Penso, a British company that supplies composite components to the aerospace, automotive and rail industries, has launched a new-technology ultra-lightweight 3.5-tonne van body for the fast-growing grocery and parcels home delivery markets.
The Penso bodywork is designed to last the life of two 3.5-tonne chassis-cabs. It is manufactured primarily from recycled plastic drinks bottles, and the material can again be recycled when the body reaches the end of its 10-year life.
Penso’s Blue Ocean Home Delivery Pod is claimed to increase payload by up to 50 per cent and volume by up to 30 per cent when compared to current designs, but makes no significant increase in the vehicle’s frontal area (in this case a seven-speed, front-wheel-drive Mercedes-Benz Sprinter) preserving the aerodynamic performance of a factory-built panel van.
This greater capacity means that a Penso-bodied van can carry in two journeys what a current design could only manage in three, the manufacturer claims it is capable of carrying 140 standard totes, compared to the 110 -120 of current designs, meaning a boost in productivity and reduction in fuel cost and emissions. Frozen, chilled and ambient goods can all be carried on the same vehicle, and any standard refrigeration unit can be specified.
Comparison trials by the manufacturer between a Blue Ocean-bodied van and an existing competitor on a route simulating a mixture of inner-city and suburban routes revealed fuel-savings of over 10 mpg: the Blue Ocean vehicle returned 34.05 mpg against the competitor’s 24 mpg. On typical supermarket delivery work, this equates to a financial saving of £2400 per vehicle per year.
Load access is direct from the kerb-side. As the driver does not have to physically climb into the vehicle, time and effort at each drop is reduced, and the low frame height afforded by front-wheel-drive chassis means that even the highest point of the load can be accessed by a person of below-average height.
The next iteration of the Blue Ocean body will be a luton van, for parcel and white-goods delivery, with a volume of 19 cu m and an internal height of 2.4 metres. Payloads of up to 1500 kg can be carried, compared to the 900 – 1000 kg of a conventional body.
Further body variants are planned, including medium and high roofs, single and double compartments, twin rear-door and side-door openings, and tail-lift options for dry goods and temperature-controlled applications. A ‘walk-through’ body accessed direct from the cab is also in development.
The body is constructed from panels of closed-cell plastic foam, with 5000 recycled plastic bottles used to create each body. The foam is wrapped in carbon-fibre to prevent water ingress. At end of life, the carbon fibre can be stripped and recycled separately from the plastic foam. It meets the insulation requirement for temperature-controlled transport without the addition of extra materials.
Penso has dedicated more than 10 years of research into the product, funded by a £16.3 million investment, half from Penso and half from government matched-funding via the Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC) and Innovate UK. A large proportion of this has been in developing a flexible automated robot assembly line housed in a brand-new 50,000 sq ft facility in Coventry which can produce a finished body every 42 minutes.
Production will be ramped up to produce 10,000 bodies a year of various designs over the next five years. Orders for several hundred units have already been placed by well-known retailers for delivery this year, and the nature of its design and construction means that they could easily be transferred to ‘next generation’ vehicles such as electric chassis. Meanwhile, the current ‘host’ van, the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, has become the UK’s best-selling vehicle of any type during the coronavirus crisis, such is the demand for home deliveries.