Better safe than sorry

Diesel Workshop visited Nolans Interstate Transport’s workshop, where Craig Roseneder himself laid the foundations for the current Trucksafe regime some 20 years ago – and it’s still setting the bar high.

Nolans Interstate Transport is one of those iconic fleets whose distinctive livery makes them easily recognisable all over the Eastern seaboard. Based in Gatton, Queensland, the company has been in the transport game for more than a century.

The business became truly national when Terry Nolan was at the helm, from the 1970s until he passed away last year. The fleet grew fast during his tenure at the helm of the business, in line with the Australian economy. What also developed during that time was an increased emphasis on safety, especially when the first accreditation schemes came up in the early 1990s.

One of the early adopters was Nolans. The workshop manager at the time was Craig Roseneder, a pioneer in creating a robust system to ensure there were safe trucks on our roads. As a direct result of Craig’s hard work, Nolans’ membership number for Trucksafe is 001.

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Today, the fleet’s maintenance is in the hands of Jim Gleeson, who manages two workshops, both in Gatton, and is tasked with keeping the fleet on the road 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The fleet is mainly concerned with shifting fresh produce around the country on timed deliveries, so reliability and punctuality are critical.

Jim does not come from a transport industry background, however. He started off as a boilermaker and spent some time working for Wagners, a company active over a wide spread of sectors, in nearby Toowoomba. The work involved working on trucks and trailers, but also a large variety of other equipment.

In his diverse career, Jim spent time working in Hong Kong building the new airport and, later, managing an engineering project in Russia. On his return to Australia, the chance to manage the workshops at Nolans came along and he took it on. “This opportunity came up and, although this isn’t my major background, it’s another challenge in my life, and you’ve got to keep challenging yourself,” says Jim.

“It has been a big learning curve. But even without having a freight transport background and experience, it’s been great. With Terry Nolan, you couldn’t go past him with his experience and knowledge in the industry. Then I had the help of Pat Lay, the previous manager, to help me along the way.”

According to Jim, the two workshops can be tricky to manage. The interstate workshop is two kilometres out into the country from the main Nolans depot, on the edge of Gatton. The workshop on the main site concentrates on the local trucks, those dedicated to bringing the produce in from the local area before loads are consolidated onto trailers for delivery further afield.

Major jobs on trucks like diffs and clutches are also handled in the depot’s workshop, freeing the larger interstate site up to concentrate on a fast turnover of trucks and getting them back out onto the highway.

Nolans like to do the majority of their mechanical work themselves, but do use third party workshops when the situation demands it.

The age of the local fleet has been coming down in recent years, as the trucks have been turned over and replaced with those retiring out of the interstate fleet. Body trucks are bought as new, and local prime movers still function after passing the million km mark; some get re-powered to do the job.

“We have been able to take a step back with the preventative maintenance,” says Jim. “With the old F12s and F16s, we used toget them in every fortnight, religiously. Now, with the newer stuff, we can let it go for the month and then get it in. That’s with the servicing side, but we do stress the point that if there are any issues, the truck has to come back straight away. Naturally we also look at the kilometres they are doing and the reliability of the gear.

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“On the interstate fleet, which is predominantly Volvo, we get a service interval of 45,000 km on the B-doubles and the singles at 60,000 km. That’s a long period, but they have good filtration on the engine. The trucks with Cummins engines are now on a 40,000 km interval, but the older ones are back to 20,000 km.”

With the B service out at this kind of clicks, the A service is an important catch-all to keep an eye on the trucks. The A service happens at 10,000 km and involves a good examination of the truck, greasing the turntable and effecting any repairs requests. The mechanics can get underneath the trucks and have a look around, trying to spot the telltale signs of problems. Trailers are also brought in every 16 days, which equates to around 10,000 km in between servicing.

“We’ve got pretty good preventative maintenance in place,” says Jim. “We get the gear through regularly and have an eye over it. Our work is express, so we limit the chance of breakdowns. We know anything mechanical always has a chance of breaking down. Down the road, both the Volvos and Kenworths are well-backed, so we can get them fixed okay. Our problem is the freight being delayed.”

In terms of monitoring the performance of the fleet, fuel figures are constantly watched, as well as reviewing maintenance costs through the business’ Translogix database. Each item coming through the system is logged to a particular piece of equipment to enable real costings to be ascertained.

Monthly fuel figures can be cross-referenced with when maintenance work has been done. This can give an indication a truck may be due for a tune up or intercooler test, or whether there is a driver issue. So far, the data is not correlated with the masses the truck is pulling.

“We get stuff like fuel burn, brake applications, economy. It helps us compare them to the trucks we already have. It takes quite a bit of time to go through that and decipher the data. But it is important to be on top of this kind of thing.”

“We have got five of our Volvo trucks monitored by their telematics,” says Jim. “We get stuff like fuel burn, brake applications, economy. It helps us compare them to the trucks we already have. It takes quite a bit of time to go through that and decipher the data. But it is important to be on top of this kind of thing. We pay a lot of money for these vehicles and we need to get the most out of them.

“Downtime is one of my driving forces. That’s when I get my backside kicked. We have to reduce it as much as we can. So, we have got to make smart decisions pretty quickly when there’s an issue – is it something we can attack or something which has to go back to the dealer? We have a look at it and if we are not sure, we send it to them. They have systems in place to sort these issues out. We have to turn that truck around. The driver will be due to go out in it this afternoon, we have to address it.”

The Nolans fleet stands at around 140 trucks these days, along with over 250 trailers. It has grown steadily in recent years, even in the face of increasing competition, both in the local area and nationally.

The first life of a new prime mover at Nolans will take around four years and a million kilometres. At the end of this period, the truck is assessed, either for resale or to be placed elsewhere in the fleet. Usually, around four trucks a year are moved over into the local fleet to keep it fresh.

There are 10 people on the floor in the two workshops. Add to this fridge repair specialists, boilermakers and an on-site panel beater. The team includes five fully qualified tradesmen along with two apprentices and three technical assistants. The back room team administering the workshop and stores adds another four to the team. All of the work is covered during a single day shift, but start times are staggered to cover the ten hours or more when the workshop is open.

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“With our two workshop,s we have three supervisors, one for local trucks, one for interstate trucks and the other for trailers,” says Jim. “Trailers are harder than the trucks to get hold of. When the trucks come in, the trailer tends to just keep going.

He adds, “When any job is done on the floor, it is all documented. Anything we are working on can be seen in the data. When a service is done, everything done is listed and can be brought up on my screen. Over a 12-month period, we can look and see exactly what we have done and how much we have spent on any truck or trailer.

“If there is equipment which is interstate and gets a repair, we do the same thing. If a service is done elsewhere, it shows up as purple on my screen, so we know we are waiting for an invoice, which we scan to the job and enter the figures when we receive it. This means we can go back to any truck, anytime and see what was done.

“We also run a manual book on servicing, a sheet for the truck, a manual log book. That all ties in together, so the data can be matched to the repair request book. The request number is included in all of the records of each job we do. When asked, we can marry up each repair docket up with the job done in our system and then pull it out of the manual repair book as well.”

Basically, there is paper work following each truck or trailer, plus paper work following the technician. Administration and compliance can then run reports off the system to match up the data and analyse the operation.

“From where I stand, Trucksafe is a good system,” says Jim. “It sets high standards and I have high standards myself. We need to provide this kind of service; it’s our business. The strengths are in the reporting. Having that paper trail works. I know some people on the floor don’t like all the paper involved, but it is a good thing.

“The roadworthiness of the equipment is paramount. The fact that we do it in house and make that commitment means we will run the fleet to a roadworthy standard. I don’t mind the trucks being pulled up and getting a clean bill of health.”

Tyres are all documented truck by truck as well, says Jim. Two men and two trucks look after the fleet as part of a deal with Beaurepaires. They will go around yards and workshops checking tyres and replace them if needed.

“For the past twelve months, we have really been pushing the tyre pressure issue,” says Jim. “In the past, we were a bit hit and miss. If a tyre is not at the right pressure, we have to ask why and for how long. We have to know if there is an issue with a tyre. We have to make sure they are all working right. They do have a life span and we have to run them as long as we can, but we have to look at cost.

“We run a retread on the middle axle on our trailers. That’s working out pretty good. We are getting a good run out of them. We have a sub-contractor who comes and does our wheel alignments. We also encourage the drivers to communicate with us. If they feel the truck is pulling a bit or there is a vibration, they can ring us. We want them to give us a heads-up on their way home, so when they arrive back, we can have someone here to give it an alignment and get it tracking straight.”

For the past two years, Nolans has also had a roller brake tester on-site, and it’s proving to be a great diagnostic tool for the workshop. Each truck and trailer will go over it at least once a year and the results are affixed to the service sheet. Before this, even properly maintained trucks were getting pinged for brake differential issues, but this problem has now disappeared.

“We have some which fail on the brake tester, but you would never know otherwise,” says Jim. “It might be one brake, or one booster with an issue. We have a responsibility out there on the highway. My worst nightmare is a set of wheels flying off. I’m out on the road in my car and hoping the truck coming the other way is from a company who are as diligent as we are with their equipment.”

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