Affolter Transporte from the Swiss village Schüpfen has an ultra-modern fleet for abnormal transports. However, the heavy combinations of Affolter are rarely seen on the European motorways and they only visit the ports of Rotterdam, Antwerp or Hamburg sporadically. Switzerland has a special place in Europe. It is not a member of the EU, but it is positioned as a sort of island in between the member states of the EU. The area Affolter Transporte operates in is the ‘Mittelland’. This is the undulating, partly flat plateau between Lake Constance and Lake Geneva. an interview with Rudolph and Ernst Affolter.
Affolter Transporte AG – Like a Swiss
Always the first question: how did Affolter Transporte come about?
“Around 1960 our father – Werner Affolter – had a small farm. In 1962 he bought his first truck to earn some extra money with transport. His first truck was a 2-axle tipper. Some of the work he took on was the transport of hay, straw and potatoes. In those days extensive land re-parcelling took place in order to make farming more efficient. This meant quite a few new roads had to be built. This was a steady source of income for our father. But the transport company only grew slowly. Around 1970 the entire fleet consisted of three or four trucks. In addition to the road construction, a regional factory producing concrete became an important customer. When the construction industry slowed down our father decided to look for a new niche market. We already had experience in the transport of concrete beams and that was a good reason to develop further in the direction of the abnormal transport sector. “
With an 8x6 tractor the maximum GCW is 165T
Affolter was the second customer of Nooteboom in Switzerland
“It wasn’t until 1980 that we began to specialise in ‘heavy-wide-high. It was the height that was the biggest problem. In 1982 we bought our first Nooteboom trailer. The low floor height was a huge advantage for transports in Switzerland. Our trailer was the second Nooteboom trailer in Switzerland. The company that bought the first one does not exist anymore. We used the Nooteboom low-loader for the transport of construction machinery weighing up to 35 tonnes.”
The low load floor of Nooteboom
“The many tunnels and viaducts in Switzerland make it difficult to deliver a high load. The maximum height without exemption is exactly 4 metres. With an exemption it can be more. In exceptional cases the height can go up to 5.2 metres. The railway network in Switzerland is very well developed, but for us that is a disadvantage. If we have to cross a railway line with a load that is higher than 5 metres, the power of the railway overhead wires must be switched off.”
Doing business with Dick Nooteboom
“Over the years we have built a very good relationship with Nooteboom, especially with Dick Nooteboom. It started like this: around 1990 our father visited the IAA to find out about options for new semi-trailers. Swiss low-loaders don’t exist, so the choice was between Dutch or German manufacturers. Dick came to Switzerland and we agreed on the purchase of a 5-axle semi low-loader with ramps. We also wanted to buy a 2-axle extendible low-loader from a different manufacturer. Dick did not think that was a good idea. He said: “If the customer says no, that’s when my work begins.” He refused to budge until he had sold us the second trailer too. We never regretted it because the low-loader served us exceptionally well for many years.”
“A few years later we were looking for bigger trailers. We bought a Nooteboom with a load capacity of 55 tonnes for the transport of a road planer. The advantage of Nooteboom was that we could place a heavy load on just a few metres of the load floor. As well as the trailers for abnormal transport we had 14 modular axle lines, which enabled us to easily carry more than 200 tonnes. But we did not use those modules very often and we sold half of them. In the future we won’t be specialising in transports of more than 100 tonnes.”
Up to what weight can Affolter transport in Switzerland?
“We have five heavy transport tractors, two of them with a torque converter. In Switzerland at least 20% of the total weight must be resting on the driving axles. For a 6×4 or an 8×4 tractor the calculation is simple: 5 x 24 tonnes = 120 tonnes total weight. We have one Mercedes-Benz / Titan 8×6 tractor. With that we can go up to a total weight of 165 tonnes (5 x 33 tonnes). In Switzerland there are some highly-specialised companies with 8×8 tractors that can cope with a total weight of more than 200 tonnes. But that is not our market segment. We don’t deliver steel cables for ski lifts high in the mountains. With our new Nooteboom 3+6 low-loader, combined with our 8×6 Titan tractor, we get to a total weight of 150 tonnes exactly. For the work we do a load capacity of around 100 tonnes is more than enough.”
“First of all we have had a very good relationship with several Nooteboom employees. Another important consideration is the speed with which we can adapt Nooteboom trailers to suit different loads, and the low dead weight. If we opted for modules they would be much more expensive and what’s more, they would be heavier too. The trailers of Nooteboom offer us the best price/quality ratio.”
Truly modular: 16 axle lines strong in total, making numerous combinations possible
The modular Nooteboom Euro-PX
“Our Nooteboom Euro-PX has the advantage of enabling us to put together many different combinations, varying from a 1-bed-4 to a 3-bed-6. Because it’s so easy to uncouple the Interdolly we sometimes use different versions on the same day. When we use the low-loader version we can choose from various load floors, including a spine floor and an extendible floor. When used as a semi low-loader we combine a maximum load capacity with outstanding manoeuvrability. It rarely happens that we cannot find a way to fit a heavy or high load on our Euro-PX.”
What can Nooteboom improve on?
“We have always invested in up-to-date equipment. With an optimal vehicle we can give our customers optimal service. Nooteboom invests continually in better quality, easy operation and lower dead weight. And for service and parts too Nooteboom is always ready to help. In a word: we are extremely satisfied with the quality as well as the service of Nooteboom.”
Which are the customers of Affolter?
“After 2000 more and more mechanical engineering companies disappeared from Switzerland. Our field of operations has moved to the construction industry. For that sector we transport their machines and materials, such as roof tiles and wooden rafters. We do very little in the wind energy industry. Not many windmills are built here, because the Swiss don’t like the look of windmills and conserving the natural habitat of animals is a top priority here.”
Does Affolter also work together with foreign companies?
Our vehicles mainly operate in Switzerland. If we have to collect a load from the port of Rotterdam or Antwerp we usually contract out the work. We are not looking for international work and we can contract out those jobs at a very competitive price.”
Is the EU an advantage or disadvantage for Swiss companies?
“Switzerland is not a member of the EU, but in daily practice there are not many differences. Here too the production companies have disappeared to countries with lower wages. The construction industry in Switzerland employs builders from abroad and our trade with the EU has few constraints. As far as we can see Switzerland is not that different from Germany, the Netherlands or Italy.”
Affolter has taken over several companies
“In order to strengthen our position in the construction industry we have taken over several companies. It started in 2001 with the takeover of Held Transport. Because we saw the advantage of combining crane hire and transport we took over the crane department of Kehrli + Oerler in Bern in 2003. In 2008 we were able to take over Lehmann Bau + Kran. Due to the cooperation between the various companies we can offer the complete package of cranes, transport and storage.”
We do it all
“We often use swap bodies for the wooden construction components. This enables us to deal with all the logistics efficiently. Transport, storage and crane operations can all be scheduled by us with our own equipment. We also transport construction machinery. Here the 80-tonne stone crusher that we transport every week with a 5-axle Volvo tractor and a 4-axle dolly is a real eye catcher. For the transport of roof tiles we have two trucks with heavy loading cranes.”
And the next investments?
“Because the majority of our equipment is used for highly specialised work, it takes us a while before we make decisions. Next to be replaced will be the 5-axle tractor, which we use for the transport of an 80-tonne stone crusher.”
Is it difficult to find good personnel?
“For new drivers we have an in internal training programme that takes three years. All aspects of our work are covered, including the rules for the transport of hazardous substances. We have no foreign drivers and the turnover of our personnel is minimal. We soon find out if someone is not suitable for the work we do. It is not an easy job, but our drivers enjoy one big advantage; they are home nearly every day.”
Rudolf and Ernst Affolter grew up between cranes and trucks. An important reason for the Affolter Transporte’s success in business stems from the fact that the brothers very much enjoy going to work every day. Ernst: “Our work is also our hobby, and the pleasure we take in our work is infectious, so our personnel and customers share those feelings. It may be our biggest advantage that we deliver right on time. This is vital for construction projects, because without materials the whole crew will be idle.” This is how Affolter functions: like a Swiss watch.”