Volvo FE and FM garbage truck review

By: Gary Worrall


Volvo offers a premium truck for a specialist application with its FE and FM medium-duty rigs. But will councils upgrade their garbage fleets? Gary Worrall gets the good word

Volvo FE and FM garbage truck review
Volvo FE and FM.

 

Disposing of society’s waste might seem a strange place to start a conversation about green initiatives, but this is exactly where Volvo plans to tackle a whole new sector with its FE and FM medium-duty trucks.

Although his company is yet to secure a significant share of the waste compactor market, Volvo General Manager Gary Bone says, the Swedish manufacturer offers a cleaner and greener option with the added advantage of modern safety technology compared to other trucks in the segment.

"We offer the best possible solution; it is up to the consumer to make the decision," he says. "It is not just the environmental side, there are also driver safety and productivity gains."

To reinforce these points, Volvo invited ATN to a ‘waste management master class’ at Melbourne’s Flemington racecourse to sample the newest trucks to enter the market.

In a venue normally associated with the efforts of a single horsepower, we were able to put the 300hp (221kW) FE, fitted with a side-loading waste compactor for emptying residential garbage bins, through its paces on a simulated housing estate specially created for the event.

The tone of the day was light-hearted — but Volvo has a serious message to impart to decision-makers in the waste industry, with an offering that is potentially unique in its execution.

Configured as either a dual-steer side-loader or a front-loader for skip bins, the new Volvo models provide a Euro 5 emission solution — using selective catalytic reduction (SCR) — with reduced noise levels and enhanced safety packages compared to many existing waste compactors.

Yet many local governments seem unwilling to structure tender documents to encourage the uptake of new technologies.

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Performance

Volvo set up a demonstration track in the Flemington car park simulating the workload of a compactor during a normal shift. The instructions were to drive toward each bin, pick it up, empty it and return it safely to Terra Firma, before navigating into a cul-desac and completing the circuit.

ATN climbed aboard ‘Snow White’, a side-loader mounted on an FE 6x4 chassis pushing 300hp through an Allison six-speed automatic. The truck was fitted with disc brakes on every axle, including ABS and EBS, and a front under-run protection system (FUPS).

Strapping myself into the operator’s seat alongside Per ‘The Smiling Assassin’ Hansen, Volvo’s laugh-a-minute driver trainer, I was given a brief run through of the controls and what they did — including the memorable instruction session on how to operate the joystick controlling the side loader.

"Okay, push it left, the arm extends, push it right and it retracts, pull back and the arm goes up, push forward and it goes down — simple, right?" asked a smiling Per Hansen.

"Um, yeah, left is out, right is in, then backwards and forwards for up and down, yeah, let’s go for it," came my nervous reply.

So, with Mitch and Rich calling the action, Volvo’s very own Roy and HG who debuted at the Brisbane Truck Show, I punched Drive into the Allison AL306 auto then gave the accelerator a quick stab and we were away.

Thundering down the course (well not really; one of Volvo’s selling points is how quiet the FE is, even at full throttle) I nudged the joystick left to bring the arm out and into the line of sight of the door mirror, while also easing the truck left to follow the ‘kerb’ line to bring us even closer to our target.

With the exhaust brake activated, it was a case of lift-off the throttle, see the road speed wash off, line up the arm on the bin, a quick dab of the brake to stop the truck, and bang; extend the arm, close the grab, a quick up and down to empty the contents and replace the bin on its mark, now on the throttle to accelerate away.

Almost. One of the key performance indicators for compactor operators is the ability to release the grab when the bin returns to earth so you do not drag Mrs Smith’s bin halfway up the street. Oh well, they say I write good…

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With Per laughing fit to burst alongside, I remember to release the grab — then the bin skips across the grass like a bouncing bomb from The Dam Busters. Per only remains in his seat thanks to his seatbelt (a tremendous Volvo innovation in 1959) and the compactor leaps gracefully away to our next date with destiny.

To an outside observer the Euro 5 SCR system must be converting the exhaust fumes into laughing gas — all that can be seen is Per doubled up with laughter, and my goofy grin as I try to line up the wheelie bin using the combination door mirrors that give a first-class view backwards down the truck, as well as a quick glance down through the second side-window.

Having satisfied myself I am on target and in range, a quick flick of the joystick shoots the arm backwards into the truck. Bugger.

So that’s LEFT for out, another nudge of the joystick and this time use the grab — voila, the bin is impaled like last night’s kebab, up and over to empty, then release.

This time the bin crashes back to earth.

No chance of it moving and good luck to the next guy. If you drop a wheelie bin from 3m it embeds itself in the ground by a good 10cm, you just need to make sure you are right on target.

Despite the ongoing hilarity in the cab, a few things are becoming obvious: there is no chance of me ever doing this for a living and, more importantly, it becomes plain why Visy elected to go with the FE for kerbside collection.

The driving position, even when you are on the ‘wrong’ side, is superb. The driver has tremendous vision not just forwards through the windscreen but also in the critical areas of beside and behind via the combination of mirrors and extra window glass.

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The steering is responsive, and allows even a rank amateur to line up the kerb and do a passable impersonation of a professional compactor driver.

Plus, the engine is near silent (Per and I made more noise) while the combination of the smooth-shifting Allison auto and Volvo’s own exhaust brake make acceleration and braking for the next pick up so simple.

The bottom line is this is a truck that takes the stress out of the driving task, allowing the operator to concentrate on the prime job of emptying the bins without dropping them, while avoiding the hazards and pitfalls of kerbside collection like parked cars and pedestrians.

Other tests, in what must look like a group therapy session or clown school to the casual observer, included a reverse park around a car as well as reversing down a cul-de-sac, before being given free rein to blast around the rest of the course, which is where the smoothness of the engine and gearbox came to the fore.

The final test before I was evicted from the cab involved accelerating to 15km/h, holding the speed through a radar gun and then precision braking as close as possible to a speed hump. It allowed us to again marvel at how quiet and smooth the D7 engine is, even under heavy load, while slowing down is as simple as lifting off the accelerator to allow the exhaust brake to bring the speed down to 5km/h.

The massive disc brakes bring us to a stop just short of the final marker and earn a rousing cheer from the assembled throng.

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Second Time

The FE is a testament to the talents of the local engineering staff, having been developed in-house at Volvo’s Brisbane factory, including creating a left-hand driving position while still retaining the original right-hand drive.

With SCR technology as Volvo’s preferred method for cleaning the exhaust gases, the engineers had to deal with the problem of where to place the pipe. They’ve settled on a vertical stack exiting the front of the converter and climbing the rear of the cab, keeping it in front of the compactor installation.

Later in the afternoon I had the opportunity to redeem myself, behind the wheel of an FM 8x4 equipped with a front-loader for clearing skip bins. Per Hansen had obviously had enough and was replaced by the equally talented Paul Munro, who had the unenviable task of guiding me through the second course.

Just as in the FE, the FM offers a safe and comfortable driving position, this time back on the right side of the truck with the ergonomics expected of a premium truck.

Things just fall to hand as you need them.

Like all production FM models, the front loader features a well laid-out dash that wraps around the driver; it helps to ensure all the important switches and data are on display or within reach — just as the driver needs to find them.

The steering wheel is an easy-grip thick-rimmed unit that combines well with the twin steer set-up for surprisingly reactive steering. Even a small turn of the wheel produces a decent amount of movement, perfect for getting in and out of tight spaces such as the alleys and laneways where skip bins tend to live.

With 330hp (244kW) from the new D11C Euro 5 motor, going to ground via the 12-speed I-shift automated-manual transmission, the FM is a more than competent performer, surging away from a standstill. This bodes well for heavily laden situations — there should be no problems with acceleration.

Volvo presents a particularly clever solution to the issue of exhaust system packaging with a unit reminiscent of the famous Ferrari ‘spaghetti pipes’ from its 1970s Formula 1 cars. On the FM it exits to the rear of the engine, feeds into the SCR unit with the treated gases venting to the atmosphere via a short dump pipe at the front of the catalyst unit, keeping it out of the way of the compactor body.

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Verdict

Despite the short drive time, it is safe to say Volvo has put plenty of effort into building a new truck range capable of filling a niche market. With the added advantage of safety and top-shelf environmental credentials it has a package more than capable of making plenty of friends.

Bone certainly hopes experience breeds familiarity: "It is just like our highway trucks, once we have the driver in the seat, they don’t like to go back".

 

Specifications

Make/Model: Volvo FE 6X4 Side-Loader

Engine: Volvo D7, six-cylinder, 7.2 litre, Euro 5 with SCR

Transmission: Allison AL306 six-speed automatic, gearbox-mounted PTO

Power/Torque: 221kW/1,160Nm

Features:

  • All-wheel discs with EBSDual control
  • Low noise
  • Euro 5 emission standard

 

Make/Model: Volvo FM 8X4 Front Loader

Engine: Volvo D11C six-cylinder, 10.8 litre, Euro 5 with SCR, engine-mounted PTO

Transmission: Volvo I-Shift 12-speed automated-manual non-synchro transmission

Power/Torque: 330kW/2,150Nm

Features:

  • Twin steer
  • EBS brakes
  • Hill Start Assist
  • Tight turning circle

 

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