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Special application CVs are changing in response to market needs.

Story by:

Ashish Bhatia

Stacked in one corner of Turbhe industrial area in Navi Mumbai is the Nandan Ground Support Equipment (GSE) facility. The company specialises in the manufacture of special application CVs, and has been doing so from 1991. The first vehicle to come in sight upon entry into the facility is a hi-lift (catering) truck based on the BharatBenz 1617. It has been built for EIH Flight Services (Mauritius), a wholly-owned subsidiary of EIH Limited, a flagship of the Oberoi Group. Operating Oberoi Flight Services and Oberoi Airport Services, the company provides catering services among others to airlines. The hi-lift truck, painted in an attractive shade of green, is equipped with a scissor lift and can lift a load of 3000 kg to a height of between 2.7 m and six-metre. Twelfth such truck to be procured by EIH Flight Services (Mauritius) from Nandan GSE over the last three years, the hi-lift will be

shipped to Mauritius. Called the catering champ, the hi-lift truck according to Raghunandan Jagdish, Chief Executive Officer and Director of Nandan GSE, is in demand in the Asian, African and the Middle East markets.

Airport CVs

Like the catering champ Nandan GSE has built, an airport would typically require numerous other special application vehicles. The market size of such vehicles is difficult to judge given the amount of vehicles procured locally from players like Nandan GSE, and imported from similar such players in the advanced markets of Europe and US. According to Raghunandan, his company commands 95 per cent market share of the hi-lift market in India. Over 200 hi-lifts are exported by the company every year. Those delivered to the local market amount to 60 units on an average. The nature of work of those that cater to the domestic market differs from those that are supplied to the international markets. For example, the hi-lifts that are exported, are built from ground up. They involve the procurement of a truck chassis as well. In the case of domestic order, the client buys the truck of his choice and gives it to converters like Nandan GSE to mount the application superstructure. To build a special application truck, it would take between eight weeks to three months according to Raghunandan. He states, “The task of building a special application truck demands resources and is capital intensive.” The catering champ, has an amount of customisation built in, and features an air-conditioned cabin and a refrigeration unit among others. If the BS IV emission compliance made the BharatBenz truck suitable for the hi-lift application, airports call for special application CVs to feature an automatic transmission as a rule. This may provide an answer as to why airport buses feature automatic transmission. In the case of airport buses, it is the manufacturer of the bus who equips it with an automatic transmission; irrespective of whether it is made by Tata Motors, Ashok Leyland or Cobus. The Cobus, found at most airports around the world features Allison auto transmission. Most airport application trucks or similar such vehicles, feature Allison automatic transmission. To arrive at a robust yet light weight structure, many converters are using reinforced fibre panels and aluminium. Aluminium is claimed to find favour with airport bowsers and refuelling trucks. Steel continues to rule although aluminium is increasingly finding favour in the construction of special application vehicles. Also, composite materials. “A big change is in store for aviation special application CVs,” says Raghunandan.

Change is a constant

With airports expected to adopt higher regulatory standards like advanced emission norms ahead of the industry, it is increasingly becoming clear that change is a constant in the case of aviation special application CVs. If Raghunandan is to be believed, tier-two cities like Lucknow and Varanasi are switching to hi-lifts from vans like the Traveller. Vans are increasingly finding different, and more suitable use; staff carriers among other applications. “The trend,” avers Raghunandan, “is such that trucks are increasingly being retrofitted with hi-lifts.” The hi-lift body, he explains, is often fitted with a Carrier Supra refrigeration unit, which gets temperatures down to zero-degree in under 15 minutes to maintain the strictest HACCP hygiene standards necessary. Regulatory changes, it is clear, are subtly dictating a change in the basic nature of the CVs being deployed for the job. Avers Raghunandan, that Euro-four compliant vehicles are finding more takers. This is ensuring the influx of new brands like BharatBenz in a special application CV marketplace.

Regulatory environment

A rising concern for environmental protection and sustainability is beginning to have a profound effect on airport bound special application CVs. Delhi’s ban on the use of 10 year old diesel vehicles has given rise to replacement demand according to Raghunandan. He further states, that the government has banned the use of farm tractors at Mumbai and Delhi airport terminals. A big change is sweeping through. Special application CV clients are known to demand electric vehicles with emphasis on safety. They are even ready to pay a premium for such vehicles. Forcing a change ahead of the regulatory changes, for converters like Nandan GSE, this is indicating a need to change the way they have been conducting business all these years. Says Raghunandan, that they are studying ways to replace engines with electric motors, and the nature of conversion.

The future

Apart from hi-lifts, bowsers, refuelling trucks (tankers) and tractors, aviation special application CVs also include baggage conveyors, maintenance platforms, water and toilet service units, fuel bowsers and ambulifts. Each has a specific and specialised role to play. As CVs, they have been working hard, and are designed to be reliable and efficient. While there have been instances where a superstructure is transferred from one vehicle to another vehicle since the earlier vehicle is no longer fit to comply, changes in technology is ensuing a big change. For example, the arrival of vaccum and bio-toilets has ensured that the demand for water and toilet service units is waning. Fuel bowsers continue to be popular, and they are increasingly using newer, light-weight materials. Available in both, tow-able and self-propelled type, the bowsers work such that a pump supplies fuel to an aircraft through a DC motor powered by a battery, or through a hand pump. A calibrated meter displays the amount of fuel displaced. Current day bowsers according to Raghunandan use RFID tags in an effort to curb pilferage. The tag facilitates an entire gamut of data collection, which is streamed to a centrally located server, and can be accessed remotely in real time.

Like FAME, which was framed by the government to encourage electric vehicles, tax sops for special application vehicles could bring about a disruptive change, mentions Raghunandan. It would fuel the arrival of newer, safer and more efficient special application CVs in important areas of work like airports, he says. Rather than wait for regulations to dictate a change, steps like tax exemptions and faster depreciation might prove to be better incentives, he feels. With airports likely to employ Euro-six standards ahead of those for on-roads vehicles, the strong winds of change are also finding their way into how various public and private bodies are procuring fire tenders. The Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) Fire Service is procuring 12 MAN trucks. Currently under fabrication according to Milind V Ogale, Deputy Chief Fire Officer of MIDC Fire Service, the vehicles (fire tenders) will be ready in a couple of months. After the Regional Transport Office formalities are completed they will be deployed at locations across Maharashtra, and will have a 12000 litre water holding capacity. Fire tending operation will be supported by a single pump mounted on the truck. As special application CVs, fire tenders make a critical arsenal for fire fighting bodies. It is not for no reason that the Mumbai Municipal Corporation imported a turntable ladder based on a Mercedes-Benz chassis last year. Early this year they inducted sixteen first attack (first response) trucks based on MAN chassis fabricated by Vijay Fire Vehicles. They are powered by Euro-four engine and an automatic transmission.

Fire fighting

Every fire department is claimed to have the independence to gauge its own requirement, and accordingly upgrade. “Such upgrade and procurement of new vehicles are however done on a case to case basis at each fire station,” states Ogale. “The decision is based on the respective fire department’s geographical spread and the potential fire areas around,” he adds. Ogale is of the opinion that each fire department has a certain requirement of extinguishing media like water, foam, dry-chemical powder and carbon-dioxide. As a result the vehicle specifications are decided based on the fire station’s requirement to hold the extent of extinguishing media. Like in the case of MIDC Fire service, Ogale claims, “We prepared our own tenders specifying an on-board requirement of 4500 litres of water, 550 litres of foam, 50 kg of dry chemical powder and 50 kg of carbon-dioxide with two extinguishers each.” Such individual requirements explains Ogale are crucial for a fire station when it decides to upgrade to a particular fire tender. “The vehicles have to meet the codes prescribed by Bureau of Indian Standards,” he adds. MIDC Fire Service, till date, known to procure Volvo Chassis; two units of 8×4 chassis, three units of 4×2 chassis. Additionally a 55 m, 6×4 turntable ladder and hydraulic platforms to deal especially with high-rises have been procured from Germany and Italy.

Speaking on the need to procure mini-fire tenders due to the difficulty in negotiating confined areas , Ogale mentions, that they don’t see the need for them in industrial areas. In industrial areas, he adds, the minimum notified roads are six-metre wide. Mini-tenders are suitable for use in slums or high terrain areas, according to Ogale. Goa, it is claimed, to has purchased mini fire tenders for prompt response. Customised by Pune based Hi-Tech services, the cost of fabrication and installation of life-saving equipment on these vehicles is known to be Rs. 1.89 crores. The vehicles will be stationed at Mapusa and Pernem according to sources aware of the development. On board gadgets on the vehicles are claimed to include a concrete cutter, steel and iron breakers, generators, pneumatic lifting air-bags, multi-gas detectors, hydraulic door-opening kit, breathing apparatus, chemical protective suits and petrol driven rotary rescue saws. Ashok Menon, Director of fire and emergency services, Goa, in an interview is known to mention that the mini rescue tenders could help phase out the old fire tenders. The mini tenders are indicative of a change that is indeed sweeping through municipal special application CVs in response to the rising urbanisation.

Speaking about landmark changes in special application CVs, and the best known perhaps is the arrival of Rosenbauer Panther in 2008. According to Ogale, it was the Rosenbauer Panther 6×6 airport fire tender from Austria, built on a 6×6 caterpillar chassis, and capable of holding 12,500 litres of water apart from 1500 litres of fire retardant foam and 500 kg of dry chemicals on-board to fight fire, that marked the last big change till date. The Panther 6X6 is a common site at most airports in India. It is powered by a 705 hp engine, and can quickly access any part of the airfield. According to Ogale, “The Konkan airport, before it becomes operational, will have to procure such air-field fire tenders.”

In a recent tender, the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai is known to have invited vendors for an e tendering process to fabricate and supply a 16.2 tonne GVW Hazardous Material (HazMat) vehicle to be mounted on a suitable 4×2 truck chassis for handling chemical accidents with a five years Comprehensive Service Maintenance Contract (CSMC). The vehicle is to be built in accordance with specifications from the Mumbai fire brigade. It will include a crew cabin and have a suitable capacity PTO. The gearbox shall be fully automatic with a torque converter. The suitable capacity PTO should be able to drive a hydraulic pump for ladder movements. It should be Euro-four compliant with a 250 hp (183 kW) engine. Rear axle must be hypoid type with preferably hub reduction and differential lock. An important criteria for the vendor is that the HazMat vehicle shall be designed as per the operational stability and structural strength based on the criteria laid in EN / NFPA standards used for handling chemical accidents and disasters. On the operational front, of the exhaustive set of requirements, an important requirement is that the control system of the vehicle shall be fully tropicalised and the vehicle should be able to operate in the temperature range of up to plus 50 degree centigrade, and in a dusty and humid conditions without reducing the maximum operating limits. The vehicle is to be delivered to Mumbai Fire Brigade (Byculla) after completion, inspection and performance test. Driven by changing needs and regulations, special application CVs are changing. They are also proliferating.

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