Be Cool

In 2009 OFE Refrigerated Transport purchased a pair of second-hand 2006 DAFs, its first trucks in use from the Dutch commercial vehicle manufacturer. Fast forward 11 years and the cold chain carrier, based in Dandenong South in Melbourne’s southeast suburbs, runs 40 trucks, 30 of which are DAFs including three of the latest generation of Euro 6 DAF CF prime movers.

This recent order follows a three-week long trial in which the business, having sought up-to-the-minute safety features, evaluated a vehicle for the first two weeks in B-double application and then for an additional week hauling a single trailer as part of the company’s refrigeration fleet.

Despite adding Expert Logistics, a containerised transport service to its operational portfolio in 2016, which it is now looking to grow, the majority of the company’s business revolves around moving bulk refrigerated product to distribution centres (DCs) for the dominant supermarket chains.

This ensconces the fleet in the wider metropolitan region making its capability to act and adapt to the vagaries of freeway congestion a high priority. Last year OFE Refrigerated Transport purchased several new Euro 5 DAFs as it continued the task of updating its commercial vehicles with state-of-the-art active safety features. According to Director John O’Keeffe the transition has been driven primarily by scaling up to the latest offerings in driver safety packages.

“We were keen to upgrade our fleet to include adaptive cruise control and lane departure assist which complements the necessary changes in direction required when speeds are effected by other vehicles in slowing traffic conditions,” he says. “A display of the passenger side camera shows what’s around the truck when you’re preparing to change lanes. It’s something that we’ve found makes the on-road experience even safer especially in the particular line of work we do.”

Shuttling between DCs, day in and day out, brings with it a hefty fuel bill, most likely the company’s biggest expense. Naturally, it does all it can to look for furthering the efficiencies that can be mustered in this area.

The recent evaluation of the new DAF CF 480 impressed upon the two drivers alternating in the truck, the superior driver comfort and demonstrable improvement in thermal efficiencies. One of the chief attractions of the revised PACCAR MX-13, are that the 480 and 530 horsepower engines have been paired with the ZF TraXon automated 12- and 16-speed transmissions.

Feedback was overwhelmingly positive from the operators who were asked to assess the vehicles during the test period. Of note the comfort and noticeable difference in the fast-shifting, more effortless TraXon automated transmission according to John.

“From our driver feedback the quietness of the truck is certainly noticeable and the DAF driver coaching system is really helpful,” says John. “It assists and alerts the driver to change their driver habits if there is capacity to operate more efficiently. We’re really interested to see how that performs going forward.”

To invigorate down speeding of the engine an improved turbocharger in addition to a new EGR system have been incorporated with a new vehicle control unit for dedicated driveline integration. The design of the cooling system and the transmission, according to John, are all part of a compelling value-for-money proposition DAF offered as a premier commercial vehicle.

“We found in our numbers from the testing regime that we were around ten per cent better off in fuel saving on the trucks we had been using on those particular runs,” John says. “Our two biggest costs are labour and fuel so to be able to reduce fuel is key. Not having a driver churn is obviously something all transport fleets want to avoid. The drivers enjoy driving the trucks. We like keeping them happy and that helps to minimise turnover.”

Investing in an up-to-date European truck garnering great reviews for safety and comfort ratings is one avenue to achieving such a goal. Long considered a competitively priced product, the DAF has proven itself a reliable workhorse in urban linehaul with the proven versatility to moonlight as a B-double prime mover.

The OFE Refrigerated Transport fleet also includes some rigids and light commercial vans. Like the prime movers, these are monitored from an operations centre where a Procon GPS System on every vehicle feeds through to a small team that allocates jobs to the drivers which includes up to ten sub-contractors depending on seasonal demand. The workshop employs three full time staff. 

Having one predominant commercial vehicle makes it easier for maintenance and repairs. Hallam Truck Centre, where every DAF commercial vehicle has been purchased, keeps parts on consignment and regularly checks in to top up filters and the like. OFE Refrigerated Transport also maintains a truck depot on the other side of the city in Laverton North.

The company, as John recalls, was established as something of a short-term measure when he returned from Queensland where he had been working as a manager on quarries and coal mines. With road transport already in the blood – his brothers and father also work in the industry – he founded OFE Refrigerated Transport. This year marks the 20th anniversary of establishing the company. To say it has been an interesting one is an understatement. 

“Part of our own COVID-19 experience has been to look at a number of our procedures, particularly in cleaning and staff interactions,” he says. “It was one of the things we examined early on. If we had, for instance, multiple drivers in trucks, then we considered how we sanitised at changeover in regard to best health and safety practice. That has been really interesting for us and from there we have looked at how we approach other elements across the business which we hadn’t really considered before.”

According to John, the company experienced its busiest month in April starting just prior to the lockdown and during a three week period in which supermarket shelves were being raided of essential items like pasta, rice, cleaning products and of course toilet paper.

For the team that meant a continual effort of stocking the DCs which were being depleted seemingly as fast as they were replenished. During this time notoriously congested arterials such as the Monash Freeway were quiet and John recalls it helped boost efficiencies.

“We would have been up 30 per cent with our workload and our days were often shorter because of the lack of traffic,” he says. “In that first six weeks or so the reduction in travel times for our vehicles meant we were very productive.”

Despite some of the outside noise from politicians and media, the supermarket task has returned to a semblance of normality and with it, according to John, the business has been afforded some time to take stock. Management is, for one initiative, looking to drill down on how the fleet uses its trucks on regular transit routes, factoring in stoppages, road works and how an environment once considered slow might have changed.

“So we’ve had time to pull things apart and that’s been helpful rather than just giving the driver an address and letting him find his own way,” he says. “We’re evaluating our efficiencies and how we have been doing things. We have gone back and looked at our use of toll roads, for instance. Over the last couple of months we’ve really cut that back by about 80 per cent and we’ve got to plan going forward to see how we can minimise that use. Certainly, the traffic or lack thereof has helped enormously,” he says. John adds, “There’s a point at which it becomes more efficient to use a toll road but we’re really trying to monitor that so we know where that point is.”

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