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Bell: Africa’s Great Heart continues innovating

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Now in the fifth generation, Bell has been manufacturing purpose-built, heavy-duty haulage tractors since the last 1970s. Image credit: Bell Equipment

Bell: Africa’s Great Heart continues innovating

Ever since Bell Equipment founder, Irvine Bell, invented his self-loading sugarcane trailer in 1954 the group’s innovation has seen it develop many world-firsts for the industries it serves.

Bell Equipment, today a global equipment manufacturer, was established in 1954 close to Empangeni in Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa.

The Bell Tri-Wheeler in 1964 marked our first major turning point by providing a revolutionary way to stack and load cane for transport to the mills. There were a few rudimentary cane-loading machines on the scene at that time, but Irvine designed a whole new class of machine that was simple to operate and highly manoeuvrable.

Using hydrostatic technology and being able to control each of the large drive wheels independently, the Bell Tri-wheeler could instantly turn on its own axis and had enough power to lift and stack sugar cane infield or load a trailer. Almost 60 years later and the Bell Tri-Wheeler is still in production with the F-series generation being used extensively in sugar farming and forestry around the globe.

According to Bell Equipment CEO Leon Goosen many older models remain in operation, which speaks volumes about the build quality and longevity of Bell machines.

Africa’s first heavy-duty haulage tractor (Bell: Africa’s Great Heart continues innovating)

In 1977 Bell introduced Africa’s first heavy-duty haulage tractor after observing the deficiencies in the adapted farm tractors used as transporters in the sugar and timber industries. The Bell Haulage Tractor was purpose-built for haul work with an automatic transmission, a fabricated steel chassis, heavy-duty axles, and hitch positioning to optimise load weight transfer and traction.

Safety features included fully equipped pneumatic trailer braking, and a ROPS/FOPS certified cab. These features have all been included in subsequent generations, the latest being the Series V Haulage Tractor introduced in 2021.

“A significant milestone in Bell Equipment’s history came in 1984 when the company launched Africa’s first manufactured Articulated Dump Truck (ADT). ADTs imported from Europe had arrived in the South African marketplace and, although these new earthmovers were effective and versatile, Bell saw plenty of room for improvement and finetuned its design to better cope with the more typical African market that has harsh operating conditions, higher temperatures, and mining applications that demanded higher production and reliability,” says Goosen.

Enter the ADT (Bell: Africa’s Great Heart continues innovating)

The success of the first model, a 25-ton ADT, led to new models expanding the range with the flagship 40-ton ADT launched in 1989.

In 2001, the launch of the Bell D-series range of ADTs set a new standard of excellence with the manufacturer becoming the first in the world to introduce onboard weighing on ADTs. “This has always been a standard feature across our Bell range,” adds Goosen.

“The following year Bell unveiled the world’s largest production ADT, the B50D, and in 2003 we became the first OEM to introduce satellite-based telematics with our Fleetm@tic®  fleet management software. Today Fleetm@tic®  provides pole-to-pole coverage and real-time tracking, giving customers the ultimate tool for asset, production, and machine health management.”

Making safety its business (Bell: Africa’s Great Heart continues innovating)

In addition, Bell has an ethos of making safety its business. According to Leon, features that protect both the operator and the machine are incorporated into the design process, and 2009 saw the inclusion of Tip Safe into Bell ADTs, a feature that prevents bin tipping at an unsafe angle. This was another industry first.

True to the company’s pioneering spirit, Bell Equipment broke new ground again in 2014 with the B60, a 60-ton ADT that usurped the flagship B50D as the world’s largest ADT.

“The B60, a 4×4 truck with a double-axle to prevent tire scuffing, pushed ADT design and innovation into a new league and created opportunities for Bell in a domain that was previously only contested by rigid haulers,” explains Goosen.

Then, in 2020, Bell was the first to start on-site autonomous testing with ADTs with indurad/xtonomy in Europe. Work with US-based Pronto AI followed and the group continues to engage with other suppliers to begin testing their systems. The strategy is to position itself as the easiest vehicle for third-party suppliers to control – either remotely or through fully fledged autonomous solutions as we fully appreciate that different users will have different needs and this way we can make sure the customer can choose a controlling system that is best suited for his particular needs.

“We’re really excited about our work in the autonomous field, especially now that customers are showing real interest in adopting this technology and we have our trucks running on multiple work sites,” says Goosen.

Bell: Africa’s Great Heart continues innovating

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Bell: Africa’s Great Heart continues innovating





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