A massive 74-wheel Volvo FM 460 6×4 puller took one year to reach Kerala from Maharashtra

Story by Deven Lad

Pullers make special machines as extreme heavy-duty trucks. Equipped with a highly powerful engine and a robust driveline they are quite different from the tractors found on a highway. Engineered to carry massive loads, called Over Dimensional Cargo (ODC) that weighs and measures far more than a conventional cargo would, pullers make awesome CVs. In India, pullers found are mostly of Volvo make. With a horsepower rating in excess of 400-500 hp, they are impressive to look at. A 6×4 Volvo FM puller belonging to Inland World Logistics recently ferried an ODC in the form of an aerospace horizontal autoclave from Nashik to the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) in Vattiyoorkavu, Kerala over a span of one year. Where a conventional truck would take no more than a week to travel the distance, which is about 1700 km, this machine, with 74 wheels and a massive 70-tonne cargo laden on it, took a good one year to complete the journey.

Reaching VSSC on July 20, 2020 after travelling approximately five-kilometers a day, the Volvo FM 400 6×4 puller performed a stellar task, making a highly-dependable machine for its fleet operator in the process. Said to be one of the 11 pullers that the company owns and operates, theVolvo FM 6×4 was chosen for the task because of its ability to ferry such an ODC reliably. Experiencing some downtime due to the Covid-19 situation, according to Shashi Sharma, General Manager, Inland World Logistics, the ODC convoy found its way to VSSC after much route planning and reconnaissance. This is typical of the movement of an ODC, informed Sharma. He explained further, “In this particular case, a survey was done before deciding to choose the road route over a sea route.” Handed the assignment to ferry an aerospace horizontal autoclave by a Ambarnath (Thane)-based firm, Dipesh Engineering Works, from its Nasik facility, which it had manufactured for VSSC, Inland World Logistics began its activity in June 2019. It informed Dipesh Engineering Works that the consignment ferried by ship would cost twice the amount that they would incur to transport it by road. “An agreement was reached to take the ODC by road thereafter,” said Sharma.

Once it was decided to transport the massive autoclave by road, Inland World Logistics carried out an in-depth route planning exercise. It took permission from the authorities of five states. A Volvo FM 400 6×4 puller was pressed into service. Its construction and maximum torque of 2000 Nm at 1400-1800 rpm (from a 12.8-litre six-cylinder in-line diesel engine) put it in good stead for the task. Revealed Sharma, “The terrain till the Tamil Nadu border was doable. It was the last 250 kilometres of the journey till Thiruvananthapuram that proved to be the toughest.” Glad that they completed the assignment in a year despite the Covid-19 situation, the logistics company put on the job its battery of people experienced to carry out such special assignments. A total of 32 staff members were put on the job, informed Sharma.

The 70-tonne ODC measuring 7.5 m in height and 6.65 m in width necessitated an amount of activity along the route like trimming the branches of trees alongside the road, finding an alternative to bridges if they could not take the load, and to take the best and the most reliable route. As the puller convoy moved at a snail’s pace to cover five-kilometers per day, it blocked the entire road quite often. This was especially the case as it passed through cities, leaving no space for other vehicles to manoeuvre. With a staff of 32 people monitoring the movement of the vehicle and ODC, the convoy made a sight to behold. With traffic as well as other activities coming to a halt with the convoy in sight, the one year period for the team at Inland World logistics which executed the assignment was gruelling as well as exciting. Into the journey, and the logistics company replaced the original Volvo puller with an identical one. It was done so that the original puller could be sent for service.

Travelling across five states, the convoy was given police protection. The cops provided the convoy with a pilot car so that it would make a safe journey, devoid of any mishaps and without endangering the lives of other road users and pedestrians. Much time was spent in chopping tree branches and removing electricity lines. It was found that the overhead electricity lines would come in the way at many places. Before the convoy could move an inch, they had to be removed and refitted. Interestingly, the task of manoeuvring the behemoth was facilitated by the many axles that accounted for 32 wheels. Most of the wheels of the trailer could be steered in a certain direction and formation. Averred Sharma, “We used special ropes to carry the cargo safely. The puller did a stellar job of pulling the cargo over a diverse terrain.” He informed further that the drop deck (trailer) weighed 10-tonnes.

If the nature of the ODC (weighing precisely 78 tonnes) made it unviable or costly to be transported by a ship, on the road, it posed some unique challenges as well. One of it was to ensure that at no point the cargo’s weight shifted in a manner where it would become dangerous to carry it. If the special ropes helped, the logistics company had to indulge in much prior planning post the route survey. Suffering a downtime in Andhra Pradesh for a month due to the Covid-19 situation (the lockdown that was imposed), the convoy and the team manning it had to take the necessary health precautions. The downtime due to Covid-19 situation also altered the dynamics of the entire assignment and had a negative influence on the earning ability of the logistics company. Said Sharma,“This consignment has not turned out to be profitable for us as we had to take care of the crew and make arrangements of a warehouse to keep the autoclave and the vehicle until the permission to restart the journey was had.” “We had to ensure the safety of our staff as well as the material,” he added.

Making news as the convoy made its journey through the arduous terrain in Kerala, a sense of joy overtook the team as they rolled into the VSSC premises at Vattiyoorkavu, Thiruvananthpuram. Their efforts over the last one year paid off. Work on installing the massive auto enclave is said to be in progress at VSSC. Once operational, it will add to the nation’s capabilities, mentioned a source in the known of the development on the condition of not revealing his name. He did not forget to praise the efforts of the Inland World Logistics team for the efforts they took to ferry the cargo in the Covid-19 situation and amid numerous challenges.

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