Last Action Heroes

In the current climate of uncertainty triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, the value of an essential service and those that provide it, has never been more obvious nor of greater importance to the rest of us. LINX Cargo Care Group through road transport, forestry, ports and rail helps drive the Australian economy with services that are essential to whole industries and their networks every day of the week, every week of the year.

With more than 4000 people employed across Australia and New Zealand, LINX Cargo Care Group maintains an efficient supply chain at over 70 sites across rural, regional and metropolitan Australia alone. Its car-carrying specialty arm Autocare and forestry specialist C3 invest heavily in new trucks and trailers to ensure their customers receive industry leading efficiencies while their staff are supported with the latest and safest equipment. Asset reinvestment is chief among the company’s current objectives as its resilience will be key in planning for a better future.

Australian forest product industries supply essential services such as timber for housing construction, kerbside recycling services, manufacturing toilet paper and tissues and, in addition, carboard packaging for supermarket and retail home deliveries.

The Australian Forestry Products Association Chief Executive Ross Hampton issued a statement during the height of the first round of coronavirus mandates in which he implored all levels of government to understand that many essential products and services that communities would need throughout the COVID-19 crisis were contingent on the continued operation of much of the forest industries.

“The Forest Products Industry will proudly work with all governments to get through this crisis,” he said. “But governments must recognise that what the industry provides is a necessity, not a luxury.”

C3, like many businesses continuing to operate in the current new world environment, is adapting to the challenges it foresees in the long term and encounters on a daily basis, by updating its equipment.

In Esperance, Western Australia, the business has invested in expanding their fleet with the addition of five new MAN TGS540 commercial vehicles which transport woodchips to the local port for export.

The fleet, which includes a few Freightliner Coronados, is fully kitted out with power take off (PTO) hauling trailers that are either designed to tilt or built with a moving floor to better suit the port infrastructure.
With two in-field chipping systems for processing logs to woodchips in place for the Esperance operations, each system, in accordance with the business model, is supported by three running trucks.

Eventually when all the procured assets are delivered there will be nine new MAN commercial vehicles in operation according to Trevor Els C3 Asset Manager – Forestry Equipment.

“We like to go for the latest and the most modern where we can,” he says. “If you’ve got a nice new comfortable vehicle that the driver knows is going to be safe and is not going to breakdown when he comes to work that’s key.”

As the MAN trucks are powered by a 12.4-litre engine and feature built-in crumple zones and the latest suite of active safety functions such as ABS and EBS with enhanced driver comfortability, they have proven a popular choice with C3’s commercial vehicle operators.

By investing in the best new commercial vehicles Trevor says it helps the business appeal to the best drivers.

“It definitely attracts better drivers and also helps retain them,” he says. “At a time when road transport companies are finding it tougher to find people that shouldn’t be understated.”

Having the best equipment, Trevor explains, is just as important a factor as negotiating salary when it comes to hiring new drivers. Indeed the best drivers are sought out for their personal assessment of trucks when C3 is considering a new purchase.

Management, upon evaluation of each new truck it tests, goes over a criterion that includes the likes of safety technology and fuel economy, and informs the drivers of what brands they are looking at. Drivers are actively encouraged at toolbox meetings to provide their feedback.

“At the end of the day it’s the drivers who are going to be operating the trucks,” Trevor says.

“We value their opinion very highly. Normally, we task the transport managers to talk to all of their guys for input. We’ll always put one of our top guys in a truck we’re testing and let them evaluate it across different regions to try and get a feel of what they think of that truck. It’s quite interesting how opinions vary. It’s our job to take in all of that information and disseminate it according to our benchmarks internally.”

The process of evaluation, however, takes anywhere between six to ten weeks once C3 invites tenders of the market.

The tender process becomes easier, according to Trevor, each time as the information, in regards to the capabilities of the trucks, is already stored in their system.

C3 also deploys different brands into the fleet to consider its options at different times. That way, when C3 looks to buy commercial vehicles at a later date, the business already has the relevant data on hand, which can be modelled on performance figures over a specific period.

In Albany where C3 relies on a mix of Mercedes-Benz Actros 2658s, Freightliner Coronados and IVECO trucks, it requires additional horsepower for roadtrain application.

These vehicles are rated to 94.5 tonnes. Extra calibrations are performed on the brakes and the chassis in Perth by the OEM so that the prime movers can handle the necessary load requirements. At the Victorian site in Portland, C3 operates mainly B-doubles using, Mercedes-Benz Actros 2658 and IVECOs for the application.

Port access and infrastructure all vary across the C3 sites. In Albany truck and trailers are raised on a hydraulic ramp where woodchips are dumped into a hopper ready for export.

This ramp requires the drivers to separate the trailers as the ramp can only accommodate one trailer at a time. Bigger ramps are in use at the Portland site allowing the complete unit to be unloaded without uncoupling thus speeding up the process for the driver according to Trevor. 

“Without hydraulics on the vehicles you don’t have the issue of hoses and cylinders failing on trucks and trailers,” he says. “So it eliminates that risk as well.”

These conspicuous safety advantages notwithstanding, the efficiency gains have been noticeable as the driver is not  required to break up the truck and trailer combination in the Portland operation and only the once in Albany according to Trevor.

“Our drivers are probably doing it in a much shorter time than a manual system where you would have to unhook,” he says. “It’s probably, as an estimate, saving us around 30 per cent in changeover time.”

In Esperance C3 uses tippers to unload the woodchip on a facility away from the port.

Trailers here have been designed in such a fashion so that they, too, won’t need to be uncoupled.

When investing in equipment C3 will forego having the trucks shipped from a central point to prioritise a local dealership as close to its operations as possible. MAN Truck & Bus, through Penske Australia in Perth, set up agents in Esperance, where they previously had none.

Daimler trucks in Perth also appointed an agent in Albany to support C3 where they previously did not have a presence. While C3 maintains its own workshops, all servicing, where possible, is also done locally. Tyres, spares and fuel is purchased from local companies.

Autocare, LINX’s finished vehicle logistics provider, is the number one passenger vehicle carrier in Australia to all automotive OEMs. With vehicle manufacturing having moved overseas in the last few years, it enjoys a 51 per cent share of the local market, through its partnership with LINX stevedores, Autocare handles the vehicles from prioritisation through to customer delivery and now provides a concierge service to individual residential addresses making it a critical link in the sale of new vehicles to all dealerships.

Historically, Autocare has relied on the Kenworth T359 and the Mack Granite to pull the majority of its car carrying trailers.

Although the T359 formed part of a recent order of 20 new prime movers for Autocare, it has been supplemented by some MAN TGS540 cabover units which were also able to satisfy Autocare’s unique equipment specifications. 

This includes the fitment of a cab frame for loading a car on top of the truck cabin, low profile wheels and adjustments to the fifth wheel location to satisfy height restrictions and steer axle weight limits according to LINX Cargo Care Group Head of Asset Management Nathan Suine.

“The benefit of using the MAN is that it can be deployed to both single and a B-double operation and provides Autocare and LINX with more operational resilience moving forward,” he says.

“As part of our most recent tender process for the 20 new trucks, one of the clear objectives we set suppliers was delivering a step improvement in safety through innovation. There was also an emphasis assigned to total cost of ownership. When we went out to market we weren’t only interested in upfront capital costs, but also maintenance and running costs inclusive of fuel consumption over a consistent term which we set as five years.”

While total cost of ownership calculations helped inform the final decision, Nathan says there was also an emphasis on adopting a model in which they could allocate risks and accountabilities around performance and expenditure.

“Because we are part of the LINX Cargo Care Group we are interested in a prime mover selection that enables us to potentially cascade the equipment at some point along its useful service life into other parts of the group. This is relevant given we also operate heavy vehicle fleets across our C3 and LINX Logistics businesses as well,” he says. “These were some of the imperatives which we set out to achieve in confirming our fleet decisions.”

Trailer manufacturing in the car carrying environment is varied. The builds are considered niche. Autocare Transport General Manager Sam Boardman says car carrying trailers are usually quite bespoke as they combine customary running gear and complicated hydraulics, with mechanical systems and safety interlocks.

The Autocare company fleet comprises of approximately 130 trucks and 300 trailers. The trucks run in rigid, single, B-double and roadtrain combinations, the selection of which is heavily influenced by a number of variables including routes, load type and configuration plus drop-off zone constraints. 

“The design of the prime movers themselves has evolved over time in the interests of interfacing with the various car carrying trailers in our fleet,” says Nathan.” This has been challenged by a requirement to respond to ongoing changes in demographics and consumer preferences.”

That shift, over the last decade, has seen buyers move from smaller passenger cars, in favour of larger SUV vehicles and American style pickup trucks.

Car carrying equipment has had to evolve with these changes. Deck widths and depth capacities have increased in recent years on the car carrying trailers produced by local manufactures including Doric, Transmech and Southern Cross Trailers.

According to Nathan this has changed the way Autocare goes about planning the loading of trailers and identifying what can be placed on each deck to ensure trailer utilisation is optimised. LINX has invested in its IT platforms to help with this.

Telematics solutions have been an area in which Autocare has invested heavily the last two years. Every truck and company vehicle including subcontractors is equipped with MT Data Telematics which has been adapted for use across Panasonic Toughpad tablets.

This way Autocare, using barcode scanning technology, can better error proof the cargo scanning, track delivery and proof of delivery processes it operates. According to Sam all of the company’s chain of responsibility is monitored under this system just as fatigue management, logbook tracking and platforms for exception management go through Hawkeye.

“Overlapping those two tools together has provided us with live tracking for our freight but also provides customers with up to date status on their vehicles and job achievement,” he says. “The next stage of that is really to leverage the in-cabin technology for the driver.”

Autocare is set to invest in the Seeing Machines Guardian technology, currently at the forefront of the fatigue management process for drivers.

For Sam, the next phase of uptake will be interlinking the forward-facing technology with the background systems that the business already relies on to provide greater advanced delivery planning for its customers prior to vehicles arriving here in Australia.

It signifies a major change in technology platforms.

“They’re probably the two key changes for Autocare,” he says.

“We’re at present in the process of trialing it in ten trucks nationally across the group and we’re monitoring data currently with our partners at Guardian. We can leverage that relationship there with MT Data and Telstra while operating those systems in tandem at the moment.”

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