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Frontline Reinforcements

A new look Mercedes-Benz fleet at ACFS Port Logistics, the largest privately owned container business of its type in the country, fits with its forward thinking approach, in which moving more with less and for less, is part of a company-wide mandate to deliver a premium service for its customers.

There’s no scarcity of innovation and expansive vision behind the pursuit of exponential growth at ACFS Port Logistics.

Had it not already been on track to eclipse the 750,000+ TEUs of full laden volume it moved to and from wharfs across the country in 2019, this year alone brings a series of shrewd investments in improving freight efficiencies and mobile asset upgrades to completion.

The business runs on a national network across five ports in Australia and is an active player in transport, 3PL, eCommerce, FAK, depot services, intermodal and rail terminals.

As economic modelling suggests consumer goods remain steadfast as the driver of national GDP, the landing of a national account for K-mart, as ACFS has done so recently, is both significant and timely in the scheme of things.

As part of its operations to service the contract, the company is deploying high productivity vehicles, paired with unique bogie-bogie trailers designed to ACFS specifications. Up front of these PBS approved skels are its newest trucks.

Back in February, three new Mercedes-Benz Actros units began appearing at the Port of Brisbane as part of what eventually became a successful trial run instigated by Daimler Trucks.

During the six-month long evaluation, the trucks were put through paces in and around the port arena by ACFS Fleet & Compliance Manager Alan Guest. Even though the distance travelled in port cartage operations seldom exceeds 100 kilometres the fuel savings and active safety systems soon surpassed his expectations.

A trip up the Bruce Highway, around three hours in total, from Brisbane to Gympie, ultimately clinched the deal.

“On that run alone we saved over 100 litres of fuel against our current brands of fleet. These were relatively new trucks that were being compared to the Mercedes Benz,” Alan says.

“The fuel saving in itself is probably worth $20,000 a year to us just on that one run.”

As part of the testing, an ACFS manager also piloted an Actros to Perth. On the journey he confirmed, according to Alan, an outstanding km/fuel ratio of 3.28.

The first initial order saw 13 new Euro 6 rated Mercedes-Benz Actros trucks split between 2646s and 3358s each delivered with a full safety package that includes ABS, EBS, three step entry and the latest in cab comfort.

As most of his drivers are getting older Alan has opted for the heaviest and most ergonomic of seats to support their weight. There’s three points of contact to maintain on egress and the door opens to 90 degrees.

Enhanced features such as Proximity Control Assist, ideal for the many moving parts in a hectic port environment, are complemented by Active Brake Assist using a radar to scan multiple obstacles per second and Lane Assistance.

The spec, right down to the finer details, was discussed over a period of four months with Mercedes Benz & Freightliner Sales Consultant Brock McGarity in Brisbane.

“We talked about the mirrors, the cameras. Everything in that vehicle is smack on. The spec we got was exactly what we wanted,” Alan says. “He came up with a solution for the trucks according to the types of payloads we wanted to move.”

ACFS is running to three load specifications.

These can be broken down to a standard B-double and or bogie-bogie HPV at 70-tonne GCM, a 100-tonne A-Double and/or quad-quad Super Bs rated to 120 tonnes.

The Mercedes-Benz trucks also solved a power to weight ratio issue Alan had identified.

As the Actros doesn’t take off in sixth gear like one of the other brands ACFS relies on, these new vehicles have mitigated incidents where the tailshafts have been twisted as the driver is forced to ride the clutch searching for more power when laden with a 90 tonne load.

Over time it will destroy the drivetrain. For Alan there was no question it was an untenable situation as the gearboxes on those vehicles that takeoff in the sixth gear all needed to be recalibrated. With the new Mercedes-Benz trucks that’s no longer a problem.

Now 12 months on from having undertaken, as it were, an holistic overview of operational equipment, appraising comments, consulting damage reports and looking over trends in incidents and accidents Alan is elated by the outcome of effort.

“Overall, we looked at the whole package and we dissected every little detail,” he says. “We looked at all of our damage reports over five years. Incidents and accidents and how they happen. What happened and what caused them.”

This included adjusting turntable heights to solve an issue when uncoupling to reduce the guards hitting the top of skip plates and smashing rear lights.

Electronic landing legs were added to the trailers so the drivers, when detaching the dollies, no longer need to crank the handles each time they pulled apart an A-double. This is likely to reduce incidents of strained shoulder.

“We’re saving up to 25 to 30 minutes a route now because of this change and it makes it less labour intensive for our guys,” Alan says. “It’s just thinking about the whole process, what happens, how they work, how they operate and sitting down as a team and coming up with a solution and we came up with a solution.”

To cut engine and idle hours on the unflagging container operations, Alan, in consultation with Brock, opted for Viesa battery operated cooling in each day cab.

This limits use of the motor when some of the trucks idle for 45 per cent of the time they are in action.

When he did the numbers on it the cost of purchasing a high end Viesa, which has been installed on top of the cab, paled in comparison to the fuel squandered during idle.

“This way we’ve minimised the idle time by reducing engine hours,” he says. “And my drivers can stay cool in summer.”

ACFS was hit hard, not unlike many companies affected when vessels stopped coming out of Asia, at the beginning of the pandemic.

Undaunted by the inherent challenges that have rapidly befallen many freight businesses this year, ACFS according to its Managing Director & CEO Arthur Tzaneros has bucked the trend and continues to grow.

“The beginning of the pandemic was naturally concerning,” he says. “On a business front we did build some contingency plans for our work force in communicating what we needed to do to have a sustainable business.”

One of the first actions taken by Arthur during this period of uncertainty was to convene his management from around the country to get everybody aligned. He conveyed to the group that they were about to confront a period perhaps worse than any GFC and or recession seen in the company history.

“I told them that we were going to need to work harder and smarter than how we’ve ever worked before. What came of that was a company pact where most of the executives and management group and, to some extent, the workforce, committed to coming out through the other side of this thing a stronger company,” recalls Arthur.

“I can proudly say ACFS has not made any redundancies throughout the pandemic. In actual fact, we’ve grown and continued to employ more Australians throughout this difficult period. I think it’s a credit to the entire team’s dedication and hard work. Whilst we’re very cautious, it’s been a period of growth and therefore investment.”

In the last six months ACFS has taken delivery of 34 pieces of trailering equipment from Vawdrey, with further upcoming orders currently being manufactured.

Under permit Alan has found the bogie-bogie trailer, which handles four 20-foot containers or two 40s, to have been an extremely successful investment.

“They are a really good combination with the Daimler up front,” he says. “How Vawdrey build spec and manufacture is second to none. I know their people and I have supreme confidence in what they do and how they do it.”

With over 40 years in the industry Alan has worked at four of the major trailer builders previously including Vawdrey where he was the General Manager.

He holds two engineering degrees and a masters in manufacturing management. All of it accomplished at night school while he worked full time.

“At Freighter, where I was working in 1982, the owner Peter White told me I needed a degree if he was going promote me,” Alan recalls.

“So I went and did my first engineering degree and got a taste. Then I did my second one as a technical officer. While at Krueger I attended business law at Victorian University in Flinders Street. I won’t lie it was hard work.”

Alan manages over 500 drivers in what he refers to as his “creche”. There is 300 prime movers and some 1200 pieces of trailering equipment he is required to move between the many ACFS sites across the country. He accumulates, subsequently, around 300,000 frequent flyer points a year. That’s a lot of early mornings. Alan says he tries to spend a week in each state.

“Trailing and transport is in my blood,” he says. “I haven’t stopped designing trailers. I still like to innovate our bits and pieces and work with our original equipment manufacturers to get them built.”

For the past 30 years, ACFS has been predominantly running UD Trucks alongside stablemates Volvo and Mack. Last year a conscious decision was made by the company to have two suppliers instead of one across all its equipment and technology.

This certainly holds true of its trailer manufacturers, for whom it runs exclusively spec’d equipment from Vawdrey and O’Phee. In telemetry technology MT Data and Teletrac Navman are the preferred suppliers.

With another order pending with Daimler Trucks, a process is underway in which the bottom 35 vehicles in the ACFS fleet now comes under scrutiny.

These are the commercial vehicles that have been in service for nearly ten years and since reached the 1 million kilometre threshold.

“We like to keep a younger fleet. Anything over a million kilometres I’ll be looking to move on and trade-in and replace with new equipment,” Alan says.

“At the moment, the first new units we will test control for 36 months to see how it goes.”

Not all Euro 6 Mercedes-Benz Actros units are destined to stay at the Brisbane Port. Many of the new fleet are about to be farmed out to Melbourne and Sydney.

These trucks have received a new colour scheme, perhaps lost on the casual observer, in the tri-colours jersey associated with the Sydney Roosters.

It’s no coincidence that Arthur Tzaneros is closely aligned with the NRL’s defending premiers.

“There’s a big association with the Sydney Roosters. We’re a third party sponsor for James Tedesco. I’m a lifelong Roosters fan and heavily involved in the club as well,” he says.

Historically, with a bonneted truck used in the application, the previous design was tailored to the long nose.

When they moved to the cabover it made the front of the trucks look bare according to Arthur. So ACFS-appointed designer, Toohey Creative, was given a brief to rebrand the new Mercedes-Benz Actros vehicles.

“History is a big part of ACFS and who we are,” Arthur says. “It’s not only important we can maintain our history and our brand but also to update the design and bring it in line with the new equipment.”

Sydney Roosters Chairman Nick Politis, who owns AP Eagers and by extension AHG, a stake holder in several Daimler dealerships, provides an additional synergy to the growing relationship.

“It’s a great relationship to have knowing in the background the support is there,” says Alan. “They’ve been incredibly responsive and the new branding looks great when the trucks are coming down the road.”