As a specialist in containerised cargo, Sydney Sideloaders, keeps a hectic schedule working on the waterfront of one of the busiest ports in the world. To ensure its fleet of prime movers is revitalised and raring to go six days a week the company invests in the Agility Program from Mercedes-Benz Trucks.
The first European settlers rutted their boats over the clay banks of Botany Bay some 247 years ago.
Supplies of corn, wheat flour, fresh water and rum were waning on the 368 tonne Endeavour as it anchored in a shallow channel that has long since been dredged to accommodate colossal container ships that arrive now daily from parts of the world that were still considered largely unknown in 1770.
Port Botany receives, on average, 1439 vessels a year and handles 2.32 million containers.
It’s along this waterfront, where new Mercedes-Benz Actros 2651s, often hauling 40x9 6ft containers, are a regular sight for local company Sydney Sideloaders.
With its headquarters located mere minutes away from the hotspot of the wharf where 70 per cent of its freight task arrives as imports, Sydney Sideloaders works with bond containers, hazardous goods and more commonly takes care of medical supplies from Asia, refrigerated containers and tiles that it delivers into the ACT on Tautliners.
Daily runs begin at 4am Sunday to Friday.
These are prescheduled 48 hours in advance to cope with the relentless activity of the supply chain.
Established as a business by Chris and Tony Divis in 2008, Sydney Sideloaders has since outgrown its yard near Port Botany, which was granted a 99-year lease in 2013 when NSW Ports came to an arrangement with the NSW Government.
An experienced truck driver himself, Chris joined the transport industry when he finished school in 1983. Brother Tony is a banker by trade and handles accounts and finances.
According to Chris, who started out driving Pantechs, the prescheduling required of container operations now differs greatly from his earliest experiences in the industry.
“In those days there was no time slotting,” Chris says. “It was first in best dressed.”
Now with each job preloaded, freight goes out before dawn, having been allocated two days in advance through a time-spotting system.
Chris says the business designates certain trucks for the waterfront run essentially sling-shotting backwards and forwards with containers it brings to the yard where they will await a sideloader which will pick them up and take them back out again.
The yard, according to Chris, is mainly used for staging where a Reach Stacker loads containers to summits of 30 feet ensuring, subsequently, none of the returning trucks are delayed going into the wharf.
Turnaround takes about an hour. Of that time 15 minutes is devoted to getting out of the yard.
The cumulative impact of this daily regiment frees up enough time to do one an extra container.
Over width cargo, known as out-of-gauge cargo, forms part of the weekly undertaking.
It’s unpacked off of open top containers, split it up onto low loaders in the yard where they are sent out again.
“We run very effectively because of the size of our yard. It’s not real big,” Chris says.
“It’s a quarantine yard and it’s a bond yard. There’s a whole range of services that we provide and because of this we have to run it efficiently to make it all work.”
The location, which Chris says they have since outgrown, took many years to secure.
When it finally became available over 10 years ago he jumped at it.
Just 600 metres from the one of the gates at Port Botany and less than 1.5 kilometres from DP World, the yard enjoys a prime position – as it needs to. According to Chris drivers are limited to an hour, maximum, to get a container off the wharf.
“It helps with turnaround and we’re right amongst it. People out in the western suburbs do it a lot harder than what we do here. I’ve always been a firm believer you need to be closer to the waterfront especially with the demands of time-slotting,” he says.
“But it takes a driver all of three minutes to bring it back to our Yard Lift and go back again. As it is we don’t plan on going anywhere soon.”
One of his earliest memories is having to sleep in the cab overnight at White Bay, Chris recalls, as he waited two days to gather a container off the wharf.
Time in the truck is still often spent more torpid than in transit. That’s the nature of container work.
Moving red line hazardous cargo, a service in which Sydney Sideloaders specialises, requires it to be collected inside of 12 hours, legally, following discharge of the vessel.
As paucity of time makes greater demands of organisational structures and scheduling, the equipment needs to work, without fail.
Reliability is a must when it comes to running commercial vehicles for Sydney Sideloaders. As the company provides what Chris calls “out of the ordinary stuff,” it invests in the Mercedes-Benz Actros 2651.
Less than 10 per cent of the fleet, Chris estimates, is older than 10 years. That also includes the trailers.
He says the company has been able to achieve this by going on the Agility Program. The trucks he most recently replaced were only three years old, with very low mileage.
As sideloaders weigh in around 10 tonnes the extra power afforded by the 510hp engine is vital for pulling the excess weight.
“We could probably get away with a 460hp but I’m a firm believer that you don’t make trucks struggle. I like to have enough horsepower there to do the job properly,” Chris says.
“Rather than saving a couple of thousand dollars to get the cheaper option I’d prefer it to buy the one that’s going to do it comfortably.”
As for its prime movers, Sydney Sideloaders opts to stick to one brand.
On its country runs the Mercedes-Benz Actros 2653 is its truck of choice, as it sees further gains in the more powerful engine and an improved fuel burn, especially when running back empty.
The fleet consists of 20 Actros prime movers in total. Only six trucks of the older model remain and these will be replaced, starting next year, according to Chris.
“For the local trucks we do an analysis on what the trucks are doing and what kilometres they accumulate during the course of the year. We take on an Agility Program for every truck allowing for 75,000 kilometres-a-year for the trucks on local consignment,” he says.
“Our current contracts are taken over four years and we have a guaranteed future value from Mercedes-Benz on the buy-back. The truck is fully maintained by them.”
Accident damage, windscreens and general wear and tear, are, under the agreement, the responsibility of Sydney Sideloaders.
After four years, according to Chris, the business is attentive to the worth of each truck and what it will fetch as a repurchase from Daimler.
If it’s in good condition Sydney Sideloaders will often choose to keep it.
“We can on-sell it privately for whatever the market value is if it’s greater than the guaranteed future value,” Chris says.
“So that’s the benefit of Agility, you’re not tied into having to give it back to them. For instance if Daimler give you $100,000 and the truck’s market value is $150,000 you’re more than welcome to go sell it privately, pay the amount and then pocket the change.
Then the contract will start again and you’ll just sign up for another contract with the next truck.”
As each contract is on a fixed cost, Chris understands from the outset the outlay required every month.
That way, he says, there’s no surprises.
“We had a mixed fleet of trucks that we owned. But our maintenance bill to keep them on the road was far greater than what we’re paying now,” he recalls.
“Plus our downtime was astronomical. It was detrimental to have our drivers standing around doing nothing while our trucks were off the road. We had mechanics always in the workshops. This way I don’t need a workshop. I don’t need anything else. The trucks are fully maintained by Mercedes-Benz and the only reason they are parked up is because a driver maybe sick or on annual leave.”
According to Chris, Sydney Sideloaders maintains a firm policy of one truck, one driver.
Drivers are, under this practice, responsible for anything inside the cab. The expectation is that they keep the interior in exceptional condition.
Quality control Chris likens to the old white glove test.
“I keep telling them if I can get in there with a white shirt and get out of there with a white shirt then they have passed the test,” he says.
“They look after the inside and that’s considered their property. They sign off on whatever goes on the inside of the truck whether it’s a hazardous bag or anything like that. And we attract a better class of driver for it, too, because of the fact they are, as trucks go, the top end of truck in the market at the moment.”
Now that he no longer has trucks parked up in the yard because they won’t start and little need for a workshop, Chris says the trucks are always on the road, working to the demands of the growing business. Service, when he does need it is, prompt, well resourced and ready to go.
“No matter which of the dealerships you go to they’re always available providing service that is second-to-none,” he says.
“I’m happier. The drivers are happier. They can’t complain about something not working.”
Just as the Agility Program facilitates updates to the fleet every three to four years, Chris says it also helps retain drivers as they appreciate the improved technology and comforts of the Actros vehicles.
“Driver behaviour is a big thing. If you’re no longer fighting with an old rig, battling to keep it on the road, sweating it out in peak hour traffic but rather in air-conditioned comfort, connected to Bluetooth talking to your wife, in time you will notice the difference.”
As a result, every Actros according to Chris always has someone assigned to it. The high performing trucks also assist the business in attracting clients.
“Being the cleanest trucks on the market helps with the multinationals because they’re right into the green way and cutting down their carbon footprint at the moment,” he says.
“So that helps us. Being the safest trucks on the road, they’ve all got cameras in them facing the driver and facing forward so it’s all about driver behaviour and how you’re perceived in the industry and at that level we’re pretty much up there. There’s no carbon footprint.”
Drivers, having already passed a required test from Sydney Sideloaders, can access the driver training program offered by Mercedes-Benz Trucks, who will fly someone out from Melbourne or one of the dealerships to ensure operators understand the new features of the truck and its capabilities in order to exploit fuel efficiency and optimal performance.
“I had drivers that would swear by American gear and you put them into these trucks and they said forget about that. This is like driving a car. It’s more comfortable. At the end of the day they park it up and feel like they haven’t been driving. They’re fully automated. They do everything for them. It’s very positive from a drivers’ point of view.”
As the trucks are often laden with a sideloader, the excellent manoeuvrability and visibility is a prerequisite for getting onto the docks, without issue.
“No one was really into sideloaders when we first started, but the market for them have since levelled out,” Chris says.
“As we grow with the importers, they get bigger, they go to bigger warehouses replete with docks. We basically grow with the companies we have been working with for years. We don’t usually go out and source clients, they come to us as they can see the level of service provided and the image of the company, too. Our customers don’t get any old trucks rolling up or breaking down and leaving oil all over the place.”
Sydney Sideloaders, according to Chris, looks to portray an of image to match its premium service for customers that require the stability it offers.
“That’s the market we target. We work for multi-nationals which helps because we have that name and that image,” he says.
“We’re not just a transport company that runs around at the cheapest price. It’s all interfacing with our clients, container tracking, container checking, POD instantaneously. It’s all of these services we’re at the forefront of just to give our clients the edge. The Mercedes-Benz Actros are part of that.”