Most Australians live under the assumption that it is easy to send and receive items through the mail, without even considering the vast sophisticated organisation which ensures the timely delivery of letters and parcels.
Over the past couple of decades Australia Post’s business model has changed significantly, brought about by the massive decline in the volume of traditional letter mail due to the advent and widespread adoption of email.
During the same period, the online shopping revolution has seen a massive growth in the requirement for reliable and efficient parcel deliveries, with the volume being supercharged by the COVID pandemic.
In 2021, through its extended workforce of 60,000 people, Australia Post processed 2.6 billion items, delivering them to 12.4 million delivery points across Australia and to 115 countries across the world.
The Australia Post corporate structure dictates that it is wholly owned by the Commonwealth Government, which is essentially all of us as taxpayers, but unlike some other government entities it is expected to produce financial dividends which it achieves consistently.
As an organisation which takes its responsibilities seriously, Australia Post also looks to minimise the environmental impacts of its operations where it can.
To this effect it has reduced carbon emissions by 25 per cent since 2010 through activities including the increasing use of electric bikes and vehicles.
Australia Post has also diverted 10,000 tonnes of material from landfill since 2016. Terry Bickerton has the role of Head of Fleet and Equipment across the Australia Post spectrum including the StarTrack division, and with General Manager of Networks James Dixon, keeps the wheels turning and the deliveries happening.
Terry’s portfolio extends across the country’s largest road going fleet ranging from motorcycles and electric bikes to prime movers capable of pulling A-doubles, with various vans, trucks, trailers, passenger cars, forklifts, and load shifting equipment also in the diverse mix.
During 2022, a total of 40 new Volvo FH prime movers will join the Australia Post fleet which already includes a large number of Volvo trucks.
These latest Volvos are powered by Euro 6 13-litre engines producing 540hp. The transmissions are 12-speed I-Shift AMTs with top gear being direct and feeding the power to 3.09:1 rear axles riding on Volvo 8-bag air suspensions.
The new Volvo prime movers are being utilised for linehaul work, pulling a variety of configurations, primarily B-double and A-double trailer sets.
Australia Post has been expanding its A-double fleet as more approved routes are progressively added.
The Australian prime mover market is very competitive and major fleet purchasers are often faced with very tough choices given there can be very little differentiation between specific brands and models.
Fuel efficiency is always a consideration for every fleet operator, and Australia Post is no different.
Yet fuel is only one factor in the complex purchasing decision process.
“We have evaluated other vehicles, but the safety aspects of the Volvos and their service network are key for our operation,” says James Dixon.
“The Volvos, particularly these new FHs, deliver very good fuel efficiency.”
The Euro 6 Volvo FH has two options for fuel tanks, 900 litres and 1,200 litres with integrated steps, plus 150 litre AdBlue tanks.
“I always opt for the larger tanks because we are ‘return to base’ fuelling,” says Terry. “When we had AdBlue issues we ensured we had plenty in the ground that we could access and were not at the mercy of the retail sites, a lot of which aren’t really set up for B-doubles and A-doubles.”
The Australia Post Volvo fleet operates on fully maintained service contracts for the working life of every truck.
“It gives me great comfort knowing that the vehicles are returned to the OEM for any service campaigns and for any updates to be done in the process of being serviced, which is different to an independent service provider who wouldn’t have access to those latest bulletins,” says Terry.
Australia Post prime movers are usually kept for six years during which they will cover an average of 1.2 million kilometres.
The Volvo FH prime movers receive a ‘refresh’ at around 800,000 kilometres where the turbos and injectors are changed out.
“Then they sail through their last 400,000 and at 1.2 million they are out the door,” says Terry.
“I could count on one hand the number of engine failures I’ve had in Volvos, and even then it was an accessory part such as the turbocharger which had failed catastrophically and caused the engine damage. They are very robust engines and are very reliable particularly under the OEM service contracts.”
The policy is for the replacement point at 1.2 million kilometres, but the vehicles which are selected to be traded may stay in operation until the replacement new vehicles arrive.
“With some of the holdups we’ve had with manufacturing, some of these vehicles are staying with us for 1.4 or 1.5million kilometres,” Terry adds, “and again, there have been no major issues.”
Similar to the experience with Volvo engines, Terry has had very few problems with the Volvo I-Shift transmissions with the entire fleet fitted with automatic transmissions, across vans and small trucks through to heavy rigids and prime movers.
All are two pedal vehicles. Volvo’s renowned comprehensive safety package is critical to an operator such as Australia Post.
“Safety has always been a core value and we always aim to take the highest safety specification that we can achieve in vehicles,” says Terry.
“When we option our prime movers and rigid trucks we always option with as many safety features as are available.”
This had paid dividends commercially and also from a human perspective.
“The safety of the operators is always the biggest factor,” says Terry. “Thankfully in my time in the fleet we’ve had two major incidents with significant impacts and both of the drivers of those Volvos survived and I am of the absolute belief the reason they survived is because they were in Volvos. I’m not sure they would have had they been in other vehicles.”
Most of the linehaul drivers are able to sleep in their own beds at night.
“We don’t sleep people in trucks. On the Melbourne-Sydney trip we swap trailers at Tarcutta and both drivers turn around and go home and sleep in their own beds,” Terry explains.
“Our drivers want for very little. The trucks’ average age is very low and we’ll put 40 new prime movers on this year, and probably 40, 50 or 60 next year. Every year we spend a significant amount of money on new trucks and they are always the best possible spec we can find. So it’s a good place to be for a driver.”
Australia Post operates driver and forward facing in-cab cameras in its heavy vehicles.
The trucks are equipped with MyFleet telematics and the Volvo Connect (formerly Dynafleet) system is used for matters like service scheduling.
Electronic Work Diaries from a number of providers are being trialled as part of integrating various technologies.
There is a very robust system to protect the drivers should they have any concerns. Australia Post is very risk adverse so if a driver reports a fault with a truck, that vehicle is taken off the road immediately and the fault is resolved, rather than waiting for it to be looked at during the next scheduled service.
“We want to be market leaders in safety,” James Dixon says. “It’s more compliance and innovation, but it’s making the network safer and the senior leadership team are very supportive of it.”
Most of the Australia Post passenger car fleet has already been changed over to hybrids as the best solution, at present, until charging infrastructure becomes more widespread and accessible.
Opting for the Euro 6 exhaust emission standards in the new FH Volvos is yet another indication of Australia Post’s commitment to environmental reform, as is the transitioning to more electric vehicles across the entire operation.
Fuso eCanters have been joining the fleet and more zero emission vehicles will be commencing trials during this year from SEA Electric as well as from Volvo.
An electric Volvo FL fitted with a rigid body will be subject to extensive testing in the Brisbane area during this year.