Greener, stronger, smarter: Reshaping the transport industry, one vehicle at a time

20 March 2020

Hindalco's aluminium trailers and bulkers are greener, stronger and smarter alternatives to conventional transportation means

With innovation and sustainability at heart and backed by nerves of aluminium, Hindalco Industries, Aditya Birla Group’s flagship metals company, set foot on a mission to aluminise India. Hindalco is the world’s largest aluminium rolling and recycling company and one of Asia’s largest producers of primary aluminium. Making most of this experience and expertise spanning several decades, the company launched India’s first all-aluminium bulker in September 2018. It was followed by the launch of an all-aluminium trailer in December 2019.

Greener, Stronger and Smarter solutions

What had begun as a small discussion to explore the benefits of aluminium in the transportation and logistics industry, within ten months, became a step towards revolutionising the industry.

The Greener, Stronger & Smarter Aluminium Bulker

  • Can save up to 15,000 litres of fuel
  • Saves 25 tonnes of Green House Gases (GHG)
  • 100% recyclable
  • BS VI compliant
  • 50% lighter than an equivalent MS trailer
  • Carries extra load of 2.5 tonnes per trip
  • Fast payback that is four times the incremental cost
  • 70% higher scrap value
  • Corrosion-resistant

The trailer is made from high-strength aluminium alloy. But what’s more interesting is the fact that a 34-foot long aluminium trailer is 50 per cent lighter and weighs over 2.5 tonnes less than an equivalent steel trailer. The lighter weight makes it highly fuel-efficient with each trailer saving up to 15,000 litres of fuel. Each trailer can then potentially carry a corresponding extra load of 2.5 tonnes per trip, thus providing additional revenue and other business benefits to the transport industry.

The reduction in total weight also makes it environment-friendly as it gives off 25 tonnes less GHGs and helps in achieving BS-VI emission targets. Plus, aluminium is entirely recyclable, which means the trailer can be recycled over and over again. It also has a 70 per cent higher scrap value which makes it cost-effective. Moreover, it can ferry a wide range of materials such as cement, alumina, fly ash, grains, flour, steel coils and cylinders. The improved vehicle efficiency and a subsequent reduction of the carbon footprint make the trailer truly sustainable.

The need

Over the past decade, the improved road network in India has led to the rapid growth of the logistics and freight industry. One of the primary drivers of this industry are the trailers that ply the roads 24x7. Today, the domestic trailer production is estimated to be around 20,000 units per annum. The heavy weight of an average steel trailer makes it slow and increases fuel consumption which leads to more greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and therefore an increased carbon footprint. With the domestic trailer market expected to grow at 10-12 per cent annually, there was an urgent need to design an alternative to traditional commercial vehicles.

The all-aluminium bulker

Hindalco’s first step towards aluminising India was the launch of an aluminium bulker in September 2018. The indigenously built aluminium bulker, like the trailer, is lighter in weight and enjoys a longer life with a low cost of maintenance. For instance, a 30 cubic meter bulker is two tonnes lighter than an MS bulker of the same size. The bulker is also eco-friendly. Aluminium being 100 per cent recyclable, the bulker can be recycled over and over again. The lighter weight puts less strain on the engine and tyres, making it more fuel-efficient, adding to the eco-friendly properties of the bulker. Plus, it is corrosion resistant which increases its longevity and also can be used to carry a variety of dry material. While the aluminium bulker costs twice as much as a traditional bulker, the higher tonnage due to lower deadweight translates into extra earnings which are almost three times the investment. Moreover, Hindalco conclusively proved that aluminium usage in the transportation industry is not just limited to high-end automobiles but can be effectively used to manufacture commercial vehicles.

The first-of-its kind aluminium bulker

  • 2 tonnes lighter than an equivalent MS bulker
  • 100% recyclable
  • Fuel efficient
  • Corrosion resistant
  • Low maintenance cost

The challenges

Being an aluminium producer, Hindalco took up the initiative of enhancing the per capita consumption of aluminium in India. The development of transport applications such as the bulker and the trailer were the first steps towards it.

However, the low-risk appetite of the auto OEMs and the headwinds faced by the domestic auto industry were an impediment to this plan. To tackle it and fast-track product development, Hindalco strategically decided to work with unorganised players in the commercial vehicle segment. But this was easier said than done. Hindalco being an aluminium manufacturer, had no expertise in developing transport solutions. Hence, developing a conducive ecosystem to nurture and grow this initiative became paramount.

Identification of the fabricator was the first challenge. The company needed someone willing to experiment with aluminium, given that it requires a different kind of expertise. It was imperative to find forward-thinking fabricators with progressive mind-sets to handle aluminium fabrication. Hindalco spoke to several fabricators to understand their challenges and aspirations and then shortlisted few fabricators who were willing to take the big leap.

Hindalco, with the help of UltraTech, another Aditya Birla Group company, helped these fabricators get assured orders from transporters and logistics companies. The idea was to have a ready market for quick testing and checking the commercial viability of these first-of-their-kind products. Moreover, Hindalco also ensured that these fabricators have a smooth experience not only in terms of product development but also with a seamless supply chain, the comfort of commitment and hand-holding whenever required. To make the process easier for the fabricator, Hindalco created a kit of various aluminium components and delivered it to the fabricator in the requisite shapes and sizes.

It is important to note that most of these fabricators were new to aluminium welding and lacked the infrastructure required to weld aluminium. Hindalco introduced these fabricators to as inert gas welding and plasma /laser cutting – prerequisites to working with aluminium. The company arranged for the first aluminium welding machine through its foreign partners (Austrian/Finnish) and also for the training of the fabricator’s teams. Once the fabricators were familiar with the tools, they were encouraged to purchase the state-of-the-art machine with Hindalco assisting them in negotiations.

Aluminium alloy handling is challenging as improper handling may result in scratches and dents. Fabricators were also trained on handling and storage of aluminium to preserve the metallic lustre after fabrication. An entire ecosystem comprising fabricators, welding expertise, vendors for aluminium joineries (nuts/bolts) and service support was also created to alleviate any concerns around timely repairs and availability of spares.

All these efforts have now started showing the benefits in the form of continuous pick up in orders and enquiries. In a short span of less than a year, over ten bulkers and four trailers have been sold. The focus now is on creating the same ecosystem across India.

Both, the aluminium bulker and trailer have been launched at a time when there’s an urgency of developing sustainable transport solutions. The vehicles are highly fuel-efficient, cost-effective and eco-friendly, making them a sustainable alternative to conventional ones. The trailer and the bulker are a testament to Hindalco’s commitment to introduce sustainable, engineered transport solutions. More importantly, they exemplify Hindalco’s purpose of making products that are greener, stronger and smarter.