When it comes to the fight against thieves, a father and son team are taking the battle to the criminals, with a launch of their own van locking system. Professional Builder talks to the west-country tradesmen about their development.
It is an all too familiar tale, and one which almost every tradesperson will be able to lament. When carpenter Robert Painter left his van unattended he was to become one of an ever-growing community of builders who have been the victims of tool theft, but what sets him and his father – fellow builder, Bobby – apart is a determination to find a solution.
“I was working in a fairly affluent part of Bristol, and my van was parked right outside the job,” recalls the Somerset-based chippie. “When I went back to the vehicle at lunchtime to get my wallet I was surprised to discover it was unlocked, and my mitre saw and nail gun were gone.” Robert had been the victim of an intruder armed with a tibby key, a piece of kit that can be picked up for peanuts on the internet, but that can cause untold damage to a builder’s business.
“In monetary terms it was around £1,500 worth, but the impact on your ability to carry on with on-going projects is also a big problem. There’s no chance of claiming from the insurer, because they’ll always find a way to not to pay out and, once the anger had subsided, I started to think of ways I could protect myself in the future. I’ve never liked the idea of a manual deadlock fitted to the outside of the van, because that demonstrates that you might well have something to hide, so what we were looking for was a remote deadlock that could be activated with one click of button, but will not betray its presence visually.”
The idea might have been Robert’s but the busy tradesman put the practicalities in the hands of Bobby. He explains what would become the Van Security Systems’ (VSS) approach. “Standard central locking devices work via a car actuator, which will typically push out a lock a maximum of 20mm, but there’s no resistance in the device. What we were looking for was something that was independent from the existing factory fitting, but was far more heavy duty, and would defy a sustained attack.”
With its own separate control box, the Van Security Systems design is completely separate from the vehicle’s existing locking infrastructure, so if thieves overcome the central locking the deadbolts stay locked. The 110mm x 15mm stainless steel bolt will shoot out 40mm or 67mm, depending on the size specified, and there are over 28 million rolling codes on the remote fob, which makes the whole system very secure. All of the electronics are designed and manufactured in-house, but the lock itself can be installed by a novice.
“We went to a scrap yard and installed our system to the rear doors of a van,” Bobby recalls. “We basically then went at it with first a 3ft and then a 6ft crowbar, and we just couldn’t get through. Of course, if someone wants to get into a van they will, but you also have to factor in the amount of time it takes for an intruder to gain access. If they think they’re going to be interrupted in their work they’ll just move on to easier pickings.”
Bobby and Robert might have had a workable system, but other complications lay in wait. Every individual model of what is now a considerable list of van manufacturers will have a subtly different door design, and that’s why Robert had to manufacture a bespoke lock for each. “We’re actually up to 25 different locks now, and that’s what really takes the time – making measurements of a van, creating a template and then going back to ensure that everything fits adequately. The electronics are also complex and took time to perfect, but we now have a patent pending, we’re using high quality components from local manufacturers, and the system is available to buy now.”