Sea Change

After being a loyal single-brand truck operator since 1974, privately-owned Perth-based carrier JJ Hawkins & Co recently jumped ship, purchasing three new Scania prime movers. The company plans to gradually replace its entire fleet of 20 prime movers with those of the Nordic brand.

To most people change doesn’t come easy. There’s a certain sense of comfort that comes from familiarity; and fear of the unknown often drives humans to stick to a particular course of action rather than face the reality that things aren’t ideal and need to change.

However, everyone has their limit and as for David Hawkins, Director of J.J Hawkins & Co, his limit arrived last year when he made the much deliberated-over decision that continuing with the brand of truck that the company had faithfully adhered to since 1974 was no longer tenable.

The company was founded by David’s father, Joe Hawkins, while David’s son Troy is now also actively involved in running the business.

While David acknowledges the business had been well served by the other brand, he equally asserts that several serious issues he encountered at the dealership level ultimately forced him to look elsewhere.

“I just felt the customer service of the dealer left a lot to be desired and there seemed to be no clear indication of that changing anytime soon,” he says.

Yet it’s clearly not only the brand of truck that has changed in the operation, as David describes the move to a set lifespan of prime movers and contract maintenance with the Scanias that will essentially remove the headaches of unscheduled downtime and access to suitably skilled technicians that has plagued the company in the past.

“We had historically kept our trucks for a long time and did all our own maintenance and repair work but for various reasons we’ve decided to move away from this scenario and allow Scania to take care of everything for us,” David says.

“There’s a massive amount of technology in modern trucks which the average mechanic is usually not fully across, so it makes sense to leave it to the experts.”

He adds it’s not just the knowledge of the mechanics and electronics but also the specialised tools that are needed to diagnose faults and ensure all the systems are operating as they should.

“I looked at all the electronics which make it more difficult to work on the trucks and I decided Scania is the best option to look after their own products because they train their technicians to the high standard necessary,” David says. “For me, it was a no-brainer.”

Having a lack of suitably skilled technicians is a razor-sharp double-edged sword for family-owned trucking businesses like his, particularly in Western Australia.

Not only is there the general shortage of skilled tradespeople across the board, but thanks to the burgeoning resources boom the mines are luring the best people with lucrative salary packages that are well beyond the means of the average transport company.

Further to his decision to move to Scania trucks, David says he has had his eye on the brand for some time and has seen the company and its products develop in a positive way in recent years.

He was invited to visit the Scania factory in Sweden some years back and was very impressed with what he saw and heard.

“There were six of us in a group and I was the only non-Scania customer in the group,” he recalls.

“They got each of us to stand up and give a short speech and I told them I wasn’t a Scania customer but that I was interested to find out more about the brand. Afterwards they got us together with their engineers in an auditorium and asked us to explain our operations, what problems we faced and what we required of our trucks.”

David is now convinced, now that his business is operating Scania commercial vehicles, that the truckmaker not only listened to what he had to say but incorporated some of his ideas into the trucks.

“In my view, the trucks they build now are certainly worth having,” he says.

One area he emphasised to the engineers was the need for reliable operation and quality parts so that if there is a problem with anything it needs to be jumped on quickly and rectified, and not allowed to continue.

“During that trip to the factory,” David continues, “Scania made us feel like they wanted us to be part of the family and to stay there.”

While it’s early days, with the third new Scania about to join the fleet, David admits he is already very impressed with the fuel economy of the R 620 model that he runs.

The first unit that was delivered in November last year has done just over 100,000km and according to David is doing everything right.

“I can’t fault the truck and the service that Scania Perth has given us so far – they have been very accommodating,” David says – adding that the dealership is handily located at Kewdale which is an easy 25-minute drive south from JJ Hawkins & Co, which is based at Landsdale in the northern suburbs of Perth.

“The new Tonkin highway extension running directly from Muchea to Kewdale was recently opened and has made the trip a lot quicker, which is a great advantage for us,” David says.

JJ Hawkins & Co runs a diverse carrying operation covering a large part of Western Australia from Port Hedland in the north to Albany and Esperance in the south and Kalgoorlie in the east.

Over the years the business has evolved to serve a number of different industries using a range of trailers including tippers, curtainsiders, flat-tops, drop-decks, floats and moving floor units. The company’s transport operation is augmented by a large bulk storage facility located in the Kwinana Industrial precinct.

One of the interesting facets of the company is a small affiliate business called L’Haridon Bight Mining – a shell mining operation at Shark Bay some 50km south of Denham and about 800km north of Perth.

The environmentally sensitive operation on the pristine beaches flanking the vibrant aqua ocean involves harvesting the naturally occurring Fragum erugatum variety of cockle shell which are continually washed up on the coastline in vast numbers.

The shell product is graded into three categories and packaged before being shipped to customers in local, national and international locations.

The tiny Shark Bay shells lend themselves to a wide variety of uses from stock and avian feed to aquariums and landscaping.

David Hawkins is justifiably proud of this operation which employs three to four people in Denham and is an environmentally sustainable adjunct to the main transport business.

“It is the most renewable resource you could imagine,” he says. “Every time after you harvest some shell away the mighty Indian ocean comes in and replenishes it.”

The mining lease has very strict conditions attached including a set quantity of shell that can be harvested per annum and the requirement to rehabilitate the sites without adding any foreign elements after mining in each area is completed.

“We aim to leave a minimal footprint and for me the most exciting part is the rehabilitation afterwards,” David says. “We took over the business after it had been running for a few years and we cleaned up some of the areas where extraction had previously occurred over a number of years.

“We levelled the area about ten to 20 metres from the water’s edge and used the native branches, sticks and leaves to cover it and before too long the naturally occurring regrowth of the native bush made it look as though it had never been touched. I was over the moon about that.”

The shell business also enhances the operational efficiency of J.J. Hawkins and Co because the company hauls general freight from Perth to Geraldton, Kalbarri and Denham, with the trucks returning to home base loaded with the shells.

“While it varies depending on the production rate, we regularly send a number of trucks to pick up the shell, taking general freight up which is great because the truck is loaded both ways,” David says.

For this operation David uses AB-triple combinations which consist of a semi-trailer in front of a B-double, with the trailers hitched together via a tri-axle dolly.

“We’re running a few of these combinations and they are working well for us,” David says – adding that the company is also planning to take advantage of Performance-Based Standards (PBS) with its future trailer combinations.

“Our aim would be to enable us to carry a 100-tonne payload by using either four ‘A’ trailers and a ‘B’ or two B-doubles hooked together with a tri-axle dolly – combinations that are already in use in Australia” David explains.

He ventures that one of the challenges with these long curtainsided combinations is the amount of time it takes the drivers to manage the curtains and restrain the load due to needing two straps for each pallet space when securing double-stacked Bulka bags.

According to David, this amounts to around 50 straps per combination, along with another 90-odd buckles.

“With the large number of straps and buckles on these long combinations it takes the drivers a huge amount of time and effort every time they load and unload,” he says. “We’re looking at how we can reduce this through automation to make it easier for the drivers.”

As for the new Scania prime movers, David has no qualms whatsoever – describing them as the ultimate in terms of being a supremely comfortable and minimal fatigue workplace for his highly valued drivers.

“It is really just like driving a big luxury car and the excellent Scania telematics and driver information systems make life a lot easier for us and the drivers,” he says. “It also gives us great peace of mind to know that Scania is taking care of all the maintenance and keeping us informed of when each truck is due for a service.”

He adds, “This is a welcome benefit that lets us concentrate our efforts on other important facets of the business, of which there are many.”