Smart workshop from Toll

A new workshop, developed as part of a major warehousing and distribution centre on the outskirts of Brisbane, brings state-of-the-art, smart workshop practices to the Toll fleet. Tim Giles finds they do things a little differently in Queensland.

Toll has always had a pragmatic approach to running many parts of the business, using innovative thinking and new technology to improve safety and productivity. Its newly built truck workshop in Karawatha, just off the Logan Motorway as it cuts around the south of Brisbane, is yet another example of a different way to tackle the task of running a fleet.

For the casual visitor, the workshop looks like any other. It is probably bigger than most in the industry and comparable with the kind of workshop facility found in the big city truck dealerships.

The entire Karawatha site is an enormous complex including a new home for Toll NQX as well as the new truck workshop. The 13-hectare site includes a 43,600 square metre depot complex, 2,000 square metres of which is the new Toll workshop for Brisbane. Previously located at Eagle Farm, the Toll NQX operation has decamped out to the South-Eastern suburbs of Brisbane where many new transport related warehousing and distribution facilities are now situated.

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The new workshop is set up purely as a service centre, as opposed to a full repair workshop. The fleets the workshop is looking after are relatively new, mainly requiring regular servicing and some minor repairs, as and when required. Any major work needed on trucks or trailers will be sent back to the manufacturer, with much of the work being covered by vehicle warranty.

However, what sets this particular workshop apart from many others is the way the tasks are handled. Toll employees run and administer the facility, but all of the hands-on tasks are handled by sub-contractors based within the facility, working to safety plans, standards and service schedules set out by the Toll Group.

This method of working has developed from the existing situation, when the operation was based in Eagle Farm. A workshop was contracted to handle repairs and maintenance. What has changed is Toll having built a new warehousing and workshop area a from the ground up, then putting the sub-contracting work out to tender. As it happens, the previous suppliers won the tender in the lead-up to the opening of the facility.

“They are a good crew out there and they do a good job,” says Troy Wynter, Toll Linehaul and Fleet Services Workshop Manager Brisbane. “We are self regulated with the vehicles they work on, so we need to ensure, with the trucks they are covering, all the checks are done. We are confident they are doing that.”

16 people work on the shop floor, overall Marjack Transport Repairs employ 20 on site. Two tyre fitters work on the site, employed by Bridgestone, who manage all of the tyre maintenance requirements of the fleet in the yard. There is also a wash bay, run by Wash It, with a truck washing contractor employing four people.

On the same site, there are just six Toll employees. Most of these are not involved directly in the workshop activities, but work on the fleet side of things, managing maintenance for the broader fleet and other divisions of Toll and dealing with external service providers around the South East Queensland area. Troy’s task is involved in the organisation, monitoring the smooth running of the Karawatha workshop itself.

Toll themselves work out the schedule of which vehicles need to come through the workshop for which type of service and Marjack are simply handed the schedule. The scheduling is set up to enable the workshop to keep on top of tasks. Early in the week is the busiest period, with the majority of the trucks and trailers required to be on the road later in the week. On any day the workshop will often handle around 20 services, but has the capacity to cope with 35 services per day.

“We are self regulated, with the vehicles they work on, so we need to ensure, with the trucks they are covering, all the checks are done. We are confident they are doing that.”

The workshop is open from 6 am on Monday until 2 pm on Saturday. Troy’s main task is to ensure the flow through the facility is as smooth as possible, scheduling trucks, as and when required, to avoid bottlenecks. The other part of Troy’s task is to police compliance and safety in the workshop, ensuring the area is a safe workplace for all involved.

Every piece of equipment within the Toll Group system is registered and maintenance parameters are automatically set. These are monitored carefully and when any work is due, the person responsible schedules tasks needing to be done. The actual piece of equipment could be anywhere in Australia, so it is picked up at whichever location and serviced. If the business unit doesn’t receive notification of a service task being completed within a week of notification, the issue is escalated to ensure the equipment is found, pulled off the road and serviced.

“We’ve got arrival and departure sheets from all of the different depots so we can track things like trailers and dollies,” says Troy. “Each combination is reported on departure and arrival, but also at the gate house, as the vehicles come in and out, they take a log of the fleet numbers.”

The service schedule for trucks is a pretty typical one with an ‘A’ service at 10,000 km, a ‘B’ at 20,000 km and ‘C’ servicing at 100,000 km. The schedule sees most trailers serviced on a monthly basis, but those doing the Perth run come in every fortnight.

Every other Toll workshop around Australia works in a more conventional way, employing its own technicians. The Toll strategy is to move towards a service workshop model where the focus is on A and B services, with other major work handled by the manufacturer. Currently, most Toll workshops (over 80 per cent) are service-only facilities and new workshops will follow this strategy, as they are developed.

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Toll NQX being involved in Trucksafe and NHVAS is a given for a large fleet like Toll. Subcontractors involved in servicing vehicles have to pass compliance information back into the Toll system on things like vehicle defects to ensure compliance. The maintenance accreditation is run from within Toll and Toll NQX using data from the suppliers of services rendered on each vehicle. Reports on outstanding work also go back into the system to be fulfilled later.

“The Trucksafe disciplines were a starting point for us,” says John King, National Linehaul Manager for Toll NQX. “We were one of the early members and we have introduced our standards to gain accreditation. They are sensible and it’s good practice. For example, our driver’s checklist which is completed before every single linehaul trip has been developed based on Trucksafe guidelines.”

Training matrices within the contract agreement with the workshop operators set guidelines for a regular training regime for all of those working on the shop floor. These are specific to the tasks required; the day before Diesel’s visit, BPW had been in the workshop giving technicians a refresher in some aspects of maintenance.

There isn’t a great deal of variation within the fleet trucks which come through the workshop. There are a few main brands regularly seen on site, Kenworth, Western Star and Isuzu predominate, with most of the trailers fitted with BPW running gear. Keeping the number of different brands in the fleet low makes life simple in terms of holding parts and technician expertise for the workshop.

Troy has been within the Toll tent for a number of years, serving his apprenticeship in the Toll workshop in Chullora in New South Wales. He worked his way up to being service supervisor in the workshop before trying his hand at truck driving for a while, and then seeing sense and returning to the truck maintenance fold.

“Not too many mechanics will get a chance to work in a brand new workshop, in their time. They’re pretty lucky to get the opportunity and enjoy it. It’s a good workspace with a double pit and three good-sized work bays.”

Troy is one of many in the Toll organisation who have had a long relationship with the company. In an atmosphere of problems of employee retention for trucking as a whole, and in workshops in particular, Toll seems to have found the formula to get good people and then hang on to them. For many, the opportunity to work in a large, well-equipped and well-run workshop like the one Toll have set up at Karawatha is a far cry from conditions in the past and in smaller, more cramped, facilities.

“The guys on the floor are excited to be working in a new workshop,” says Troy. “Not too many mechanics will get a chance to work in a brand new workshop, in their time. They’re pretty lucky to get the opportunity and enjoy it. It’s a good workspace with a double pit and three good-sized work bays. You’ve got a clean environment with good equipment around them. We are looking to offer good work and service the vehicles to the best standards, so we are looking for an environment where they can do that.”

Troy’s return to a truck workshop saw him starting the all new workshop at Karawatha, working with a clean sheet of paper and setting up a facility from scratch. The operation moved into the new workshop in March this year.

“Walking around the workshop it’s part of my job to identify the high risk areas,” says Troy. “In our workshop, I think the pit is a high risk area. So we have fencing around the whole section and we have a special induction just for people who work in that area. They always need to understand it better. Obviously, no unauthorised people are allowed in there.”

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What Toll have found is that instilling a safety culture in the employees is the most important safety feature. A simple item like the magnetic photo frame which people can put inside their lockers with a photo of their loved ones simply says, ‘My reason for going home safely’. Employees will see the image every day and it just hits home the point of why they are working and how important personal safety is to the family. It seems with an average age in their late twenties, the workforce are less fixed in their ways and willing to take on the culture the company tries to nurture.

“My responsibility is to Toll, to make sure this is a safe place to work, our vehicles are being serviced in the correct way and making sure we are compliant,” says Troy. “I also deal with the invoicing, monitoring times etc. We are always looking for a safer way of doing things. We have regular toolbox talks and I spend time talking to the mechanics, looking for ideas we can incorporate within the system.”

Recently, the whole of the Toll Group stopped for 40 minutes, for everyone to talk about safety in their particular work area. Bringing home the safety culture message and reinforcing employee participation in the process by giving them time to chat about the issues.

“I think it’s a lot about how you treat people,” says Troy. “You explain our idea of where we want this workshop to go. Show we want the best for the workshop and we want you to be part of the team. People are willing to jump on board, they have bought into it. I also think the fact we have moved into a brand new workshop and started a new journey, they understand we are trying to make this the best workshop we can.”

Apart from the regular servicing of the trucks, handling trailers involves working on suspensions, wheel bearings check and replacements, brake relines and other regular servicing. With major fabrication work, the trailer will be sent to the specialists who supplied the trailer. The facility is simply not set up for this kind of work, any jobs handled involve the truck or trailer getting in and out in a day.

“What we are looking for is to service the vehicle, do any minor repairs like brake relines, bearing replacements, gate repairs, curtain repairs and tyre changes.”

“What we are looking for is to service the vehicle, do any minor repairs like brake relines, bearing replacements, gate repairs, curtain repairs and tyre changes,” says Troy. “Anything major, where it might be sitting in a workshop for two or three days, will be sent back to the manufacturer. It’s a fast flow through workshop.”

The Bridgestone team do a yard check every morning, going through every vehicle in the yard, trucks and trailers. If tyres need replacing, they contact the division for authorisation and get them changed out. The afternoon is spent going through the yard doing pressure checks on everything possible, making note of fleet numbers in the process.

Feedback from Bridgestone to the Linehaul and Toll NQX management gives them an on-going snapshot of how tyre performance is playing out in different tasks within the fleet. New tyres are often introduced on a trial basis and will be monitored for performance to assess their effectiveness or otherwise. Data gained can then be shared around other divisions of Toll.

Wash It, who run the truck and trailer cleaning facility, also do work during the week, but most of their task is concentrated on the weekend, when more vehicles are off the road. Toll NQX vehicles all go through the system, while the Toll linehaul fleet will get washed when it is available at whichever location it ends up. Trucks coming in from Perth will get a bath before being sent back over the Nullarbor.

Into the future, the Toll NQX facility still has spare capacity to grow further as the freight task increases. The workshop itself has room in its schedule to handle a bigger throughput as the fleet it is servicing grows.

As a visitor, the atmosphere around the facility is one of calm and the sense of space, both within the workshop and in the apron around it, is refreshing when compared to many workshops. Setting up a system where everyone involved is clear on their tasks and duties within a well structured system seems to be working for Toll in this major new site in Brisbane.

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Back in time Reporting the truck explosion

Author: Tim Giles

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