1. #1
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    Default What Body Material Is Best Or Construction Method?

    I am interested in hearing people’s experience with different methods of body construction. I hear all sorts of terminology being used and material types being tossed around. But I am specifically interested in the type of material (extruded aluminum, formed aluminum, formed galvaneal, formed stainless or composite materials such as poly/fiberglass, or other I may have missed, etc) and/or method of construction people use on their trucks. I do realize that there will be differences between small/large/paid/volunteer departments, geographics of northeast/southwest - cold/warm climate departments, type of vehicle rescue/pumper/aerial and other variables, but it would be interesting to hear about everyone’s experience, preferences and track records on a general basis.

    Variables might include:

    Weight
    Cost
    Strength
    Reliability
    Corrosion resistance
    Mounting systems
    Historical warranty records
    Flexibility of design or available configurations with the specific material
    What little niceties that maybe a specific manufacturer does better than others (PLEASE NO BASHING)

    I do have some current preferences, but would like to learn of others’ experience, in order to keep myself open minded. Your thoughts and experience would be enlightening.

    Stay safe and good fishing!

    Fish

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    As you said, environment is a big key

    How the department maintains equipment is another

    We've had galvanized bodies and tanks last 25 years, but that was stretching it. (VFDs never stretch beyond usefull lifespan, do we)
    We make sure we wash everything after each run, especially in the winter when the salt is laid thick on the roads

    All around for multi environment I would have to say a body made with 300 series stainless is best overall for longetivity. In stainless, design for minimal welds is a big plus. (I know this from designing appliances, not fire trucks)


    I have had no personal experience with the Polybilt type bodies, in many areas they are great, negative feedback from areas that experience big temperature swings.

    "Extruding" is pushing something through a die to a desired shape and is a type of forming operation.

    Forming is often like stamping, although in simpler shapes. In theory, with hydroforming technology, you could form a box minus one side. In the size needed for a fire truck body, this would be a large and unwieldy piece.

    If you are forming stainless, you will need to incorporate large radii to eliminate cracks.

    Aluminum is a very viable material. Many people pushing stainless will tell you it corrodes, and yes, it does. But much slower than galvaneal, and with many grades of Aluminum, the corrosion stops at the surface the layer of corrosion protects it from further damage. Probably the biggest area of concern, as far as an aluminum body, is corrosion at the weld seams. Good paint jobs and good housekeeping can minimalize this, and aluminum can be very cost effective. The other thing to watch out for with aluminum is it can be reactive with steel, and bare steel fasteners holding bare aluminum joints can get loose with time due to chemical reaction.

    Strengthwise, you can build a body with thinner walls with galvaneal or stainless and be as strong as a thicker aluminum wall. Practical weight differences won't be that great. We have aluminum bodies on our E-Ones, and after 10 & 11 years they still look brand new.

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    We've run aluminum bodies for years. The engine I drive is a '91, and the body is in fine shape, aside from the stuff the idiots do to it. It has held up remarkably well. We're only now starting to have issues with corrosion on the cab, which isn't aluminum.

    And I'll be honest here, sometimes the trucks don't get washed as often as they should. We do the best we can to take care of stuff, but sometimes when you need to be at work, the truck can wait to be washed.

    Something else to consider, steel prices are absurd right now. Not sure how it translates into the fire apparatus market, but people are hording anything they buy that's steel, even further driving up the market. We've got suppliers at work that won't even consider selling their stock to us because we aren't one of their larger customers. Looks like we won't be one of their future customers either.

    -Joel
    Last edited by npfd801; 04-10-2004 at 01:36 PM.

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    I am on two departments that have trucks covering all 3 of the metals. In Wisconsin, I really think it is foolish these days to run Galvaneal. The salt gets to it too quickly. The aluminum trucks I've worked with are about 10 yrs old and seem to be doing pretty well. There are a few issues on the cab (custom) where some corrosion is starting. We just bought a Stainless Steel body truck last year. The wieght issue is pretty much null and void, because it takes more aluminum to reach a given strength than Stainless. Stainless is a little bit of a pain for mounting equipment also.

    One thing if you get stainless is to try to get a manufacturer that double wall construction. Its nice when mounting equipment, because you can mount items w/o having to worry as much how it comes through the other compartment sides.

    If you need to do some repairs or modifications, it takes some special know how and equipment to fix Stainless and Aluminum too (welding).

    I dont know much on cost between them though.

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    Default Stainless

    When the folks that control the money make you keep apparatus well beyond it's servicable life (30 years on the pumper we just replaced, 37 years on the ladder truck we're STILL using), you gotta buy something that will last.
    Cleverly disguised as a responsible adult.

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    Post My Opinion

    Let's break it down. First don't consider galvanized, in this day and age it's inexpensive but doesnt last. I will attempt to compare aluminum vs stainless and formed body vs extrusions.

    Aluminum - Lighter weight, corrosion is at a minimum but does corrode faster than stainless, cheaper.

    Stainless - Heavier than aluminum, strong, holds up way better than aluminum corrosion wise. But more expensive.

    Poly - Weight wise it's pretty heavy, looks horrible as a body sheet (even painted) if it is damaged it takes a pro to repair it. (I'm not a big fan-can you tell?)

    Extruded bodies - Quite strong, easy assembly when manufactured, but if it gets hit or hits something thats where a problem could arise. If damage occurs you need to cut out the extrusion, have another one made (cant just go to any body shop to do that) and the biggest issue is if it's hit in the rear, the shock will travel down the extrusion to the front of the body and the result could be cracked welds nowhere near the accident spot and you have a weakend body.

    Formed body - Very strong, the strength comes from the rolls and bends similar to an automobile. It provides some safety as the body will absorb most of the impact and it will be less jolting to the passengers, if it is damaged, just cut out the damaged part bend some metal and weld it in. (can be brought to any body shop and be repaired)

    If you want to see the differences, E-one uses an extruded body, KME uses a formed body. Judge for yourself.

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    Aluminum bodies often have to be made of a heavier gauge material than a comparable stainless or steel body to have the same strength, so the a weight advantage isn't always there. And often, as a percentage of the tools you are carrying, and the water you haul, the weight of the body isn't as much of a consideration.

    As more people fab in stainless, it is getting less expensive.

    our just ordered HME rescue pumper will have a stainless body.

    Our E-ones, both in service more than 10 years, have the aluminum bodies, and are still in great shape. There is a good case for either stainless or aluminum as a material.

    BTW, extrusion is another method of metal forming.

    "Extruded bodies - Quite strong, easy assembly when manufactured, but if it gets hit or hits something thats where a problem could arise. If damage occurs you need to cut out the extrusion, have another one made (cant just go to any body shop to do that) and the biggest issue is if it's hit in the rear, the shock will travel down the extrusion to the front of the body and the result could be cracked welds nowhere near the accident spot and you have a weakend body. "

    Nice theory. Any documentation of it actually happening this way, or is it a salemen's trick?

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    Extruded aluminum cab and bodies. The only way to go for a large apparatus. Just a thought.

    Stay low and move it in.
    Stay low and move it in.

    Be safe.


    Larry

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    Default Aluminum vs stainless

    If I could, I would like to jump into this discussion as well. The issue of extruded aluminum vs stainless steel is an issue I am currently pondering.

    Our department is hopefully going to get a new 1,000 gallon custom pumper in the near future. My primary focus when specing the truck is an 8 mile section of curving 6% interstate, and specing the truck around a driveline capable of pulling the fully loaded truck up this grade at 55 MPH. My next focus was specing a truck around firefighter safety at highway incidents. Thus the question of aluminum vs stainless steel comes into play.

    My main concern is, which metal will provide the safest result in the event of a rear-end collision? We currently have a truck with a stainless steel body that was hit in the rear passenger side tailboard by a car doing at least 65 MPH. The damage was extremely minimal, only requiring the replacement of the back-up light lense and pulling out a small section of aluminum diamondplate. There are some very minor dents to the stainless steel.

    I realize that no matter what material the body is made of, some accidents will result in the truck being seriously damaged or totaled. Which material will give my firefighters the best chance of survival?

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    Bump...

    I hav been pondering this question as well....any more opinions/updated thoughts/expierences?

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    Most rust or corrosion isssues come from the problem of having dissimilar metals coming in contact with each other. I think you have to pay particular attention as to how a manufacturer attaches one type of metal to another. I have to wonder why some manufacturers push stainless steel and then go and cover it with aluminum overlays everywhere(front, rear, fenderwell area, heat shield, etc.....). My personal preference is aluminum. Most importantly you have to take care of your trucks; the best made truck will not hold up well if you neglect it.

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    We have had all 3...I would not go steel again for the reasons mentioned.

    I dislike stainless because it has too many shortcomings. It is heavy, yes alumum has to be made thicker but in terms of weight vs strength, aluminum still wins. Stainless also cracks because it is a very hard metal. It is also impractical to weld large beads of it so most bodies are constructed by bolting. The problem with this is that it is so hard, lock washers and other retaining fasteners do not dig into it so you are perpetually chasing down loose and missing bolts and fasteners, of which there are many. It is extremely sharp on all corners and edges, causing the hands and knuckles of those who work near it to be in various stages of healing at all times. It doesn't hold paint very well. Its extreme hardness means that any drilling or cutting that needs to be done later, in case you didn't buy the perfect fire engine out of the gate, are very difficult.

    I think it is just another fire service gimmick that caught on, due to clever marketing.

    Birken

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    The question of almuimun vs stainless steel...

    I have seen some issues with E-One and corrosion over the last few yrs. Rigs that were in the area of 10 yrs old. What can be done to prevent this?

    Can someone explain in better deatil the issue of dissimilar metals and how you can avoid it being a problem?

    What aluminum body manufacturers are most reputable in the area of highest corrosion resistance (or least reported complaints of corrision)?

    Is corrosion more likely to occur in an extruded body?

    If you choose aluminum, is a formed body or extruded body better?

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    metalurgical and process improvements in forming stainles (as well as better forming lubricants) greatly reduce cracks in stainless during forming operatons

    most of the problems with "dissimilar" materials happen around mounting points

    Stainless fasteners with aluminum bodies can greatly reduce this problem.

    Also, there are a lot of aluminum block/head or Iron block/aluminum head engines with steel fasteners. Without thread sealants electrolosis could be an issue. there are ways around all of these problems

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    My department has used steel for most of our 50 year existance with no problems. This includes our most recent 2000 KME Excel Custom, 2005 Ferrara Commercial Pumper Tanker and 2004 Ford F550 Medical Rescue.

    If constructed properly...and properly undercoated AND painted...steel will last 30 years. Rinse it off if heavy road salt is encountered and wash it once in a while. We've never had any rust problems or paint problems. The old 1973 Pierce Ford we had when I joined never had any rot or rust.

    We did own an E-One Ford C8000 cab over 1250 pumper with a fabricated aluminum body. This truck was an Indianapolis Engine we purchased as a used surplus rig. After a thousand runs per year for many years...it held up pretty good. But it did have several nice cracks here and there. None of them compromised the structural integrity so we left them alone.

    I like steel because it cost less for us and is easy to repair if needed. Its easy to drill too for mounting equipment.

    I'd choose either steel or aluminum. I have no problems with steel as we've had good service from them with no corrosion problems. If you pay attention to the truck body and clean it (including an underbody flush a couple times a year) you should also see good service.

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    Quote Originally Posted by MG3610
    I have seen some issues with E-One and corrosion over the last few yrs. Rigs that were in the area of 10 yrs old.
    E-One does appear to have had a batch of trucks with poor paint to metal bonding resulting in some surface corrosion which lifted the paint. I suspect this had to do with changes in the paint industry as 20 year old E-Ones look great.

    Both aluminum and stainless are very hard to paint as paint bonds poorly to them.

    Can someone explain in better detail the issue of dissimilar metals and how you can avoid it being a problem?
    Take two different metals and place them in an electrolyte solution, presto you have a battery. Ever do the penny and nail in a glass of soda experiment in high school? The metal lowest on the galvanic scale will dissolve as party of the reaction. Aluminum is the 2nd lowest metal on the galvanic scale (only zinc is below it and not by much, magnesium is very close) so it almost always looses. If you see holes in an aluminum body it's because water pooled up and some other galvanic metal was present to chew up the aluminum. In aluminum boats we have to be very careful about letting iron tools lay in the bilges, it will eat right through the hull in a short period of time.

    There are 3 ways to avoid galvanic corrosion.
    1) Avoid dissimilar metals: Never allow steel and aluminum to touch, or use galvanic neutral metals to avoid setting up a galvanic cell.
    2) Avoid electrolytes: Don't allow water, especially salty water, to pool up where dissimilar metals meet.
    3) Use a sacrificial anode: This is the purpose of "zincs" on a boat, it will be lower on the galvanic scale than aluminum and will dissolve first. Once the zinc is gone the next lowest metal on the galvanic scale begin to dissolve. Its also the reason “galvanized” fasteners are coated with zinc.

    Is corrosion more likely to occur in an extruded body?
    It depends on the exact construction method. The fewer pockets there are to collect water the less galvanic corrosion will occur. Currently E-One body panels have a lip all around the edge of the panels which can collect water. If the paint job was perfect this is not an issue, but any gaps will collect water and start corrosion.

    The problem with a formed body is that you can't see the frame or "skeleton" which holds the formed metal up. With an extruded body such as E-One's you see the corrosion in the first 2-3 years (as I recall they have a 10 year paint/corrosion warranty). A formed body may not show until much later in life as it begins to rot out.
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    Quote Originally Posted by FireTruckMan72
    Extruded bodies - ... If damage occurs you need to cut out the extrusion, have another one made (cant just go to any body shop to do that) and the biggest issue is if it's hit in the rear, the shock will travel down the extrusion to the front of the body and the result could be cracked welds nowhere near the accident spot and you have a weakened body.

    Formed body - Very strong... It provides some safety as the body will absorb most of the impact and it will be less jolting to the passengers, if it is damaged, just cut out the damaged part bend some metal and weld it in.
    72, you've got the theory down pretty good, but the reality is that a formed body needs to have an underlying support to hold the sheet metal up. For instance, in a Pierce the underbody is extruded aluminum. In the case of a hard impact on both body styles, this body framework will crack in several places. In an extruded body you'll be able to see the damage all over the truck, but its also much easier to repair precisely because you can see it. In a formed body the flat sheet metal covering will hide damage away from the point of impact and for years it will sit there and work from vibrations and body roll until suddenly major body components begin to droop or move in unintended ways. Body shops that are not used to dealing with the peculiarities of formed bodies will not know how to look for hidden damage (note, most cars are of "unibody" or “monocoque " construction where the sheet metal is also the support frame, to the best of my knowledge no fire apparatus are built this way). As a result, in a shop w/o big body repair experience, given two trucks from similar accidents, usually the extruded will have the bigger bill, but in the end it will also be more completely repaired. The formed truck will look good but hidden damage will still be there.

    Talking with the foreman of the local fire apparatus body shop he's told me he hates formed bodies, they are huge man-hour generators and the customers get angry at the price of the estimates because so little damage is visible. Sometimes they leave in a huff and get an estimate elsewhere for much less, but that will only be for fixing the superficial damage. Months or years later that cheap fix will come back to haunt the customer as major body components fail and cause additional damage.
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    Some of my questions are answered, but I'm still a little confused relative to the dissimilar metals issue. From what I know and have seen, stainless steel is the predominant and strongest fastener. If you have an aluminum body, don't most manufacturers use stainless fasteners, piano hinges for compartments etc? Marion claims to use some sort of bushing I believe to avoid this issue. Is this true? Do any other manufacturers do this?

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    "72, you've got the theory down pretty good, but the reality is that a formed body needs to have an underlying support to hold the sheet metal up. For instance, in a Pierce the underbody is extruded aluminum."

    No it is not!!! its steel...i have several of them and all are rusty.

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    Default Poly Bodies

    Poly - Weight wise it's pretty heavy, looks horrible as a body sheet (even painted) if it is damaged it takes a pro to repair it.

    I have to disagree with you on this one. I have seen a few Darley/PolyBilt trucks and you cant tell the difference as far as appearance goes. They use the same paint on poly that they do on metal bodies. The weight is about the same as aluminum with the strength of stainless. The bodies come with a LIFETIME warranty against corrosion or structural defects. If they are damaged, any body shop that works on Saturn vehicles can repair them. I think that poly has alot of potential.
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    Quote Originally Posted by MG3610
    From what I know and have seen, stainless steel is the predominant and strongest fastener.
    You are correct about stainless being the predominant fastener, but plain steel is much stronger (can't get Grade 8 stainless etc.,) Aluminum fasteners would be ideal from a corrosion standpoint (provided they are the same alloy as the sheet metal), except that aluminum does not thread well. Aluminum rivets are ideal but are not easy to work on, Peterbuilt and Kenworth high end truck bodies as well as some boats are made of aluminum with aluminum rivets. Stainless is much higher on the galvanic scale, but most of those alloys are relatively inactive hence are "safer" than most other metals. One metal to be avoided like the plauge on aluminum is any copper alloy. Copper is very high on the galvanic scale and very "active."
    Marion claims to use some sort of bushing I believe to avoid this issue. Is this true? Do any other manufacturers do this?
    You can use nylon fasteners and nylon bushings or any other non conducting material to isolate your dissimular metals. This is frequently done on small ships where the hull is steel and the deck houses are aluminum (to save weight topside). Works so-so, usually enough salt builds up across the isolator to hold enough moisture to begin conduct and corrosion begins (ask any Coast Guardsman who worked on a 110' cutter). Also, nylon bolts are much weaker than any other type of fasteners and not easy to find. This means that when one breaks it frequently gets replaced with stainless or other conducting material. Another option is to use steel fasteners with non conducting washers and sleeves over the bolt, but these tend to split if over tightened and chafe through if left too loose.

    There is a unique steel to aluminum bond which promised to be corrosion free. The idea is that, if you can remove all the gaps between the Al and Fe there would be no place to set up a galvanic cell. Explosive welding bonds steel to aluminum using, well, explosives. Put a plate of steel next to a plate of aluminum, wrap it in C-4 and BOOM! The metals fuses solid and then can be machined into a corrosion proof adaptor. (You can't arc weld aluminum to steel because of the different temperatures required) http://www.highenergymetals.com/

    If you are really interested in learning a lot more you can see if your library can get a book called "Corrosion in Metal Boats." Its where I got started studying this stuff, though let me warn you, do not attempt to read more than 30 minutes before bed time. If you do, you will find yourself asleep in 30 minutes.

    Quote Originally Posted by ffp8106
    No it is not!!! its steel...i have several of them and all are rusty.
    Yes the frame rails are steel, but I'm pretty sure the body's frame (not the truck) which you can't normally see is aluminum. Next time I get to the station I'll double check my stainless Saulsbury.

    Trivia, anyone besides Rescue 101 tell me what brand of heavy truck experimented with aluminum frame rails? (It was a dismal failure)
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    I believe a logger I know has or had a Pete or KW with an aluminum frame, and is always out looking for more. He swears by them.

    Birken

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    Quote Originally Posted by firepiper1
    Poly - Weight wise it's pretty heavy, looks horrible as a body sheet (even painted) if it is damaged it takes a pro to repair it.

    I have to disagree with you on this one. I have seen a few Darley/PolyBilt trucks and you cant tell the difference as far as appearance goes. They use the same paint on poly that they do on metal bodies. The weight is about the same as aluminum with the strength of stainless. The bodies come with a LIFETIME warranty against corrosion or structural defects. If they are damaged, any body shop that works on Saturn vehicles can repair them. I think that poly has alot of potential.
    I can tell the difference between a poly and metal body, at least on the units I've seen. Let it sit in the sun and heat up a little, and you can watch it expand... A neighboring department has two, and their chief has said it was quite alarming the first few times they saw it happen. The expansion was prevalent enough the tops of the roll up door trim were no longer in a straight line with each other. There's enough slop in the roll-up tracks that the doors will still work fine... Even sitting in the the bays, I can easily see the difference between the poly body and one built of metal.

    Does Saturn actually weld their body panels together? I mean - go to Darley's web site and look at the video showing how they weld the poly panel seams together, I find it hard to believe that on a Saturn they just don't order a new panel and slap 'er on. Here's the link to the videos page:
    Videos

    Just like poly tanks, field repairs can be made, but I don't expect your local Saturn shop will have the tools to do it right.

    I'm not attacking the poly product, but like everything out there, it has its positive attributes, and its negatives as well. Nothing is perfect, or everyone would be using it.
    Last edited by npfd801; 08-15-2006 at 02:06 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by npfd801
    I'm not attacking the poly product, but like everything out there, it has its positive attributes, and its negatives as well. Nothing is perfect, or everyone would be using it.

    You hit the nail on the head. There is no perfect body for fire apparatus. There are too many variables, climate being one of the biggest. Here in the Cleveland area, we go from below freezing with tons of road salt in the winters to very hot and humid in the summer.

    I dont care what manufacturer you buy from, you will have problems. Everyone does. Look at what type of local service you will get 5 or 10 years after making the purchase.
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    My wife's 98 Saturn SL2 the body panels are held together with plastic rivets. The fender is one piece, the quarterpanel is one piece, etc.
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