A South Australian heavy haulage outfit is planning the return of the Freightliner FLB. Ken Pitt, All Size Equipment Transport (ASET) Managing Director has moved away from a policy of buying new trucks as he says he hasn’t found a specification available in a new truck that can match what he can achieve in terms of configuration and mass.
ASET are buying old Freightliner FLB trucks and rebuilding them to suit the tasks they are undertaking. According to Ken, the FLB has a number of advantages as a platform on which to build. It has a front axle set well forward, giving any combination good axle spread, helping the loads stay inside the restrictive oversize over-mass envelope.
The tare weight of a finished FLB can be around seven tonnes, whereas a brand new equivalent, like a Freightliner Argosy or Kenworth K200 will come in around 10 tonnes. This three tonnes, again, helps ASET keep loads within the envelope.
“We can get the FLBs down below 7 tonnes tare, and they are still a 70 to 90 tonne GCM truck,” says Ken.
ASET have found a sweet spot where their combination will be able to handle a load on a normal semi, but many of their competitors will have to use a converter dolly to spread the weight from the front of the trailer.
However, Ken does admit to the necessity of bringing some new trucks into the fleet and is looking at the Argosy as the best alternative, with its dimensions more suited to the precise needs of the operation. Argosy models have been customised on arrival at the ASET yard. The suspensions are taken off and rearranged to suit the lower profile tyres the company fits on standard wheels.
The business runs with five mechanics. They handle a varied workload, not only servicing trucks and trailers, but also working on building new equipment. One specialist rebuilds all of the engines, gearboxes and diffs.
There are two regulars working to manufacture trailers, but all of the team are multi-skilled. When work gets busy, those building trailers may be out driving trucks. When things are quiet, the trailer manufacturing team grows.
Learning from the US
“I spent some time holidaying in the US and it was a real eye-opener,” says Ken. “I got a car, went on the road and had a look at everything. America make some very low stuff. Their infrastructure in the cities lets them get pretty low, in stuff like car carriers. I was taking photos underneath the trailers. Some you couldn’t get underneath.
“I came across a wrecker in Indianapolis and he had 30 acres of stuff. I spent a weekend hunting around in there. Looking at all the bits they fit there but doesn’t come to Australia. I have now persuaded Freightliner to bring these different suspension pedestals into Australia.”
ASET do not use the 19 inch rims favoured by the Americans. Instead, Ken sticks with 22 inch rims but fits ultra low tyres sourced from Europe. The combination of the two actually allow the truck to sit lower than on 19 inch wheels.
The trailers are fitted with 19 inch rims with low profile tyres. This allows room for conventional brake set ups to be used, but keeps trailer height low.
In terms of tyre wear, ASET have found the tyres don’t last as long as conventional ones. However, the ability of this gear to stay under the 4.9, 4.6 and 4.3 metre height thresholds when loaded is reckoned to pay-off in terms of cost.
The disadvantages of running with these adaptations include more wear and changing diff ratios, and having to carry spares at all times. Going to the lower profiles will change a 3.7:1 ratio to one of approximately 3.2:1. This means the carrier has to be changed to keep performance and fuel economy balanced.