Home Business Heaven’s Gate – Prime Mover Magazine

Heaven’s Gate – Prime Mover Magazine


The dense alluvial soils washed down from the volcanic mesa in the vicinity of Mount Warning have long made it a favorable agricultural region with a subtropical climate well suited to growing crops.

The state’s sugar cane belt can be found in the scenic area defined by the Tweed, Richmond and Clarence Rivers in the Northern Rivers of New South Wales.

There are about 500 independent sugar cane farmers, the area also has banana plantations, meat farms, macadamia orchards and fields of other fruits and vegetables.

Sugarcane fields in the western Richmond Valley have expanded in recent years as farmers move into an industry that has been an economic mainstay in the Northern Rivers region of NSW for more than 150 years. Sunshine Sugar, the banner of New South Wales sugar mill co-operative and Australian family business Manildra Group, operates mills in each of the three major northern rivers sugar cane regions.

They are triangulated between sites – moving down the coastline – at Condong, Broadwater and Harwood. Harwood Mill is Australia’s longest continuous sugar mill, having started operations in 1874. Harvesting usually begins in early June and lasts until December. In a good year in 2018, for example, the Broadwater Mill will crush around 700,000 tonnes of local cane.

At the start of each harvest, a special fleet of 31 trucks emblazoned with SCT signs comes to life. Since 2005, SCT Logistics has served Sunshine Sugar’s account, transporting commercial vehicles between farms and nearby mills. Trucks operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Pickup or delivery may involve traveling several kilometers, a maximum of 150 km round trip, but the work is tireless.

Farmers dump the harvested sugarcane into containers parked in cane fields or on sites among the cane fields. Bunkers, which can carry up to 28 tons at a time, are lifted by trucks and delivered to the plant.

The rear door of the hopper opens, from which its contents are dumped from a purpose-built trailer into a hopper at the mill for processing. The empty hopper is then returned to the farm.

Tipping a purpose-built four-axle Skel trailer onto the rear wheels and axle.

Driving a vehicle is not dissimilar to route work between distribution centers, but the payload requirements and the device to discharge it make it a completely different and complex application, unique not only to this part of the world but also to the industry.

Until 2019, SCT Logistics used Kenworths for its operation.

That all changed two years ago when it introduced 16 new Mercedes-Benz Actros 2646LS Euro 6 trucks as part of a comprehensive fleet replacement program that includes seven purpose-built four-axle Skel trailers – the first of their kind to be approved to performance-based standards ( PBS). The operation is perhaps even more sensitive to payload given that the sugar cane market varies from season to season. Making the most of every dollar is important, as next year’s harvest is always an unknown.

Therefore, any improvements to the carrying capacity of each vehicle are seen as significant. SCT Logistics national fleet manager Michael Somers says the payload benefits were the driving force behind the decision to renew the fleet.

“We thought we could get a better payload with the hoodless Mercedes-Benz Actros, even though it’s a heavier truck,” he says. “But the axle and wheel configuration gave us a better load profile. So in the end we managed to get a heavier tractor, but get an extra half a ton of payload.”

With its aging Kenworth fleet in need of replacement, SCT Logistics, which already has an alliance with Daimler Truck in other areas of its business, decided to try something new.

The introduction of a four-axle trailer on the Mercedes-Benz Actros allowed SCT Logistics to increase the load capacity to 50.5 tonnes per unit with 27 tonnes dedicated to the trailer, while keeping the overall vehicle length under 19 metres.

However, according to Michael, this is not viable, taking into account the peculiarity of the combination and bunkers. This would throw the loads off the axle.

“Now we get that extra weight on the steering axle and the weight is distributed correctly,” he says. “We worked closely with Mercedes-Benz Trucks and MaxiTRANS to find the best payload-to-weight ratio, and that’s where we ended up.”

The four-axle trailer is technically a Skel overhead trailer. Its total height of 4.6 meters is allowed. At the factory, the driver skill of the Actros 2646LS with smooth reverse hitches the trailers to the curb before tipping the trailer onto the rear wheels and axle.

The cart on top of the trailer slides to the ground. It has a hook that goes through a latch on the trailer.

It is then chained back into the trailer. Once the trailer is about half way up, the trailer can be lowered, whereupon the carriage is pulled forward and locked. The adjustable hopper locking system has been designed to allow the hopper to be adjusted when suspended to adjust the axle load as needed.

This saves time, so you don’t have to lower the trash can to the ground again.

Application was not possible for three-axle trailers. In the past, if a hopper was not properly loaded onto the site, the load could move as it was lifted, triggering an on-board weighing system that would confirm the axle load was exceeded.

Mercedes-Benz Actros 2646LS runs between the sugar factory and the farm.

The container would have to be returned and the cargo adjusted so that it could be picked up again as part of a legitimate cargo distribution. According to Michael, the new system is an exciting development in terms of a safe and efficient material handling mechanism.

“With ATVs, we found we could move the hopper and reduce axle load while the hopper was still on the trailer,” he says. “If it’s legal, the driver doesn’t have to wait any longer. MaxiTRANS went through the process with us to create the design we wanted to achieve the best weight-to-axle ratio.”

An additional 19 ATVs have been ordered for 2021, with all 26 units of the Mercedes-Benz fleet planned to be equipped with ATVs.

The first seven of these trailers went into operation at the Condong Sugar Factory. According to 2018 data, SCT trucks made a total of 22,332 trips to 136 different addresses for one sugar mill.

With PBS, those trips come to 17,966 – a 4,366 reduction in trucks, according to Michael.

“Taking over 4,000 truck and trailer movements off the road is a significant increase in productivity,” he says. “When you’re working in areas where the roads are mostly country roads that are used by local people, we want to make sure that safety comes first. For the local government area (LGA), it was a no-brainer. They told us that they would do this all day, every day.”

The number of truck trips made during the season at all three plants exceeds 71,200; or have done so far. Transit routes involve passing through five LGAs and require RMS NSW permits.

Despite the occasional approval delay, LGAs support the business model given the close attention SCT Logistics pays to its payload and vehicle condition.

Off-season technical maintenance of equipment is carried out every 14 to 21 days, and the schedule coincides with the days of technical maintenance at the plants. SCT Logistics manages the entire transportation department. All equipment is thoroughly cleaned in the workshop during the off-season.

Sugarcane fragments tend to remain in hard-to-reach areas, and a complete wash for each mobile asset can take up to two days.

Once completed, the vehicles undergo a detailed inspection.

Murwillumbah Truck Center provides additional support if required. Trucks are usually ready to ship a month before the new season. At this time, SCT Logistics is rehiring all of its drivers.

For those who do not return, new drivers are found. This requires additional training.

“If you have about 31 trucks, each driven by three drivers, up to 100 drivers need to attend some sort of refresher course or training,” says Michael. “It is vital that everyone is aware of best practice. Again, it takes time.”

Service time was once measured in hours to account for the extended downtime of PTO-powered trucks.

This information is now recorded in MTData, the fleet’s designated telematics service provider, along with driver hours, fuel economy, bulk declarations and any real-time metrics operations managers may need to assess.

All trucks have an on-board weighing system and are registered with the Intelligent Access Program (IAP). The commercial vehicle division that Michael manages has approximately 200 trucks and over 300 trailers.

About 1,200 people work, including subcontractors with their own equipment.

Dominic Guinea, head of Condong.

“SCT is a visionary company that always looks outside the box,” he says. “Working in a family business is a pleasure.”

The company places increasing emphasis on improving safety and reducing environmental impact.

Upgrading a sugarcane fleet in NSW to a Mercedes-Benz Actros 2646LS Euro 6 day cab meets this goal, but also helps to realize another.

By reducing operating costs, these savings can be passed on to the customer.

The ability to have a fully serviced operating lease sweetened the deal when it was clear that the Mercedes-Benz product was more cost-effective to service over the five-year period that SCT Logistics typically leases its trucks. “In our field of business, we are going all-in on Europe.

Driver’s airbags, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning systems and accident detection systems are all standard for Mercedes-Benz. The advantages over the previous trucks outweighed everything,” says Michael.

“We have a heavier truck here, but the load capacity is half a ton more. Daimler Truck made the whole process easier than it could have been.”

It was near Murwillumbah where Joshua Bray, the pioneer of the industry, whose farm at Kinumbun produced some of the first sugar cane crops as early as 1869.

The area is rich with such history, even as a new era begins with the glimpse of a 460bhp German Euro VI engine flickering through the flames of the tall reeds.

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