Moving away from its current standard B-double tautliner configuration to meet the future transport needs of its customers, Visy Logistics has embarked on a new high performance freight vehicle program which, for sheer scale, is perhaps the most ambitious investment seen in furthering interstate commercial linehaul productivity in some time.
Leading packaging and resource recovery logistics provider, Visy Logistics has an expansive vision for its linehaul division. That vision began taking shape 18 months ago when its executive team initiated the ambitious plan of commissioning the build of a fleet of 50 high performance freight vehicles (HPFVs).
The first pair of National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) approved A-doubles of an anticipated 16 sets due later in the year made their maiden voyage between Melbourne and Brisbane in July. Plans for a further 16 A-doubles are already in effect. These are anticipated to come online by midyear 2021, with a remaining 18 units scheduled for arrival by the end of next year.
It’s a major statement in the road transport industry by any standard and is indicative of the innovations the executive leadership group at Visy has sought to push through its supply chain division, Visy Logistics.
Visy Linehaul and Regional Operations General Manager Lee Schmelich joined the company in early 2019. He had a common desire, along with Visy Logistics Executive General Manager Sean Richards, to reinvigorate the business.
Theirs was a vision aligning the logistics division with the parent company by emphasising existing company values. High productivity vehicles, especially in a time of increasing disruption across the transport industry, represented a unique opportunity in which to execute this strategy according to Lee.
“Moving more with less, reducing emissions and providing greater value to our customers embodies our values,” he explains. “Our mission is to be a global leader in creating sustainable solutions for a better world.”
No major industry — commercial transport included — has been immune to technological disruption.
High performance freight vehicles, according to Lee, are its latest incarnation and will determine, like rideshare technology, artificial intelligence and automation before it, both the future of the road freight industry and the future needs of its customers.
Long regarded as the benchmark in linehaul trucking, the B-double is being redeemed, at least in Visy’s plans, by its first wave of A-double combinations. The first wave are earmarked for operation on two lanes identified between Melbourne and Brisbane and Melbourne and Sydney (return), following a thorough assessment of the road access networks.
To ensure high productivity utilisation opportunities were realised, the team from Visy Logistics, working closely with specialist engineering consultants and its trailer manufacturing partner, Vawdrey, developed a design that satisfied vehicle requirements for network access in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, in addition to maximising the payload.
“Our A-Double design has been assessed by the NHVR against stringent performance criteria in the areas of safety and infrastructure impacts,” Lee says. “These criteria include lane keeping ability, high speed lane change maneuvering, low speed cornering performance and impacts to bridges and pavement surfaces.”
Overall, the designs represent a ten per cent safety improvement beyond existing vehicle designs for Visy Logistics, with no detriment to roads or infrastructure beyond conventional heavy vehicle design.
The Melbourne to Brisbane and Melbourne to Sydney (return) runs are core transit routes for any transport provider on the east coast of Australia.
But before Visy can advance its enterprise of first wave A-doubles across interstate lines it has inducted what Lee calls a “go slow” pilot program in which the 30 metre long truck and trailer combinations are evaluated over a short course at Visy sites in northwest Melbourne where site access, splitting, reversing loading and unloading will be carefully measured and monitored.
Eventually, Visy Logistics will aggregate additional units as it expands the fleet. Auxiliary driver training has also been mandated in partnership with DECA, a division of Wodonga TAFE, where Visy Logistics maintains a strong regional presence with two depots. The other being in Shepparton.
“The week before every two sets of A-doubles are brought on line, we’re taking the first two or three days with the driver and their new truck and trailer up to the DECA facility with some customised training with the actual equipment itself and taking all the learnings and the benefits from the professionals at DECA TAFE,” Lee says.
“We’re planning on doing this two at a time, every time we introduce another piece of kit. The two new drivers will go through that training. We’ve also got our own internal driver trainer who focuses on the drivers and their interactions with the equipment and the sites.”
The driver trainer and some operations staff are also required to undergo the same training to better understand the specifics around the equipment. Visy Logistics is very much aware that the size and scale of the new vehicle combinations will behave differently.
“The reality is once we put a driver behind the wheel we need them to be comfortable in what they’re doing and carting,” says Lee. “Our approach is always to put safety first, to make sure we cover all aspects of what is effective in our operations and what is safe for the driver and the general public.”
This includes close evaluation of access in and out of customer sites to ensure the sites can accommodate the longer vehicles. Once the process is embedded at low altitude and finessed the linehaul division will waste no time expediting to scale.
Trailer builder Vawdrey, who have contracted the production of the A-doubles, can turn around the first wave of 16 units within a month according to Lee.
“Once all the components are in-country they can roll them off the production line as fast as we need them,” he says.
The majority of the Visy linehaul fleet is populated by Volvo FH 600s. New prime movers will eventually be purchased as part of the rollout, likely in time for when the second wave of HPFVs are introduced.
All prime movers comply with and exceed current ADR 80 emission standards. Cabin protection meets and exceeds UN ECE 29 crashworthiness and roll over standards, while front underrun protection complies with ADR 84 requirements.
Even though the 30 metre long A-Double exceeds the length of the 26 metre B-Double it is replacing, the reduced swept path dimensions are achieved via low speed cornering which allows for greatly improved site access.
Rigorous testing has been applied to the trailer combinations to ensure utmost safety and optimised centre of gravity across all load types.
Satisfying NHVR performance criteria with payload heights that exceed four metres presented a challenge given the high load centre of gravity.
Close collaboration between key engineering, trailer and component providers and Visy Logistics, however, has helped overcome such obstacles. The ‘Wide Track’ A-double design allows for class-leading payload height and mass at gross combined weights more than 80 tonnes.
Visy Logistics, according to Lee, wanted a game changing design that met its key criteria and Wide Track epitomised what the company was looking for.
“We went in with a mindset that we already knew what regulatory and safety requirements had to be met,” he says. “We wanted the equipment to be industry leading but without being over designed. We pride ourselves on creating greater value by doing things differently.”
As tall paper bundles are cylindrical and not palletised freight, they can be more difficult to load. Standing on end at 2.8 metres and weighing three tonnes makes it a not particularly forgiving product when it comes to load restraint and cornering. It’s imperative then that placement of the product is correct in the engineer’s design.
“These A-doubles have a high centre of gravity as the payload is unique,” says Lee. “We had to make key decisions in terms of design of our equipment to meet the demands the product makes of the payload capacity. We’re approved for 81.5 tonnes.”
Working with the NHVR, Visy Logistics Equipment Manager Glen Fulton has taken the lead on liaising with designers, approving bodies and road authorities to make sure the relevant criteria regarding the static roll threshold and the braking and cornering is all met.
Another first for the Visy HPFVs is the integration of new monitoring and sensor technology to ascertain trailer health in real-time, tyre pressure, brake wear and electrical systems. Much of it, according to Lee, will be new to the fleet.
“What we’re really trying to do is have these health checks in the system on all the key elements: suspension, tyre pressure, brakes, electronics. The system is linked to a control tower 24/7 so that if anything goes outside the parameters or settings we’ve got a call centre that can contact the driver to confirm if they are aware of the issue,” he says. “That will also generate escalation internally among my leadership team to the fleet controller and to the operations supervisor.”
Under this system the life of the equipment is also likely to be extended. Mechanical ‘health checks’ will extend to braking and suspension, air pressures, tyre pressures, brake wear and electric stability interventions. The plan is to have third party monitoring outside of the scheduled servicing Visy currently adheres to as a way of ensuring the equipment is running to optimum expectations and within manufacturer’s limits at all times.
In addition to key information such as location, speed, distance and trip times, all critical mechanical systems will now be monitored 24/7 by roadside support vendors.
Should an issue arise, all vehicle health exceptions will be generated automatically and facilitate compliance with HVNR Regulations and Advanced Braking Systems requirements.
A new reversing camera system, not presently available in the B-double fleet, has also been allocated to the new A-doubles, along with Guardian driver fatigue technology from Seeing Machines. It’s part of a broader strategy according to Lee.
“We want our drivers to have the best experience that they can,” he says. “We want to give them the best tools to do the best job that they can with the product and payload intact, safe and working the way that it should do.”
Within the linehaul fleet there is just under 100 prime movers. Until now 96 of these have been pulling B-doubles. Visy Logistics is looking at a 20 to 25 per cent increase in payload productivity from the first wave of operating A-doubles.
“Effectively, with every four A-doubles, we remove one B-double,” says Lee. “So with the first 16 sets we’re taking four B-double sets off the road to move the equipment payload. It all adds to our mission of being a global leader in creating sustainable solutions for a better world.”