What does it take to build a “work truck?” For truck body manufacturer Reading Body Works Inc., it takes a combination of the latest technology and good old-fashioned field research.

“Work trucks are the result of successfully combining several elements,” said Reading's national sales manager, Peter Hempenstall. “First, it has to be durable. Durability is key to work trucks because they're expected to take a lot of pounding and operate in unforgiving environments. Yet they must also contribute to job efficiency; they must provide easy access to and storage of tools and materials for a variety of different jobs. In essence, work trucks have to make performing the job easier.”

Reading Body has a lot of experience meeting those two distinct needs. Based on a 23-acre site just outside Reading, Pa., the company first entered the truck equipment market after Irving Suknow purchased the firm in 1955.

Suknow summed up his own “work truck” philosophy with a simple slogan: “Don't Pile It — File It.” Instead of just throwing tools and materials haphazardly into the back of a vehicle, Suknow believed that providing customized shelves and storage space to meet a wide variety of needs would allow work trucks to become more efficient tools, using bodies made out of steel and aluminum.

Yet Suknow never forgot about the vital role durability plays in the work-truck equation. Under the engineering stewardship of Dan Perlman, now vp-manufacturing, Reading Body developed an “immersion priming” process that closely mirrors systems used in the automobile industry.

With immersion priming, Reading literally “dips” its product line into giant vats of primer paint. It then applies a high-voltage electric charge to the paint that “fuses” the primer to the truck body, inside and out, then bakes the body at 450 deg. to dry the primer coat. This system protects the metal against the elements, rust and corrosion.

The twin philosophies of efficiency and durability still guide Reading Body today. The company uses a variety of high-tech systems such as CAD/CAM systems, laser cutting tools, and the latest metal sheet presses to create service truck bodies for 30 different markets — everything from mobile repair and fire/rescue vehicles to utility and construction trucks. Hempenstall said a large majority of what the company builds, especially for fleets, is based on custom specs.

“Individual plumbers, electricians or welders may buy a standardized service body for their vehicles,” he explained. “But fleets still develop specific specs to meet the operational demands they face. That's why we do a lot of field research before we even get to the design phase.” Reading goes out and analyzes how a particular customer uses its trucks and the environmental conditions it operates in before sitting down to hammer out specs.

Field research is critical, said Hempenstall, especially when it comes to marrying the body to the chassis. “You have to find out if the customer will mount a generator on the truck, or store oxygen bottles for welding equipment. How much payload capacity do they need? Will they tow equipment? We must have the right chassis to handle that weight requirement or the unit will be ineffective.”

That's one reason Reading works so closely with the National Truck Equipment Assn. (NTEA); it provides an avenue for communicating engineering needs to the chassis manufacturers.

“We work closely with NTEA on engineering issues, especially when it comes to chassis,” said Hempenstall. “For example, fuel tank placement may cause problems with the mounting of particular kinds of truck bodies. In a case like that, NTEA can go to the chassis makers and help us both work those problems out.”

Hempenstall added that the NTEA's annual T3 Work Truck Show, to be held in Baltimore, Md., February 28-March 3 this year, also provides a forum that lends itself to fostering greater interaction between manufacturers, distributors and customers.

“That interaction is a very good thing. It helps strengthen the entire industry and helps us focus on meeting the needs of our customers.”