Prime Mover Magazine

Repeat performance: NHVR talks PBS record uptake and beyond

An upsurge in approved PBS applications over the past year has come as a further endorsement by industry as the scheme surpasses the number of design applications achieved over the same period in 2018.

Despite levelling out in the back half of last year, the demand for performance-based standards combinations year-to-date have continued to rise, bucking the trend. Recommended changes to the design approval process have had the desired effect, with the average PBS design application now approved inside a week.

The benefits across pre-advised applications as well as the simplified process for PBS design variations has given industry renewed confidence according to National Heavy Vehicle Regulator Chief Engineer Les Bruzsa.

“The system is now flexible enough that should a customer want to develop a new PBS concept or change an existing PBS design, they will no longer have to wait up to eight weeks,” he says.

“Industry has increased confidence in the PBS process and especially how the NHVR is handling PBS applications. Instead of having very complex PBS applications for a range of potential prime mover, trailer and suspension options, the number of simple PBS designs developed by industry have started to increase. We are getting preadvised applications through the system in only two days.”

Increasing awareness also helps.

The NHVR identified knowledge gaps across the industry and through its PBS demonstration days, has conveyed the benefits of investing in PBS across regional Australia with the goal to deliver a message that resonates with attendees on how it can make life easier for everyone involved in the supply chain.

Tim Hansen, Engagement Specialist at the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator, has been on the ground in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory this year, facilitating consultative mechanisms and cross-industry cooperation in the interests of boosting PBS vehicle uptake and improving road infrastructure.

His efforts have also contributed to a shift in how government, business and industry work towards a safer and more productive future while ensuring better safety outcomes for the wider community.

Alongside team members John Gilbert OAM (National Manager), Simone Reinertsen (Victoria, SA and Tasmania) and Dan Casey (Queensland), Tim and the stakeholder team have actively been promoting the latest PBS innovations across the country through close collaboration with local councils, heavy vehicle operators, transport associations as well as broader members of the community including farmers, caravaners and the supply chain at large.

Local council cooperation, particularly with heavy vehicle operators, makes these demos successful according to Tim.

“The PBS demonstration is a concept that began in Bundaberg, Queensland, about three years ago,” he says. “From the beginning, we have always tailored these days to highlight the local freight task. So, in Bundaberg, there is an emphasis on timber and sugar whereas in Forbes we see combinations suited for food and grain haulage.”

There are two key objectives with the demonstration days. The first according to Tim is to increase awareness by spreading information about PBS.

“It’s an opportunity for participants to walk in the shoes of someone else and better understand the opportunities and challenges that PBS presents,” he says. 

“Secondly, these events can help grow road networks by enabling more pre-approvals and finding ways to streamline the route access process.”

With the response time significantly reduced for design applications and vehicle approval applications, the NHVR expects it will have approved around 1800 PBS combinations in 2019.

At present they are on track to reach 10,000 PBS combinations in operation by Christmas. A change to many of the NHVR’s internal processes helped make this significant PBS milestone possible according to Les.

“It’s a huge workload for us, especially considering that the NHVR certified more than 700 individual vehicle units for PBS in 2019, but we’ve been able to respond to industry needs and we’ve been monitoring the response time. Around 60 per cent of those are approved on the same day or next day and 85 per cent within two business days,” he says.

“So that means the industry doesn’t have to wait for the PBS Vehicle Approval when the vehicle is ready, as we go through the certification very quickly.”

Poring over data, Les made a discovery while on a recent trip to South Africa, where he gave a series of presentations on PBS. Looking at proportional vehicles across PBS levels he was surprised to see that more than 95 per cent of PBS vehicles were approved in PBS Level 1 or PBS Level 2 categories, inside 30 metre overall lengths.

“The majority of the vehicles are in the smaller PBS classes — three-axle truck and -four axle  dog combinations that are approved with different mass limits, under Level 1 and Level 2,” he says. “That might indicate that we should be concentrating on the review of the Level 1 and Level 2  standards and how we address the technical issues related to the operation of these PBS  vehicle classes.”

According to Les 50 per cent of the PBS Level 1 and Level 2 combinations  are truck and dogs, with another 30 per cent represented by B-doubles and 20 per cent A-doubles, which are gaining popularity among freight movers in different jurisdictions.

Although PBS is often commonly associated with larger vehicles, in practice, the statistics prove, that it’s not the case.

As a concept, PBS 2.0 is still very fluid according to Les. The reforms identified by the NHVR involve providing fleet interchangeability through a modular approval approach where safer vehicles are prioritised in access decision-making.

The development of a modular PBS approach was first suggested in 2012 during the review of the PBS scheme. The NHVR now has advanced vehicle performance modelling capacities and more engineers with expertise within PBS, which provides a framework and opportunities to dive deeper into the modular concept.

“Under a modular concept we would create a modular approval system. For example, the prime mover’s powertrain may be assessed against the PBS standards without the specific knowledge of the trailers connected to it.

The high-speed dynamics and low-speed performance of a combination is mainly influenced by the trailer characteristics. It would be possible to approve a certain prime mover to operate with trailers that are within a performance and design envelope,” Les says.

“So instead of specifying every unit in a PBS combination, we would specify these performance design envelopes, which would represent a framework of this modular approach. That would be beneficial as operators would able to assemble PBS compliant applications.”

At present the NHVR has a PBS Vehicle Approval for an operator with 11 trucks and ten trailers. According to Les that vehicle approval is 141 pages long after all the individual units and combinations are drawn up and specified individually.

“Managing the assessment and certification of a large fleet is very difficult and challenging from both an operational and compliance perspective ,” he says.

“It would be great if operators could say ‘I’ve got this PBS Level 1 modular trailer and I’m looking for a new prime mover — what is on your list?’ The manufacturer could then go over their PBS Level 1 modular options and purchase that prime mover and operate it without having the new PBS assessment done. That’s the logic behind it.”

Given there are many technical assumptions involved, getting there will be complex and not without significant challenges, once the vagaries of vehicle performance and the pathway to describing these facets are factored into the process.

Removing some of the PBS vehicle combinations from the scheme and then transitioning them back to the prescriptive fleet was one of the original principle objectives of PBS when Les first started working on it in 1999.

He  cites the proforma designs for new non-standard vehicle designs that meet the performance-based Standards in New Zealand. The approved non-standard vehicle combination designs have been introduced to streamline the approval process for applying for high productivity commercial vehicles.

“It would be great to create these type of classes of proforma designs,” Les says. “For some of the higher mass and longer combinations, New Zealand’s approach has used PBS to create proforma designs and transport operators can use combinations that meet those specifications. There are currently 14 proforma designs available and these designs specify the length, axle spacings, widths and other dimensions based on PBS. Transport operators can approach the manufacturer and say ‘build a vehicle to this specification.’ When you get that vehicle you don’t need to do a new PBS assessment.”

Between the truck and dog combinations and A-doubles that are being accepted in the jurisdictions, according to Les, there isn’t a great difference between them in terms of their length, axle-spacing, the componentry and suspensions.

“It would be possible to create these envelopes if only we had the legislative framework supporting this concept,” he says.

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