We are lucky here in Australia to have our choice of trucks from all around the world, with offerings from Europe, America, Japan, and of course our local manufacturers. While all of these trucks are designed to work well in their home country, there are some difficulties in adapting them to suit the local Australian operating environment.
One good example is equipping them to deal with the local wildlife and wandering stock without affecting the operation of the cooling and safety systems, the vehicle aesthetics, or the ability to comply with regulations. For those who operate in rural areas, including those between our major cities, a good solid bumper or bullbar is essential in protecting the frontal area of a truck from those creatures that roam in the night.
Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you it’s not cheap to take on a big roo with a plastic-fronted truck. Even a moderate impact can cause damage to vital components such as radiators and intercoolers, not to mention the towing bill if the truck is immobilised. Even if it’s insured, the excess and the time off the road will put a big dent in the bank account.
With more manufacturers going towards lightweight materials in bonnets, bumpers and grilles, the chances of getting away with a few scratches are greatly reduced. Animal strikes account for a huge proportion of insurance claims, and, while the replacement parts may be getting lighter, they are certainly not getting any cheaper. With a little investment up-front (pardon the pun), the consequences of a frontal collision can be greatly reduced.
Kentweld Bullbars have been manufacturing bullbars for over forty years, and while the trucks and the bullbars have changed a lot over that time, one thing hasn’t – every Kentweld bullbar is made by hand.
From the design process through to the finished product, a lot of the old school methods are still used, including the use of templates for measuring, and cutting sections by hand.
Francis Cain, who manages the Melbourne production facility, is well versed in creating exceptional results from bare metal. As a qualified silversmith, he is passionate about the hands-on aspect of the Kentweld manufacturing process.
“Everything here is cut by hand, there’s no CNC machine. We do all the bending in-house, so all of our bumpers are handmade,” he said. “That’s why you get the quality of it. At the end of the day, that’s an amazing piece of art, because it’s all done by hand. It’s the eye to detail,” he added.
Rick Hansen, Kentweld business development manager, said that the manual process was used in search of a better finish.
“We’ve got CAD drawings and all the rest of it, but we still go and get a template cut,” he said. “It’s slower (cutting by hand as opposed to using a CNC cutting machine), but everything that comes out of the CNC machine can have something wrong with it. We want to maintain the tradition of the old-school craftsmanship,” said Rick.
The handmade nature of these bars doesn’t come at a cost in terms of strength – quite the opposite in fact.
“As an aftermarket bar, it may look the same (as the factory bar), but our backing plate is half as thick again. The material used to manufacture the bar, instead of being 6 mm thick is 8 mm or 10 mm,” Rick said.
“We build a bullbar for a purpose; it’s not just for looks. We know our bars will stand up against the factory options every day of the week”.
As a demonstration of this strength, Rick showed me a bar that had been involved in an accident with a large commercial van. “He lost a headlight cover,” Rick said. “He’s still got his bonnet, everything like that. It was fitted to a T609 – it would’ve been $9000 for a new bonnet,” added Rick.
Rick is also keen to point out that Kentweld doesn’t just manufacture “off the shelf” bullbars and bumpers. While Kentweld does have standard bars to fit various popular trucks, the local manufacturing process allows for custom designs to be built to customer requirements.
“If you give us the time, then we’ll give you the time, and come up with what you want. If you want a one-off bar for your truck, then that’s what we do,” he said. “Just tell us what you want, show us a picture, or draw what you want, and we can make it,” he added.
The ability to design bars to suit almost any truck also helps in keeping up with new truck model releases. The introduction of so many new models in recent times has kept the designers and engineers at Kent Weld busy, with some spectacular results.
One of the most popular new trucks, the Mercedes-Benz Actros, presented a few challenges in terms of designing a bar to suit the shape of the truck while still allowing for the safety equipment, such as the radar used for Adaptive Cruise Control, to function without interference. Among the other new model releases are the Volvo FH and the Kenworth T610. Kentweld was the first bullbar manufacturer to come up with a good solid bullbar to suit the T610, with a sleek design that compliments the shape of the truck while still providing that much needed protection.
Another new innovation from Kentweld is an air-operated system to secure a bullbar, doing away with need for eye bolts. This system uses two small brake boosters and sliding wedges to secure the bullbar, allowing for it to be lowered quickly and easily with just the flick of a switch.
“It’s a wedge, that’s going in about half an inch, with the pressure of the brake booster against it the whole time. There’s still more than an inch of stroke left, so if there’s any movement it will only get tighter,” Rick said.
“It operates on the drop of air, so if you have your air lines ripped out by a roo, or the truck just loses air, you’re not stuck with the bullbar locked up. We use the tow pin as a safety feature.
“Given that a truck won’t move without adequate air pressure, there is no chance of the bullbar dropping while you are driving along,” said Rick.
Not only does the system provide a significant time saving in dropping and raising the bullbar, but removing the eye bolts also provides extra room for any front-mounted signage such as over size and road train signs.
By making it easier to drop the bullbar, Kentweld has taken most of the hard work out of the daily checks that require the bonnet to be opened. The simple flick of a switch and removal of the tow pin replaces the need to undo two, or even four, eye bolts while supporting the weight of the bar, and repeating the process to put the bar back up. This system provides benefits in terms of time, aesthetics and OHS – a hard trifecta to achieve. While it is still in the early stages of field-testing, Rick is keen to demonstrate its value at the upcoming Brisbane Truck Show, where it will be on display.
From humble beginnings in a dairy shed down Gippsland way, Kentweld Bullbars has built a business based on good old-fashioned workmanship. Along the way, they have produced some innovative and eye-catching products, but all with the same thing in mind, protecting a truck and its occupants. When you consider the high cost of repairs, a bullbar makes good sense as a form of cheap insurance, but only if it’s doing to the job we never really want it to do.