Coming Clean

As a niche essential business, Container Fumigation Services in Melbourne is dependent on quality commercial vehicles. The challenges of a tough 2020 have been counterweighed, in part, by an informed recent investment in four new MAN trucks.

Containers arriving in Australia from overseas ports are subject to biosecurity requirements and procedures to ensure the threat of exotic pests and diseases are eliminated during their clearance.

This also applies to the goods they carry by federal law.

Container Fumigation Services (CFS) based out of Spotswood in Melbourne, has been immersed in this segment since it was founded by Greg Ross, a Director of the company, on 6 March, 1996.

In essence the company is taking containers off the wharf as allocated, cleaning them before readying each for approval through quarantine.

The company was started on the strength of a tip Greg received that quarantine laws regarding port operators would be extended outside of the five kilometre perimeter.

On the premise that customers he had unloaded for previously would bring him containers, Greg set about securing a depot. With that the business purchased a secondhand Mack from an auction — the company’s first.

Mobile equipment was acquired under this model for the first few years as they built up business which went from good to better. Over the ensuing years CFS has put together an impressive client base that now includes the likes of ACFS Port Logistics, Seacom, SunRice, John Deere and QANTAS.

However, hire trucks required to satisfy the urgent tasks that were going unfulfilled by incidents of broken-down secondhand vehicles were fast proving costly.

“We got sick of putting mounds of money into bloody repairs, hire trucks and having them parked up at great expense,” Greg says. “It was decided with my business partner that it was time to buy a new truck. I went around to every manufacturer and got the rundown on all of them.”

It resulted in a month’s worth of data and engineering specifications to calculate.

The criteria for evaluating the best truck for their needs started at price. As that was negligible in range when applied to most other brands being considered, the evaluation entered the next set of criteria as Greg and his transport operations manager, Neil Ryan, deliberated on the significant indicators of performance, service and backup.

“There’s only ever a tuppence between most of the commercial vehicles you are considering in this sort of purchase process,” says Greg. “Once you start to settle on certain factors like servicing and backup things come into sharper focus.”

The first service of 70,000 kilometres at MAN soon got their attention while the parameters around backup, in which a hire truck was also provided by Penske Truck Rental, along with the impression made by MAN dealer Jarrod Bennetts of Westar Truck Centre, who was easy to get along with according to Greg, eventually won them over.

Knowing they would have had to service their vehicles at least three times before hitting 70,000 kilometres and accessing a hire truck at no charge to keep the business running without suffering in any way, imbued the prospective buyers with a newfound confidence they had made the right choice.

“If any of these new trucks go in for a scheduled service our fleet can complete the same numbers asked of it,” Greg says. “For mine, the MANs come out on top in every facet. Jarrod was great to deal with and that made the decision easier. The deal we got, well, I can’t complain. If I had to buy another one I would go straight back to him.”

And he did — three more times.

Container Fumigation Services now operates three MAN TGS26.540s and one TGX26.540 XLX cab.

All the vehicles are rated to 70 tonnes gross combination mass for B-double application. They are moving both 20- and 40-foot containers in a cabover design, comfortable for the drivers with superior vision, manoeuvrability and safety.

As it foregoes an engine tunnel in the cab for more space, the TGX is slightly raised, making the vehicle a foot taller in height than the TGS.

The flexible TGS, more commonly seen in interstate linehaul, is a smaller presence on the road, making it less daunting a container carrier, for other road users.

The Electronic Stability Control, a standard feature on the MAN trucks, is a must-have for relaying containers, each of which weighs around 24 tonnes, in and around the crowded port precinct.

The key considerations for CFS to invest in these trucks, according to Jarrod, were the obvious safety benefits, not to mention the accurate forecasting of whole of life costs in addition to the service they would receive from the Westar dealership.

“For Greg and his team the MAN was the obvious choice. The vehicle is setup perfectly for running around the tight streets of Melbourne yet is not claustrophobic,” says Jarrod.

“The package that we have setup through the dealership means that Greg can forecast the costs for this truck for five years accurately. The only expenses are fuel, drivers and tyres. This is a big change from the second-hand gear that they were running that would not only cost them in repairs and maintenance it would also cost in the silent money drainer, downtime.”

Hours supplant kilometres as the better metric in which to measure vehicle use. Even so, one scheduled service per year, as it works out, means CFS are off the road for only one day at a time.

The backing of a rental vehicle inside the warranty importantly ensures they can work, if need be, 365 days a year — as suits their current operational framework. For Greg’s part he starts most mornings at 3am. For the majority of weeks he is required to work six days and seven days every five weeks.

In 2018-19 the Port of Melbourne reported passing 3.02 million TEUs, an increase of 3.1 per cent on the previous year. Last year’s COVID-19 disruptions notwithstanding, the ongoing work is unabated.

Greg often works a Saturday for no extra charge to his clients. The busiest times of year is the period leading into Christmas and, what is now widely referred to in shipping circles, as Stink bug season.

That starts 30 September and runs to 31 May. Upon the onset of cold weather in the Northern Hemisphere, the Brown marmorated stink bug seeks shelter to spend the winter in a dormant phase known as diapause — a period of suspended development in some insects.

Regulatory requirements primarily target importers of goods and cover their responsibility to ensure that certain types of cargoes are properly treated and certified prior to arriving in Australia.

The process of fumigation takes 12 hours according to Greg, who uses a Threshold Limit Valve or TLV to carry out the work. In the afternoon the boxes, once they are unpacked for day proof, are released. Container Fumigation Services organises to have the container moved the next morning.

All up it’s a 24-hour turnaround. The paperwork is then sent to quarantine who, often working two or three days in arears, will release the box. This clears the pads so restacking containers can resume in an area certified for fumigation.

It’s not uncommon for Greg to get a late call from a client who will have a container on hold in customs for up to ten days. His job is to arrange to get it off the wharf on the day by coordinating with one of his drivers to pick it up.

Drivers, at present, account for four of the company’s 35 staff although casuals are put on to meet peak demand. The CFS facility in Spotswood, which looks out over where many of the vessels come in, houses eight trucks and 15 forklifts.

As a customs, quarantine and bond yard, containers can be packed and unpacked for export or goods can be stored for longer periods in a warehouse prior to being transported.

CFS also has a second depot in Portland, Victoria to service the logging industry. Fumigation operations have been suspended of late after China placed bans on Australian timber exports in November.

Electronic stability control is a must in port cartage.

While 2020 proved to be a challenging year for most businesses associated with international shipping, Greg has helped to future proof his operations with high performance commercial vehicles on a service package that allows him to budget better with costs.

Particularly in regards to maintenance with a service warranty that goes beyond spare parts and repairs.

What’s more, the MAN vehicles have proven popular among the drivers since the first TGS26.540 was introduced into the fleet in April, 2019.

“I’ve spoken to all the drivers about the trucks. They tell me the MAN is like driving a Fairmont,” he says.

“It’s decked out with a fridge and all the modern conveniences. You can sit back in comfort. They absolutely love them. I have not had one complaint out of the drivers.”