Think Tank

The SAF-Holland Kompensator fifth wheel is an application defining piece of equipment in the road tanker category. SRH Milk Haulage, a leading player in the segment, rely on it so much it’s specified across the entire fleet.
Scott Harvey inspects two Volvo FMs with single tankers.

In the cut and thrust of moving milk tankers between dairies and delivery destinations the conditions that fleets, who specialise in this unique application, encounter are less than ideal.

Heavy loads moving inside bulk tankers on shifting, rutted and often muddy terrain are commonplace. The equipment adopted by these carriers, however, is not.

Because of the challenging operating environment, milk tankers have distinct engineering and physical attributes that have made them particularly susceptible to rollovers — a situation the most experienced of drivers find it often hard to anticipate. Findings from the NTI indicate that tanker rollovers, while not prevalent, account for the highest proportion of such incidents across the industry with dairy tankers found to be 2.4 times more likely to be involved in a major crash than other freight transport.

Being stable is not just a state of mind. Kompensating fifth wheel assemblies have been providing fleets in the dairy industry with significant safety advantages over many years.

For SRH Milk Haulage the use of the SAF-Holland Kompensator dates back to its inauguration in 1996. The product is now in use company wide.

The SAF-Holland Kompensator is a fifth wheel specifically designed to provide both front-to-rear and controlled side-to-side oscillation between the truck, customarily a Volvo in the case of SRH Milk Haulage, and semi-trailer.

Company Founder and Director Scott Harvey says every truck in his fleet of over 70 prime movers is equipped with a Kompensator for the safety aspect alone.

“As the milk is going one way and the turntable is going the other, the Kompensator keeps it more stable,” he says.  “It also cuts down on metal fatigue so the turntable actually flies and doesn’t bang up on your trailer all day.”

High frame stresses are also associated with the gravity shifts that come with accessing farms on unsealed roads in regional areas that have unfriendly access especially for longer combinations such as A- and B-doubles.

SAF-Holland Kompensating fifth wheel assembly.
SAF-Holland Kompensating fifth wheel assembly.

The Kompensator, according to Scott helps distribute the chassis of the truck more effectively on-farm.

“These approach roads are quite undulating,” he says. “Instead of the trailer pulling your truck around it keeps your truck straight. You get your traction in the wet and on-farm it’s a lot better with a Kompensator.”

Because the milk tankers on farm pickup require torsional stress relief, the cradle design of the SAF-Holland Kompensator Mount facilitates side-to-side compensation.

In turn, this allows more flexibility between truck and trailer by reducing torque and twist transfer through the fifth wheel. The double oscillating mounting system is instrumental in reducing stress.

Unlike a traditional double oscillating mount, the Holland Kompensator actually improves the roll stability of the combination by increasing the height of the roll centre of the towed vehicle.

Heavy rains last year across Western Australia and the eastern seaboard, regions SRH Milk Haulage tankers are most prevalent, made the rough going in the green dairybelts even more of a slog.

“Especially where we turn around in dairies and that’s where the kingpin puts stress on the trailer with the metal fatigue,” Scott explains. “If you’ve got a Kompensator, the Kompensator is moving with the tanker on the slides so it’s not actually getting the bending and twisting of the metal which causes the fatigue and it helps keep your four drive wheels on the ground nice and level. So it also gives you a good advantage to pull it out of the slurry or whatever conditions you find yourself in.”

There are presently 68 units in the fleet equipped with the Holland Kompensators. That’s quite a commitment, not to mention an endorsement of the product.

In Western Australia Scott opts for three-inch pins on the roadtrains while in NSW and Victoria the fleet runs two-inch pins.

No middling name in the industry, SRH Milk Haulage is regarded as one of the big four dairy carriers. As a company it certainly stands by its product suppliers. While there are some Mercedes-Benz, Kenworth and Scania prime movers in operations, the predominant truck of choice is Volvo.

Scott Harvey with the new Volvos prime movers.
Scott Harvey with the new Volvos prime movers.

Typically, the operational cycles of the vehicles run anywhere between 36 and 42 months.

That results, usually, in an overlap of older units and new trucks. Fleet replenishment therefore is ongoing given the nature of the product being moved.

Harvest goods like milk not only must be secured to meet loading performance standards but must be temperature controlled at once for time and distance.

In short, SRH Milk Haulage can’t afford any breakdowns. Victoria and Western Australia both have a similar amount of units, approximately 17, with the balance of the national fleet found in the Hunter Valley of NSW.

The bigger A-double spec units are powered by Volvo FH16 in either a Globetrotter or flat roof for Performance-Based Standards. The FH13 540hp is the truck assigned B-double work from Perth and the East Coast.

For farm pickup operations, a Volvo FM13 Globetrotter is specified for single trailers. A recent order of 28 new Volvos is presently being delivered courtesy of VCV Beresfield Key Account Manager Craig White.

In Western Australia, where it exclusively uses Tieman Tankers, SRH Milk Haulage runs bigger eight wheelers that can be loaded under permit. A move from an 8×4 to a new 8×6 120-tonne rated combination is underway.

The tri-drive truck on a quad front trailer with a tri dolly and a quad rear trailer is presently being built and is likely going to be the biggest road milk tanker in the world.

Byford is the tanker manufacturer of choice for its Victorian operations where it runs an impressive 30-metre combination from Phillip Island in Victoria north to Labrador, more than 1800 kilometres away on the Gold Coast. At the home depot in Maitland on the NSW lower Hunter Valley, the fleet is mixed between both trailer suppliers partly for streamlining workshop tasks.

The dairy industry has a history of excellent, but isolated, initiatives to improve the safety performance of transport equipment.

As a transport application it has evolved, largely of its own volition, to find best practice without major intercession from government or industry bodies.

A new preventative safety initiative called Spilt Milk, aimed at reducing rollover incidents through targeted education of drivers, fleet managers and maintenance providers across the dairy transport supply chain, has won acclaim among key stakeholders many of whom were directly involved.

Scott’s daughter, Blair Harvey, SRH Milk Operations Manager, was one of them.

“When you look at it in isolation even though there’s not an industry standard for milk transport drivers you can see with those companies that took part in the NTI workshops that we were all striving for best practice in a similar way,” says Blair. “Safety is a cornerstone of operations and having the best equipment can be critical to maintaining those high standards.”

NTI Transport Safety & Risk Engineer, Adam Gibson and Alan Pincott, representing a third-party, Australian Trucking Safety Services, both visited the SRH Milk Haulage head office.

Volvo PBS combination.
Volvo PBS combination.

The first official discussion with the fleet sought to understand how they recruited drivers and the reasons behind their equipment-buying decisions. Alan also joined some of the senior drivers at the business on their runs in addition to a few of the newer drivers to gain perspective of both sides. Any pronounced differences in their experience were noted.

Blair says it was edifying to read in the findings that the milk transport companies who participated in the study were all, to some degree, on the same page with regards to how they operated.

“All in all, we discovered we share many commonalities in how we buy the equipment to the processes of putting on and inducting staff,” she says. “They are related in that sense. The better the equipment, the better the standard of driver.”

Having elite equipment, such as the SAF-Holland Kompensator, helps to alleviate the pressure of labour shortages synonymous with the current market.

“It’s getting harder to find drivers in the industry but by investing in the best equipment it helps put you ahead of the game,” says Blair. “Having that upper market commitment to the top manufacturers definitely helps us attract drivers and keeps everyone safer on the road.”

Names like Tieman Tankers, Byford, Volvo Trucks, SAF-Holland and even Guardian, whose Seeing Machines technology was recently adopted by the fleet, makes the processes pivotal to making a hard job much safer and productive.

When it comes to the SAF-Holland Kompensator Blair says the benefits are immediate and long-term.

“The roads are not getting better. In fact they’re definitely getting worse,” she says. “Especially when we’re going farm route, so you definitely see a difference there. You need something that moves with the trailer and not against it. Having a turntable like the Kompensator is a big plus.” Scott agrees.

While the Kompensator commands a premium price point, the widespread use his fleet gets out of them more than covers the cost.

“There’s savings just in the longevity,” he says. “They only have to save you once from rolling over or getting out of the bog and it pays for itself.”

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