Swift and sure
Australia’s appetite for consumer consumption means that the efficiency afforded by shipping containers must be matched by the landside transport to move goods between port and warehouse. Swift Transport takes it one step further by combining container operations with a modern ad-hoc courier service.
In the 61 years since Malcolm McLean modified a large ship to allow it to hold containers of the same dimensions as those carried by his trucks, containerisation has been a driving force in improving transport efficiency. Consolidating smaller items in larger units into what is essentially a steel box has become a key part of the freight landscape.
As such, the task has become a crucial element to the Swift Transport business. Strategically located in the Intermodal Logistics Terminal in the Sydney suburb of Enfield, Swift Transport is engaged across a broad spectrum of the New South Wales freight task, aiming to control the entire delivery of goods from container to customer.
Swift Transport’s container division has grown significantly in recent years, driven the dynamic team led by Director of International Business Development, Michael Volonakis, as well as Amir Elmir and Ahmad Kassem.
Now, the Enfield depot can accommodate up to 450 40-foot containers and has efficient forklift and reach-stacker equipment to enable quick turnaround for the trucks that constantly flow through the facility. To provide a complete service to clients, it has a separate secure ‘under bond’ compound to hold containers that have unfinished paperwork.
Containers can also be held at Swift’s secure, on-site storage facility to better schedule deliveries, as often the shipping schedule will not coincide with a client’s requirement or ability to receive a consignment. As part of its holistic customer service offering, Swift Transport is able to provide collection of the container from the dock, secure on-site storage and then delay delivery to a time that suits the client.
According to Michael, most of the clients of the Swift container division he oversees are freight forwarders acting on behalf of importers and exporters. For the past five ‘cruising seasons’ Swift Transport has also had the responsibility of delivering containers of supplies, some perishable, to a major cruise line operator that steams from the overseas passenger terminal on Sydney Harbour.
“The access can be awkward, the containers have to be placed inside the terminal building and the job is super time sensitive. A ship can cost up to $100,000 per hour if it’s late. And it’s never been late because of us,” Michael says.
Ensuring customers are cared for with optimal customer service is a habit Michael picked up when started running his own business – following his family history of sandwich shop operations – at the tender age of 18.
Michael then went on and took the skills he learned in that customer-focused business to purchase his first truck at age 20. The Hino had around 100,000km showing on the odometer, had always been serviced by the dealer and came with a contract delivering kitchen components around Sydney.
“I got into the habit of starting the kitchen delivery truck every Sunday afternoon and letting it get to operating temperature to ensure that all was okay to start work early on the Monday morning,” he says. “It was better to find a flat battery or an air leak on Sunday afternoon rather than in the pre-dawn dark and lose Monday morning’s work.”
Fast forward several decades and Michael’s principle role at Swift Transport is to oversee the container operations, implementing the same ‘look for a better way’ attitude. His inherent logistical abilities led him to change the regular ‘runs’ to improve efficiency and benefit the clients, his off-sider and himself.
A similar checking system to his first Hino is employed with the Swift Transport container division’s fleet today, although the number of trucks means by the time the last truck is checked, the first one is back and ready to be shut down.
“Anything he finds wrong is red flagged and alternative arrangements are made to replace that truck until an affected vehicle is deemed ready to work. It’s simple, doesn’t involve much cost and means we have our trucks ready for the working week,” Michael says. “There was a time when I could remember every rego number but our combined fleet has now grown to more than 350 vehicles.”
The fleet is dominated by European prime movers that haul the side-loaders and skels for the container operation. Despite the relatively low kilometres travelled compared to line-haul trucks, the Swift units are generally renewed at the five-year mark. The latest Scanias have been emblazoned with a distinctive livery wrap and it is obvious that the drivers take genuine pride in the presentation of their equipment. “We like the European trucks. A truck such as the Scania G480 suits our type of work and the drivers are happy with them,” says Michael.
The container division is only one aspect of the Swift Transport business, however. The company provides not only container carrying services to and from the port and various storage and warehousing options, but also operates one of Sydney’s largest fleets of courier vehicles. “Our aim is to provide a complete service from dock to warehouse and vice versa, whether that’s for a single carton or multiple full container loads,” says Michael.
In a city like Sydney there is a very strong demand for courier services to deliver ‘smaller’ items to end users, often at short notice. To service this ever growing aspect of the business, Swift Transport’s growing fleet of versatile courier vehicles has been designed and set up to maximise efficiency for the clients as well as the owner-drivers who operate the majority of them.
Key clients for Swift Transport’s courier services include equipment hire giants Kennards and Coates Hire, he reveals.
Most of the Swift courier vehicles are based on Toyota HiLux cab chassis fitted with a package that includes an innovative high sided aluminium tray body equipped with a tailgate loader. The custom engineered three-way ladder-style rack system can accommodate items up to 6.5m in length, which means that the more nifty light commercials can be used in many instances rather than full sized rigid trucks.
The courier vehicles are also utilised to service smaller consignments of dangerous goods, so the drivers are trained in load restraint as well as attending a two-day dangerous goods course to gain the appropriate accreditation. Each vehicle is also equipped with a spill kit, respirator and eye wash kit.
Thanks to its container to customer delivery system, Swift Transport has become a successful operation across quite a broad spectrum of the road transport task, from handling mass scale imports and exports to efficiently delivering something as small as an envelope. Michael says that Swift Transport is serious about being Sydney’s number one service provider across its multiple categories. “We can only be that by doing absolutely everything we can to ensure correct, on-time delivery.”
The Federal Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics Waterline Report 2015-16 shows that 2,323,800 TEU (20-foot equivalent units) were handled through Sydney’s Port Botany. The five main container ports: Adelaide, Brisbane, Fremantle, Melbourne and Sydney, processed a combined 7,214,200 TEUs, with smaller ports handling approximately another 75,000 TEUs.
The Swift Transport fleet is an eclectic mix of heavy-duty Scania G480 prime movers and specially designed Toyota HiLux utes that create a unique ability to combine container cartage and courier services.
Swift Transport’s container and courier customers have access to real time tracking and mapping of exactly where their consignments are, providing exemplary transparency. Meanwhile, its warehousing services include container unpacking and packing and the latest technology in barcode scanning.