Anybody seeking reassurance on the health of the construction sector need only examine the numbers and quality of trucks being acquired by operators in the industry. And on that basis, the 20 Mercedes-Benz Euro 6 Arocs 6x2 block carriers joining Somerset-based RT Keedwell's 500-strong fleet has to be counted good news.
Fitted with rear lift axles and 50mm VBG couplings – so they can haul tri-axle Montracon drawbar trailers – all have been configured for 44-tonne work, running at 26.5-tonne maximum payload. Why the Arocs – all of which are 450bhp 26 tonners? "Fuel consumption [we're hoping to get approximately 8mpg on A roads] as well as ground clearance and the price, compared with the Scanias we were running previously," says Robert Warren, a director of Keedwell business K&W Bricks. "We'll probably keep the Mercedes for from six to eight years," he continues, adding that each rigid will remain with the same trailer throughout its life.
Sourced through Bristol Mercedes dealer City West, all of the rigids bar one were bodied by Wiltshire-based Wessex Vehicle Services. Prior to that, however, they were fitted with Hiab XS144BS-2 Hiduo 14 tonne/metre grabs by Cargotec, at its Ellesmere, Shropshire HQ. Keedwell already operated a few second-hand Hiabs but the Mercedes-mounted cranes are its first new acquisitions. They have a maximum reach of 8.1m, are mounted at the rear of the chassis, and feature a Space 4000 load-sensing and control package.
"The hydraulic hoses have been routed inside the grabs' hollow beam sections to protect them from tree damage," explains Hiab regional sales manager John Abbott. Filtakleen – a filtration system that extends oil and filter change frequency from annually to every four or five years – has also been selected.
An XSDrive radio remote control was specified in each case, instead of top-seat controls. Operating the grab from ground level is inherently safer than climbing up onto the truck. Admittedly, drivers must be trained to use the system, but Abbott says it's not complicated. "If you can use an Xbox, you can use one of those."
However, the grab can also be controlled from a low-height rear platform, accessed via a fold-down step. "The platform is spring-loaded and goes down when someone steps on it," says Abbott. "Doing so energises a proximity switch, which triggers pre-set parameters that prevent the boom from swinging round and hitting whoever is standing there." That package is Platform Logic, and another safety device prevents the grab from releasing loads accidentally.
As for the Arocs bodies themselves, these have been engineered for lightness and strength, according to Wessex sales director Alex Watson. "We've used alloy bulkheads and tailboards plus alloy cross-bearers that support a 21mm Wisa-Trans floor," he explains. "On each side we've also fitted 1m-high Stronghold curtains, screen-printed by the curtain manufacturer, which can be folded down." The curtains have tensioners at each end, while the vee-groove side raves have movable lashing rings with a 2.5-tonne capacity, enabling the load to be strapped over the top.
All the chassis were registered prior to the European Community Whole Vehicle Type Approval deadline last October. Equipping them still meant adhering to Mercedes-Benz's exacting requirements, says Abbott. "The sub-frame for the crane, for example, had to be bolted to the chassis using nuts with integral, not separate, washers," he remarks.
Completing the picture, each of the trucks has been fitted with a DriveCam camera, mounted in the cab, which records events if, for example, the driver has to brake heavily. And the trailers have been fitted with drum brakes: "We've had too many problems with discs," says Warren. "They've cracked due to poor heat dissipation and we've had callipers seize up."