Kaiser Ag builds king of the sucker truck
When Kaiser Ag wanted to add a highly specialised, custom-built vacuum truck to their fleet of machinery, joint owner David Fitzi knew that he would be designing and building it himself. Kaiser Ag is a unique business combining agricultural and industrial contracting with its sister company Kaiser NZ Ltd that designs and constructs suction tankers. Over the past fifteen years, David has built around 96 vacuum trucks, with four destined for his own business.
After twelve months of careful engineering, the end result is stunning. A stainless steel body from barrel to boom, with a fully opening hydraulic rear door, an inverted dome to simplify tipping and a vacuum unit capable of pumping 1800 cubic feet/minute. The unit has been designed to have a 10,000 litre capacity allowing a 10 tonne payload, fully compliant with all NZTA weight requirements.
“We used 316 stainless steel – which looks great – but it’s also durable with a high finish that speeds up loading and unloading,” said Kaiser Ag operations manager, Gary Ellis. “Together, the boom, stainless steel tank, pump speed and capacity really deliver optimum performance.”
David and Gary worked closely together to figure out the unit’s specifications and features but there was no debate around which brand of truck to buy. “Our last Volvo did 1.6 million kilometers and it was still going great. A vacuum tank has a long life-span, so we needed a rig to match,” said Gary.
Todd Martin, one of Volvo sale mangers was able to provide all the technical support and advice needed to secure their order for a FH540 with a customised cab and chassis in full Kaiser Ag colours.
“Todd’s great,” commented Gary. “He really knows his stuff and Volvos are good trucks. They’re safe, comfortable and quiet, which is important when the engine spends most of its time running at 1000rpm to drive the pump. These days you need a truck that drivers want to drive once you buy anything European you won’t go away from it!”
David designed the subframe to be modular, so that he could build it on a trailer and lift the whole powerhouse onto the chassis in one piece. The brand new Volvo FH540 arrived in New Zealand well before the tank build had been completed.
“It was really important for us to create the best proportions and get it right, so Volvo custom-built the chassis and wheelbase on the production line at no extra cost,” said David. “Normally we take around four months to build a vacuum truck, but with so many options for optimisation and no hard deadline for delivery, this one took a little longer.”
In addition to the inverted dome rear door, David also designed the oil tank to be part of a purpose-built storage cabinet at the back of the cab. “I wanted to incorporate a clean, dry area for gear and tools as well as a locker for dirty equipment. As the oil warms up, it heats the lockers and dries out the gear, so it’s dual purpose. It was tricky to build but really practical in the field.”
The Kaiser Ag team worked with Truck Stops on the pre-delivery work, completing the pre-wiring and parameter-setting to integrate the hydraulic pump and power take off. This ensures that the Volvo’s 540 HP engine automatically hits 1000 revs when the pump is switched on and when turned off, the engine falls back to just above an idle. Truck Stops also fitted work lights and spotlights on the truck for use in early mornings and late nights.
“We worked closely with Truck Stops during the build,” said Gary. “The team did everything we asked, and then some. They went out of their way to help us – I take my hat off to them.”
The fully fitted-out vacuum tanker is now on the road and being put to the test, mainly carrying out bulk commercial and local authority work. It also gets sent on emergency call outs around the clock. “The rig is amazing,” said Gary. “It takes around two and a half minutes to load 10,000 litres and the boom makes it a lot easier for a sole operator.”
“This rig is designed to be the flagship truck for our business, so we knew that we were building something a bit special. It’s a great advert for what we do — the tanker attracts attention and speaks for itself.”