An investigation into sugarcane vehicle loading with respect to influences on overall transport efficiency.
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The South African sugar industry ranks eleventh in size out of 200 sugar-producing countries; and continuous advancement is essential to ensure that this industry remains competitive. The transfer system from field to mill, includes sugarcane being moved, loaded, transloaded and off-loaded and amounts to more than 25 % of the total production cost of sugarcane, hence small adjustments can have significant economic benefits. Payload variability is a current problem making the loading operation a leverage point for improvement. As a consequence of poor management and the under-utilisation of equipment, loading has been identified as an inefficient and costly operation. Studies have shown that technology and management can contribute to improved loading accuracy. This study aimed to evaluate loading characteristics in an attempt to develop guidelines for loading. Whole-stick loose sugarcane, which is loaded with grabloaders, is common practice in South Africa and this study aims to improve this loading system. This was achieved by reviewing transfer systems worldwide and synthesising the sugarcane characteristics that drive the designs and the management of equipment and systems within the transfer system. The sugarcane characteristics include the sugarcane bulk density, the length, the diameter and other variety characteristics e.g. the degree of lodging. Other factors, such as the preparation method for loading, the harvesting method and the topography, also have a marked influence on the efficiency of the transfer system. An assessment of typical South African loading practices was undertaken to establish beneficial practices and current operating rules. These factors included the way in which the sugarcane was presented prior to loading, as well as the techniques adopted for loading. The results were used to generate practical recommendations for the improvement of the loading component in order to make the transfer system more efficient. An efficient system comprises a balance of high quality operations with respect to safety, accurate loading, reduced cycle time, optimal fuel usage, reduced roadside losses, reduced sugarcane damage and increased off-loading efficiencies. An investigation into consignment characteristics was also carried out to identify the factors that need to be considered during the loading operation. These factors included the sugarcane bulk density, the degree of sugarcane alignment and the design characteristics of various vehicles. A set of practical guidelines were created from this study.