New loaders built tough in South Africa

August 31, 2012

Slew loaders specially designed for the sugar and timber industries are now rolling off the production line at Zululand-based Matriarch Equipment, which first made its mark with a range of robust grabs.

Justin and Ashley Bell
Justin and Ashley Bell at their factory in Zululand.
Timber loading grabs MTL114 loading timber
Timber loading grabs at work. The MTL114 working in-field in Piet Retief.
JCB excavator MTL114 working in-field in Piet Retief
The JCB excavator cab used on the new slew loaders. The MTL114 provides the muscle for this loading operation for Mondi timber at the Iswepe rail siding.
Matriarch grabs Helicopter repair at Bell
New Matriarch grabs ready for delivery to customers. The enterprising Bell brothers also run a helicopter repair and maintenance business.


Matriarch Equipment was launched in 2009 by brothers Justin and Ashley Bell with the aim of manufacturing slew loaders for the timber and sugar industries. They identified a gap in the market for a highly mobile loader that could be used for sugar or timber, and set up a manufacturing facility in Richards Bay.

Initially, they decided to start manufacturing grabs to get their workshop busy and get a feel for the manufacturing production environment. This turned out to be a smart business decision as the Matriarch grabs were well received in the local timber and sugar industries, and in a short space of time have become a common site at sugar and timber harvesting sites and loading depots around the country.

Last year, Matriarch Equipment built the first two prototype slew loaders, spec'd for the sugar industry. One was sold to a Zululand sugar cane farmer and the other was converted for timber. It has been on test with Steenekamp Vervoer for loading timber at the railway sidings at Piet Retief, where Steenekamp has a contract to load rail trucks for Mondi. Hendrik Steenekamp has also been using the machine to do in-field loading of timber, proving the machine's versatility.

The original idea was to design the slew loaders from a clean sheet, but in the end, the Matriarch team decided to use an excavator upper structure coupled with a Matriarch designed and built four-wheel drive undercarriage and 0.5 m2 timber grab or 0.6 m2 sugar cane grab, optimised for loading operations. This platform also offers great versatility to the end user, with an option to fit a bucket for digging and maintenance work.

The wheel track is set wide apart for stability so that there is no need for outrigger stabilisers when loading to the side. The machines are hydrostatically driven by four individual wheel drives; hence Matriarch is not bound to any specific axle width. For sugar applications, they can vary the track width at manufacture to match the crop row spacing on the customers' farm. The loader is designed to straddle the rows of sugar cane, and loads onto a tractor-trailer alongside. The idea is that the loader must not cross the crop rows as this can damage the sugar cane stool, and has other adverse effects such as soil compaction.

The timber loaders come with a standard 3.6 m track width, measured from the outside of the tyres. The sugar cane loader has an optional 4.2 m track width. The standard tyre size fitted is 600/55 26.5. With both variants, the overall track width can be reduced by 200 mm by rotating the wheel sets inward.

"The big advantage of our slew loaders is that they are highly mobile, and can be used at a depot or in-field, and don't need a low-bed trailer to be moved from one site to another," said Justin. The maximum travel speed of the loader is 20 km/hour.

There are several other pluses as well. The cab rotates through 360 degrees, so the operator is always facing the job in front of him. The load in the grab is always balanced by the counter-weight of the excavator upper structure and when it slews off-centre during side loading, the oscillating rear axle locks for extra stability.

The excavator upper structures are designed for digging applications and are therefore 'over-engineered' for loading timber or sugar cane, which means that they are extremely tough.

"There's a lot of interest now in the slew loaders for the timber industry," said Ashley. "There are currently three slew loaders in build at the factory, two for the sugar industry and the other for timber."

The first prototype loaders that Matriarch produced were based on Chinese manufactured Sany excavators. However, the Bell brothers have now established a partnership with JCB, a well known UK-based manufacturer, to use the JCB excavators as carriers.

"JCB is a family-owned business that manufactures proven products, and they are very innovative and flexible," said Ashley. "They have a good dealer network in South Africa and throughout Africa, which provides comprehensive support for all their equipment. Plus, we carry our own spare parts stock for our loaders and we're building these units on an ongoing basis, so spare components are always readily available if the need arises," he said.

The Matriarch team is also planning to produce a smaller slew loader for the private sugar farmer that will come in under R700 000.

Meanwhile, demand for the Matriarch grabs is brisk. The product range has expanded to nine grabs ranging from a .35 sq metre to a giant 1.8 sq metre grab. The biggest of these, the Matriarch MT 1800, is being used by Sappi at the Saiccor mill to feed one of the chipper lines. The mill also runs a number of the MT800 (0.8 m2) grabs on wheeled excavators.

Another supportive customer is Alpine Logging, which fits Matriarch grabs onto their shovel yarders destined for both local and international markets. Matriarch is currently building 19 x MT500 (0.5 m2) grabs for Alpine Logging, as well as a range of stock units.

Matriarch has a team of 12 people and their production is demand driven. However, they do keep additional stocks of the grabs so they can keep their customers supplied. It takes six weeks to manufacture a batch of grabs from start to finish.

They have outgrown the factory at Richards Bay, and have just moved into a new facility at their farm near Empangeni.

Please visit or contact the factory directly on 035 797 3617.

Published in June 2012

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
This error message is only visible to WordPress admins
Error: Access Token is not valid or has expired. Feed will not update.
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram