Looking for a lean workshop


Running a large workshop in Perth means the facility has to be able to cope with any kind of truck, from the smallest to the biggest units in a fleet like Toll. Tim Giles talked to one of the main Toll operations in the West.

When looking at the issues around running a large workshop within an organisation as big as the Toll Group, it’s clear the facility needs to be able to work with trucks of every size – from the large linehaul prime mover down to the much smaller local delivery truck. Go to the West and the spread is even wider, with road trains and city delivery trucks sharing the roads in and out of the major transport hubs.

Based in the Perth Airport precinct, the Grogan Road workshop sits next to the massive Toll Express distribution centre, from which loads are sent all over WA and the Territory. It also serves as a base for a number of Toll Linehaul trucks. Other divisions of the Toll network are nearby and able to use the facility.

“We are primarily here for Express, who are right next door,” says Roy Thomas, Regional Manager WA & NT Domestic Forwarding. “But then we try and look after as many other customers within Toll as we can. Long-term, the plan would be to have one large workshop in Perth and then other satellite workshops where we need, able to do smaller day-to-day maintenance.”

When it was built seven years ago, the workshop had more capacity than would be required just to service the Toll Express fleet. The intention was for it to become a servicing hub for a number of Toll divisions in Perth.

Up to 20 trucks can come through the workshop on any given day, but five or six would be serviced on a normal day. The workshop will handle any job, from the broken globe on the trailer to major repairs. Warranty and tooling issues means the major component work will tend to go back to the manufacturer. Engine rebuilds can be done, but don’t happen very often. The workshop has two full size pits set up with rolling roads for brake testing, as well as a suspension shaker.

When it was built seven years ago, the workshop had more capacity than would be required just to service the Toll Express fleet. The intention was for it to become a servicing hub for a number of Toll divisions in Perth.

Roy began his career at Australia Post working as a mechanic, coming off the floor after a knee injury and rising to the position of a fleet manager. He later moved across to heavy-duty gas and liquids specialists Mitchell Corp in nearby Kewdale. When the operation was bought out by Toll some years ago, he moved over to the new company.

“We have made a lot of changes here,” says Roy. “We had a lot of inefficiencies and we had to work on quality issues. We have been working on this the past two or three years to win the work from other divisions. They are not being told they have to come to us. We need to be able to stand alone, as if we were just another workshop. If you can prove you’re a viable business, it makes life a hell of a lot easier.

“What we’ve used as a platform to accelerate the process is running everyone here through Competitive Practices and Systems training. People in management are doing the diploma and everyone on the floor, and the support staff, are doing a Cert IV. It’s a general training in the basic principles, but they apply it to what we do in the workshop.”

This process has seen the technicians coming back with suggestions about how to improve efficiency all over the workshop. The training in lean processes has given them the tools to question practices within the workshop, and come up with improvements.

“There are things that I have seen we need to fix, but if I just say it needs to happen, it can take a long time,” says Roy. “However, when the guys are asked what are their frustrations, in the training they work out themselves how to improve processes and carry it out. I just stand back and see all this really good stuff happening. It’s great.”


It also gets the technicians further proficiency, making them more employable in the future. It’s a broader qualification, on top of the simply technical ones, showing breadth of training, creating a better CV. The training has been an integral part of getting real efficiencies in place quickly.

“Having the guys thinking about the way they conduct a service works,” says Roy. “They thought it was impossible to bring the time down to the level some of our competitors were doing it in, but when they follow this as a project and map it all out, put it into a logical order, they actually shave the times right down. The savings come from lots of little stuff. With the B service, it was just a matter of thinking about the way they did it. They are doing the same service, but doing it in a different order.

“There’s also been a lot of good work done by the guys, just in tidying things up. It’s hard to map how much we have saved out of that, but it would be huge. The amount of time we have saved, just by placing tools better is great to see. It just makes the guys’ jobs easier for themselves, they are having frustrations removed.”

Altogether, the facility has 22 technicians out on the floor working in two shifts. AM shift starts at six or seven in the morning and the PM shift come in from 2.30 to 10.30. The recent move to a 10.30 pm finish has meant the workshop can better handle the pick up and delivery fleet in the evenings. The technicians are supported by a support staff of 10, including the stores staff.

“We’ll take them on board, do their maintenance and repairs, as well as managing any other repairs by specialists for them, and all at the lowest possible cost.”

“The change to 10.30 has made a huge difference,” says Roy. “It’s cut down overtime on weekends, which has cut down costs, as well as being better for the customer. They don’t have to wait until the weekend to bring a truck in. We are finding it’s a really big win for Toll, as a group.”

The recent downturn in the mining industry has had a beneficial effect for the workshops of Perth. Advertising for a diesel technician now attracts a higher standard of candidate. A number of jobs have disappeared in the fly-in-fly-out sector, which had attracted many of the more skilled workers in boom times.

Apprentices are always coming through, but the recent economic downturn has seen the number reduce to just four in the current set up. The company is keen to ensure the technicians working on the floor can see that there is a career path available to them if they are looking to move up into a position of responsibility.

The workshop handles trailers as well as trucks and most of the time the trucks are worked on in the general pit area, while the trailers use the other end of the workshop. There are 600 pieces of equipment at Toll Express alone that have to be looked after.


“We have done as much as we can to mitigate risk in the pit area,” says Roy. “We are looking at one more initiative, where we will set up retractable netting, so if someone was to actually fall, they would be caught by the webbing. We want to go that little bit further, to move towards zero risk.

“We also have a portable hoist, which is really handy. You can wheel it around wherever it’s needed. If a truck is towed in, it’s often easier to move the hoist to the truck, rather than the other way round. The pits have six underground lube stations, there’s also more stations up top. We also have an overhead crane to handle any lifting we require.”

The volume of trailers required by a fleet running triples all over the West means there is a lot of variation in the age of some of this equipment. However, the renewal process continues apace with newer equipment replacing old, and having more durable componentry, hubs going out past one million km, for instance.

“It’s great to see the better specs coming in,” says Roy. “It’s safer gear and it’s really good for the group. When it comes to the workshop it’s less work for us. Not just because it’s new, but because new systems are in place. We are now looking at pushing out past one million km on our hubs, the kind of thing we used to do on C services. Our role then becomes more of a preventative maintenance one. There’s fewer major jobs and more routine ones.”

There is a wide range of truck brands coming through the workshop. A lot of the European brands handle work in the Perth region, but the long runs up into the North West are mainly covered by the Kenworth fleet.

“We have to carry quite a lot of spares in house for our North West trucks,” says Roy. “It’s not like the East Coast where they run all the kms, and it’s mainly B-double with the odd B-triple on the Hume. There, help is available quite quickly. For us, it can take 10 hours to get to the breakdown, so it’s critical we do as much as we can, preventative maintenance wise. We probably spend more on the preventative side for those trucks. Essentially, we are servicing them every week.”


These long hauls pulling high masses mean the workshop has kept a close eye on transmissions, avoiding potential failures. The latest trucks on the runs are being fitted with the Eaton Ultrashift Plus AMT and initial signs are the box will have the kind of durability required. Driveline issues have reduced since their introduction.

The combination of Cummins SCR with the Ultrashift is also giving the long distance fleet an improvement in fuel economy. Fuel consumption has moved from 1.1 km/l at top weight, through to 1.36 km/l for the newer trucks.

Three of the team are working within the Toll Express depot itself, handling jobs on site. The workshop handles maintenance for Toll Contract Logistics, Toll Intermodal, Toll IPEC. The next phase of development should see more work done on trucks off site, with staff from the main workshop travelling out to dedicated areas in depots to handle the routine maintenance tasks.

“We’re trying to take away headaches for the equipment managers within Toll,” says Roy. “We’ll take them on board, do their maintenance and repairs, as well as managing any other repairs by specialists for them, and all at the lowest possible cost. They won’t have to worry about that particular aspect of their job.”