SWEET AS SUGAR | Trailer Review – Qube Logistics introduces new methods to revitalise an established industry

Qube Logistics introduces new methods to revitalise an established industry – Words by Warren Caves, Images by Torque it Up

Trailer design has evolved to greater levels of efficiency by forward thinking and vision from both manufacturers and designers, but one thing that can really restrain design progress is the end-users’ facilities.

Where a logistics company is contracted as a third party to these facilities it can result in a major influence on available transport solutions. This is when trailer builders can have their hands tied to some degree in designing modern-day trailers to cope with ageing infrastructure at the delivery destination in order to lift productivity to present-day aspirations.

For Qube Logistics, this contrast of necessary trailer design is evident in the company’s North Queensland sugar operations.

Qube Logistics provides transport solutions to several sugar-mill operations in North Queensland and recently invited PowerTorque to visit the Mossman Sugar Mill, (owned by Mackay Sugar) and the Thai-owned MSF Sugar Mill in Arriga, just outside Mareeba.

The MSF Arriga Mill is a much newer facility having been built within the past 20 years. A modern approach to design and handling of harvested sugar cane deliveries at this mill is the tipping of cane into a hopper directly from a trailer. This necessitated a very specific type of trailer with Brisbane-based TEFCO Trailers designing and manufacturing a fleet of rear multi-lift trailers to suit the end-users’ facilities.

Bins capable of transporting 25 tonne of harvested sugar cane are owned by the sugar mill and these are loaded onto the elevated multi-lift trailers by a hook fixed to a hydraulic-slide frame. The hook lift pulls the bins to the front of the trailer while simultaneously lowering the chassis. Empty bins are then delivered to the farm paddock and placed on the ground at a designated loading pad. A fully-laden bin is then loaded onto the trailer for transport back to the mill where it is tipped into a hopper and conveyed into the mill for crushing.

This delivery process is completed on a “just in time delivery” basis with trucks working around the clock during harvest. The loading and unloading of the bins on the trailers and final tipping requires minimal input from the driver apart from operating the controls within the cabin of the prime mover. The only physical aspect of the process for the driver is the need to walk to the rear of the bin to open and close the manual tailgate lever, and to check for hook alignment at the rear of the trailer when picking up a bin from the ground.

This level of design scope available to TEFCO Trailers when working with modern end-user facilities, allows the design and construction of trailers with operational efficiency and safety as a prime consideration.

The TEFCO Multi-lift tri-axled trailers used by Qube form part of a 14-vehicle fleet upgrade to replace existing trucks and trailers with a more modern and efficient alternative.

Richard Brown, managing director of TEFCO Trailers, said the fleet replacement programme enabled the relocation of all hydraulic controls originally mounted externally on the trailers, to a new and safer position within the cabins of the prime movers.

“The older trailers have been updated over time by the fitment of Hendrickson axles, brake kits and HXL7 wheel ends,” said Richard.

“The 14 new tri-axle Multi-Lift tip-over-axle trailers must work effectively with the site unloading facility as well as operate separately in the cane fields where they are picked up and deposited on the ground. The trailer specification features Hendrickson INTRAAX suspension with HXL7 drum brakes and Knorr-Bremse EBS and RSS with TIM’s modules. Hydraulic hoists are supplied by EDBRO with chains by Tsubacki and gearbox motors by Brevin.”

A little further north in Mossman, Qube provide logistics to the 123-year-old Mossman Sugar Mill. As one might expect, a sugar mill built in 1896 (the first crush was in 1897) has facilities that were not originally designed to accept modern-day transport technologies and concepts. The Mossman Mill still receives sugar cane predominantly via the familiar sugar locomotives used quite literally for 100 years.

This rail-based delivery system removes the need for hundreds of truck movements through Mossman itself, as the mill is located near the centre of the town.

While Mossman residents no doubt appreciate that high numbers of B-Double truck movements are not running through the centre of town 24 hours a day during harvest, the rail-delivery system does create the need for transfer hubs outside the town to double handle the cane bins from truck to train.

To support this different type of transport challenge Qube Logistics at Mossman uses a combination of both Freighter single trailers and B-Double sets manufactured by MaxiTRANS.

The Freighter trailers are of a push/pull design to handle cane bin transfers from paddock to rail hub for final transfer to mill by rail.

Cane bins are picked up on loaded trailer sets from paddocks or from cane stands located on cane farms. Trailer sets are loaded directly from a farm “Haul-out” either while the driver waits (live loading) or dropped and swapped if there are loaded trailers waiting at site.

Picking up from cane stands involves taking out empty bins and placing those on the stands (pushing) within the farms and loading full bins (pulling) that have been filled by the harvester. The Freighter trailers have hydraulic rams which locate in a square cut-out on the underside of the cane bins to push or pull the bins from the trailer along its angled slide rails to cane stands and vice versa. The multiple square cut-outs are positioned along the main centre rail at intervals requiring four to five ram extensions to complete the movement of bin to stand or bin to trailer.

Upon arrival at the freight-forwarding hub the trailers are pulled alongside a small rail platform at a very close distance. The bins must then be aligned with only a small tolerance for alignment (sometimes assisted by a ramp assistant or “Rampy” via radio communication) to match up with the rail bogies for transfer by way of the trailer’s rams. The loaded rail bogies (once a full rake or platform is complete, usually numbering around 18 bogies), are railed the short distance into the mill by a loco after it deposits empty bins onto another rake for onforwarding.

The Freighter trailers manufactured by MaxiTRANS for this task are fitted with EBS, with BPW ECO Tronic trailer electronic-braking systems using drum brakes.

The main benefits of BPW ECO Tronic trailer EBS systems are the activation of brakes via an electronic control signal, trailer-roll stability, anti-lock braking, electronic load sensing and the option of trailer monitoring.  The Trailer Monitor Unit can provide a trailer-mounted display of information that includes odometer, trip meter, service intervals, roll stability events, the load weight in kilograms, air pressure and voltage.

Brake performance monitoring gives an onboard indication of braking effort applied by both the truck and the trailer. This effectively identifies problems such as overly aggressive truck or trailer brakes or overuse of the trailer-brake hand control.

The hydraulic double-acting rams fitted to each trailer were supplied by Eureka Engineered Products of Ballarat, Victoria. The design called for a custom-built dual ram with a compound cylinder to maintain the hook in an upright position at all times and to prevent the hook from rotating. This was achieved by coupling two smaller cylinders together with what has proven to be a highly durable and reliable design.

The trailers have manual air-ride height-control valves located near the hydraulic ram controls to enable the operator to adjust the height of the trailers to align with the rail bogies or cane stands for loading and unloading. Load lighting is fitted to the underside of the trailers around the ram area for night operations and cameras are located in the same area assist in lining up the bins to the rail bogies via an in-cab screen.

As some of the sugar cane comes from the Atherton Tableland into the Mossman Mill for crushing, a round trip of up to 250 km for some farms, this requires the B-Doubles to negotiate the steep tight “Rex Range”. The Rex Range with its steep descent and 82 corners of varying alignment required special attention to tracking when designing the trailers. With that in mind the Freighter design incorporated BPW steerable rear axles fitted to both the A and B trailers on the combinations.

Payloads of around 40 tonne per load are achieved with the B-Double combinations, and as the trailers are unique to these operations, they are only road registered for the duration of the season. Single Freighter trailers are used on some farms where access is limited in much the same way as the B-Doubles.

The variances of location, access and existing infrastructure between these mills obviously impacts significantly on the transport logistical challenges faced by the operators, with ongoing implications for productivity and time management.

Whilst delivery to the Arriga Mill is far more streamlined and time efficient, even when operating single trailers for the task, it contrasts with the requirements for different strategies when working within the infrastructure constraints of the century old Mossman mill.

At Mossman the operation of the push/pull trailers and the unavoidable double handling of the cane is physically more demanding, as drivers need to enter and leave the truck cabs more frequently to oversee different aspects of loading and unloading. There is also additional maintenance required as the trailer slides must be greased more frequently.

Despite the transport objectives for Qube Logistics being identical in terms of transporting exactly the same products from the similar locations, the contrasting solutions clearly highlight the point that end user facilities have a huge influence on equipment design, requiring innovative trailing equipment solutions to cater for differing delivery destinations.

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