Many trucks built in Australia include components from Dana, Australian made products used in Australian made trucks. Dana’s story is one of survival of using smart thinking to deal with a crisis and come out the side with a viable business.
The general media has been full of stories talking about the end of manufacturing, especially automotive manufacturing in Australia. Media reports of the end of vehicle building here ignore a major sector, truck manufacture.
One of the players involved is Dana, which supplies axle, differentials and a number of other products for our trucks. Dana moved into its new custom-built facility in Melbourne’s far west in Keysborough over a year ago.
Previously, the company had a similar sized plant in Campbellfield, dedicated completely to supplying the rear axle assemblies for the Ford car plant. There was also an aftermarket facility and a distribution centre on the site. Axles and other components were also built on another site.
The new facility has been designed to house both the production and design of components for various automotive manufacturers as well as house the aftermarket supply chain to support spare parts for all of the Australian-built Fords still on the road.
A component supplier is expected to support their product in the field for at least ten years after the vehicle has been built. As a result, a significant storage facility is needed just to maintain the kind of supplies needed over the next decade.
“Last year we launched a brand-new Land Cruiser rear axle, which we have designed and built locally,” says Peter Langworthy, Former Dana Managing Director. “It’s a heavy-duty axle we’ve been selling into the off-road market. We’ve also picked up some business in the UK and in other parts of the world, exporting axles we are actually building here.”
Series 70 Land Cruisers have a narrower track on the rear axle, when compared to the front axle. This new axle is a heavier specification, but also has the same track width as the front axle. This adds to the vehicle’s robustness, improves control and enables the vehicle to run at higher masses. It has proved to be popular, especially when the vehicles are being converted to being armoured.
“We’ve got approval to invest another $1 million into this building,” says Peter. “We will now be able to make truck drive heads. Up until now, we have been bringing in all of our truck drive head components from the US and elsewhere. We will be building them locally from mid-2018. We’re bringing in a lot more capital equipment to make our own drive heads.
“Part of this includes some design changes, specifically for the 46,000lb drive head. We are improving durability and reliability of the head. We are also setting it up to suit the Australian market better.
“There are some logistics advantages, as well. We are able to be more flexible within, what is, quite a small window of time by the OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) we supply to. We have to carry quite a broad range of product to meet the complexity of the Australian market.”
With the new production capability in place, the Dana plant will be able to build rear axles and differentials just in time for the various truck production lines it supplies in Australia. This increased flexibility will enable the operation to build to order at relatively short notice.
Dana supply axles, driveshaft, steering shafts as an option for all of the models Kenworth builds in the Bayswater factory, 30km along the Eastlink motorway. The axles can be rated from 40,000lb, all the way up to 52,000lb. Each of those drive heads is offered in 10 or so different ratios. In terms of the kind of notice Dana gets from truck manufacturers, Kenworth gives between two and four weeks’ notice with its needs.
There are variations in ratio, and different suspension brackets may be needed if a diff lock is fitted. Truck manufacturers work out their production schedules and component suppliers have to ensure they have the needed product in the country or have the capability to assemble it in time for its arrival, just in time, on the production line.
“The new capability gives us an opportunity to bolster employment here, as well as looking at savings on the inventory we carry,” says Brad Wolstenholme, Dana Head of Sales and Marketing. “We can maximise our space and localise the build. A couple of the components we’ve adapted and developed locally, so some reassembly has to take place here anyway.”
Thirty per cent of the trucks coming down the line in Bayswater will be fitted with a Dana driveshaft. There are also some steer axles in the mix for Kenworth.
Dana also supplies both Volvo and Mack, built at the Wacol assembly plant in Queensland. One hundred per cent of the trucks coming down the line are fitted with driveshafts built by Dana in Australia. Iveco also sources driveshafts and steering shafts from Dana.
“We have got more build of the heavy product in the last six to eight months,” says Brad. “More than we’ve seen in the last ten years. Road trains seem to be on their way back.”