Setting up an all-new truck workshop is a prime opportunity to create a state-of-the-art, 21st century working environment. Tim Giles goes to see the recently completed Daimler workshop in Perth.
The opportunity to start with a clean sheet of paper and develop a completely new truck workshop on a new greenfield site doesn’t come around too often. However, when AHG realised its Perth Daimler dealership had outgrown its old home in the transport hub of Kewdale, the die was cast and a new site in nearby Hazelmere chosen.
The old facility was to be taken over by another truck dealership that is part of the AHG operation. As a result, some of the equipment was to be left in place for the new occupants, giving an opportunity for an all new dealership at the new site.
Arriving at the site, the sheer scale of the facility is clear. As the transport industry grows in Perth, it moves to larger and larger sites, further from the centre of the city. The new development in Hazelmere is surrounded by other large, newly built transport facilities, used by the likes of Centurion, Rand and Northline.
Daimler dealerships in the capital cities all over Australia are growing as the group integrates all of its brands under the Daimler Trucks banner. And, with Fuso, Freightliner and Mercedes-Benz all under one roof, it has to be quite a sizeable roof.
The 42,388m2 site has 6.696m2 of workshop area, along with a 1,290m2 parts department and 2,080m2 of office space. Under cover, there are 54 work bays, including three full road train bays as well as five wash bays. Outside, there is parking for 289 trucks and 108 employees. $4 million worth of parts are held on site.
“Essentially, this is three times the size of where we came from,” says Dean O’Reilly, General Service Manager Daimler Trucks Perth. “Before we moved out, we were absolutely at our capacity from a workshop perspective.
“We have moved here and, on the administration side, we have filled every office. On the spare parts side we have room to grow with another four people, when needed.”
All of the brands sold at the dealership are growing on both the truck and bus side of the business, so the need for a larger facility had become obvious. The dealership was already working in a facility too small for its needs, and Mercedes-Benz vans and minibuses are also being added to the offering.
This growth meant the new workshop had to be designed to handle every kind of commercial vehicle, from the small Vito van used by the local coffee supplier to the top power prime mover hauling high mass loads out to the minefields, and across to the city buses and the wide range of Fuso product sold.
The site has to work on a large scale. On the new workshop’s first day of operation a triple road train came into the site and was able to run straight over the new pits, and then drive out the other side when finished.
“This new site is not just more efficient for us, it is also more efficient for the customer,” says Dean. “Where we were before, we could do trailers at a push, but it was difficult. An operator would have to drop their trailer somewhere else, come and get their trucks done and then go back and pick up their trailer. Now we can service both truck and trailer and if they need something like the wiring on their trailer done, we can do that as well. We have five auto electricians here.
“With this kind of new facility, if you build it and build it right, the customers are going to come to you. Obviously, because we couldn’t specialise in every area before, they would make separate arrangements for that. Now, we can go back to our database and say to them, ‘we have new premises and we can now do this, this and this’.”
Nothing came over from the old site apart from the technicians’ own toolboxes. Everything else on site is new, and the list of new equipment is impressive. The entire new development cost in excess of $30 million and no expense was spared in getting state of the art equipment.
The site has two BM Autoteknik in-ground roller brake testers with shaker plates, included in two 28m long pits. There also a number of four-post hoists in different configurations, along with a selection of pit jacks and jacking beams.
The fully reticulated Graco Matrix fluid management system is connected to hose reels shared between service bays. This oil management system is very sophisticated and accessible across the site. The technicians take guns from the gantries and put in their own code plus the job card number and can get the lube relevant to the job they are doing. All together, there is two kilometres of oil and air lines.
Sitting in his office, Dean can monitor everything that is being used from his desktop computer and keep an eye on fluid levels with emails sent to him about stock levels. This data is cross referenced to the service bookings in the system to ensure adequate supplies are in place when a job needs to be done.
“The old days of the dipstick and ‘she’ll be right’ are gone,” says Dean. “It’s been a long ride to get here, but we have made it. We started the move at lunchtime on a Friday and we were fully operational and servicing trucks at 8am on Monday morning. We were actually costing the job cards for customers on the Friday afternoon. We moved the admin staff over and it was business as usual by five o’clock on Friday, and then game on at 8am Monday.
“I give full credit to the 110-odd staff we have. For our customers, we had to work like that, we couldn’t have a week of chaos. In the end, it was a fairly easy move for us.”
After starting his technical career in cars, Dean has taken on a variety of roles, including that of dealer principle at an earthmoving machinery company, before taking on the role at Daimler Trucks. The workshop itself is handling in excess of 1,100 jobs each month.
To handle this kind of flow, the team consists of 34 technicians and 14 apprentices (so far); and the operation is constantly looking for the right type of people to add to the team. Four people are on full-time service advice, plus three more on warranty and fleet costing.
Apart from Dean himself, there is also a Fleet Service Manager and someone employed as a full-time technical support advisor constantly talking to customers in the remote regions in the north of WA and liaising with the agents who handle work on the ground in the area. Three workshop foremen keep an eye on things on the floor, plus two workshop controllers.
“We are in the fine-tuning stage now,” says Dean. “Because we kicked off straight away, at 8am on the first Monday, we had things which weren’t finalised. We are still looking for best practice in some areas, like maintaining and cleaning a workshop of this size. We are adjusting it to get something which gels in our workplace. I think that will go on for a few months, and then we can review the process, probably quarterly, to make sure we are getting things right.
“We are examining everything in detail, right down to our warranty store. With the turnover of jobs we do, every warranty part has to go in the right basket and at the end of every week, the warranty store has to be managed. We have even had a special computer program written just to manage that process.”
The workshop runs shifts starting at four different times, beginning at seven, eight and nine in the morning and then a further shift from four in the afternoon until midnight. This ensures there is cover to cope with different customer requirements. The current Saturday shift is from eight to midday, but will soon be extended out to four in the afternoon.
“The grand vision, looking at it in the medium to long-term, is to see the place open 24/7,” says Dean. “There’s a long way to go yet, but as the marketplace demands that, we will adjust to suit.”
As with any workshop in Australia, getting and retaining staff is a real challenge, and it is no different in a major workshop in Perth during a mining industry slowdown. According to Dean, “good people aren’t going anywhere, good people still have jobs.”
Following a recent advert for a vacancy, Dean received 40 replies, but none of the applicants really seemed to fit the bill, with the right skill set. “I’ve got my core group covered in the workshop, I’ve got a very good group of technicians, from diagnostic technicians to service and auto electrical experts,” he says. “The people I want to add now are those with a specific skill set or with a lot of experience in our areas of expertise. They can bolt onto what we want to do.
“For the van operation, we have a technician joining us from Europe, who has 16 years of experience just working on Mercedes-Benz vans. This allows me to put someone in the business who has got the right experience, the thought process; someone who has seen it all before. Then other technicians and apprentices can bolster around him.
“A van comes in with a noise in the gearbox, he takes it out round the block, comes back in and tells the third year apprentice to take the gearbox out and show him when he has done it – simple. We’ve also recently had a new technician from Holland who used to work for Mercedes-Benz over there.”
When workshops start to get to this kind of scale, the way the system has to be managed needs precision, and processes are the key to achieve it. With Dean overseeing over 1,100 jobs a month, there is very little margin for error. But the sheer scale of this operation means he can attempt to keep everything in house and have a specialist for just about every task.