Moving with the Times

Part of the burgeoning CMV group, Adelaide-based South Central Trucks recently commissioned a new facility that houses all three Volvo Group brands under the one expansive roof. Paul Mathei reports on a dealership that has truly come of age.

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The opening of South Central Trucks’ (SCT) new service centre in Wingfield, South Australia, late last year highlights a familiar trend with truck dealerships across Australia: They are increasingly becoming ‘one stop shops’ capable of supplying the many and varied needs of customers across a broad range of products.

This is of particular relevance to customers who run a variety of different brands and sizes of trucks – from light through to heavy-duty. Being able to rely on a single dealership for sales, spare parts and servicing of all vehicles in a fleet has obvious benefits for customers and dealers alike. Perhaps one of the biggest advantages is in saving time.

In transport, time is money and minimal hours spent in the workshop translate to maximum time treading the bitumen. With profit margins for operators continually under the squeeze, the imperative of timely repairs and service has never been greater.

Having an expansive workshop with drive through access and pits enabling fully loaded B-doubles or road trains to be serviced in their entirety, for example, would negate the need for time consuming splitting of the combinations, not to mention finding space to park the separated trailers.

It was with this and many other goals in mind that SCT set out to create a new tri-branded facility. This involved relinquishing separate sites at Gepps Cross, which were just over one kilometre apart, one for Volvo and the other Mack and UD, and accommodating all three brands on a 4.3 hectare site at Wingfield.

Said to be more than three times the size of both previous sites combined, the new centre boasts 6600m2 undercover, including 3700m2 of workshop space with 39 bays and a pair of five-tonne capacity overhead cranes. In addition, there is room for 70 prime movers to be parked on a concrete pad while awaiting service or pickup.

There is also the capability to simultaneously service four fully loaded B-doubles or road trains over suspended service pits, each with 300-tonne capacity and equipped with integrated VIS brake testers and shaker plates. Oil distribution towers in the middle of the workshop facilitate an efficient and safe transfer of lubricants for servicing requirements, while compressed air is delivered via overhead reels that keep the hoses suspended and out of harm’s way. The workshop fit out including pits, oil and air delivery systems as well as the wash bay was ably accomplished by Hartex Engineering, while JDM Cranes supplied and installed the overhead cranes. The total cost of the complete facility came in at just under $28 million.

The consolidated parts department now covers an area of 1,000 m2 with additional space on a mezzanine level for future expansion. There are over $3 million worth of parts in stock to cover Volvo, UD and Mack trucks as well as Volvo buses, while any parts that may not be in stock are delivered on a daily basis through a dispatch department with three full time staff members.

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A particularly useful feature in the parts department are dual computer screens, enabling the customer to see the same view as the parts interpreter, which may assist in identifying the correct parts.

Naturally, a most important element of any truck repair centre from a driver’s point of view is the lounge area. This aspect of SCT’s new facility has been particularly well furnished, with such features as overnight rooms, Wi-Fi-enabled workstations, plasma TVs, magazines and an espresso coffee machine.

In charge of keeping the workshop running ship-shape is service manager Guy Morgan, who has been with SCT for 20 years and in his current role since 2006. He started out in the service department as a warranty clerk, working his way up through service adviser and after-sales manager roles. Prior to his tenure with SCT, Guy was in the car industry working with Toyota, Honda and Volvo before making the sizeable leap into the big wheels league. It was a move he certainly hasn’t regretted.

“I love the transport industry and I love the trucks,” says Guy. “I love being with the people I work with.”

With obvious pride, Guy describes the way all three brands in the group have been integrated into the new state-of-the-art complex and configured to maximise efficiency. “The facility was built in such a way that we have met all our objectives without cutting corners,” says Guy. “We ran a number of meetings together with the branch manager of our Mack dealership to work out things like the style of the pits and where they would be situated. We then had meetings with the company reps of the products we chose to use. It was quite an involvement, which was great.”

While he admits the transition from being service manager of the Volvo arm of the business to that of all three brands has presented some challenges, Guy is upbeat as he describes the integration as a necessary step in the continued growth of the brands in a highly competitive market.

“My workload has definitely increased due to the sheer size of the new facility and bringing all the people together. I’ve gone from 40 to 92 staff in the workshop, which was a challenge in itself. But, seeing their passion for the brands and the guys getting together to help each other with cross training has been a very positive experience.”

SCT began cross training employees so they can competently work on all three brands, which Guy says has been an integral part of the company’s strategy since Mack and UD were acquired by Volvo, as some of the employees had been working on a single brand of truck for decades.

“Some staff here have in excess of 30 years of service,” says Guy. “So having worked on one brand for all that time and then being encouraged to work on another is understandably difficult. But to their credit the guys have really embraced it and just got on with it, it’s been well received.”

“My workload has definitely increased due to the sheer size of the new facility and bringing all the people together. I’ve gone from 40 to 92 staff in the workshop, which was a challenge in itself. but, seeing their passion for the brands and the guys getting together to help each other with cross training has a very positive experience.”

In addition to the 92 workshop staff, the other divisions of spare parts, sales and administration employ 17, 11 and seven people, respectively. Just as each member of the workshop staff is being trained to work on all three of the truck brands it supports, it’s a similar story in the parts department, where familiarity with the entire range is an integral part of the job description. It’s all about complete functionality within the operation, which adds up to a better experience for the customer.

On the topic of staff recruitment, Guy explains that the company is all for encouraging young people to consider a career in the transport industry. As such, it liaises with a number of schools in South Australia and provides work experience opportunities for students in Year 10 and above.

“We encourage anyone who’s looking to do heavy diesel or auto electrical work to come in and do some work experience with us,” says Guy. “That gives them the opportunity to see what this industry is like and whether or not they want to pursue it. This, in turn, enables us to see first-hand whether the students could be potential candidates for future employment via apprenticeships.

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“Obviously, if we need staff on a more immediate basis we go down the standard route of advertising both internally and externally.”

Laudably, SCT currently employs 19 apprentices at various stages between first and fourth years, many of whom previously completed work experience at the dealership.

“This year we’ve seen plenty of interest from girls,” Guy continues enthusiastically. “We have a couple of girls coming through for work experience which I think is going to be great. We have had female apprentices previously and it actually worked really well. It highlights the diversity of the group. To have a female presence in this industry is fantastic.”

 

TIME SAVING

In addition to synergies wrought from having three brands integrated in one facility, various aspects of workshop operations have been designed to increase productivity by reducing time spent by the mechanics on each job. A great example of this is the electronic parts ordering system, which allows technicians to Request parts from their service bays and subsequently have them delivered without having to physically see the parts department.

Also electronically controlled is the automatic oil distribution network, where the technicians can punch in the details and have the correct amount of oil delivered via the distribution tower at their work bay. A matrix system has been developed whereby all users can log in with an individual PIN and job cards specifying the amount of oil used are automatically generated. This allows Guy to keep tabs on the quantity and type of oils used on a daily basis.

“We encourage anyone who’s looking to do heavy diesel or auto electrical work to come in and do some work experience with us. That gives them the opportunity to see what this industry is like and whether or not they want to pursue it.”

In keeping with the company’s mission to maximise efficiencies in its own operations as well as those of its customers, truck drivers can either drop off or pick up their vehicles for servicing and repairs at any time of the day or night. Entry and exit is safely accomplished via remote controlled gates with a one-way travel system throughout the facility. This goes hand-in-hand with the availability of around-the-clock scheduled servicing to minimise customer downtime and return trucks to the road as soon as possible.

Furthermore, this type of assistance is not only offered within the confines of the dealership. There are four customer support vehicles providing a 24-hour, 365-day breakdown service supporting all brands the company sells.

Returning to the dealership, other features include a service canopy providing under cover access to the service reception when dropping off or picking up vehicles. This is also home to a 5,000-litre AdBlue tank.

The workshop is air-conditioned in the interests of keeping the technicians within their comfort zones during the often-sweltering summers that characterise Adelaide’s climate. It’s also well illuminated thanks to a vast array of energy efficient LED lights, which combine with the reflective quality of the floor surface to optimise visibility. These are examples of how looking after employees by providing optimum working conditions will likely translate to the most productive outcomes in terms of work throughput.

The LED lighting is just one aspect of this state-of-the-art facility, where minimising environmental impact by harnessing freely available natural resources is intrinsic to the overall design. For example, there’s a 100kW solar system on the roof that is currently capable of yielding half the entire site’s energy needs during the day. What’s more, it has the capacity to be increased to 200kW in the future.

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More environmental kudos is found in the drive-through wash bay, supplied by three rainwater tanks with a combined capacity of 310,000 litres. The natural gas fired steam cleaning system features 1,200 litres per hour high-pressure pumps supplying four high pressure and four soaping guns, with the hoses mounted on a rail system running down each side of the bay. The bay itself is long enough to comfortably house a complete B-double or two semi-trailers.

“The solar system has the capacity to be increased and we will look at that as time goes on,” says Guy. “The fact that we’re harvesting rainwater and using the sun’s energy all goes towards the assistance of the environment which we consider to be a high priority.”

Also worthy of note in the workshop is the filter-crushing machine that reduces used oil and fuel filters to a fraction of their former bulk while simultaneously removing most of the fluid from within. Having the filters compacted to a far more manageable size, with the oil removed and also recycled, is a significant benefit from both environmental and operational viewpoints considering the number of these items a workshop of this size generates on a daily basis.

From the outside looking in it seems no stone has been left unturned in the design and execution of SCT’s grand new dealership. It’s a philosophy that looks set to take the business well into the 21st century and beyond, a sentiment echoed by Guy Morgan.

“The challenge now is to be very mindful that we have three passionate brands and we must ensure we look after our customers effectively so they return, as well as for our staff to be properly trained so they have a full understanding of the mechanics and electronics across the three brands,” says Guy. “To have a dealership of this capacity, and what it can offer the transport industry in South Australia, is fantastic. We now have everything in place to grow as the industry grows while continuing to offer great job opportunities in the region.”

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Author: Tim Giles

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