The Menon family has been buying Mercedes-Benz branded trucks for the best part of 60 years.
For Michael Menon who runs Vertex Allsands, an outfit that transports sand, soil, aggregate and other supplies for building, landscaping and infrastructure adjacent projects, the move to Daimler Trucks is more recent having added three new Mercedes-Benz commercial vehicles earlier in the year.
Given the expansion underway of the business, which has been steadily improving its footprint across the building supplies sector, Michael, put simply, needs trucks.
In semi-trailer and heavy rigid applications, the fleet has grown in recent months with the additions of a new Mercedes-Benz Aroc 8×4 and two Actros prime movers.
All three trucks have been delivered in a low roof medium cab with Euro 6 compliant powertrains and the latest in safety technology including MirrorCam.
The trucks are running at 57 tonnes under the Performance-Based Standards (PBS) mass management scheme.
Although a little heavier than the American counterparts in the fleet, what the new Mercedes-Benz trucks lose in payload is more than balanced out by the savings in fuel they are delivering according to Michael.
“The offset front axle means our axle spacings under PBS need to be different,” he says. “Whatever you’re losing in payload though is gained back on the fuel side. A few of the bigger cartage companies have done their homework. Companies like Hanson have also come to that conclusion. Giving up a tonne or a tonne and a half payload you do make up for it in fuel consumption and all the other consumables.”
The fleet, moving between quarries, often ventures well beyond the Sydney city limits often travelling over Mount Victoria en route to Hartley, up to Newcastle and around the Maroubra area with the occasional foray into Cowra.
It’s not exactly short haul work but the distances travelled, on average, rarely exceed 900 kilometres a day. Kilometres covered have not been factored into the buyback scheme as the newest purchases are part of the Daimler Velocity dealer program.
“They look after us and take care of nearly everything,” says Michael. “These current trucks are not hot seated. The next round of units I will take on board will be set up to run 24 hours day and night. I’ll be increasing the kilometres and the service intervals on the next purchase.”
Michael, at current, finds himself having to make what he calls the best guestimate on mileage and hours of operation before the trucks are even built. Because of this, the next round, he explains, will be based on twice the driving time.
“It’s a funny thing now that I’m buying trucks. You discuss the whole life of the truck at the beginning of it,” he says. “You’re buying them with the express purpose of giving them back.”
Vertex Allsands also moves gravel. organic soil, garden mix and mulch. If it’s loose, then they will likely pick it up. It stands to reason, under this model, that operations cater also to cartage work for concrete plants.
High tech quarry companies are, in recent times, keen to sign up for the services Vertex is providing.
New work in the current climate of supply chain disruption is beholden until that time Michael can procure more trucks — a situation largely beyond his control.
Having flatbed trailers, however, enables the fleet to perform contract cartage work involving the transportation of bits and pieces for non-traditional clientele.
The semi-trailer, recently purchased, will pitch in for one of the brick companies that involves deliveries around Sydney. That’s another point of difference offered by Vertex.
“We’re not exclusively doing our own stuff. We’re more open to different work, as long as the trucks are working,” says Michael. “That’s my main focus. Obviously, the big thing we do is sand. But I don’t care where the work is coming from.”
Building supplies applications prove unique in the commercial road transport industry given the requirement for a variety of vehicles operating in a smaller fleet.
The Mercedes-Benz Actros tipper features a factory fit power take off and rear stabiliser bar to suit the application.
Its Mercedes-Benz OM 473 S6 engine produces up to 578 horsepower generating a torque output of 2800Nm into a 12-speed Powershift 3 automated transmission.
The Actros 2646LS.3250 prime mover comes with a dual plate self-adjusting clutch. Both feature full disc brakes and the latest in EBS, ASR and ESP technology.
Sydney’s sprawling traffic, especially during trading hours is notorious, and to help navigate this challenging environment the truck safety package offers Active Brake Assist 5, Lane Departure Warning, Proximity Control and Attention Assist.
All three vehicles including the Aroc 8×4 feature MirrorCam for superior visibility. For the older drivers, used to older technology, it has taken some getting used to.
“It means breaking the habit of looking out of the can rather than inside the cab,” says Michael. “Driver acceptance really depends on how old they are. The younger blokes have taken to it pretty easily.”
MirrorCam compels more than just an enhanced view through its replacement of conventional door-mounted side mirrors.
While the unobstructed view no doubt abets the tight manoeuvring operators are likely to come across in residential streets, construction sites and some quarry entrances, indicator lines donating different references of distance on the display screen, can help drivers estimate oncoming traffic behind the vehicle and obstacles in low visibility conditions and terrain.
The lowest line from the top of the screen is adjustable. This allows the driver to precisely mark the end of the trailer at ground level. Mastering MirrorCam is, ultimately, more a matter of training than complexity.
In coaching the older drivers through its utility and advantages, they are fast seeing how beneficial it is according to Michael.
“Once you set up all your parameters it’s actually a very useful tool,” says Michael.
The crash avoidance system is also proving to be a major advantage having come into a play a few times already with passenger vehicles in urban areas and on highways where the fleet might encounter wildlife straying from national parks and bushland areas.
“The Mercedes-Benz trucks really do stop on a dime like most of the European stuff does,” Michael observes. “Across the mountains and backwoods regions the crash avoidance system has certainly justified itself.”
That said, Michael notes that the system, like any adaptable tool, can be finetuned with experience so that it differentiates between debris and live moving objects.
“It’s important for our efficiencies not to have it jumping at shadows,” Michael says. “Again, it’s about knowing your parameters. The same goes for setting up the cameras for the mirrors and reversing. It’s all very useful once you familiarise yourself with its functions.”
Should a truck want for anything — coolant, tyre tread, fuel — pre-warnings allow for early awareness and intervention to make later dramas like breakdowns in traffic entirely avoidable. Life for the driver is stress-free in that sense.
“There’s no fear the truck is going to overheat sitting there on the freeway idling for an extended period,” says Michael.
“It’s very handy when you’re doing 100 kilometres per hour. You can take your foot off the throttle and it will idle the engine and hold you there reducing fuel consumption. If you need to tap the accelerator it’s as if it wasn’t even turned off. They’re very good on fuel.”
The coasting feature delivers extra savings across this concern, as Verdex is running the new trucks on PBS at maximum weight. The trucks don’t mind the stop-start nature of heavy traffic. Michael wonders, jokingly, if it’s possible the trucks are too smooth and quiet for his drivers.
“I don’t want them to get bored,” he says. “The comfort and ride are first class. It’s like you’re sitting in a floating lounge room.”
As an historical note, Vertex Allsands is a spinoff company whose origins go back to Michael’s grandfather, a World War II immigrant from Italy.
He was driving trucks for a Port Kembla transport company when he was supposed to deliver a load of soil that the intended customer no longer wanted. Told he could do whatever he wanted with it he took it home to Bass Hill.
“One day somebody walked past and asked if they could have some and it snowballed from there,” recalls Michael. “He got his start in a way by luck. Then my father and his brothers continued the business on at another location.”
That business is still going.
When Michael started his own company it was slanted more towards building and landscape supplies, doing a similar thing, only a little bit differently.
That has involved getting tech savvy, going paperless, by moving administration onto the cloud and diversifying its portfolio of customers to move beyond smaller builders.
The business still caters to half-tonne orders for fixing up front yards but it also engages on large infrastructure projects, the type of which are burgeoning across Sydney of late.
“The crane and forklift work has exponentially increased given the nature of how Sydney is building at the moment,” explains Michael. “Cranes were a bit of a gimmick back in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Then it really took off in the 2000s. Sydney’s market became very much like the European and UK market where everything is delivered in bags. So we’ve embraced that.”
Vertex’s tippers are primarily used to feed its own yard where the materials are processed and distributed on flatbeds and cranes.
The main difference, of course, is the technology. The aim of which is to be far more responsive for operational requirements according to Michael.
“I’ve been around the industries and I’ve been able to learn from different places and different people,” he says.
“I’ve been able to fold all that different information and experience into something that will hopefully keep growing into the future.”
The orange and blue livery of the newest vehicles are eye-catching as they are meant to be. Michael considers the vehicles moving billboards and when it comes to advertising, much more cost-effective.
Business, for the moment, is at capacity with an industry running hot. There’s been competition creep in as customers, desperate to get product, are getting less fussy in how it’s delivered. According to Michael, the business is curbing its growth as it awaits new vehicles to come online.
“There’s no use taking the work if I can’t service the work,” he says. “At the moment we’re pushing what we’ve got to its limits, calling in subbies when we have to. We’re definitely looking to fold more into the fleet as we get busier.”