Planet Boom

Australia’s building and infrastructure boom requires some unique pieces of equipment to perform specialised tasks and Putzmeister is proving itself equal to the challenge.
Putzmeister, Volvo boom truck.

A German company that has been operating in Australia for over 50 years, Putzmeister supplies a large range of European designed and manufactured concrete placing equipment.

CPE Machinery has been involved with Putzmeister as the Australian distributor for their equipment for more than 30 of those years, and Putzmeister Holding GmbH acquired CPE Machinery in March 2022 and the operation is now a stand-alone subsidiary of the Putzmeister Group known as Putzmeister Oceania Pty Ltd. David Bond, the former owner of CPE remains involved as a senior advisor along with Managing Director Shane Brown and Sales Director Peter Lethbridge.

Peter and David have more than 60 years of combined experience in the concrete placing industry.

Putzmeister specialises in providing a full package to their customers and the total Australian market for the bigger truck-mounted boom pumps is currently approximately 100 units per year, plus smaller truck-mounted high-pressure pumps and line pumps.

Booms range from 20 metres to 56 metres and there are some specific chassis specifications required by the larger boom trucks.

Wheelbase is a critical factor in the often-delicate balance of determining axle weights and overhang, and in some cases can be down to just a few millimetres. Some states require IAP tracking if the front axle group exceeds 14 tonnes, so efforts are made to fit within the 14-tonne envelope and load sharing front suspension is a standard requirement.

Fuel tanks typically need to be relocated to accommodate the outrigger stabiliser legs and also distribute tare weight. The weight of the pumping equipment dictates that a boom truck is usually operating close to its GVM or even requiring permits in order to operate over the standard regulations’ allowable axle weights.

All concrete boom pump trucks are registered as Special Purpose Vehicles (SPV) to qualify for higher tolerances on axle mass, in a similar arrangement to many mobile cranes.

“It’s fully loaded its whole life once the pump goes onto the back of it,” says David Bond. “That’s why we go for the big heavy-duty trucks.”

There is the option to deliver the cab-chassis direct from a European OEM to the Putzmeister factory in Germany, have the pump equipment mounted and then shipped to Australia as a complete unit.

European truck brands dominate the larger side of the spectrum as booms larger than 38 metres typically require higher axle ratings, while Japanese trucks tend to be popular at the lighter side.

Some units will have hub reduction rear axles although that may not be essential for all applications and the Volvo boom truck featured here is equipped with conventional rear axles.

This is an Australian delivered Volvo FMX cab-chassis which has had the German manufactured pumping equipment mounted here by the local Putzmeister operation.

The engineering on this particular Volvo FMX uses a ‘drop box’ PTO which sits between the chassis rails where a centre bearing would normally be in line with the tailshaft.

Interestingly, this PTO can power the concrete pump operation when in PTO or drive through to the rear diffs when in drive mode.

Some brands of trucks require modifications to their control systems to ‘trick’ the truck to operate in PTO. The Volvo control system is very intelligent and handles this required function with ease.

“Volvo may not currently be the biggest player in the concrete pumping industry, but people do respect the Volvo product,” says David. “The late model Volvos are an extremely nice truck to drive and greatly assist the pump operator with their driving functions.”

Volvo FMX.
Deployed stabiliser legs on the Volvo FMX features a drop box PTO.

Volvo’s I-Shift automated manual transmission is used as a selling point as the AMT relies less on the drivers’ abilities and more on the trucks’ ability which is extremely important when operating in busy city environments.

“Volvo has some great safety features which is an added bonus as customers are now more focused on operating safer and smarter,” says Peter Lethbridge.

The 500 horsepower Volvo engine fitted to the FMX is more than adequate to power both the 33-tonne unit on its journeys to and from work sites, while also more than capable of powering the concrete pump operations.

“Some operators think more horsepower allows them to pump faster, when in fact it doesn’t,” says David.

“You can only pump so fast, and the equipment can take only so much power, anyway. We could run the same sort of concrete pump with 350 horsepower. With 500 horsepower the Volvo absolutely cruises along the road.”

Some boom pump trucks drive to a job site which may be 20- or 30- or even 50-kilometres from their base, then pump concrete for ten hours and then return to their base, so the average kilometres travelled for a pump truck may only be 20,000 per year.

“There are boom pump trucks out there which are 30 years old,” says Shane Brown. “If you spec it properly with these heavy-duty trucks they’ll last because they don’t do a lot of road miles. The engine is the thing doing the work and they are serviced on hours of operation not kilometres driven.”

The concrete pumping industry is very different from the road transport freight business, where sizeable contracts may often be in place for years and operators can plan ahead in their acquisitions of replacement and additional equipment.

In construction, demand for new equipment by concrete pumping operators can be influenced by successful tendering for major projects that may involve short lead times.

“Our clients sometimes don’t really know when they may need a new machine. In construction the first thing they do is dig a hole and then pour concrete into it,” says Shane. “So, we have to have machines available pretty quickly to satisfy them when they win a job.”

This translates to Putzmeister having to predict demand in a niche market and essentially take a punt and build trucks prior to receiving confirmed orders.

Their industry experience allows them to understand what their market likes in terms of models and sizes of pumps and booms as well as the trucks they are mounted on. In this way, they are able to anticipate what needs to be ordered. As with many other industries, a major current challenge is delivery time, as well as shipping costs.

With Australia on the cusp of a massive infrastructure program, equipment such as the Putzmeister Volvo FMX will likely play an integral role going forward.

Volvo FMX with boom mounted pump.
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