves I got some things right! Have a wander through the 2014 Truck Show and see who was there www.cvshow.com

Now for the other side of the coin.  The major companies, certainly in the truck world, have been through all manner of amalgamations and developments with many marques sadly no more.  Is this good for development? It might be commercially sound but to look at vehicle marques and particularly major components that are “shared” between many models it has somewhat taken the individuality or quirkiness out of things.  I am sure that fuel saving developments, the reduced cost of engineering by increasing the volume base of vehicles/components is sound economics but where is the quantum leap going to come from?  With new technologies and designs, sometimes inhibited by current legislation, aimed at supporting high volume and its consequent high investment in production facilities.  For example, where is the DS19 of panel vans?  Where is the van that halves fuel consumption that doubles for a van, chassis with body, has extended vehicle life, adequate performance and is completely emissions free? Only legislation will make it happen now.  Not some brilliant engineer on a mission. Quality products are certainly engineered and made but could we go further. Some of the best products are still shared – www.mercedes-benz.co.uk/vans

Which brings me on to the bodywork, accessories, services all sold to vehicle operators.  The accessories hall, for want of a word, is always of more interest to anyone with an engineering bent.  Commercial vehicles carry loads that sometimes require sophisticated packing and restraining on vehicles.  The bodywork is already governed by a plethora of European legislation but sometimes the little extras to cover ease and safety of loading and load restraint are left to unqualified individuals driven by price more than legal requirement or exposure to subsequent risk.  With the evolution of VOSA into the Driver and Vehicles Standards Agency DVSA (www.gov.uk/VOSA) in April this year that aspect of life might be tightened up in the future but it is still a minefield that suffers from conflicting interpretations.  Consistency of legislation, good design and good training must become a mainstay in this industry.

What really surprised me, brilliant as they are, is the current emphasis on security from vehicle tracking systems to camera systems designed to protect drivers and operators from spurious claims in accidents (see www.garmin.com/uk/solutions) and all that paraphernalia designed to turn the driver into an automaton to save .01 % of fuel or to take him to task for a missed gear change (if that is possible in a modern auto box). Once again it all helps the bottom line (see www.renault-trucks.co.uk and its Optifuel and Optifleet programs)  However, I do admit to feeling a little sorry for modern day drivers whose thoughts are less on the road but more on their load drop ratios and driving performance.

Until another day.

Hector Armstrong