PowerTorque’s Warren Caves profiles the work of Qube Logistics in Far North Queensland’s sugar belt. Images by Torque it Up.
The introduction of the latest European technology often takes its time to filter to the north of Queensland, where traditional preferences for truck purchase have tended to stay with conventional bonneted trucks rather than cabovers.
The catalyst for change in the area supporting the Queensland sugar industry around Mossman and the Cairns region has been the influence of Green Energy, opening up the question of turning to more renewable energy sources and minimising exhaust emissions from the transport industry.
Keeping the environment foremost in its operating culture is Qube Logistics. Through its parent company Qube Holdings Ltd, the company operates a national fleet of in excess of 800 prime mover trucks and associated trailing equipment.
In its Far North Queensland operation, Qube Logistics supplies services to the sugar industry ensuring safe and efficient delivery of sugar cane crops to various mills throughout the region on a seasonal basis.
The sugar cane harvest season traditionally runs from May to November, with harvested crops totalling in excess of one million tonnes. While some of this harvest is transported by the familiar sugar cane trains to various mills for crushing, a large number of crops are not serviced by rail infrastructure and need to be transported by road on trucks.
Qube Logistics has recently placed into service 14 Mercedes Benz Actros 2646 trucks with a matching number of TEFCO Multi-lift trailers semi-trailers to replace its ageing fleet of long serving conventional prime movers to supply harvested cane to the MSF sugar Mill in Arriga (commonly known as the Tableland Mill) just outside Mareeba in North Queensland.
For over 150 years, sugar cane crops, trains and the spectacular sugar cane fires have been a familiar sight in North Queensland. Due to the seasonal nature of the “crush” some of the local infrastructure had become a little dated and in need of a degree of modernisation, opening a challenge both for the transport operation and some of the processing mills.
The relatively new Thai-owned MSF Tableland mill is an exception to this aging process, with its more modern facilities operated by MSF, a forward-thinking company driving innovation in the sugar cane processing industry.
In a bid to future-proof its business and to combat fluctuating global sugar cane prices, MSF is investing in Bio-technology and environmentally sustainable projects to diversify its interests.
Nearing completion at MSF’s tableland Mill is a unique green energy power generation plant, which will process bagasse. Bagasse is the biomass waste fibre left over at the end of the sugar cane crushing process.
When fully operational, the $75 million-dollar power generation plant will have the capacity l to produce 24mW of base-load energy, all derived from what was essentially a waste product. The company plans to provide 17 MW of base load, green power to the national grid, 24 hours a day, 50 weeks per year, equating to around 142,000 Mega-Watt hours annually. The remaining 7MW will be allocated by MSF to supply the operational power needs of the mill.
As well as Bagasse, the company is experimenting with alternate agricultural bi-products and purpose grown crops which can be harvested in the off-season to supply the power generating natural fibre required, providing a year-round supply. Current experimentation is looking at woodchips, peanut shells and cultivating a Mexican cactus called Agave, however the Agave plant takes five years to reach maturity, so results will take some time yet.
Central to the success of the bold MSF plan for the efficient and reliable delivery of sugar cane to the mill for processing is the introduction of the 14 new Mercedes Benz Actros trucks and TEFCO multi-lift trailers, with the last of the 14 trucks entering service in mid-June of this year.
The M-cab Actros prime movers are powered by the 10.7 litre, M470 Daimler engine producing 460 horsepower and 220Nm of torque, whilst complying to the not yet mandated, Euro6 emissions standard.
The 6X4 trucks utilise the 12-speed PowerShift transmission, incorporating a crawl function which will undoubtably come in handy in the heavy sugar cane paddock ground regularly encountered.
Qube Logistics has an extremely strong focus on safety for its drivers. The specification of the latest Actros brings the best of current safety technologies to the sugar cane industry by installing guardian infra-red fatigue detection, dash cameras, satellite tracking and real time alerts for speed and fatigue incidents. Geo-fence speed zones have been installed in the MT Data systems at recognised danger points throughout the regular routes and all vehicles are speed limited to a maximum 95 km/h.
According to James Naughton, Qube logistics’, North Queensland’s Regional Manager, these monitoring technologies have modified driver behaviour and reduced incidents, dramatically.
“The Actros and TEFCO trailer combinations tare at around 21 tonnes with a laden bin, which gives a maximum payload per trip of around 25.5 tonnes,” said James.
“We operate the trucks under a primary producer model, which gives us an additional 7.5 percent payload increase over the base 43 tonnes and removes the need to operate under mass management. This gives us a maximum GCM of 46.2 tonnes gross weight”, he added.
Depending on daily crop requirements, a varying number of the MSF mill-owned transport bins are positioned by the Actros prime movers on the ground at each location being harvested throughout various cane fields. The bins are then filled directly from a harvester.
When several bins are filled, Qube Logistics will dispatch a truck to deliver another empty bin and return with a full bin to the mill. All these movements are electronically tracked to ensure just in time deliveries to the mill on a ratio of one truck every six-eight minutes. During harvest season these trucks are worked around the clock by a mixture of local drivers and a seasonal workforce coming in from the cold southern states for the winter.
The bins are loaded in the paddock by farm implements which have load weight monitoring equipment, but to ensure accuracy and prevent overloading the trucks are weighed on the tip point at the mill. Any potential oversights are recorded, with the farmer then notified to enable the adjustment of the overall total average weight.
“At season end the weight tally is scrutinised by TMR (Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads) for compliance. This is a great way to ensure compliance without the need for punitive measures from authorities,” added James.
Braking for the Actros trucks and TEFCO trailers, comes by way of drum brake technology. Resisting the option of incorporating disc brakes.
“We chose to take the tried and tested drum brake path due to the arduous dusty and muddy conditions the trucks encounter on this contract. The Actros trucks do however feature, EBS, incorporating, ABS, stability control, traction control and a hill hold function,” said James Naughton.
“An Actros demonstrator truck had been supplied to us by RGM Maintenance, North Queensland’s Daimler distributor for evaluation over a season. That truck performed well and ultimately led to the company’s final purchase decision.
“The previous trucks on this contract were returning fuel economy figures of 1.7 km/L on average. We based our figures for the contract using the Actros trucks on 2km/L as this was the figure achieved by the demonstration unit.
“We have been pleasantly surprised by the 2.2 km/L we are currently seeing. The most logical explanation for this economy gain is the chosen tyre size. We wanted to get the overall height and centre of gravity a bit lower and spec’d the fleet with 305/70 22.5 tyres, in contrast to the 11R tyres of the demo unit.
“Given the average seasonal return trip for the trucks is 45 km from mill to mill and involves driving on sugar cane farm tracks, 2.2 km/L is quite respectable,” said James.
Adding to the appeal of the Actros trucks on this task is the 300kg tare weight advantage over the previous outgoing conventional prime movers, plus the expectation of reduced fuel consumption with the added safety benefits as part of the standard specification.
Driver acceptance has been positive, even from hardened bonneted truck devotees. The spacious cab and comfort levels have swayed many an American -based, bonneted truck purist to the European ways of the Actros, with some of the Qube Logistics drivers reporting reduced levels of fatigue at the end of their 12-hour shifts.
Qube Logistics has entered into Daimlers Agility Service Plan for the Actos trucks, with routine maintenance, brake adjustments and the like performed by Qube Logistics workshop, under the maintenance management scheme.
At seasons end, all unutilised trucks and trailers are de-registered and stood down to minimise costs, this also provides the opportunity to attend to any servicing and maintenance required.