On a global scale, Cummins has forged an enviable reputation as the leading supplier and supporter of heavy-duty engines in a variety of applications. Paul Matthei recently toured the company’s Brisbane branch to find out more.
What are the factors that have made Cummins the undisputed leader in the heavy-duty engine market? It’s an interesting question and there are obviously a variety of reasons why this is the case. When it’s all boiled down, two terms stand head and shoulders above the rest, product quality and product support.
On the first front, Cummins’ product quality has been continually evolving since its formation. Yet no matter how well an engine is designed and built, inevitably there will be problems and issues which arise due to unforeseen circumstances and normal wear and tear. The way in which a company deals with these things to the satisfaction or otherwise of its customers forms the backbone of what is broadly known as product support.
Looking at this from a truck operator’s perspective, particularly an owner-driver who has one truck from which to derive income, having a truck working efficiently and consistently is absolutely paramount. Unscheduled downtime has a huge impact on the truck’s earning potential.
Diesel Workshop headed out to Cummins’ Brisbane branch at Carole Park. It is ideally located for road transport operators, being only a few minutes from both the Logan and Ipswich motorways which carry the bulk of traffic heading west from the Gold Coast and Brisbane.
As for the facility’s layout, there are two distinct sections. The truck workshop comprises 15 bays and is under the same roof as the office and reception areas. A separate building adjacent to the primary structure houses a dedicated engine rebuild facility known as the Master Rebuild Centre (MRC).
One of two such establishments in Australia, the other is in Perth, the MRC caters specifically for the larger Cummins engines used in mining equipment, power generation and marine applications. These range from the QSK19 19 litre in-line six through to the QSK78, a 78 litre V18.
There to give us a guided tour was MRC General Manager, Alan Routledge, who explains that the centre provides a service exchange program for the likes of mining companies which have scheduled change-out intervals for the engines powering their equipment.
“Mining companies don’t wait for their engines to fail,” says Alan. “After they complete a predetermined number of running hours or fuel burn they are replaced with a remanufactured unit.
“We work with the mines at the branch level and basically have the remanufactured engine ready to go when they need it.”
It’s a finely tuned program that works on a just-in-time basis. Between the two branches in Perth and Brisbane a large support bank of remanufactured engines is maintained to ensure supply keeps up with demand. When the changed-out engines return they are either torn down and rebuilt immediately or stored in their ‘dirty state’, depending on customer requirements for the particular engine.
The rebuild process occurs in three distinct phases, known logically enough as P1, P2 and P3. P1 involves disassembly, cleaning and inspection, P2 entails the entire rebuild process and P3 is the dyno testing each engine undergoes to ensure everything is right for re-entry into service.
At the teardown stage each part is thoroughly cleaned and checked against reusability guidelines to determine if it is good for another round. Major components like cylinder heads and turbos are shipped off to specialised facilities in a number of different countries where they are remanufactured.
As for the assembly procedure, it’s a very efficient production line affair with the engine blocks initially bolted to futuristic red ‘rollover’ stands enabling the technician to complete each task while standing beside the engine. Computer screens sequentially detail the exact procedures needed to be undertaken for each individual engine, ensuring nothing is left to chance.
“This computer system is probably the best advancement we’ve made in the MRC over the last few years,” says Alan. “The details of each engine are uploaded in the office and the computer tracks down all the options and updates that go together to make that particular engine. It sequences each step in a logical order with the complete procedure accessed by the production technician via the computer screen.”
In addition to the overhead cranes used to lift the heavy components into position, an overhead computerised bolt torqueing machine takes the hard work out of this once onerous task. It even has the ‘smarts’ to detect excessive yield or stretch in a bolt during tightening. It also ‘knows’ how many bolts are used to install each component and will sound an alarm and stop operation if a bolt is missing.
As the engines move along the production line they are transferred to different height stands designed to optimise ergonomics for the workers. For example, short stands are used in the section where components such as turbos are installed atop the engine. Long stands have the engines sitting higher for convenient attachment of oil coolers, starter motors and other accessories on the sides of the block.
Each apprentice at Cummins’ Carole Park facility learns valuable engine rebuilding skills by doing time in the MRC. And when they’re asked to go for a ‘long stand’, it’s actually a legitimate request.
After completion, each engine moves into the P3 phase of dyno testing where around three hours of operation takes place. There are two test cells, one with a capacity up to 2,000 hp and the other at 4,500 hp. Computerisation figures prominently withone controlling the dynamometer operation and another directing engine parameters and functions.
Typifying the thoroughness of quality control, there’s an oil analysis spectrometer monitoring the oil while the engine is running on the dyno. Therefore, if an excessive amount of wear metal or oil degradation is detected the test is aborted and the problem rectified before retesting. In reality, though, this rarely happens, Alan explains.
During the visit Diesel Workshop had the opportunity to speak with both the Branch Manager, Sean Hill, and Service Manager, Keith Millington. Sean was appointed to the role of Branch Manager in February this year and has accrued a wealth of experience within Cummins South Pacific. Starting as an apprentice technician at a Brisbane-based Cummins dealer in early 1987, Sean completed his apprenticeship and spent a further four years there before heading west to spend six years working at Cummins’ Kalgoorlie operations.
Having honed his skills on mining equipment, Sean’s next career move saw him hop on a plane to Grasberg in West Papua, Indonesia, where he worked for just over nine years at the on-site Cummins facility servicing the massive Freeport mining operation.
His previous position was as Branch Manager of the Emerald (central QLD) Cummins dealership, a role he held for a little over five years.
Commenting on his time with Cummins and how it has equipped him with the necessary skills to fulfill the requirements of his current capacity, Sean concedes the rapid rate of change within the industry over the past three decades has served up more than a few challenges.
“We’ve seen many changes in terms of technology and approaches to how we do business,” says Sean. “Expectations of the workforce, truck owners and drivers as well as business expectations have all changed dramatically over the years.”
Asked whether this has been a catalyst for Cummins to embrace new ideas and directions in its operations, the answer from Sean was an emphatic yes.
“For sure, we embrace diversity and change but it has to be in the right direction, not just change for the sake of change, and aligning with the company’s core values. Obviously technology changes are ongoing, but there’s also been a substantial shift in the way our people have adapted to new challenges and developed along with the business.”
Sean explains that being an equal opportunity employer is taken very seriously by Cummins and every effort is made to give suitably skilled individuals a place within the company.
“We hire people from a diverse range of backgrounds with different capabilities,” says Sean. “The main requirements are they’re capable of doing the job and we have the appropriate role to accommodate them. We have a diverse range of roles and tasks that need to be done and there’s plenty of different people who can do those successfully.”
As a natural progression, the conversation moved to the topic of female apprentices and technicians, with Keith Millington explaining the company currently employs six females in the workshop, five of whom have completed their heavy commercial vehicle apprenticeships with the sixth due for completion next January.
The customer is a key focus of Cummins and at the Carole Park facility this starts when the truck rolls in the driveway. Called QuickServe, it’s the driver’s first port of call, where the truck is checked over by a technician who diagnoses the problem and reports back to the truck owner within the hour. This way the owner knows, upfront, the diagnosis and time line of the repair and can reschedule workloads accordingly.
“A lot of our work is the smaller jobs where the driver has heard a noise or a light on the dash has come on,” says Sean. “We can diagnose the problem within an hour and let the fleet manager know how long the repair will take. That way they are not waiting for a day to find out the repair would have only taken one hour or at the other extreme that the truck will be off the road for a week.”
Sean stresses effective communication is the key to keeping customers happy. He explains when the trucks come into QuickServe the engine number is checked to see if there are any open campaigns, alerts or updates for the engine.
“We always let the customer know if there are any updates relevant to their engine and ask if they want us to spend the extra time doing the update while we’re working on the truck,” says Sean.
Another initiative the company has implemented is capped price servicing and repairs. Operations like changing turbos or water pumps, tune ups or even a rebuild or engine change-out fall under the capped price arrangement. It’s a feature common to Cummins branches across the country and gives the customer peace of mind that the price won’t change if the job takes longer than anticipated.
“We want our people to have safety as a value rather than just a priority,” says Sean. “Values don’t change but priorities can change depending on circumstances. Cummins has a global initiative called Passport to Safety where every employee is required to complete a nine hour course on safety.”
Another safety feature the company embraces can be seen in its field service division where every technician is issued with a ‘panic button’ which can be used in emergency situations whereby the required emergency services are immediately dispatched. With a lot of work carried out in remote areas, this feature provides peace of mind to the employees and the company.
Diesel Workshop’s visit to Cummins’ Carole Park branch provided a useful insight into the ongoing success of this global company. With an absolute focus on the highest levels of customer service along with an equally high care factor for the safety, health and wellbeing of its employees, it’s no wonder the company continues to remain strong in all aspects of the heavy-duty engine business.