CHICAGO — Laundry and linen service operators know that the delivery vehicle is more than just a truck or van to transport linens.
It’s a key component to the operating efficiency of the company.
And delivery truck manufacturers work closely with laundry operations to provide the correct, safest and most advanced vehicles for the job.
Tom Ninneman, fleet vehicles and services president for Spartan Motors/Utilimaster, says safety and security is key to truck manufacturers as they design laundry and linen customer solutions.
“For instance, at Utilimaster we offer a keyless entry system for increased security through the use of a proximity wristband worn by the driver,” he says. “When exiting the vehicle, the entire truck securely locks, and with the wristband, the vehicle unlocks as the driver approaches the vehicle. This system eliminates the fear of issues such as lost and stolen keys while ensuring the integrity of the parcels or load the truck is carrying.”
Back-up cameras are well-known and widely available, but Ninneman says many laundry operations with vehicles are not aware of blind-spot cameras and 360-degree camera systems that are available to offer a “birds-eye,” top-down view.
“They combine four different cameras placed throughout the truck together to create one all-encompassing visual to help the driver avoid hazards,” he says. “This is a great example of a high-end automotive technology transfer that Utilimaster has specifically brought to the fleet segment.”
Back-up sensors are also now available on laundry fleet vehicles to provide the driver with an audible alert for objects behind the vehicle, according to Ninneman. Fleet managers are also utilizing DVR dash cameras to ensure their drivers are practicing save driving habits and monitoring their daily routine in order to design efficiency solutions.
“One thing that stands out to me for today’s textile rental walk-in van buyer is safety features,” says Rich Tremmel, vice president of sales and marketing for Morgan Olson. “Ten years ago, we’d offer additional safety options; however, buyers were conditioned to keep the vehicle acquisition price down. Today’s textile rental industry fleet managers immediately ask for the latest and greatest in drivers’ safety items.”
Ergonomics and driver loading/unloading efficiencies have been at the forefront in the laundry and linen services industry for the past five years, according to Ninneman. To improve efficiency and safety for the driver, he says recent applications and products implemented include grab handles and handrails to allow the driver to safely enter and exit the vehicle and anti-slip floor materials to allow for smooth traction and accident-free movement within the vehicle.
Tremmel echoes Ninneman’s view, saying popular safety items include grab handles, non-slip safety materials for the stepping areas and cargo floor work zones, back-up camera systems and new technology items, including rear sonar systems.
“Let’s face it, a Morgan Olson walk-in van is considered by most buyers to give businesses a 12 to 15 years’ total life-cycle delivery work truck solution,” says Tremmel. “Adding a few hundred dollars in safety features compared to the vehicle life provides businesses with an excellent value proposition and the drivers with a safer work environment.”
Ninneman points to two Utilimaster patented systems placed within a truck to increase loading and unloading efficiencies.
“The Utilimaster SafeLoad™ system is a laundry sling bag system that utilizes the vertical space inside of the truck with an extending arm and laundry bag hanger to telescope out of the back of the vehicle,” he says.
This system maintains a clear aisleway in the cargo area, eliminates excessive sorting and double handling, prevents cross-contamination, and the vertical hanger reduces driver back and knee injuries caused from bending.
The other patented system is the Utilimaster locking cart system, he says. It provides vehicles and drivers configurable tracks to meet multiple clients’ product mix. The brackets eliminate the need for straps and are rated at 2,200 pounds each for increased safety and stability during the route.
“Once the destination is reached, the carts are easily rolled off the vehicle, the tracks are adjusted as needed, and the next load of carts are loaded and locked in minutes,” says Ninneman.
Tremmel says the walk-in van remains the preferred pickup and delivery work truck platform for the uniform and textile rental industry for many good reasons.
“First and foremost is the design of this proven work truck body,” he says. “These design efficiencies provide drivers safe access to the cargo area directly from the cab without stepping into dangerous traffic lanes.”
This “cab-to-cargo area” delivery process is further enhanced with “cargo-to-curbside” time-saving advantages, according to Tremmel. Independent time studies show over a 40% time savings over traditional “box truck” bodies.
“This time savings adds up, and the walk-in van begins paying for itself from day one,” he says. “When you add in the massive payload and total square cubic feet of the walk-in van cargo area, it’s easy to understand why the walk-in van remains the best delivery solution for the top uniform and textile rental cleaning companies.”
The design of cargo area in the walk-in van provides many options, too.
“It’s interesting to see all the cargo area configurations Morgan Olson designs for our customers,” says Kenn Klein, Morgan Olson’s marketing manager. “Our growing list of cab and cargo options helps improve our customers’ delivery efficiencies, too.”
He says the company’s engineering team works directly with the sales team to constantly improve cargo area designs.
“From locking pipe racks for hangered uniforms to improved mat bins, shelving designs and positive airflow within the cargo areas, Morgan Olson leads the walk-in van body industry with new, innovative walk-in van cargo area designs and safety improvements,” says Klein.
In recent years, Ninneman has seen laundry fleets switch from cargo wood flooring to all-aluminum flooring, in order to be sprayed out and cleaned with chemicals more effectively and efficiently.
“We have had an increase in healthcare and hospital accounts, and the switch to aluminum flooring has significantly aided us in our required sanitization process,” he says. “Aluminum flooring also provides a lighter-weight truck and expands the lifespan of truck flooring compared to wood flooring.”
While the laundry delivery vehicle has undergone advances in recent years, delivery vehicle manufacturers are still working on improving results.
“Our ability to track driver routes via telematics and the route optimization programs that result will continue to yield positive net business outcomes, not only for the linen industry, but all fleet verticals,” Ninneman says. “Additionally, ‘collision avoidance’ features found in new automobiles today will soon be offered in commercial vehicle platforms.”
He says lane assistance, blind-spot detection, emergency stopping and infrared technology for object detection in low light or foggy conditions are all applications coming in the near future to the trucking industry.
“Spartan Motors has already implemented a number of these automotive technologies in our emergency response, RV and fleet segments,” says Ninneman. “And we’ll continue to lead the charge to make the road ahead a safer place.”
When working with a laundry operation on buying its first trucks or upgrading its fleet, Ninneman says it’s important that a manufacturer not have a preconceived notion of what the answer is before they ask the right questions.
“The first step in the beginning of any successful partnership is to listen,” he says. “We apply the ‘Utilimaster Process’ and go through a step-by-step process of researching, ride-alongs and interviews with our customers’ drivers. These people are the everyday user of the vehicle and they are the best to explain the challenges they face.”
Ninneman says that once his company understands a laundry’s unique daily challenges, it can implement the solutions already available to solve its needs.
“The best advice we can give is to allow your team time to really dig in to the challenges before arriving at the answer, and listen from the front line (drivers) on up,” he says.