(Note: This is the second in a series of articles examining materials used in service body construction. The first article is titled Service bodies: Part 1, Reading talks aluminum)
While it’s hard to imagine plastic that’s stronger than steel, Stahl Truck Bodies is willing to throw the hammer down—literally. The company’s Razorback service body is comprised of high impact polypropylene which they say is stronger and about 10 percent lighter than a comparable steel body. Also, unlike steel, the composite Razorback will not rust or corrode.
“Durability, in essence, is a huge, huge asset for this product. I don’t know of any other product on the market that can come close to its durability,” says Jeff Jerousek, vice president of sales and marketing at Stahl.
“You can literally beat on it with a sledge hammer. I actually have videos of it—literally hitting it with a sledge hammer and you’re not going to break it. You’re not going to dent it. It is the most durable truck body that you can build.”
But, as Jerousek points out, the lighter, stronger and corrosion-free Razorback costs much more than its steel counterpart. An eight-foot service body is about double the price of steel. An 11-foot model is about 40 percent more.
“As you get bigger and more customized, it becomes less expensive,” Jerousek explains.
A fiberglass body is similar to a Razorback in that it’s non-conductive and non-corrosive. However, the similarities more or less end there. For instance, changing a fiberglass body is costly and rare since a new mold has to be created for each new design.
Steel, aluminum and poly bodies have the advantage when it comes to customization and versatile designs. Stock material is simply cut to fit.
When constructing a Razorback body, a router is used to trim sheets of polypropylene which are then bonded together through a type of welding process. All of the seams are sealed. Steel components on the Razorback include cross-members, flooring, tailgate and hardware.
Another advantage that polypropylene has over fiberglass is durability.
“From a durability perspective, if you hit a piece of fiberglass with a hammer, you’re going to crack the top coat or you’re going to put it right through the door. With this, it’s stronger than steel—literally,” Jerousek said.
“The only way to compare this would be a body made out of sheet steel. We’re talking 3/16 or 1/4-inch sheet steel. That’s the only way to compare it to its durability. With fiberglass, the bolts holding the doors—the high usage parts of the body—tend to wallow out over time. The fiberglass is just not durable. You scratch the top coat of fiberglass, now you’ve got to fix it. Top coats typically spider web and crack and look bad in three to four years.”
The Razorback comes with a limited, “No rust, no bust” 5-year warranty.
As is the case industry-wide, steel remains the most popular construction material at Stahl. Jerousek says that while Stahl does “very little aluminum” the Ohio-based company recognizes the growing interest in the lighter material.
“Sure, a lot of fleets are looking at aluminum. The big idea was to go to aluminum to save weight and fuel costs, but with a $30 a barrel fuel, it’s really not that big of a deal,” Jerousek explains.
“Where we have seen people interested in aluminum is weight. Not because of fuel costs, but because of chassis changes.”
Jerousek explains that two market conditions are driving these chassis changes. First, he says that new Euro style vans which lack the GVW of earlier U.S. built vans, such as Ford’s E-Series, end up with lackluster payload capacity when paired up with a steel body. As a result, the demand for aluminum bodies for new Euro style vans has substantially increased.
“The other reason for this is that some fleets are looking to downsize chassis. So to save money on what they used to buy—450s and 550s—they want to now buy a 350 application and then take a thousand pounds out of the body and aluminum allows them to do that,” Jerousek says.
While Stahl is looking into working with aluminum more, Jerousek says the company is approaching the material cautiously given concerns over durability.
“Aluminum is probably from a demand perspective today, less than 20 percent of the total market. It’s going to grow. But here’s the thing—aluminum is not a silver bullet. Steel is more durable than aluminum.
“So if you have to increase the thicknesses in aluminum to get the same strength and durability over time. And once you do that, the weight savings is not as clear and as big a benefit as you once thought it was.
“One way or another, we will be making aluminum bodies. There is demand for it, but we’re just going to be very focused on ensuring that whatever we build is going to meet the same standards that we have for our steel products.”