Ring of confidence. Brazil's prospects have seldom been better. Economically and politically stable, it has become the most fashionable of the so called BRIC group of emerging economies. And with rising demand for food and energy, Brazil is extremely well placed, with a massive farming sector and soon to be important oil exporting industry.

It is no exaggeration to say that Brazil is on the verge of Superpower status. But it is not there yet, and the task of transforming the country is far from complete - not least the modernization of its dilapidated infrastructure, which is unable to cope with the demands being put upon it.

Sao Paulo is Brazil's largest city and part of one of the world's largest metropolitan areas, numbering some 17 million people. At present 93% of the cargo for the city is carried by road on a system that is chronically unable to cope with demand. Mega traffic jams of 100 km long are commonplace, rising to an incredible 200 km in bad weather, weekends and holidays, effectively shutting down the city. Of the 1.1 million vehicles that drive into Sao Paulo every day, almost a third - 300,000 - are just passing through and don't need to enter the city. Of these are 19,000 trucks, which damage the roads, add to pollution, congestion and the cost of freight.

Sao Paulo - we have a solution
The city has the answer - the Rodoanel Mario Covas - an enormous 170 km long four lane ring road around the city that will intercept the 10 major highways that lead into Sao Paulo, allowing traffic that doesn't need to enter the city the ability to rotate around it and avoid the congestion. Broken into four sections that vary from 20 to 40 km from the centre of the city, the Rodoanel is among the most important engineering projects in the country today. Its West section opened in 2002 but political and economic upheaval meant that progress stalled. But now the impetus is behind it and the entire road is set for completion by the time Brazil hosts the next World Cup in 2014. When completed the Rodoanel will be able to cut truck traffic by over 40% in the worst affected places.

The Southern section of the beltway is currently under construction, at a cost of $1.7 billion. At 64 km long, it will connect with the Western stretch and allow easier access to the economically crucial port area. The project is being managed by Desenvolvimento Rodoviario SA (Dersa), representing the government of Sao Paulo, who has divided up the Southern section into five contracts, or Lots. Each Lot is being worked on simultaneously, allowing for an accelerated construction programme that will see handover in 2010, despite the need to construct 136 bridges and viaducts.

Deep cuts
The second of the five lots is being managed by the Arcosul Consortium, consisting of construction giants Odebrecht and Constran. The 6.9km long project may appear simple road construction, but when the nine bridges, two overpasses and 12 underpasses are considered, it's not that straightforward. Nor is the fact that the section involves making 'cuts' of up to 120m and 'fills' of 60m - a job that falls to earthmoving contractor, Contern Construções e Comércio Ltda.

Contern has been in business for 30 years and remains family owned. Part of the Bertin Group, the company has set itself the target of being Brazil's fifth largest construction company by 2010.Over 350 of its nearly 3,000 people are currently working on the site, using 150 heavy pieces of construction equipment.

The equipment fleet Contern is using is overwhelmingly new, having invested over $14 million for just this section of the Rodoanel. Machines from Volvo Construction Equipment account for 65% of the fleet, with over 50 excavators (EC210 and EC360) and 15 wheel loaders (L50, L90 & L120) being supplied by local dealer TRACBEL S.A. These machines have their work cut out, as over six million cubic metres of earth needs to be moved in Lot 2. Working around the clock in three shifts, these machines are moving over 26,000 m3 per day.

Márcio Henrique Loureiro is the equipment manager, and explains the rationale behind choosing to dominate his fleet with Volvo machines. "The mentality of the Bertin Group is that when we buy one machine, and are satisfied with it, then we want to make a family of them," he says. "The advantage of this is that we know the dealer, we know how to fix them and we know that they work well for us."

The Lot 2 section of the Rodoanel is both large scale and fast tracked. This puts pressure on both men and machine, as both must consistently perform at high levels. "The visibility is good on the Volvos," believes Mr. Loureiro, "they are powerful and well laid out, and everything falls easily to hand. Under warranty, we want the dealer to support us 100%. But after that, because they hardly break, the manuals are easy to understand and the common problems simple to fix, we carry out this work ourselves - to a high quality. I want our machines to be looked after just as well as when TRACBEL were caring for them under warranty." This appears to be the case, as the Volvo fleet is proving reliable, returning a machine availability of over 90%.

Training is a key component of the fleet strategy, making sure that operators understand how to get the best performance from their machines. "Our maintenance costs have fallen drastically since we began the training," comments Mr. Loureiro. "The Volvos are popular with our operators too; in fact, we have one operator who refuses to use any other machine!

The Rodoanel is one of Brazil's highest profile projects, and success will reflect well on both Contern and Volvo's reputation in the country. Both are in the shop window, and well placed to benefit from the many other large scale infrastructure projects that a resurgent Brazil has in the pipeline. Brazil is literally laying the foundations for prolonged growth and all it needs to do now is to avoid going backwards.

Text: Brian O'Sullivan