Beefing Up Your Concrete Pump Fleet? Read This First.

Whether adding to your existing truck-mounted concrete boom pump fleet, replacing old rigs, remounting pumps on new trucks, or just getting started with a new business, there are some significant decisions to make. One of the most important is choosing the concrete pump truck chassis to work with. I talked to some concrete pumping industry veterans to learn about the new pump truck chassis choices available and how important that truck purchase decision is in addition to your selection of pumps.

Joe Irving, the founder and president of Irving Equipment in Tiffin, Ohio, has decades of experience with concrete pumps and the rigs that run them. Irving mounts pumps on both Mack and Autocar Class 8 cab-over truck chassis and works with pumper operators coast-to-coast. Also, for some additional real-world operating and maintenance experience, we checked in with Joe Robinson, of Wm. L. Robinson Concrete Contractors, and his fleet maintenance lead, Tim Boyle. Both have hands-on experience with the latest pump chassis available.

Total Cost of Ownership
Let’s start with the essential point: Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). Acquisition cost is a one-time investment. TCO, however, extends over the lifetime of your truck and significantly impacts your true profitability.

Maintenance costs and parts pricing might be the obvious considerations in TCO. But you might be surprised that the chassis choice you make to mount your pump can really pay off: Improved reliability, uptime, safety, driver comfort, and the benefits – yes, benefits – of the latest emissions systems.

One question that affects both acquisition costs and TCO is whether you need to settle for a concrete pump chassis sitting in dealer inventory that will have to be modified to accept your boom pump. A much better option is to have a new truck custom-engineered and custom built just for your pump model and your specific needs. I’ll talk about that critical decision in a minute.

Of engines and transmissions
The engine is the absolute heart and soul of your new truck-mounted concrete boom pump. Not only does it get your crew to the jobsite, it powers your pump. That means you need a reliable power plant with the right torque curves for both scenarios. Evidenced by its growing market share in many concrete pump applications, the Cummins ISX 12 delivers higher torque and horsepower, with lower fuel consumption, fewer manual regenerations, and lower maintenance costs than the old industry standard engine. In addition, no other diesel engine offering has as many authorized service, warranty, and parts locations in North America as Cummins.

A lot of us old-timers cut our teeth on manual transmissions. Experienced operators can run through the gears like nobody's business. But many new operators don't have that experience. Pumps are one of the few vocations still using manual transmissions, but the trend over the last five years has been toward modern advanced automatic transmissions. Consider automatic trannies for your new rigs. That will take one more thing off your driver’s plate, increase options for hiring drivers, and reduce driver fatigue overall, bigtime. Another plus? Automatics can apply full torque even at lower vehicle speeds, which aids in low-traction situations like deep sand and loose gravel. Even a seasoned veteran pump driver with a manual can’t outperform today’s modern automatics in this off road environment. Last, say goodbye to the costly annual clutch repairs associated with manual transmissions.

So, what do the experts say? Joe Irving recommends that you get the power you need for both driving and pumping. “A 450 HP Cummins engine combined with an Allison automatic transmission is a standard Autocar package,” Joe mentioned. "You can't beat that combo for today’s pump truck."

Don't forget the environment
Exhaust systems use stack heat to operate the emissions processes and, historically, many operators experienced problems in this area. You need to consider an after-treatment system designed specifically for your application. Vocational trucks, especially concrete pump trucks which operate while stationary, require specialized engineering to avoid excessive regenerations. This is an area where Autocar and their custom-engineering approach has a clear advantage. Their back-of-cab exhaust design not only provides better driver visibility, it delivers lower costs and better uptime with fewer regens required.

Chassis considerations
Vocational vehicles face a specific set of challenges – jobsite conditions are rough, to put it mildly. The chassis must be strong enough to withstand the rigors of both hauling around truck-mounted concrete boom pumps as well as the constant twisting of the frame once you go off-road. Here's where a custom-engineered chassis beats after-market chassis modification, hands down.

The old system of picking a stock truck out of inventory and re-working it for the chosen boom pump sometimes results in numerous chassis modifications at the pump body company. How about moving the battery box, air tanks, and cross-members, and cutting or welding the frame to modify the wheelbase? Or adding a “tandem steer front end kit” at the last moment? Don’t let anyone do that to your new truck. Every mod increases the risk of serious and costly problems down the road.

Today's pumper should be personally engaged in specifying all the custom features and component options on the chassis, not just the pump, down to tire brand and size, brake components, and other supplier options. These decisions can make a significant difference in acquisition price, and just as importantly, improve vehicle uptime and TCO.

In contrast to past industry norms, Autocar strongly encourages operators to let them custom-engineer their chassis so it can be built right the first time, directly on the main Autocar production line. A recent factory tour by Jeff Robinson and Tim Boyle made a huge impression when they saw, first-hand, the custom-engineered truck for their pump being built.

“We checked out the raw chassis material and not a single bolt hole was drilled yet,” Jeff mentioned on a recent call. “And we were told there wouldn’t be until the Autocar engineers had completed the custom design phase specific for our pump model.”
Joe Irving explained another reason why a custom build is important. “A custom chassis can mean avoiding the need for state load permits. Using the right materials and right components can help keep a Class 8 truck within weight regulations,” a huge logistics and cost benefit for years.

The other huge benefit to a custom-engineered concrete pump truck chassis is a tighter turning radius. Don’t make your driver fight three-point turns in city traffic. Precise positioning on the job site needs a tight turning radius, especially with multiple steer-axle configurations.

Just a Cab? Or Command Central?
I hate to state the obvious, but the cab is more than just a place to keep the brake and gas pedals and steering wheel. It's an operations hub for your driver, serving as his mobile office.

Going with a cab-over is a no-brainer. Not only will you get superior maneuverability, it puts the driver right out front where the action is. An unobstructed view is critical to driving safety and precise positioning. But choose the right cab-over. A wrap-around windshield will give you superior visibility as it eliminates blind spots. And don't forget the rear window. Autocar uses a one-piece back glass and standard curved corner windows for greater visibility on both the road and job site.

The more easily your driver can see obstructions – and pedestrians – the less likely accidents will put a "dent" in your operation.
Make sure you choose a cab design that allows for safe, comfortable, and ergonomic ingress and egress. Some things to look for are ergonomic step design and wider doors, for quick, safe, and easy ingress and egress of the cab.

Speaking of wider doors, don't forget that your drivers come in all shapes and sizes. A cab should be designed for everyone’s comfort. This includes an adjustable, tilting and telescoping steering column.

Parting Shots
Fleet mechanic Tim Boyle reminded me of a few maintenance concerns that I know all too well. Don’t take for granted the benefits of a top-notch onboard diagnostic system and easy access for maintenance. Tim explained, “Honestly, I've worked on Macks for years and know my way around. When Jeff [Robinson] was considering an Autocar rig, I had questions. But Autocar has a great cab-over design that tilted open more for easy access. And the cab interior components were easy to get to for repairs. Service after the sale is top notch.”

Tech support directly from your chassis OEM factory might be the biggest difference of all, and one that you might not be used to. Unique in the industry, the Autocar Solutions technical support service has the goal of avoiding a trip to the dealer if possible and getting trucks back into service faster. It’s available to all Autocar owners at no-charge and operates after-hours as well.

Whatever concrete boom pump you buy, put just as much thought into selecting the truck chassis that gets it from your yard to the jobsite and back. After all, you can’t make any cash if it’s sitting on the side of the road or hobbled up in the shop.
Your profitability depends on it.

About the author – Steve Maurer, IME, is a business writer with over 30 years' experience in the industrial maintenance, electrical, and safety sectors.

Published in Modern WorkTruck Solutions, December 2017