The PFD Food Services story goes back to 1943 and today the company is a major provider with a broad range of dry goods, frozen and chilled products, fresh seafood and meat, confectionery, paper products and cleaning solutions mostly delivered direct to businesses associated with the food service industry.
The clients of PFD are spread across a spectrum of venues where people need to eat, including clubs, pubs and hotels, cafes, airlines, restaurants, mines, aged care and retirement villages, resorts and theme parks, convenience outlets, venue and field caterers, fast food outlets, schools and kindergartens, and sporting, child care and even correctional facilities.
One of the strengths of the PFD operation is its employment of its own transport division utilising company owned vehicles and company employed drivers.
Steve Wright is PFD Food Services’ National Fleet Manager and has been with the company for around 25 years. When he started there PFD was still at the time a very much Victorian-based organisation.
The company has since grown to be operating at 68 sites with a strong regional presence spread right across Australia. Steve has grown with it, progressing from manually unloading refrigerated containers into warehousing and store roles which also included maintenance work on equipment such as forklifts.
Steve has been in charge of the company’s fleet comprising of around 750 light and medium duty trucks for the past decade.
When he moved into fleet management Steve found that the fleet at the time was ageing and subject to numerous breakdowns and the resultant expensive repair bills.
“I recall we had 18 truck engine failures in the six months prior to me taking on this position,” says Steve. “In the ten plus years I’ve been in the role we haven’t lost anywhere near that number in total.”
Enthusiastic about the technical and mechanical aspects of his job involving trucks, bodies and refrigeration units, Steve follows through during his own time by tuning drag racing vehicles and racing motorcycles with his sons.
When the new Hino 300 Series was launched in mid-2020 PFD was one of the first fleets to take delivery of them with three currently operating in Tasmania. PFD also has had two Hino 500 Series Standard Cabs operating in Victoria during the past 12 months.
Hino lays claim to offering Australia’s safest light-duty Japanese trucks, due mainly to the technology associated with Hino SmartSafe system.
Hino SmartSafe is a comprehensive safety package with a suite of advanced driver assistance technologies which provide an active focus on protecting drivers and passengers as well as other road users.
The standard fitting of the extensive suite of safety features were a major contributing factor in the decision to trial the Hino models in the PFD fleet.
“Ten years ago I probably would have fought against buying Hinos but with today’s safety focus there is pressure to change that thinking,” he says. “Part of my own success has been due to people who didn’t want to take on change, or embrace the future, or embrace safety. They’ve made themselves redundant, so to speak. Safety is important not only to me as a fleet manager but it’s also of vital importance to the company. You have to be not just seen to be doing the right thing, you have to be actually doing it.”
The Hino SmartSafe package integrates features such as the Pre-Collison System (PCS) which detects the possibility of a collision with a vehicle in front by using a combination of radar and image sensors and providing warnings to the driver.
If the driver doesn’t react the truck’s brakes are applied autonomously. The system operates in a similar manner if a pedestrian is detected in front of the truck.
Steve has become an agent of change and is quick to recognise that certain procedures are no longer appropriate even though they may have been acceptable even just five years ago.
“I see the technology, things like the collision avoidance systems and electronic stability control they’ve got in their trucks now, and that can’t be ignored,” he says.
Telematics also play an important role in the management of the PFD fleet which has resulted in significant improvements in the safety aspects coupled with a measurable rise in fuel savings.
“We changed our whole driver culture based on our telematics system and essentially rewrote the company policy,” Steve says. “Due to constant monitoring, drivers can no longer speed undetected and speeding violations are minimal.”
Compliance in terms of fatigue management and vehicle maintenance is managed by PFD’s in-house health and safety team who regularly audit all sites. Food safety is also a vital element in PFD’s business and all branches have an approved HACCP Plan (food safety program) to ensure all of the products supplied to its customers are safe and meet food safety requirements.
An indication of the exceptional rigour of PFD’s food safety program has been demonstrated by the company being awarded the National HACCP Award for a Multi-site, Low Risk Company on two occasions.
Steve runs the big fleet on principles similar to those applied by vehicle leasing companies, which sees the majority of servicing carried out by the manufacturer’s dealerships.
All work has to be authorised via a formal work order issued by the fleet office which has access to comprehensive vehicle data such as whether the truck is still covered by warranty, and when was the last time a component, such as the clutch, was changed. Because of PFD’s national and regional footprint it is vital that any provider of major equipment such as trucks has a similar operational spread of dealers.
Due to the large number of PFD branches and the nature of their operations, most PFD delivery vehicles work mostly in their own local area and do not register high annual kilometres.
Consequently, trucks are able to remain active in the fleet for up to ten years due to their rigorous service regimes.
“If you asked me what used to motivate me to buy a particular brand of truck I’d say it was the brand’s service network which was always the first thing because we’ve got so many branches and most are regionally based,” Steve says. “After that was the price and the product. Now it’s probably about safety, which may not have been mentioned ten years ago.”
One metric which PFD uses to measure its fleet’s efficiency is the cost per kilometre to run a truck, and with a total of 32 million kilometres driven each year, it’s something which Steve and his team have been able to significantly reduce over the past decade.
Steve has an interest in electric vehicles but maintains some reservations about the kind of impact the running of refrigeration units will have on compromising an electric truck’s operational range with current battery technology.
There is also consideration of the additional weight of the batteries. Most of the PFD vehicles are fitted with purpose built refrigerated bodies with multiple temperature zones and incorporate specialised insulation to assist in maintaining stable internal temperatures in an application which involves multiple door openings during each shift.
“Our fridge bodies are heavy. Equivalent size curtainsider bodies probably weigh nearly as much as a fridge unit on its own,” he explains. “We typically reach 60 per cent of our Gross Vehicle Mass with the truck still empty.”
Other than those reservations concerning the practicality of electric vehicles using the currently available batteries, Steve is an enthusiastic supporter of evolving truck technology.
“The more technology that becomes available in terms of things like trucks and telematics, the more I can see what the fleet is doing and how it’s behaving,” he says. “This should always influence how we operate.”