The huge fleet covering most states of Australia has had a long history in road transport since it commenced operations back in 1952, a time when the industry was in its pioneering days and vastly different to what it is today.
Trucking back then was facing huge challenges but in a different manner. Roads were almost non-existent; trucks were extremely primitive and lacked performance, safety and comfort; traffic was sparse and routes between capitals were hardly established. But McColl’s Transport pushed on, growing in size and becoming almost a household name with the Australian community.
In those early times it was primarily a carrier of bulk milk but growth saw the company establish a sizeable fleet encompassing general freight, and enter the warehousing sector as well as expand its liquid transport activities.
In 2011 it is a different story, concentrating on bulk liquid transport only, divesting its general freight business last year, and further expanding to become one of the largest bulk tanker fleets in operation in the country.
Three separate divisions, farm milk collection and transport, bulk food transport between dairy facilities and a chemical haulage are the core business of the company and it operates around 500 trucks in total across most Australian states in a well orchestrated and highly regarded efficient operation.
It places a high emphasis on safety, with stringent work practices and high standards of training ensuring its enviable reputation is maintained – but the company recognises there is always more that can be done to achieve best practice.
McColl’s CEO, Simon Thornton, is the first to tell you that without safety initiatives you might as well give the game away, and he stands by his views steadfastly and is continually looking at ways to up the ante.
Simon is new to transport, in fact he has only been at the helm for 18 months, but was a big user of trucking services while with Case New Holland. He has immersed himself in both the company and the business with passion, placing safety first and coupling it with efficiency, environmental care and a desire for customer satisfaction through the delivery of value-added services across operating divisions.
“They all run together and it is very important that we look for ways to do things better and smarter rather than harder, and improve our performance right across the business. We look for blue-chip customers and we deliver blue-chip services,” Simon says with conviction.
This attention to safety saw McColl’s invest half a million dollars in a mobile truck simulator, designed to ensure the company’s 500 drivers receive the very latest and best in training through exposing them to a wide variety of on-road situations in a controlled manner and delivering practical experience.
The mobile simulator, the only one in the country to be put into operation by a private company, was unveiled by McColl’s Transport and the Victorian Transport Association in a joint push to improve road safety through better equipping drivers to handle emergencies with concise training in varying road conditions and differing emergency situations.
“We will take the mobile simulator to every depot in the country and its first outing was prior to Christmas when it was present at many of our staff end of year functions,” Simon says. “Drivers were keen to give it a go and what was interesting was the fact most of them didn’t realise that by doing so they had actually received training. The reaction from drivers was excellent and it is anticipated every driver, regardless of experience, will gain benefit.”
The simulator is able to re-create almost any situation that could possibly be encountered by those on the road, plus it can be tailored to replicate most truck makes and driveline specifications to fit neatly into the work environment of every driver. Sophisticated computer programming can simulate road conditions through mapping routes and incidents, such as blowing a steer tyre or shifting centre of gravity, and really put drivers to the test.
“One of the major benefits is also training to gain the best in fuel economy. When you have a fuel bill of around $20 million annually even a small percentage gain adds to the bottom line as well as contributing to reducing emissions. With just a small number of drivers undergoing training so far we have noticed a reduction in fuel usage of up to nine per cent,” Simon points out.
This has been backed by National Training Manager Ron Lewis, who points out there has been significant interest from drivers across the company, keen to experience what the simulator can do.
“Drivers of all ages and experience comment they have not only enjoyed the experience but have gained knowledge into the bargain and this is the ultimate aim of the simulator. It is all about giving all of our people the best training we can,” Ron says.
“They are all interested in reducing fuel consumption and the simulator has initiated some competitiveness amongst drivers to see who can achieve the best fuel figures and this may go on to include our subcontractors.”
Despite the size of the company McColl’s uses the services of only 80 subcontractors, saying it likes to own its own fleet, and all of those will also be given training on the simulator.
“Our new facility is an investment in driver safety and we aim to give drivers and subcontractors a minimum of 100 hours refresher training every three years. A recent independent report recommended 80 percent of training could be done in a simulator, confirming our timely and important new Driver Simulator is for the safety of our drivers,” Simon says.
VTA CEO Phil Lovell said road safety for heavy vehicle drivers continues to be a prime concern for the association and industry.
“The chances of a fatality in heavy vehicle crashes is three time higher than crashes involving light vehicles. In addition crashes involving heavy vehicles are estimated to cost businesses and the community close to $2 billion a year,” Phil states.
“We applaud McColl’s Transport for being at the forefront of safety management and compliance and encourage all transport operators to work towards improving overall road safety for the industry and the general public.
An added focus of the Driver Simulator will be education for road authority personnel. McColl’s Transport will be inviting local police, government officials and road authority people to experience first-hand how the simulator operates and the training benefits.
Adding another safety tool, McColl’s also introduced the Co-Pilot system into trucks late last year and intends to have the entire fleet equipped with the system by the end of June. Co-Pilot is a system that records data on every facet of a driver’s shift at the wheel including brake applications, GPS location and time, actual driving hours, engine rpm, road speed.
“This is another tool to improve driver efficiency and aids us, as a company, to be more accountable. We are all accountable for our actions and as a high profile company we do our best to exhibit safe operation on the road. With 500 drivers we want to keep them and all other road users safe and Co-Pilot tells exactly what is going on at any given time,” he says.
“Safety is the first place to start in road transport and we aim to be at the forefront in training and have the best drivers on the road doing a very professional job, extremely reliable and proficient for customers and the community. It is all about reducing the chance of human error.
“McColl’s Transport is a very good company and there are opportunities to grow the business. To do this we must look closely at every sector of the business and manage it accordingly. Two thirds of the fleet operates on highways and normal roads but the remainder runs over what can be described as lousy conditions, add to that that a third of the business is chemical cartage and you can see there is much to consider across our business activities,” Simon comments.
Another strategy the company has introduced in order to further its safety campaign is what is known as The Stop Line. This initiative encourages comments from all company people to contact a 1300 number if something is not right across all sections of the business. A card reading ‘Help keep McColl’s on the straight and narrow – if something is not right let us know’ is given to all employees.
People can make an anonymous call if they consider something needs attention, anything that can have an effect on operations and particularly safety. This gives all McColl’s people an opportunity to contribute to the running of the company, promoting a constant drive to deliver the best in bulk liquid transport and in turn growing the business.
Growth and profitability are encouraged by initiatives such as this, but one of the most strategic moves made by the company was the mentioned cessation of its general freight and warehousing operations last year.
Ensuring its future
McColl’s ran a large fleet of trucks on general linehaul, noticeably B-double inter-capital services, but the very nature of that highly competitive business sector was deemed as being detrimental to the company’s long term future.
“We need to be sustainable so we closed the general freight division as we considered it not worthwhile anymore. It is always a very difficult decision to close a business because it affects people, but realistically it was something that had to done to ensure our future.
“We absorbed as many people as possible into our tanker divisions but unfortunately some had to go, but the move has made us put further effort into expanding our core business, something we are extremely adept at and renowned for. I continue to be excited by the prospects of McColl’s both today and into the future,” Simon tells.
With almost 60 years in operation, McColl’s Transport has put a huge number of kilometres under its wheels and there are plenty more to come, and Simon Thornton is looking to the company as being the very best in the bulk liquid business.
New initiatives designed to promote safety and professionalism, increase efficiencies and maintain the significant profile the company has in bulk liquid transport will continue as part of plans for the future.