Building a safe foundation

From a modest beginning as a family-owned company in Sydney’s southern suburbs in 1976, Concrite has grown to be an important part of the Boral Group. Today, it has plants throughout the Sydney metropolitan area, extending into New South Wales’ Southern Highlands and the Australian Capital Territory. Concrite has its own state-of-the-art National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA) accredited testing laboratory in Moorebank, southwest of Sydney.

Concrite mostly specialises in high-end concrete, mixed and delivered according to customer specifications. When formulating the specific mixes, the technical and operations people at Concrite have to consider two main factors: how the concrete mix behaves in its plastic ‘wet’ state to allow it to be transported and pumped into place, and then its behaviour once it hardens. Linking those are the constant challenges involved in moving sloppy, heavy material through metropolitan streets to often difficult-to-access construction sites.

“There are two issues – the first is that we don’t want to spill any of the mixture, and the second is keeping the trucks on their wheels,” says Concrite Operations Manager, Ed Butler. “We are dealing with a heavy dynamic load with potential to move from side to side within the truck.”

The nature of concrete mixer trucks means the weight of the load is constantly moving around inside the barrel, and there has been a concentrated effort on lowering the centre of gravity to keep the mass as low as possible. Traditional load-restraint procedures don’t apply to wet concrete, and Concrite is continually working to improve the fundamental safety response to that challenge.

“Kenworth has been very good in that area,” says Ed. “The trucks’ suspension is appropriate for our type of work. Our Kenworths have dual ride height valve compensators, and the size of the air lines is critical to how quickly the system can react.”
The Concrite team has worked with truck supplier Kenworth via its local dealer, Suttons Trucks Arncliffe, progressively developing the customisation of the trucks, including the fitment of a number of devices intended to make each driver’s life easier, better and safer.

“We are very impressed with the stiffness of Kenworth chassis,” says Concrite Transport Supervisor, Alex Rusu. “It’s important to have feedback to the driver, and with a truck with a relatively flexible chassis, this doesnt occur.
As the mixer turns, it winds the concrete up one side of it. The aim is to get load transfer inside the mixer more ‘fore and aft’, than side to side.
“Most times when a concrete truck falls over, it is onto the near (kerb) side, although when the barrel is turning it climbs up on the driver’s side,” explains Ed. “What happens is, when driving along, the weight is up on the driver’s side and, as the truck goes around a right-hand bend, the mix suddenly shifts across to the kerb side.”
The Kenworths have been equipped with electronic stability control (ESC) for a number of years, and the latest models have disc brakes.

“We always think of ESC as icing on the cake, and hope it never has to be used,” says Ed. “We don’t necessarily want to be relying on the ESC. We set the truck up to be as stable as possible using mechanical means, and put ESC on top to get the best possible safety result.”

Another integral safety system involves the communication between the Agi-Drive hydraulic agitator drive and the 340hp Cummins engine. Known as a transit interlock, the rotation speed of the barrel is regulated to be independent of the engine speed when the Allison transmission is in ‘drive’. This feature of the Agi-Drive technology completely avoids the problems associated with earlier systems where, if the engine sped up, so too did the speed of the barrel rotation.

“It provides two safety-related advantages by reducing the possibility of load shift and doesn’t rob the truck of power when it needs to accelerate,” says Ed.
Input from the Concrite drivers has been valuable as well. One came to Alex and suggested it would be good to have a toolbox on the outside, to avoid having heavy objects such as hammers unrestrained in the cabin. Now, a lockable toolbox is located neatly between the first and second driver’s steps.

Passive safety features developed collaboratively with Kenworth and agitator manufacturer Thai AMX include the side safety bars, which are attached to the side of the chassis, forward of the front drive axles, to prevent pedestrians or cyclists from getting caught in the area. Night lights are fitted to the external mirror brackets to illuminate the driver’s path when entering or exiting the cab.

The cab grab rails follow an extensive line of the cab door opening, and are solidly attached to the cab’s frame. The location of the bright yellow bars provides a much more effective and stable handhold than using the steering wheel as a point of contact.
The steering wheel itself has been modified. A previously unused switch location at the top of the engine brake controls is utilised as a ‘push to talk’ button for the two-way radio, in conjunction with a remote microphone, so that the driver can communicate while keeping both hands on the wheel.

A removable spill tray offers improved access to the underpinnings of the truck, including air lines and suspension components. The national standard for the Boral Group is to remove the mixer every five years to facilitate a major inspection. The introduction of the removable tray will – at the very least – extend the inspection intervals, if not obviate them altogether.

Telematics plays an important part in the day-to-day operations, with live, electronic visibility on all trucks to monitor factors such as harsh braking or cornering. Telematics is also helps Concrite show due diligence on the management of fatigue for its employees.
“We are also now fitting forward- and rearward-facing cameras, which are constantly recording and transmitting,” says Hus Ozaras who fills the role of Logistics Manager at Concrite. “We can store up to a month of vision from each truck on the ‘cloud’, and the data better enables investigation of any incidents both at worksites and on roads.”
Ed is very passionate about the trucks Concrite orders, and what’s on the back of them. Others may just get a stock truck and put a barrel on it, but the entire team at Concrite attempts to set the bar high and invest in trying to make drivers’ lives easier and the trucks safer.

The 50th Concrite Kenworth is joining the fleet, and Michael Maranda at Suttons Trucks in Arncliffe has assisted in celebrating this golden milestone by having some special details applied to the actual vehicle, including celebratory stitching to the seats and door trims, a metallic mix in the paint and gold-leaf signwriting.

“The trucks, the drivers and their behaviour is what people see,” says Ed. “The guys in the lab work at having the best possible mix, yet no one really sees that – other than maybe a project manager or an engineer. Everybody sees the trucks, that’s what they judge the business on and there is no hiding from that. Their entire opinion on our business is what they see on the road and how we behave – and it’s really important that the impression is the right one.

“Being safe is very, very important. We are concentrating on working now with Kenworth, Agi-Drive and Thai AMX to produce a truck with a mixer on it as a homogenous unit rather than several pieces.”

The team at Concrite pays more than just lip service to the company’s safety message: ‘Zero Harm Today’. There is a genuine sense of immediacy in the quest to run a safe operation that goes well beyond the Mass and Maintenance accreditations that Concrite has under the National Heavy Vehicle Accreditation Scheme (NHVAS).

“While concrete can be very technical in nature, it’s really the people who make the difference – and we have a duty to look after them,” says Ed.

(Top image L-R: Concrite Logistics Manager, Hus Ozaras, Concrite Operations Manager, Ed Butler and Concrite Transport Supervisor, Alex Rusu.)

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