Vic Mix takes transportation of its core products – namely cement, sand and rock — very seriously.
The Victorian business, which specialises in pre-mixed concrete for decorative, industrial and domestic use, considers itself a transport company first and a concrete company second.
The fleet at current is made up of a range of different trucks to suit all projects, with revenue bifurcated between commercial and residential streams.
These include 8×4 agitators, tankers and truck and dog applications that ferry materials depot-to-depot and between quarries.
A new Mercedes-Benz Actros 2663 was introduced into the fleet of pink trucks some weeks back for the latter task.
Its owner-driver, Daniel Venditti, fits into this broader picture as a long-time subcontractor who has been working for Vic Mix or one of its subsidiaries, for the better part of 30 years, having started out at the age of 19.
That amounts to a lot of hours in the saddle, especially when appointed to do so, more often than not, six days a week.
“I’ve driven Kenworths, Sterling and International trucks,” he says. “I’ve been in a truck for most of my adult life.”
The human body over that time can take a battering.
To the point his last truck, an Actros 2658, provided him noticeable relief at once as a working environment and on overheads. Fuel consumption being a major one.
In the 2658 Daniel soon discovered remarkably low noise levels. Up until that point he had been making gradual upgrades through a range of ageing trucks hunkered over a clutch pedal.
There were a few factors that helped convince Daniel to ultimately try out an automated transmission, Mitchell Hynd, Whitehorse Truck Centre, Sales Manager, was one of them.
“Quite often veteran drivers have to be talked into driving an automatic as was the case with me,” says Daniel. “Once you make that change you wonder why you didn’t do it earlier. I’ll never go back.”
Last April, after four and a half years of gallant service and over 600,000 kilometres, Daniel traded in the Actros 2658.
“There were no issues with the truck so his servicing was essentially paid for,” says Mitchell. “Knowing Daniel was chasing 63 tonnes in the application, the Actros MP5 can provide him with the extra power he needs now that he has upgraded.”
The new Actros 2663 features the Euro 6 rated OM 473 630 hp engine capable of 3000 Nm maximum torque.
Coupled with the Mercedes PowerShift 3, it enables fast shifting from forward to reverse and high-ratio reverse gears for easy manoeuvring.
On that front, the Actros is particularly suited for the access requirements of the sites hence the five-axle dog trailer which accords with this consideration.
A six-axle dog might provide an increase in payload, but it won’t get drivers into the concrete plants, the most common destination for Daniel, who is in and out of these facilities, not to mention traffic, throughout the day.
“Cabovers, to compare, are much easier to manoeuvre than a bonneted truck in this line of work,” Daniel says. “This has also got the pulling power I need.”
Traffic delays are commonplace for heavy vehicle operators and with Vic Mix’s four operation plants spread throughout metro Melbourne — head office is in Dandenong — the agitation caused by congestion is lessened considerably by his ability to adjust to conditions promptly.
“I’m in and out of traffic for the best part of my time,” says Daniel. “In that sense the automatic makes it more like driving a car.” Moving off is noticeably more comfortable by virtue of the crawler mode, which allows the vehicle to creep forwards automatically when the service brake is released and to roll along at idle speed when the accelerator pedal is not depressed.
After creeping forwards, the vehicle will continue to roll at idle speed until the vehicle is stopped with the service brake or the crawler mode is deactivated.
Creeping forwards and rolling at idle speed take place in all permissible start-off gears so that when in traffic jams, rolling speed can be adjusted to the traffic.
It’s not all urban navigation, however. Notwithstanding the plants, Daniel often finds himself on the open road attending quarries, contingent on the job allocation he receives the night prior.
He finds himself as far east as Bairnsdale, southwest in Moriac, as far north as Glenrowan and on the outer edge of Western Port Bay at Grantville in the southeast.
Fuel economy sits around 2.3 to 2.4 km/l fully loaded. The new Actros 2663 averages around 3000 kilometres a week, roughly between 500 to 600 kilometres a day.
As the Actros 2663 truck and dog combination has been approved for 106 tonnes GCM, it’s crucial that Daniel can monitor trailer and drive axle weights.
He retains full visibility on payload from the dash cluster. Predictive Powertrain Control optimises the vehicle’s kinetic energy to avoid unnecessary acceleration, shifting or braking. Cruise control, consequently, is made available in more situations.
The benefits are many for the driver, assisting, for example, in the enhancement of a fuel-efficient driving style.
On the longer highway stretches Daniel is likely to encounter en route to a regional quarry, the vehicle, through this function, can be put to even greater use. Bulk Transport Equipment have provided the tipper and dog trailer bodies.
As the vehicle is nearly identical to his last Actros, on hand diagrams allowed BTE to commence body building work before Daniel had possession of the truck.
As a result they turned around the build quickly in under three months. The recent boom in the new housing market can be felt, without question, in the surging demand for materials and the resultant movement of tippers and dog trailers on the road is appreciable.
Exposed aggregate is proving popular, again, for residential driveways and also for footpaths in areas with aging populations.
After placement of the concrete, the top few millimetres of concrete paste are removed from the surface in order to reveal the stone called aggregate embedded within.
A sealer is then applied to enhance and protect the finished product.
Aside from a myriad of colourful designs it also grips better under foot.
“On the Mornington Peninsula exposed aggregate is preferred by councils where older residents might have less confidence walking on wet surfaces,” Daniel says.
“That’s something I’ve noticed when I’ve got time to notice. To be honest it’s been that busy — the busiest time in the years I’ve been driving.”
An ability to efficiently and reliably manufacture load after load of concrete has become for Vic Mix, inextricably linked to the capabilities of its trucks with their memorable signage — signage that’s hard to miss.
In addition to a shrewd branding strategy, the fleet of pink trucks help raise awareness for breast cancer with Cancer Council stickers also a prevalent part of the livery.
On the new Actros, Daniel has opted for an ‘old school’ paint detail, a personal preference over the current trend of vinyl wraps.
The pink with black trim matched with black bullbar certainly make for a striking presentation. The spry appearance of the truck would, at first glance, suggest its occupant might be a much younger driver.
“The Actros has got a level of comfort that should appeal to older, experienced drivers,” he says. “I like to keep things fresh — myself included.”