Much of society's infrastructure is kept humming by guys who drive vans. You make a phone call, cut a check and these dudes pull up in front of your building to build, install, repair, maintain or haul away. To do these things they need a van full of tools and equipment, and in Europe there's an industry dedicated to designing the interior systems of these vans.
Three of the big players in Europe are Germany's Tanos, Sortimo and Würth, and all three were on display at Holz-Handwerk. While they all have the same initial design problem—which is to design an organization system that fits inside a van, is lightweight enough to keep fuel costs down but sturdy enough to survive a crash test—they all take slightly different approaches.
Tanos, the folks who make Systainers, have the most flexible approach. Their system is built around a bunch of telescoping poles—if you've ever been inside a photography studio, think Autopoles—from which a series of sturdy shelves of varying lengths can be hung.
The telescoping feature of the poles is pretty brilliant. This means that you needn't assemble the shelves within the cramped confines of the van, but can do it outside, then haul the unit in and expand the poles upwards to lock them in place.
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Another great benefit of Tanos' approach is that installation is both easy and non-permanent; as long as your van's ceiling doesn't have a liner, you can install the Tanos Mobil products without drilling or cutting into anything. Like you, I wondered about that claim: How the heck can the poles stay in place, over all the jostles, bouncing and swaying one encounters in traffic, without a permanent connection?
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The answer is, clever engineering. Tanos' designers have developed a simple adhesive mat that supports a peg for the pole to slide over, both top and bottom. Between the surface area of the adhesive and the expansive force of the springs within the pole, everything stays perfectly in place. Here's how easy it is to install:
The Würth booth was the most crowded at the fair, so packed that I literally could not get a picture of the van they had on display with so many people crawling in and out of it. (To be fair to the other two companies, these guys had a bar in their booth and they were serving free beer.) In any case, Würth opts for beefier, proper cabinets with sides—albeit built in a lightweight combination of steel, aluminum and plastic—and goes for a two-pronged approach: "Variable," whereby they offer three different widths and you get the one that fits in your vehicle, and "Modular," whereby they've partnered with the most common van manufacturers in Europe (Citroen, Fiat, Ford, Opel, Peugeot) and created custom builds that precisely fit within vehicles from those manufacturers.
Variable System Modular System Custom fit to specific vehicles
Below are zoom-ins on some of Würth's design features:
"Quick opening across the entire width: The functional drawer handle enables any drawer to be opened any closed anywhere – without the need to fumble around with small, inconvenient handles." Enter a caption (optional) "The practical hinged flaps of the shelves are opened with a handle. Like the covers and the drawer handles, they are made of high-quality anodized aluminum." "Safe storage and organization: Many inserts and orderly sorting systems, along with the patented locking system for the drawers, make sure that your goods remain where they are supposed to be during transport." "Missing tools can be immediately identified thanks to the bi-color foam insert. The foam inserts have a long service life owing to their resistance to chemicals. Large finger pockets ensure convenient removal and storage of the tools." "Storage box shelves make the storage of small parts in the van clear. The boxes fixed in the shelves provide order and allow quick access." "Storage box shelves make the storage of small parts in the van clear. The boxes fixed in the shelves provide order, and the patented front flap allows easy access." "The workbench always travels along: It takes up hardly any room in the vehicle itself, and at the place of use it can be pulled out as required with a few quick hand movements and secured with the quick-action retainer."
While Würth's features were nice, the system that seemed the most like it was designed by a single, coherent design team was Sortimo's Globelyst. Their cabinets were similar in construction to Würth's (steel, aluminum, plastic and an unseen, unspecified synthetic honeycomb material) but they seemed much more visually unified.
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They also had these wicked, optional pull-out drawers:
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Here's what they look like on video. I can't understand anything the demonstrator is saying, but I gather he is talking trash about the brand of beer served at his competitor's booth:
And I do have to say, they have the slickest presentation of the three, at least online:
Installing systems from the latter two companies isn't for the faint of heart; securing the beefier cabinets to the interiors does of course require drilling into the metal.
Lastly, if you're wondering how systems like these stand up in crash tests, here's some footage:
Looks like one thing they haven't thought of, is designing a seatbelt for the water bottle.