Truck  |  Corporate 

Timber giants conclude biggest ever SA Smart Truck deal

South Africa’s timber industry has pioneered the commercial deployment of abnormal-length truck and trailer combinations on our national road network to transport pine and bluegum logs from plantation to mill more efficiently and cost effectively.

Dubbed ‘Smart Trucks’, these specialised, abnormal-load logging vehicles have been setting new productivity benchmarks within the local forestry industry since their introduction in 2009, allowing contract-specific tonnages of raw timber to be delivered to paper and saw mills using fewer vehicles, thereby reducing operating costs, fuel consumption, harmful emissions, road pavement damage and traffic congestion.

Guided by the tenets of RTMS (Road Transport Management System), an industry-led self-regulation programme governing load optimisation, driver safety and vehicle maintenance, Sappi Forests and its contracted timber haulier, Timber Logistics Services, have partnered with MAN Truck & Bus SA to introduce 15 new Smart Trucks to service Sappi’s forestry supply chain from plantations within the KZN region to its Saiccor mill located at Umkomaas on the South Coast.

According to Robin Pretorius, Transport Development Manager, Sappi Forests, “the 15 new MAN 6x4 rigid freight carriers are essentially standard factory units with some minor modifications to comply with Performance Based Standards (PBS) specifications which ensure that abnormal length/load vehicles are stable and safe.”

Timber Logistics Services was awarded the Sappi Forests Smart Truck/PBS contract in 2009 and at that juncture, the only truck OEM supplying PBS-accredited vehicles was Mercedes-Benz, from which 15 trucks were procured to carry just over half a million tons of raw timber per annum from around KZN to Saiccor.

Brian Hunt, Managing Director of Timber Logistics Services states that: “Our operation follows a three-year vehicle replacement cycle and has a longstanding relationship with MAN. Reducing total cost of ownership is a primary driver when it comes to fleet renewal, as is enhanced productivity. Six months ago, a MAN TGS 33.480BB test unit was put to work in our operation while its PBS approval process was underway. The fuel consumption figures it delivered outperformed the 500-horsepower Mercedes-Benz Actros by 4-5 litres/100km, which translates into a R3 million per annum saving in the Smart Truck fleet.”

Technical drawings of the 25.7 metre-long Smart Truck, combining the 480-horsepower MAN TGS 33.480BB with an Afrit-designed five-axle drawbar trailer, were sent to Australian company MSD (Mechanical System Dynamics), which classified the combination as being ‘Level 2 (L2) Road-Class Access’, as per the PBS performance requirements.

The performance measures include the vehicle combination’s tracking ability on a straight path, low-speed swept path width, steer tyre friction demand, static rollover threshold, rearward amplification, high-speed transient off-tracking and yaw damping coefficient.

Governed by Sappi’s stringent service-level agreements, Timber Logistics Services operates on a 90% uptime principle, demanding optimum reliability from its vehicles.

“It’s a 24/7/365 business we’re in, and having a vehicle that is able to get to loading points in plantations, on forestry roads in inclement weather is crucial to our meeting our contractual obligations,” adds Hunt. “The MAN TGS 33.480 is able to go where no other competitor model can without getting stuck, making it a clear winner for our application.”

Powered by the MAN D26 Common-rail engine (480hp/353kw@1700-1900rpm and 2300Nm@1000-1400rpm) with a MAN TipMatic automated gearbox and ZF Intarder, the TGS 33.480 has a permissible GCM (gross combination mass) of 90 000kg and carries a maximum 48 500kg payload in the Smart Truck configuration .

Bruce Dickson, Deputy CEO, MAN Truck & Bus SA says, “The excellent power-to-weight ratio of the TGS 33.480, coupled with its high ground clearance, hub reduction axles and class-beating torque output and tractive force make it the ideal Smart Truck for forestry applications, offering dependability, payload efficiency and fuel economy in the toughest operating conditions.”

The 15 MAN Smart Trucks are backed by a four-year/600 000km MAN extended warranty, a full OEM maintenance contract, and a guaranteed buy-back clause after three years.

“This brings unprecedented levels of cost predictability to our operation made all the sweeter by the fact that the parts and servicing costs on MAN trucks are 25-30% less than competitor OEMs, delivering an annual saving of R1.6 million across our fleet,” says Hunt.

“Timber Logistics has a fully-fledged driver training department and MAN has helped us tremendously in ensuring our driver trainers are fully equipped to skill our drivers on the various technologies onboard the TGS 33.480,” he adds. “We place much stock in what our drivers say and feel about new vehicles in the fleet, and they all concur that the TGS is their truck of choice – the most driveable, comfortable and reliable timber truck they’ve ever driven.”

Toppling its primary competitor in not only a leading timber fleet, but in the ground-breaking Smart Truck domain too, serves as positive testimony to MAN’s ongoing commitment to ‘customer proximity’, explains Dickson.

“MAN has effectively streamlined the channels of communication between its head office in Germany and its operational Centres in South Africa to a point where important decisions can be made at the point of sale, which is at the dealership. This includes both sales and aftersales issues, be they financing and customisation requests or rapid vehicle servicing and warranty claims. The net result is that the customer has the right wheels rolling with as little downtime as possible.”

For Hunt, “You might not think it when you’re watching a Smart Truck being loaded in the forest, but timber transport is a people’s business. MAN is by far the most approachable OEM in the country. Its people are flexible, consistent and bring much goodwill to the table when it comes to warranty issues. The fact that our 90% uptime principle is sustained with our existing MAN trucks gives us all the confidence that our Smart Trucks will achieve equal productivity levels. And, it won’t be long before our entire fleet is strictly MAN, a strategy underscored by the simple fact that MAN is genuinely customer-driven.”