29 April 2008
In a global industry where company names and brands can be 100 years old or more, Bell is a relative newcomer. It was founded in 1954 and initially made equipment for the South African sugar cane industry, which it still does to this day.
However, it is best known outside its home market for its range of six articulated dump trucks (ADTs). Although these have been in production for more than 20 years, it was only in 1998 that the company gained genuine international notice, with its first appearance at the Bauma exhibition.
In 1999 John Deere acquired a 32% stake in the company, and this was critical in cementing Bell's international presence. The alliance opened the door to selling its ADTs in the US, branded as Deere products. A year later Bell started supplying Hitachi – another of Deere's OEM partners – with ADTs for sale in Asia, painted in the company's distinctive orange livery.
As with the original D-Series, launched in 2001, Mercedes-Benz engines power the Generation-2 machines. According to Bell's marketing manager for Europe, Ian Marshall, the Stage IIIA/Tier 3 versions retain very similar power, torque and fuel consumption characteristics to their predecessors. “We've seen from +2% better to -5% worse fuel consumption, depending on the engine size and the rev range where it's used,” he said.
Outwardly, the Generation-2 trucks are identical to the 2001 D-series, but there have been a lot of refinements. In terms of structures, Bell has re-visited the chassis design and made numerous minor changes to strengthen high stress 'hot spots'. Similarly, the electrical wiring loom and hydraulic hoses have been re-worked to make them more reliable. Serviceability around the trucks is also better, with items like the filters and fuses being easier to reach.
The theme of better durability continues in the cab with a robust and scratch resistant composite material being used for the interior. Bell has opted for a high-specification air suspension seat from Sears, which is also damped in the fore/aft axis to reduce the amount of whole body vibration experienced by the operator.
One feature Bell is particularly proud of is its 'I-Tip' function, a new automatic system to control and manage the dumping cycle. Rather than having to manually engage the parking brake, put the truck into neutral, rev the engine and raise the body, I-Tip does all of these functions automatically when the dump lever is activated.
The system can also be programmed, with operators able to choose the final dump angle of the body and also whether there is a 'hard' or 'soft' stop at the end of the dump cylinders' travel. I-Tip also comes into play when the body is being lowered, only allowing the operator to drive off and move up the gears as the body gets progressively lower.
This new level of automation, combined with existing Bell features such as its on-board weighing system and sophisticated Fleetm@tic remote tracking and production monitoring facility make the Generation-2 trucks highly sophisticated and productive earthmovers.