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Several new Freightliner Cascadia units have won favour with the team at Burdett’s in Melbourne owing in part to the clear gains shown by the sophisticated Detroit Connect telematics.
Freightliner Cascadia truck and dog.

The vast majority of Burdett’s imposing 88 truck and trailer and multi-combination fleet is approved under Performance-Based Standards.

Working predominantly out of sandpits and feed sites in Melbourne’s southeast, New South Wales and South Australia, vehicle specs range from tandems right through to a pair of roadtrains.

As a carrier of sand and soil as well as mulch, green waste, firewood, fertiliser and grain, the truck and dog operational spec varies enough to include three-axle dog units right up to six-axle dogs and even several B-doubles.

“If it goes in the back of a tipper we’ll cart it,” says Transport Manager Rod Forth who has been with the company for four years.

The fleet is populated by several different brands, most of which share the commonality of having an automatic transmission. The RoadRanger gearbox can be found only in a couple of instances.

“Durability is good with the automatics. They return, usually, a better fuel economy because it’s naturally all computerised,” says Rod. “They do have the ability to change manually by the driver but left in auto mode most of them will just do their thing.”

Electronic presets within the truck help to achieve the best fuel return in Rod’s experience given the many variables at play within a truck gearbox. An automatic transmission, he says, removes a lot of potential obstacles.

“If a driver is not driving it properly you get diff wear, gearbox wear, engine over rev, clutch,” he says. “There’s any number of things we can talk about.”

Burdett’s have recently introduced three new Freightliner Cascadias using pusher axles, which is to say a four-axle truck pulling a four-axle trailer. One unit is technically trailing a five-axle dog behind it.

These vehicles have been introduced, according to Rod, for the extra carrying capacity.

“With the four-axle truck with a four-axle trailer we’re carting the same capacity as a three-axle truck with a five-axle trailer,” he explains. “So, it shortens up the combination a little bit which gives us greater access.”

Access, after all, is one of the areas the team can make incremental gains in given its vehicles often run between many smaller sites and quarries.

“Once we get over 19 metres, which is virtually our truck and quad dog, we need access permits if we’re off PBS route,” explains Rod. “That gives us a greater capacity. We predominantly use them to come out of our own sandpit at Hallston and cart and feed into our own sites which seems to be working extremely well for us. We’re one of the very few who are running those combinations of the four-axle truck and four-axle trailers. You won’t find much of that across the industry.”

As it’s not a well-known configuration, Rod and Group Director Andrew Burdett, had a series of conversations over the months before they eventually committed to the pusher axle spec.

Freightliner Cascadia four-axle truck pulling a four-axle "pusher trailer".
Freightliner Cascadia truck and dog in pusher axle configuration.

It shapes as a key decision for the fleet. In addition to the three 116 Cascadias being used in the truck and dog division, there is another five of the new Freightliners dedicated to pulling B-doubles. These are all new purchases.

Although it’s still only early days in which to make a data assessment, Rod says the fuel burn figures the trucks are returning is strong indication that these are a superior heavy vehicle.

Drivers haven’t wasted any time in expressing their approval of the new Cascadias. Acceptance is, without exception, enthusiastic across the board. For Rod, the standout factor, impossible to ignore, of the new trucks is the sophisticated monitoring they offer through Detroit Connect telematics.

“They are way ahead of most others,” he says. “We can monitor driver behaviour and if there’s a fault with the truck, I can receive an alert even before the driver knows there’s a problem which makes it very easy when you’ve got to give the OEMs feedback in the event a truck has stopped.”

Detroit Connect pinpoints, with reliable accuracy, where the problem originates. If there’s a trailer issue, for example, then it identifies there is no involvement required of the OEM, which equates to a huge time-saving for all those concerned.

“The telematics on the truck will still alert me that it is a trailer issue,” says Rod. “That means we can send an external mechanic out to deal with the trailer rather than getting the OEM out there who is there specifically for the truck. It just makes that whole process a lot easier.”

Fault finding is made much simpler this way. Detroit Connect will log any minor fault as well. Based on a prompt from a driver who has experienced an alert, Rod is finding he can have a closer look to determine what it is and cancel out, if need be, the driver.

“You can rank the alert which is a really good advantage because that enables me to plan for the next dealer or whether it needs to be dealt with straight away,” he says.

In that regard it also helps with scheduling. Earlier this winter Burdett’s had a truck stranded on a Ballarat weighbridge. The driver was unsure if it was the prime mover or the trailers.

To add another level of complexity it was pouring rain which made it difficult to render an accurate judgement. Rod logged into the Detroit Connect telematics linked to the truck and it immediately identified there was a brake issue with the A-trailer.

“What we found out was when he pulled onto the weighbridge he’d blown a brake booster,” recalls Rod. “That’s all it was. Instead of getting the OEM out of Ballarat or Laverton, I’ve got another mechanic I regularly use nearby. I got him out to replace the brake booster. That’s how accurate the telematics are.”

The big benefit in that situation was the time it saved Rod and his partners. Every breakdown largely hinges on a crucial relaying of information and the subsequent reaction based on that same information. Any inaccuracy can mean the unnecessary involvement of multiple supply partners and third parties.

“Put it this way if I relied on the OEM to get there it probably would have been a three-hour turnaround but because I was able to use a closer external guy it was about an hour and 20-minute turn around,” says Rod. “The outcome for us was huge.”

For the mechanic attending the breakdown, knowing exactly what is needed rather than loading up with all manner of parts and tools in the hope that they will have enough on hand to solve the problem delivers, for everyone involved, an efficiency that has many positive residual effects.

“Detroit Connect helps you to give the relevant information and the heavy vehicle mechanic knows when they go out that they’re taking what they need,” says Rod. “It’s narrowed down by the telematics. They bring what is necessary, change it out or repair it and we’re away.”

Live updates are also provided on fuel consumption. This can provide insights into how driver behaviour causes excess fuel usage. Adjusting the factory settings correctly can, with the help of the OEM, provide, with some shrewd tweaks, a better return.

“At the end of the day even a saving of .2 of a kilometre over 12 months is huge win for us,” says Rod. “It’s thousands of dollars especially given the price of fuel at the moment.” Measuring fuel burn is mixed up between mileage and hours given the network for Burdett’s is compressed in large part. The trucks do, however, amass significant idle hours at quarry sites.

“Our B-double guys do roughly around 180,000kms a year,” he says. “Our local trucks which are our quarry trucks, they do around 140,000kms a year give or take.”

In Rod’s experience, Detroit Connect is leaps ahead of the other telematics he’s used across his mixed fleet. It monitors driver behaviour as well, which he uses to ascertain whether any additional training should be offered. On-road incidents not related to the driver are also flagged by Detroit Connect.

“At the minute we’re finding the Cascadia is a pretty good product,” says Rod. “Not only are the drivers liking the truck as it delivers outstanding comfort but we’re seeing real advantages in most areas that count. Serviceability will tell within time.”

Parallel to Detroit Connect, Burdett’s runs a Webfleet tracking system. It offers a dashboard that monitors and categorises different aspects of driver behaviour from heavy braking, heavy cornering to acceleration so that evaluations of individual drivers can be made accordingly over a day, a week or month.

“The location of a driver is provided which proves useful,” says Rod. “That way when it flags heavy steering you can locate that he was up in the hills somewhere where it’s been very cornered and that’s why there’s been heavy steering.”

It’s no secret the workforce across the entire transport sector and especially truck driving is ageing. Demographic challenges are not an issue at Burdett’s given it boasts an even spread of driver ages.

Rod says the company employs many drivers who have only been in trucks for a few years while retaining older drivers who have been doing it most of their adult life.

“What we’re finding with the younger guys, is that they’re a lot more adaptable to the new technology,” he says. “Which is just a given. In saying that, the older guys do take the newer technology on board, and we get great outcomes.”

All of the fleet’s trailers are on service contracts. Burdett’s primary supplier of tippers is BTE, whose good reputation precedes it. For Rod, the advantage, above all others, when working with BTE is that they’re hyper-aware of fleet requirements.

UD Quon featuring the bladder cancer awareness campaign.

“When we put in an order with them it makes the order side of it a lot easier and they can complete the PBS compliance for us because they have all of the specifications already there,” he explains. “There’s no real great external involvement. That streamlines the process for us.”

Burdett’s recently purchased six new Kenworth T410 and T610s with three new K200s already due to arrive soon. These are all considered replacement trucks. Mack, another one of their regular suppliers, should deliver new vehicles by Q4.

More recently, three new UD Quons have joined the fleet. The UDs are used particularly for restricted access sites they encounter at many smaller garden supply centres. According to Rod they are handling the workload extremely well towing a quad-axle behind them grossing out at around 54 tonnes.

“Because they are a cabover and a nice, little, short unit, the UDs are reliable and return good fuel economy,” he says. “Our R&M is relatively low on them. They just seem to be good value. It’s a simple as that.”

Some of the UDs are featuring redesigned livery as part of a campaign to promote Beat Bladder Cancer Australia. It’s a message that resonates personally with Andrew Burdett who acted on an early warning sign himself. He is currently undergoing bladder cancer treatment which he commenced nearly a year ago.

Rod has received a uniformly positive response from drivers about the Bladder Cancer awareness campaign that has been expanded now to five tipper combinations.

“They’re happy to have that on the side of the trucks,” he says. “It is gathering a lot of interest and that’s what it’s all about.”

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