In the niche but growing domain of high productivity vehicles, bulk transport specialist Kalari, remains a proven force.
Though perhaps less familiar as a presence in metropolitan areas as it once was, the company has, during its nearly four-decade existence, evolved into a kindred outfit to that of the resource sector left largely to its own devices — devices of inordinate power and payload when it comes to designing multi-combination commercial vehicles.
As the business model evolved, moving the company away from its origins as an interstate freight carrier, much of its work has become more specialised and while the sightings of its distinct yellow and orange trucks are less frequent on major highways, the fleet over time has not dissipated but rather relocated to remote areas where resources are more commonly found. Kalari, to this day, maintains a national presence across the country.
At the company’s spiritual home of Portland, Victoria, it still moves bulk material such as mineral sand and woodchip for export through the Port of Portland.
Since the mid-1990s in keeping with the new direction of Swires Group ownership, Kalari expanded its footprint into Central Queensland, which is now something of a stronghold for the business.
When it’s not hauling coal to train load-out facilities, the fleet is transporting explosives and ammonium nitrate in both liquid emulsion and dry form prill into coal mines along the seam that runs east of Moranbah down to Emerald.
For the past 27 years Kalari has had a presence in South Australia where most of its operations are concentrated around moving bulk products which include commodities like sulphur, cement, acids and various other dangerous goods into BHP Olympic Dam north of Roxby Downs.
On the return journey it moves copper out of the mine on dual loading vehicles going both ways, daily. The company also runs some pneumatic tankers and acid tankers around the Adelaide region for other customers. Out at Ceduna, a remote fishing village on the west coast of the Eyre Peninsula, Kalari transports mineral sands.
It’s largely gruelling point-to-point work involving new Kenworth T659s pulling super quad combinations approved under the Performance-Based Standards scheme two hours on the flat between Jacinth-Ambrosia, a mining site still missing from most maps, to the deep sea port at Thevenard, where there is two berths each capable of handling ships of 198m length overall.
Aside from its impressive logistical infrastructure the town’s local Greek community lays claim to having introduced Barramundi, as a cuisine, to the rest of non-indigenous Australia.
Out on this frontier, with the exception of the whales and sharks, there’s nothing as imposing as Kalari’s super quads. These colossal units are operational 24/7 picking up product from the remote mine and bringing it back to port.
High productivity vehicles or HPVs for short have been a big part of Kalari’s business since its Fleet General Manager Darren Whyte joined the company back in 1994. “The PBS scheme is something I’ve been involved with for nearly 27 years,” he says.
“We’ve always tried to differentiate ourselves in those tasks moving those products on the most productive vehicles we can come up with but also on some of the safest vehicles we can come up with.”
Given its critical import within the business, safety also permeates the role to which the higher productivity vehicles have risen to predominance. At the Ceduna operation, Kalari runs its super quads at 185 tonne GCM.
The commitment to safety on these vehicles is personified, for one example, on an enhanced step design for access/egress that incorporates the removal of a fuel tank on the driver side.
The team at Kenworth and in particular the Barry Maney Group helped to achieve this unique design. To get the vehicles to where they are now in SA has itself been something of a journey.
Repeated refinements have been made to the application over the course of those last 12 years. “Initially everyone was running double roadtrains. Then we got approval to operate triples with tri-dollies,” recalls Darren. “Back in those days in South Australia you could only have bogey dollies south of Port Augusta. It was a bit of a coup to run triples plus obtain the tri-dollies in one fell swoop and that’s how we got started on the contract out there.”
Naturally, the task progressed. At first Kalari were achieving a payload of around 90 tonnes.
A move to a twin-steer configuration resulted in an increase to 96 tonnes before the team settled on the current super quad with four trailers, three dollies. “We’ve now got those operating at 185 tonne GCM on the same job,” explains Darren.
“Over the years we’ve developed a pretty good relationship with all the authorities. Working with the likes of DPTI in South Australia, who have been extremely good to work with and the NHVR, but also councils and local authorities. We’ve worked with those guys to ensure we get not only the most productive vehicle, but the safest vehicle on the road we can.”
Credit must also go, according to Darren, to the local team lead by Glenn Dunn and Jordy Grills for the way they have helped ensure Kalari has worked closely with the local community.
“They are key to our success within the region,” he says. “Our Continuous Improvement Specialist, Bill Natt, is the lynchpin between Kalari and the authorities. He’s our PBS specialist.”
The super quads are being pulled by Kenworth T659s that are equipped with locally designed and manufactured Dana D52-590 tandem axles, one being fitted with the Full Time Pump.
Suited for heavy applications, these differentials are available across all gross combination mass ranges with complete coverage for Tandem and Tridem Axle Sets.
Dana has come on board especially for these HPVs, making it the first major differential purchase Kalari has made of Dana in some time. The companies have always had an association but not necessarily in this space says Darren.
“It’s a very unique thing these units and many of the approvals we get in the industry nowadays, particularly when it comes to PBS, are very route specific,” he says.
“When we designed these vehicles, it was based on the terrain and a specific point A to point B assignment. Dana are really the only one who could supply the diffs we needed for this particular vehicle to meet the criteria we were looking for at the time.”
In this application length issues were certain to arise. Restricted to 49 metres, Darren needed to balance that limitation with a critical requirement of maintaining the trailer capacity in order to get the payload as advertised.
The topography is free of the type of grades that forbid the drivetrain from engaging properly with the load. Opting for a bogey drive therefore made sense.
A fixed drawbar dolly is preferred for enhanced stability. General Transport Equipment in Western Australia developed a design in which a Ballcock coupling, similar to that which is seen on a low loader, is used to bring the pairing further forward over the centre of the back tri-axle.
From a performance point of view Darren claims they have been incredible. “They perform really well on the road in terms of all the PBS standards that they’ve got to meet,” he says.
“When you follow these things down the road they track extremely well. They basically snake up and down the road like a big centipede. The design has been in use for a few years now. They’re pretty well proven.”
The Dana D52-590 Tandems were introduced in 2019.
As the Full Time Pump is externally mounted to the Drivehead, it pressure-feeds the oil directly to the critical bearing and gear surfaces, eliciting a reduction in oil temperature and crucial extended oil drain intervals.
With constant lubrication supplied to all moving gears, the Full Time Pump has been designed to improve the longevity of the drivehead. “You’ve also got to put that into context of the application that they’re running in regarding the weight that they’re pulling,” says Darren.
“The extra lubrication will help. The first group of trucks didn’t have it. But the last one did — and we expect to see a difference in that for sure.”
With respect to the Kalari duty cycle, the team is only just starting to pull out the tandem sets for what Darren calls a ‘freshen up’. Particularly, the front diffs and the rear diffs, before each is again fitted.
“There’s a couple of checks that Dana requires of you in terms of service for pinion end float,” he says.
“Overall, we’re reasonably happy with how they are performing. In general Dana’s ability to support us has been good especially from a training perspective. If we have had any issues their support in making sure that we get a speedy response has been excellent.”
For Kalari it has to be as the operation is at the mercy of being in a remote location.
“Ceduna is eight hours from nowhere. Having the support of your suppliers is really important in these sorts of environments,” says Darren. “Particularly when you have a high utilisation task like this one.” That goes for most of Kalari’s commercial vehicles which will, as a matter of routine, clock upwards of 300,000 kms a year. Operating 24/7, the Kenworth super quads stop every 7,000 to 8,000kms on the fortnight for a service.
Should an issue be encountered on the high productivity vehicles it demands immediate attention of the team being as they are so unique the closest, approximate replacement vehicle in Ceduna offers around 40-tonne less in payload.
“We just can’t get a subcontractor to do that work. For starters, providing we can find one, they are down to an AB triple which is only good for 70 tonne payload,” says Darren.
“Obviously, you’ve got to have the ability to back these trucks up very quickly and Dana’s support has been pretty good. Jock Pickford and Peter Verde have been great.”
Duress on the HPVs requires Kalari to take something of a modified approach to vehicle replacement that otherwise might be more aggressive in contrast to conventional commercial vehicles.
It’s a strategy under constant review.
In the past Kalari would have run the vehicles, expressly in this application, to as high as 1.2 million kilometres before turning them over.
But as the occasions to improve vehicle payload have presented themselves Kalari has seized the opportunity to upgrade the prime movers, accordingly, notes Darren. “Our strategy at the moment, particularly with the Kenworth product, is to run them even further in their duty cycle,” he says.
“For example, these trucks were upgraded to 185 tonnes this year and the previous trucks we had were around 140 tonne GCM so we actually upgraded those trucks around 800,000 kms in their duty cycle because we got an advantage in the payload meaning we can use the other trucks somewhere else. Our business is dynamic like that. We’re always looking for opportunity to increase the productivity of the vehicles and that sometimes can dictate when we will change a vehicle out and we then might move to another application.”
The current plan to extend the duty cycle of the vehicles is complemented by making use of robust, competitive maintenance data to help determine the decision is the correct one.
In some, admittedly more outlier, cases Kalari have waited to hit 1.5 million kilometres before vehicle replacement. Again, Darren reiterates his resolve in doing so is wholly contingent on application and supplier specific considerations.
“With the Australian-made Kenworth product we can do that,” he says. “We’ve got some really good data now particularly around the Kenworth product in terms of how far we can go with the life on a Kenworth. Our data is telling us that the product is open to extended duty cycles for sure.”
Under the present circumstances, strategy for maintaining equipment is going to merit further scrutiny among already vigilant fleet managers.
While extending the life of vehicles might be a way of mitigating against supply chain disruptions, Darren is reviewing data streams for a varied group of highly specified vehicle combinations that don’t exactly lend themselves to generic kinds of analysis.
“We’ve found, having done direct comparisons, what works for someone running a Tautliner between Melbourne and Sydney is chalk and cheese to what we’re doing. Once you get up into that high end GCM bracket and, even with PBS itself, you do get restricted a little bit more in terms of what your options are,” he says.
“At the moment the supply chain is very difficult for everyone. It’s definitely going to influence how fleets change trucks. We’re mindful of it, but it’s uncharted territory. I’ve never seen delivery times this long. It really is unprecedented.”