New Mercedes-Benz SLT heavy tractor hauls long wind turbine blades 09 December 2020

Plant Speed has deployed a trio of 250-tonne Mercedes-Benz SLT tractor units to transport what are claimed to be the longest wind turbine blades ever moved by road in this country.

Leading the line was the Bristol-based operator’s latest flagship, an 8x4 Actros 4463 which arrived in November via established partner City West Commercials. It is the UK’s first new-generation SLT model.

Also drafted in for the prestigious commission from a major European shipping and logistics concern were Plant Speed’s two Arocs eight-wheelers, both 4163 variants, while its Mercedes-Benz Sprinter vans performed escort duties.

The blades and their ‘spacer frames’ measured 68.252 metres in length and weighed around 24 tonnes each. Unloaded from the vessel at Avonmouth Dock, they were then secured for transportation on Plant Speed’s purpose-designed, Nooteboom extendable Super Wing Carrier trailers.

The 24-mile journey to Magor, on the opposite, Monmouthshire bank of the Severn Estuary, took in stretches of the M5 and M4 – including the Prince of Wales Bridge – and was completed without incident in just an hour and 20 minutes.

“Good planning is key to a move of this nature,” revealed Plant Speed managing director Paul Lomas. “We’d undertaken a ‘dry run’ and worked through every aspect of the operation in fine detail beforehand, so that on the day it all ran like clockwork.”

Established by Lomas in 2003, Plant Speed is already highly experienced in the transportation of blades and other turbine components, and looking forward to further expansion of the sector heralded by prime minister Boris Johnson’s recent announcement that by 2030 wind energy will generate enough electricity to power every home.

The company runs a fleet of 16 trucks. In addition to the three SLTs, the line-up includes a pair of double-drive Arocs tractor units plated for operation at 180 and 120 tonnes GCW respectively, five 68-tonne Actros tractors with 6x2 tag axle configurations and an 8x2 drawbar rigid with crane.

All were supplied by City West Commercials. Plant Speed maintains its fleet in-house but relies on the dedicated Mercedes-Benz Trucks dealer for the South West for warranty and technical support, and parts deliveries. “We have a great relationship with City West Commercials, which understands our business and what we need,” reported Lomas.

The latest SLT has replaced Plant Speed’s first 250-tonne truck, an Actros Titan which had been on the road since early 2013. Like its two Arocs stablemates, the new Actros is powered by a top-rated, 15.6-litre in-line six-cylinder engine that produces 616bhp.

While the Arocs are steel-sprung, the Actros rides on air (with the exception of its front axle). Lomas said air suspension offered increased flexibility and finer control when picking up and dropping heavily-laden trailers, and a weighing system that confirmed the loads over the second and two drive axles. “It just adds another level of safety,” he observed.

Ultimately, however, Plant Speed’s latest purchasing decision owed every bit as much to aesthetics, as it did to functional capability. “I really wanted an Actros on this occasion, though, as it’s such a fantastic looking truck.”

Mercedes-Benz Trucks’ MirrorCam incorporates cameras that relay images to screens mounted inside the cab. Lomas observes: “The benefits that MirrorCam offers in low light situations and in wet weather when the cameras and screens are unaffected by rain, are very obvious. However, we’ve also fitted mirrors on the advice of Mercedes-Benz because, as it’s currently configured, MirrorCam cannot clearly see the ends of our exceptionally long trailers.”

The SLT’s Turbo Retarder Clutch, works in conjunction with the 16-speed Mercedes PowerShift 3 automated manual transmission, in place of the traditional manual gearbox and torque converter clutch set-up. Designed to be wear-free and fuel-efficient, the Turbo Clutch is capable of handling and delivering some 3,000Nm of torque, significantly more than a torque converter. It also incorporates its own integrated retarder; without this, a separate retarder would be necessary to assist the high-performance engine brake in bringing a fully loaded 250-tonne rig safely to a halt.

Transport Engineer

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