Mercury Revs

Operating from the Pilbara Region of Western Australia, the AK Evans Group utilises such brands as Kenworth and Dana to handle the demands its vehicles are required to meet.

The mention of the Pilbara region in Western Australia’s northwest usually evokes two distinct images: red dirt and big trucks.

Since it was established in 2006, the AK Evans Group has amassed considerable experience in both of these.

AK Evans has progressed from specialising in the hire of earthmoving plant and equipment, to a rapidly growing bulk haulage division and an increasing involvement in the construction of renewable energy facilities.

Access to the mines requires roads which can be used in all weather conditions and the construction and maintenance of those vital supply lines requires a spectrum of earthmoving equipment.

Those big yellow pieces of machinery also require transport to and from their hirers’ sites and AK Evans has an extensive selection of floats of up to 100 tonnes complemented by ramp-equipped drop deck trailers and conventional flat top trailers.

Hauling, the often, high levels of mass is a fleet of Kenworth C509 prime movers, many equipped with tri-drive axles supplied by Dana.

In fact, Dana components are specified in bogie drive configurations as well, along with Dana steer axles on single- and twin-steer trucks.

Traditionally AK Evans was a plant and equipment hire company with a few prime movers designated for transporting their own pieces of equipment.

Early in 2021 the company began its involvement with bulk commodities including moving ore. Initially, this was intended to improve the utilisation of trucks and trailers which were often parked and not doing a lot of work between shifting equipment.

AK Evans already had some side tippers which were used mainly in construction work in double trailer configurations.

The first triple was put to work after they moved into bulk ore transport and the winning of a sizable contract, subsequent to that, resulted in the need for ten quad trailer combinations.

“There was a quite a challenge for the business going to triples, and then we won a contract hauling manganese ore for Element 25 and we needed ten quads,” says AK Evans Managing Director, Michael Still.

“We decided that we were going to do it properly and buy brand new Kenworth C509s and new quad side tipper sets. I’m a big believer that a poor man pays twice, so when we were successful in securing our first long term contract we went and secured brand new equipment for it.”

While other prime movers may have been up to the task, the decision to choose Kenworth has led to an unintended consequence in the area of driver recruitment and retention.

“When we spec the trucks we don’t skimp on anything and they really do look the part,” says Michael.

“The Kenworths are also one of the reasons people want to work for us. Good drivers attract more good drivers and by providing new gear morale is good, the staff are happier, and the potential justifies the investment. With what we have committed to, by mid-2023 we’ll have 60 prime movers in our fleet.”

The expansion of the AK Evans operation has been made possible in part due to a focus on the company culture both as a group and from an individual employee’s perspective and the need to care about the well-being of people such as truck drivers.

“We’ve taken some hard looks at ourselves and the leaders we employ, and in our industry getting people who actually ‘like’ people can be challenging,” says Michael.

“Fortunately, we’ve got a very good group of leaders who want to see other people be successful.”

One of the challenges Michael gives to the leadership group as individuals is for them to employ people with the potential to take over their own jobs, which can be quite daunting sometimes.

“They might ask: ‘What if they do take my job?’ Well, that’s great because it means the business is growing and you can grow within the business. We probably have a different outlook and perhaps that’s why we haven’t had any trouble attracting people, including drivers.”

Another attraction for professional drivers is the roster system which is possibly unique in the industry.

The drivers work 12 days on and then they have nine days off, instead of the more common two weeks on and one week off.

“It fits within fatigue management and rather than working them for fourteen days with an RDO in the middle of those 14 days up at a work or mine site, we work to where they can still be within allowable hours working 12 days straight and have their RDO at home with their families,” Michael explains.

MTData and Guardian driver fatigue systems are being rolled out to all of the trucks to ensure the best safety measures are in place.

AK Evans may have grown by being a hire company, but it has also increasingly been asked by clients to be a solutions business.

A key factor of that is running some projects with its own people including operators, supervisors and engineers.

The expertise embodied in the AK Evans team is available to properly manage projects for better efficiencies and in the project management capacity, the company will oversee onsite operations, procurement, subcontractor management and resourcing, which contributes to streamlining the overall construction process.

Future-proofing the business has been secured by making a commitment to the renewable energy sector across Australia and AK Evans has, in the past few years, built recognised capabilities in solar and wind farm civil construction projects.

Renewables has become one of the three core parts of the business joining the equipment hire and haulage divisions.

The expanse of the Pilbara region in Western Australia.

One of the initial projects in the renewables sector has been to build a 10Mw solar farm for Aggreko Energy with Goldfields Mining as the end user.

“That project opened up our eyes to the fact that there are very few mining contractors that had experience in building solar farms, or solar farm contractors that understand mining,” recalls Michael.

“Being in the Pilbara we understand the requirements of working in mine sites and that’s probably why we see a massive future for our business in building renewables. Plus, we are trying to do the right thing and reduce the impact our industry has had on the planet.”

Another successful renewable-focused project has been the Christmas Creek solar farm, which at the time of its construction was the largest off-grid solar farm in the country.

A project on the eastern side of the country has been the 120Mw solar farm at Nevertire, in NSW, which provides electricity to the nearby city of Dubbo as well as to the NSW energy grid.

“We have good partnerships with people who need us on the east coast and the benefits of having our own trucks and having our own mobile workshops and some of our 150-plus staff already based on the east coast, it’s not a far stretch for us to mobilise to even quite remote sites to set up shop,” Michael explains.

“It is something we can do really easily and with flexibility. There is plenty of work in WA but through those partnerships moving forward we will be involved in more projects in NSW and Victoria.”

The Kenworth C509s are powered by Cummins engines with Eaton Road Ranger manual transmissions delivering the power to tandem or tri-drive Dana rear axles, some of which are equipped with reduction hubs.

All are fitted with Dana’s Australian-designed lubrication pumps that contributes to extending the life of the lubricant and reducing internal component wear.

The pump circulates the lubricant to ensure components, which are subjected to the high loads experienced in AK Evans applications, such as power dividers and ring and pinion gears, receive adequate lubrication with the additional benefit of reduced temperatures throughout the entire axle assemblies.

In conditions combining high ambient temperatures with high gross mass loads the Dana drive axles have a distinct advantage provided by the oil pumps over conventional ‘splash feed’ lubrication methods.

“We’re very happy with the service we get out of Kenworth and the CJD dealership. All of our new gear is Dana-equipped and manufactured in Melbourne which also gives us confidence in the product,” says Michael.

“Jock Pickford, one of Dana’s key truck sales support people, actually flew up to the Pilbara to meet with some of our customers to see firsthand the challenges we have up north. We have no Dana-related issues with our trucks and Dana have been really reliable truck components for us.”

Michael has been closely watching the local development of battery electric trucks such as those from Australian company Janus, which uses Dana electric motors/inverters and he looks forward to performing some trials with the concept.

“We are in contact with Janus already because I believe personally that there is a really great future for our business as well,” he says.