Staying Ahead of the Curve

The growing acceptance of Performance-Based Standards (PBS) among Australian trucking operators has elevated the demand for engineering services to develop and certify the increasingly innovative combinations. Smedley’s Engineers is ramping up its operations to meet the market demand.

As the industry continues to gain more confidence in the PBS system and the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) that controls it, more innovative larger PBS combinations are hitting the roads around Australia.

While the relatively straightforward designs and route access requirements have made truck and four- or five-axle dog tipper combinations the bread-and-butter of the PBS Scheme since its inception, new larger combinations like quad-quad B-doubles, split axle group tri or quad semi-trailers and over 30m A-doubles are becoming more popular.

According to Robert Smedley, the Managing Director of Melbourne-based Smedley’s Engineers, these three combinations are starting to cause more interest in terms of productivity benefits among operators.

“We’re seeing in the split quad semis as much payload mass although not quite the payload height of standard B-doubles,” Robert says.

“Innovative combinations such as these are not as easy to get on the road compared with truck and dog combinations where access requirements are still rather complicated, particularly in Victoria. ERH Refrigerated Transport is a Victorian based company that runs a number of split-quad semi-trailers.

“The NSW and QLD permits came in within one month but the Victorian permits took well over six months to be granted, which meant it took a lot of effort on our part to get these combinations on the road,” he says.

Robert says this is a good example of how an organisation such as Smedley’s Engineers – that covers everything including access permits, assessment and certification in-house – can make the whole process much less complicated and achieve better outcomes for operators than if they tried to organise everything themselves.

“We have a lot of experience with the access requirements of PBS and are able to manage the whole PBS process every step of the way in a very streamlined manner,” Robert says.

In line with many businesses connected with road transport, Smedley’s Engineers has actually seen a marked increase in its workload this year, as opposed to other industries that have been plagued by the detrimental effects of COVID.

“When COVID first hit there was a lot of uncertainty because no one really knew what was going to happen and whether or not road transport would be deemed an essential service,” Robert says.

“Especially from a consultancy point of view and in regard to vehicle inspections and certifications there was a period of a month or two where we weren’t sure which way it was going to go. Nevertheless, we kept ourselves busy, but our revenue for that two-month period was probably the lowest we’d seen for about two years.”

Robert says after the stimulus packages were announced by the Federal Government the rate of enquiry and subsequent business growth quickly bounced back and has stayed buoyant ever since.

“We have seen a 40 to 50 per cent growth in the amount of work coming in this year and in the month of October we employed three new engineers, bringing our total number of engineers to ten,” he says. “Even with three additional engineers, we are still struggling to catch up with the backlog of work, meaning we will probably need to employ another engineer before too long.”

ERH split quad axle semi-trailer with 28 pallet cargo capacity.

Robert mentions that being a member of ARTSA-i means he’s across all the new truck registration data which shows there’s been a significant slump in new truck sales this year. He contends that the rise in workload his company has seen this year in the face of a downturn in new heavy vehicle sales indicates that PBS uptake is well and truly on the rise.

“New vehicle registrations are down but PBS approved vehicles now make up an increasingly larger proportion of the overall truck market and this is a trend we expect will continue,” Robert says.

“Further to this,” he adds, “we believe our market share in terms of PBS approvals and certification work has increased markedly this year because we as a business are a lot busier this year compared with 2019.”

Robert concludes that the growth and operations of Smedley’s Engineers is being carefully monitored to ensure the high standards of customer service the company is known for are maintained as employee numbers grow to meet the increased demand.

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