TNB: Tell us a bit about Weightlifter Bodies.
Nigel Butler, Managing Director of Weightlifter Bodies: Weightlifter Bodies is primarily known for the design and manufacture of high-quality tipping trailers. PPG Fabrications are building what is probably the best alloy insulated tipper available in the UK. Our products are used widely across the construction, waste and agriculture sectors.
The company is based at a five-and-a-half acre site in Scunthorpe and is now in its ninth decade of continuous trading.
Throughout its history, the company had always been in the same family until last year when I bought the business along with its PPG Fabrications operation in Wisbech.
With more than 80 people in the team our turnover is between £10-12m a year.
TNB: How many units are you turning out in a year?
NB: 2020’s obviously been a bit unusual for us, but in a more normal year we build just under 200 units at Weightlifter Bodies, and just over 200 units a year at PPG Fabrications.
TNB: What is it that sets you apart from the competition?
NB: It might sound a little clichéd but quality, honesty and service is the strapline of the business and this is very much what we pride ourselves on.
With this kind of mission-specific product, which is very often designed for a company’s unique needs, it’s very important to be on hand to give customers advice, service and support at every step of the journey. We’re small enough to be able to do that and it’s a real area of focus for the business.
TNB: Tell us about the technology on a modern tipper body
NB: Braking, suspension and antiroll systems become ever more complex. Tippers ceased to be simply a frame and a box with a few basic axles a long time ago. With antilock and antiroll systems fitted as standard, electronics play a large part in the safe operation of today’s trailers.
Even when you look to the materials we are using. To maximise payload and durability we are selecting from the best high strength alloys and steels. Many parts of our designs undergo Finite Element Analysis (FEA) and because CO2 emission reduction comes increasingly into the focus of our legislators, we are well placed to move into Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) analysis of our designs.
Just about all trailers and rigids that we build now feature onboard weighing systems that use sensitive strain gauges to measure the load on the vehicle and when it is tipping, any side to side imbalance. This is so drivers can be certain that they are operating safely and within the law.
One recent innovation of ours has been a non-tipping horizontal discharge trailer. While these are known to have the best clean–out across various construction operations, we have also really focused on operator and road user safety. One area this shows through is in the rear underrun guard and the system we have employed to drop it automatically if the driver forgets. The design of this trailer makes it very multifunctional and it’s a market we see developing in the future.
TNB: And tipper trailers are also a bit of a silent partner in helping operators reduce emissions?
NB: Absolutely. Over the years we’ve been moving much more towards smooth-side trailers rather than the traditional ribbed-side alternatives as this improves the aerodynamics and helps to improve fuel efficiency. In fact, we were the first UK builder to adopt extruded plans for the sides of vehicle reducing drag and therefore CO2 emissions.
Moving forward, we’ll see clean air legislation having much more of an impact on the way we do things. We are listening to SMMT very closely on this for the latest from government.
TNB: What are the big challenges that you think are facing the tipper industry?
NB: Obviously COVID-19 is dominating all our conversations this year.
By and large many of our customers are in the same situation as everybody else, experiencing restrictions on cashflow, and caution about the future. However, we are well placed for any pick up in the construction and agriculture sectors – both areas I expect to benefit from government stimulation in the coming months.
In terms of our own position right now, we’re in a fairly good place.
TNB: How long would you expect one of your trailers to last in comparison to say a tractor unit?
NB: On average I’d say a tipper trailer would have at least twice the life of a tractor unit. We are known for building a durable product and it’s certainly not uncommon for us to see trailers that are more than a decade old coming in for refurb.
Our rigid bodies are designed to last the life of the chassis they are mounted on and occasionally, dependent on operations, we do some remount business here too.
TNB: Is the refurb side of your business increasing?
NB: Absolutely. Aluminium welders don’t grow on trees but we’re fortunate to have the skills in house to be able to do full refurbs. That gives us a competitive advantage when it comes to the refurb and body repair market. That said, I wouldn’t say we’ve seen it so much as a trend in that direction, as a reaction to the current economic climate.
Many operators are choosing to refurb rather than invest in a brand new trailer at the moment for obvious reasons. It’s about confidence and we’re seeing a few more people choosing to refurb for the short to medium term rather than investing in new assets.
TNB: What do you foresee happening in the industry in the next 10-15 years?
NB: We’re going to see electrification and hybridisation creeping up the weight range. It’s already coming in on the lighter vehicles and eventually we’ll see it on the biggest tractor units I’m sure.
In terms of tippers specifically, whether it’s a tipping body, tipping trailer or horizontal discharge trailer, the changes will be largely driven by health and safety and environmental legislation. We are well versed in these areas and looking forward to the challenges.
TNB: Are you excited about the future?
NB: It is a tough market at the moment, but yes, I am looking forward to the future. The market will always come back and we’ll be in a good position when it does.
Nigel Butler, Managing Director, Weightlifter Bodies