Dare to be Different

Once disparagingly referred to as “silly wheels”, an air suspended lift-up axle is playing an important part in Local Mix’s latest PBS truck and dog combination.
Freightliner 126 truck and dog with lazy axle.

Established in 1971, Local Mix has grown to be considerably more than a supplier of ready mix concrete to the Geelong area.

Local Mix has progressively become a vertically integrated organisation with operations ranging from quarrying and crushing, to recycling construction and demolition waste materials.

The company supplies up to half a million tonnes of crushed rock and road base to the Victorian construction industry each year.

Local Mix’s range of equipment includes mobile crushing and screening machines, wheel loaders and excavators and a float to enable their relocation, and various other pieces of plant including a truck-mounted concrete pump built on a Mercedes-Benz Actros.

In its quest to optimise operational efficiencies in conjunction with enhanced safety outcomes, Local Mix has developed an innovative truck and dog trailer combination which since its introduction has aroused considerable interest in the bulk transport industry.

The truck uses a rigid Freightliner Cascadia 126 day cab-chassis as its base, but this is not a typical 6×4 setup as the Cascadia’s conventional configuration is enhanced with an additional “lazy” (non-driven) axle located in front of the bogie drive axles creating an innovative 8×4 without the complication of a second steer axle.

Rather than being a local retro-fit, the Hendrickson lift up axle, and its suspension, were fitted to the chassis as it came down the assembly line at the Freightliner factory in Charlotte in the USA.

In combination with its five-axle dog trailer, the truck operates under PBS and Mass Management regulations with a GCM of 68.5 tonnes, mostly carrying raw materials from Local Mix’s basalt quarry located at Anakie, and sand and gravel from its pit at Moriac, to Local Mix’s concrete batching plants located in Moolap and North Shore near Geelong.

“We are carrying four tonnes more payload on every trip than with a conventional B-double, which is close to ten per cent capacity increase,” says Local Mix Operations Manager, Paul Beretta.

“The Cascadia combo replaced a traditional truck and four axle dog trailer combination, and it regularly does four runs per day, so we are moving an extra 16 tonnes per day over the old combo, plus it’s a safer vehicle and we’re getting better fuel economy as a bonus.”

Local Mix’s innovative Freightliner 8x4 with additional lazy axle.
Local Mix’s innovative Freightliner 8×4 with additional lazy axle.

To deliver even more operational savings by minimising tyre wear, the additional axle is lifted off the pavement when the truck isn’t carrying a load.

“The owner of Local Mix, Trevor Richardson, has always had a focus on operational efficiencies, so he was all for it when we floated the idea of the new Cascadia platform,” says Paul.

The Cascadia is powered by a Detroit Diesel DD16 engine rated at 600hp with 2,050 lbs/ft of torque in combination with the Detroit DT12 Automated Manual Transmission (AMT).

“Being backed by Daimler Trucks is important and we know how good that automated transmission is, which is a big positive,” Paul says.

This engine-gearbox combination immediately impressed the Local Mix team by recording fuel figures of 1.8km per litre in its first month of operation, which is much the same as the truck it replaces yet the Cascadia is carrying a significantly higher payload.

“We are extremely pleased with those fuel numbers from a new truck in that application and we know they are only going to get even better in time,” Paul says.

The Cascadia’s safety features include the Detroit Assurance package which includes such functions as the Advanced Emergency Braking System, Lane Departure Warning System and adaptive cruise control.

Currently, Freightliner Cascadias are the only bonneted trucks in Australia with a driver’s airbag.

Local Mix also chose to add the optional Side Guard Assist (SGA) feature, which uses radar to maintain a lookout on any kerbside blind spots and provides audio warnings as well as a yellow warning light located on the kerbside A-pillar to alert the driver of a potential collision with objects such as power poles or street signs when turning left.

The system also provides a warning if the truck is about to merge left into a lane already occupied by another vehicle.

Local Mix also optioned for the bonnet-mounted mirrors to further enhance the driver’s vision along the sides of the combination.

The safety factors are considered to be very important by Local Mix, which is a family-owned company based in Geelong, the second biggest city in Victoria.

“Our trucks operate in traffic in Geelong every day, so it is critical that we have the most advanced safety features available to help protect our driver and other road users,” says Paul.

“Given the amount of time our trucks are in traffic, visibility is hugely important and the collision warning and emergency braking systems also get a big tick.”

Each axle load, as it operates under mass management regulations, is required to be measured before departure, which is not a problem at Local Mix’s plants which all have weighbridges.

“Thanks to its increased productivity, the truck is doing less trips to move the same amount of material, which is what PBS was designed for,” Paul says.

Local Mix's Paul Beretta.
Paul Beretta.

The regular driver of the combination is long-term Local Mix employee Cyril Baldey, who, at six feet seven inches tall (2.0 metres), has been surprised at how roomy the Cascadia day cab is.

“Being a tall bloke, I can tell you how much I appreciate the amount of space there is in this thing,” Cyril says. “This truck is so comfortable.”

Paul corroborates the testimony.

“When he got in it, he was surprised how comfortable it was because he has had so many issues in the past,” he adds. “Day cab trucks are usually limited for space, particularly legroom, and this truck is really, really spacious.”

The tipping body on the Cascadia and the five-axle dog trailer are products of Chris’s Body Builders in Melbourne.

In addition to the recently acquired Cascadia, Local Mix operates an eclectic fleet of truck and dog, semi and B-double tippers using Scania, Volvo and Kenworth trucks.

The majority of the company’s 30 concrete agitators are IVECO with some Mercedes-Benz, Mack and Kenworth units also included. With a fleet of this size mainly operating in metropolitan traffic conditions it can be expected that incidents can and do happen, yet most of the issues are proven by the onboard cameras as being caused by car drivers.

Paul himself spent some time driving trucks in Canada in 1996 and was impressed by the strong focus on fuel economy and efficiency over there.

“And yet that kind of mindset is not as common here among many Australian operators who don’t seem to pay attention to it,” he says.

Paul is aware of some other operators in Victoria who have embarked on a similar 8×4 route and he also sees this particular combination as suitable for other bulk transport applications.

“It would be a no-brainer for grain,” Paul says. “It has better weight distribution than a B-double from the perspective of wear and tear on the road. I think that this set-up could replace a lot of B-doubles.”

Local Mix worked with the team at Daimler Trucks Dandenong, including salesman Mitch Hynd, to select a truck that would suit the application and fit within the requirements of the PBS and Mass management regulations.

The resulting higher payload combination is safer and has a lighter tare weight, less wheels on the ground when it is empty, and is less expensive to register than a B-double.

The Performance-Based Standards (PBS) scheme is built around the basic principle of matching the right vehicles to the right freight tasks as a means of improving productivity, safety and sustainability through adopting innovative and optimised vehicle design.

Reduced impact on road infrastructure is another key element of PBS and the Local Mix Freightliner Cascadia combination satisfies all requirements.

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