Baie-Saint-Paul, Que. — Take one off-the-shelf truck chassis. Stretch the wheelbase. Move the cab. Double or triple the number of front steer axles. Add a steerable axle or perhaps more steer axles in the rear. Add a hydraulic drive. Tie everything together with a rugged new suspension system and for good measure stir in a remote-controlled electronic steering kit. Now that’s a truck!
For Simard Suspensions, tucked away in Baie-Saint-Paul, just east of Quebec City, these types of modifications are its bread and butter for chassis destined to become wreckers, crane trucks, drilling rigs, concrete pump, mixers, dump bodies, etc.
Founded by Emmanuel Simard in 1935, the company employs around 125 in three facilities.
There is the 54,000 sq.-ft. main installation facility, with 22 work bays, where mechanics may modify as many as 1,000 trucks a year. In a nearby second facility, Simard designs and manufactures its suspension components.
Simard also runs an installation facility in Stony Plain, Alta.
One of the more common tasks Simard does is converting chassis to twin steer suspension in the front. “(This is) a niche market. Of the hundreds of thousands of trucks manufactured a year, only a couple of thousand twin steers are made. They are well-known and very popular in Canada and the demand continues to grow in the US market,” says Georges Cloutier, assistant general manager for Simard.
Simard also does tri-steer axle suspensions.
Simard can customize chassis in many ways.
“The needs of the customers are not (all) the same. The spread between the two front axles will be different, depending on the application and the weight laws in place in the region where the truck will be used,” explains J. Alain Bourbeau, sales and service senior manager, Simard.
In Ontario for example, with the SPIF laws (safe, productive, infrastructure-friendly) in place, Simard has the expertise to help customers meet load-equalization standard requirements while increasing productivity and vehicles comfort.
“We’ve honed down to roughly a hundred main configurations, but we have, over the years, done several hundred different configurations,” Cloutier says. “OEMs do not offer the suspensions for all the complex market requirements.”
Customers come to Simard for these modifications primarily so they can put more weight, as much as 25-35% more, on their chassis.
“The market is asking for bigger cranes and mixers and bigger oilfield rigs. They need suspension and chassis that can stand this weight,” Cloutier explains.
Simard has several patented suspension systems, such as its front tandem suspension system and tridem suspension system. Cloutier speaks to their purpose.
“We connect the axles together so they steer together and share the payload. The steering geometry factor makes all the difference between ours suspensions and OEM trucks. There is more comfort, less tire wear and (the new systems) provide the same or shorter steering turn radius.”
Simard suspensions have an equalizer that distributes the weight equally between the two axles and across the chassis.
“The equalizer is a main factor…It distributes the load much more evenly on the chassis than the usual 6×4,” Cloutier says.
There are a number of trucks with twin or tri-steers and with multiple rear axle configurations, including rear steer axles and all-wheel drives, in the company’s Web site photo album. Simard also engineers and designs more goodies, such as electronic steer systems.
For example, Simard added four rear steer axles and designed an electronic steer system to Manac’s spec’s for a trailer that is extendable to 100 feet. The system allows a person to remotely steer it.
A typical customer will purchase an OEM vehicle and send it to Baie-Saint-Paul for makeover.
Once the work is completed the vehicle is returned to its owner or sent to another company, which adds the topside equipment.
“Take cranes, for example. We modify the suspension and if necessary, we extend the chassis and reinforce it to make sure it can support the crane,” Bourbeau says.
Cloutier adds, “We make such modifications regularly and we do them within the Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.”
International customers, such as from Australia and Chile, will buy their trucks in the US for Simard to customise.
Afterward, the trucks will be exported to the customers.
A few years ago Simard began installing three types of equipment on chassis: dump boxes built by Groupe Bibeau in St-Félix-de-Valois; snow removal products by Everest Equipment Co. in Ayer’s Cliff; and cement mixers from London Machinery Inc., in London, Ontario.
However, says Cloutier, “Primarily, we are suspensions and steering geometry people.”