Transavante Achieves Success As Brazilian Cement Hauler

Jan. 1, 1999
The cement industry in Brazil has been very good to Jose Wilson Ferreira over the past 24 years. Most importantly, it gave him the opportunity to build

The cement industry in Brazil has been very good to Jose Wilson Ferreira over the past 24 years. Most importantly, it gave him the opportunity to build a successful for-hire truck fleet operation.

Ferreira's company, Transportadora Avante Ltda (Transavante), and the industry it serves benefited from a construction boom that has lasted through much of the carrier's nearly quarter century in business. Based near Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, Transavante runs 80 tractors and almost 100 trailers, over half of them dry bulkers.

"This company has come a long way since its start in 1974 with two tractors and 10 flatbed trucks," Ferreira says. "I grew up in the business, because my father (Candidu dos Santos Ferreira) owned trucks, and I drove for a long time. I started Transavante with my father and another partner, Jose Diniz.

"We picked cement hauling because it offered a lot of growth opportunities due to the amount of construction that was going on. Many of the projects were government-sponsored. Vast amounts of cement have gone into road construction, among other projects.

"We're not sure what the future holds, and we've begun to diversify into other products. While cement production is still good, it has flattened out. Interest rates have risen, and we're worried about the impact that will have on construction activity."

One Cement Shipper Transavante hauls cement from just one plant, the Holdercim complex in Pedro Leopoldo, Minas Gerais. Opened in 1974, the huge plant uses limestone from a nearby open pit mine and produces approximately 180,000 tonnes (198,400 US tons) monthly. It is one of six Holdercim plants in Brazil.

Holdercim holds a roughly nine percent marketshare of the cement industry in Brazil. Total annual cement production is approximately 38 million tonnes (41.8 million US tons) for all of the companies that supply the Brazilian market. Total industry capacity is in the range of 48 million tonnes (52.9 million US tons) a year.

Some of the Holdercim production at Pedro Leopoldo is shipped by rail, but Transavante moves a majority of it over the road. Most shipments are to customers in the states of Minas Gerais and Espirito Santo.

These customers include ready mix plants and construction companies. Still, the Brazilian government remains the single biggest consumer of cement.

Transavante is busiest during June, July, August, and September, which are the prime months for construction activity. The slowest months are December and January, which bring a combination of major holidays and the rainy season.

Bagged cement remains a big part of the Brazil market, but bulk use is growing. Transavante handles both with a fleet that includes 58 dry bulk trailers and more than 40 flatbeds.

Over-the-road cement shipments average 150 kilometers (93 miles) with maximum runs of up to 600 kilometers (372 miles). The typical bulk load is 27.1 tonnes (59,744 pounds) and takes 25 to 30 minutes to unload.

Rates for cement hauling are relatively low, and Wilson is working hard to identify diversification opportunities. He now has 13 rigs in dedicated service hauling sodium triple phosphate for a chemical company that manufactures soap.

The product is loaded at the Port of Santos in Sao Paulo state, and trips routinely take 21/2 days. Rigs make at least two trips a week.

Transavante's most experienced drivers are assigned to the triple phosphate operation. The carrier hires drivers as young as 21 years old and provides in-house driver training. Trainees start with local runs, usually driving the 15-tonne (33,000-lb) gross vehicle weight (GVW) flatbed trucks that are used for bagged cement.

Truck Fleet Many trucks in the fleet are Mercedes-Benz, but tractors are evenly split between Scania and Volvo. Cabovers are preferred for maneuverability. "We operate in a lot of tight delivery locations," Ferreira says. "Often, there isn't enough room for a conventional."

All of the tractors have sleeper cabs, and the newest ones are specified with air-ride driver seats and air-conditioning. Cab instrumentation includes tachographs for monitoring driver activities.

Recent additions to the fleet are Scania Series 4 and Volvo FH12 tractors. New tractors are being specified with 360-horsepower engines. The Volvos have 16-speed transmissions, and the Scanias come with a nine-speed gearbox.

The carrier uses several brands of tractor-mounted blowers, including Drum, Hoos, and Betico. "We've just begun using Drum blowers, and we are very impressed," Ferreira says. "The Drum blowers weigh much less than the others, need less time for unloading, have a higher air flow, and clean up faster."

Among other tractor components are plastic fenders, Jost fifthwheels, steel disc wheels, and Michelin 295/80R22.5 steel-belted radial tires. Both two- and three-axle tractors are used by Transavante. The two-axle tractors are rated at seven tonnes (15,400 pounds) GVW, and the three-axle units have an 81/2-tonne (18,700-lb) rating. Two-axle tractors predominate in the fleet.

"We are allowed a 40-tonne (88,000-lb) gross combination weight with a two-axle tractor, and the capacity goes up to 45 tonnes (99,000 pounds) for the three-axle units," Ferreira says. "We do our best to maximize payload by aiming for a tractor-and-trailer tare weight of 14 tonnes (30,800 pounds)."

Randon Trailers All of the dry bulk trailers have a triaxle configuration. Tandem-axle dry bulkers are a rarity in Brazil, according to Ferreira. All are built by Randon, the largest trailer manufacturer in Brazil.

Carbon steel and aluminum dry bulkers are used in the fleet. Cement is handled in 26-cubic-meter (918-cubic-foot) trailers, while 35-cubic-meter (1,200-cubic-foot) units haul sodium triple phosphate. Pebble lime is transported in several 42-cubic-meter (1,480-cubic-foot) trailers.

Tanks are designed for a two-bar (29 psi) operating pressure and have air actuated unloading valves. Domelids and most other tank hardware and the running gear are from Randon.

Vehicles in the fleet are well maintained, and most of the preventive maintenance is handled at the Transavante shop in Pedro Leopoldo. The shop crew includes four mechanics, one welder, and several assistants.

Dry bulk trailers are inspected daily, and mechanics make a point of checking the pressure-relief valves. Oil and air filters in the Hoos and Betico blowers are changed every 50 loads or so, according to Flavio de Jesus Pereira, Transavante maintenance manager.

Tractors are scheduled for an engine oil and filter change at 20,000-kilometer (12,400-mile) intervals. Mechanics also lube the wheel bearings and fifthwheel, and inspect the transmission and differential.

The maintenance program helps ensure that Transavante keeps up with demand for bulk and bagged cement shipments. It's part of a service commitment that continues to bring success.