Premium tech for challenging environments

Volvo Trucks

Economic cycles may have their ups and downs, but some original equipment manufacturers stay focused on premium products.

Economic cycles may have their ups and downs, but some original equipment manufacturers stay focused on premium products. An original equipment manufacturer (OEM) continues to innovate, and Equipment Africa was recently invited to witness for itself some of the latest technologies that are geared at seeing more Volvo Trucks operating in the construction and mining industries in sub-Saharan Africa.

“Over the years, Volvo Trucks has amassed a lot of experience in developing and supporting trucks that operate in extreme off-road and tough on-road conditions,” says Malcolm Gush, sales director at Volvo Trucks South Africa. “Some of the new technologies originated in Sweden’s timber industry where the climate is truly harsh, extreme and varied, while others were also tested in a mine in the peaks of the Peruvian Andes at 5 000 m above sea level.”

Noticeable is the OEM’s continued focus on improving safety and productivity, despite the current state of some of the international markets in which these trucks are being geared.

This includes the mining and construction markets which have seen both the user of capital equipment and members of the supply chain cut on critical research and development (R&D) expenditure to save costs.

Torbjörn Christensson, president of Volvo Group SA, disagrees with this strategy. He says the group has survived many economic downturns, and that key to this has been its ongoing focus on R&D that has also kept it ahead of its competitors when economies have eventually recovered.

As he explains, a rash decision to cut on R&D expenditure can cost a company significant market share in the short term and, in some instances, wreak irreparable damage to existing market share.

“R&D remains a critical area for the group,” says Christensson. “We may decide to cut costs in other less demanding aspects of the operations, but driving innovation in the industry remains high on our agenda. In fact, our customers expect this from the group, including from Volvo Trucks.”

Tough as yellow metal

The new offerings see Volvo Trucks draw significant experience from the group’s construction arm, Volvo Construction Equipment (CE). While the range has been targeted at the timber haulage industry, the OEM also wants to seize a significant share of the off-road mining and construction on-site haulage sector.

Volvo CE’s articulated-dump truck (ADT) offering is one of the leaders in the market segment. It can also take credit for being the first company to launch the ADT concept for uneven underfoot terrain.

Now, all Volvo FMX models with all-wheel drive feature Automatic Traction Control as standard. This industry first sees the front-wheel drive on 4×4, 6×6, 8×6 and 10×6 configurations automatically activated providing the necessary traction when needed.

It also provides operators with reduced fuel consumption and better manoeuvrability, while reducing powertrain wear and damage as Automatic Traction Control is engaged only when it is required.

However, participants in the construction, mining and quarrying industries will appreciate a reinforced version of the I-Shift. This I-Shift is made for severe duty applications.

The company has reinforced the gearbox and adjusted the software so that it is better equipped to handle the frequent gear changes that are common in these environments.

Equipment Africa readers will recall that last month, Volvo Trucks introduced I-Shift with crawler gears. The new gears, which are added to the vehicle’s automated transmission, provide specialised start capability for trucks carrying heavy loads in demanding situations.

The system is unique for series-produced extra heavy trucks. Volvo Trucks’ new version of I-Shift makes it possible to add up to two new crawler gears, improving the ability to start-off from standstill and transport a gross combination weight (GCW) of up to 325 tonnes.

In 2015, the company also added the new Tandem Axle Lift function on its FH16, FH, FM and FMX ranges. This new innovation makes it possible to disengage and raise the second driven axle.

The function is designed for heavy duty transport applications with loads being carried one way and empty return trips, typically found in traditional forestry applications. “This functionality offers many advantages including better road grip and up to four percent lower fuel consumption when the truck is driven without a load.”

Volvo Trucks

More heavies

Volvo Trucks has also launched an optional Heavy Duty Bumper for the FH derivative. It is similar to the one on the Volvo FMX, designed to protect the headlights.

In addition, Volvo Trucks is now offering rear air suspension for the Volvo FMX with a driven front axle for 4×4, 6×6, 8×6 and 10×6 configurations. This provides high ground clearance, sound traction and driving comfort, especially when unladen.

The company is also now offering Euro 5 five-axle trucks directly from the factory to meet a growing need for higher legal payloads. In fact, combination weights of 50 to 76 tonnes are already allowed on some markets.

“Distributing the load on five axles reduces the risk of overloading the axles. This solution eliminates the need for an external bodybuilder and costly retrofitting. All in all, it gives fleet owners quicker delivery, direct from Volvo and all the benefits of a full Volvo warranty and after-market support,” says Gush.

Volvo Trucks Dynamic Steering, which was first introduced in 2013, is now available for the dual front axles on the 8×2, 8×4 and 10×4 derivatives. This feature is set to drastically reduce the strain on the driver, contributing not only to improved driving comfort, but also to increased safety and productivity. The company has also increased the maximum front axle loads for leaf-suspended trucks with double front axles from 18 to 20 tonnes.

“Customers driving on regular roads may not be able to increase the maximum payload, but they still benefit in terms of load distribution flexibility without overloading the axles.”

Premium gear

The Volvo Truck range is the pinnacle of truck design and manufacture, and discerning haulers will certainly opt for the technologies on offer with all of their benefits.

However, the diversity offered by the Volvo Truck’s group also adds significant value with brands such as UD providing the hauler with the so-called “sweet spot” offering that strikes a delicate balance between cost and quality. As the hauler grows, Christensson says it may decide to graduate to the Volvo Truck offering with all of its traits that make it a premium European truck marque.

He agrees that there are fleet owners who are opting for cheap, but inferior truck brands in an attempt to reduce costs in unfavourable economic conditions. He warns that, in doing so, they are increasing their total cost of ownership of the asset. “This is critical. It is impossible to improve total cost of ownership by significantly reducing the upfront purchasing price of the asset. Serious operators know this and would never fall into this trap.”

Equipment Africa looks forward to seeing these trucks making light work of hauling in the mining and construction industries!

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