Warren Caves joins Corbet’s Group for an update on the company – Images by Torque it Up
When Al Corbet started out as a logging contractor and sawmill operator back in 1970, the family business was a lot different. Firstly, his original AB 180 International, with its 6V53 GM soundtrack wouldn’t pass muster today, and, secondly, because the Corbet’s Group of 2018 is an almost unrecognisable derivative of those humble beginnings.
Headquartered at the original Gympie location, which used to be a farm, Corbet’s Group is still a family run business, with Andrew Corbet, Al’s son, steering the company alongside Al to an ever expanding and incredibly diverse transport future.
Around 2000, after some time working in the mining sector, Andrew took an active role in reinventing the company, which had moved away from trucks a little.
“I started with one truck carting woodchip, which very quickly went to two trucks, then eventually five. The downturn in the timber industry saw the need to look for other opportunities, which is where our transport diversification began,” explained Andrew.
The scope of work encompassed by the Corbet’s Group is truly amazing, with many different interests. Logging transport still features in the workload, along with woodchip cartage in walking-floor trailers, side tippers, water and fuel cartage, livestock work, concrete and mobile batching plants, earthmoving and rehabilitation work, mine logistics, and, I’m sure I’ve missed a few. These guys will seriously have a go at anything.
Andrew and Al both agree it’s this diversification and a can-do attitude when opportunities present themselves that has kept them busy and growing.
“We’ve always had the philosophy of if there’s an opportunity we will look at it, and if it seems viable we will get into it, even if it’s not our core business. This can carry us through quiet periods in different areas of our operation, allowing us to allocate drivers and equipment from the slower areas to busier tasks,” said Andrew.
Corbet’s Group currently employs 250 people, including drivers, mechanics and technicians, tyre fitters, machine operators and admin staff to keep over 100 trucks and 200-plus trailers on track, plus a whole lot of associated plant and equipment. Company operations are based at the Gympie location, with additional yards at Dalby, Goondiwindi, and Gladstone.
Interstate drivers for Corbet’s are generally on a two-week rotation, working on a variety of tasks in areas such as Mt. Isa, Roma, Murwillumbah, and as far south as Renmark, SA.
“Our interstate drivers return home every second weekend and have three or four days off before setting out again. During their break the trucks are serviced and washed before they set out again. We operate a one-truck/one-driver policy, which we also extend to the trailers,” said Andrew.
With both Andrew and Al having qualifications as diesel fitters, it forms the background for their preference to retain full control of all servicing and maintenance, and not just the routine stuff. Corbet’s Group goes as far as rebuilding its own engines and transmissions and hydraulic and fabrication work, plus it has its own tyre fitters.
“All our maintenance work, where possible, is done in-house by our staff. It helps us better manage our costs, schedules and maintenance records, allowing us to address potential issues before they arise. With over 100 trucks, they can’t all be new. We aim at a ratio of 70 percent owned and 30 percent on lease, which means we have ageing trucks within our fleet. Preventative maintenance is the key to keeping older gear reliable”.
Corbet’s operates a fleet with a mix of Western Star, Kenworth and Mack, with Mack being the preferred option over the past four years.
“We use a combination of Super-Liner and Trident models, which we have purchased through Mack Trucks in Brisbane, and John Grosman, with whom we have a great relationship.
“All our Mack trucks run Eaton 18-speed manual transmissions, with either 535 or 600 horsepower MP8 and MP10 engines. The fuel economy we get out of the Macks is great. Our MP8-equipped trucks on logging work, which can be hard on the trucks, are returning figures of 2.0 km/l on B-double work, and the MP10 trucks are returning 1.8 km/l on B-double work at 600 hp ratings,” Andrew explained.
In a bid to achieve a degree of standardisation across their fleet, Corbet’s has opted for nothing but Hendrickson axles within its new trucks and trailers after being introduced to them by Graham Lusty, of Graham Lusty Trailers.
“We were long-time users of BPW axles dating back to the first axles used in Australia. Graham suggested we put Hendrickson axles onto some trailers we were having built, and at 100 kg lighter per axle than the competition, we thought it worth a try. We haven’t looked back. We use Hendrickson INTRAAX AA250 with the HXL7 drum braked trailer axles and Hendrickson Primaax EX suspension under the trucks, which conveniently use the same brake shoe and drum assemblies, allowing us to carry a reduced parts inventory. The Hendrickson HXL7 hub and brake systems are also extremely reliable, cost effective and low maintenance.
“Rockwell differentials are our preference. We usually get up to two million kilometres out of our diffs with regular oil changes. If we see a diff making a bit of metal, we don’t muck around, we pull the two centres out and send them back to Rockwell or cut them up, and Rockwell sends us two new ones under their new for old replacement programme. They’re not that expensive, and we don’t find it practical to use remanufactured units,” said Andrew.
Andrew also explains that, as a part of their preventative maintenance programme, at every million-kilometre interval they replace all the wheel bearings and brakes on the trucks regardless of condition. This goes a long way to securing trouble free operation for another million kilometres, he says.
The Mack trucks are serviced to a 40,000 km interval and any Cummins or Caterpillar-powered trucks are serviced every 20,000 km, with oil monitoring and sampling used to identify any problems along the way, enabling engines to be swapped with reconditioned units held in stock before they fail.
“This type of attention to detail in relation to maintenance and record keeping keeps our older trucks reliable and well sought after when it comes time to sell them.
“We specify all of our trucks up with the same hydraulic hose couplings, air hoses and everything necessary to hitch to our trailers. They’re all exactly the same, providing versatility throughout our operations.
“Graham Lusty Trailers has supplied us with around 30 trailers, from walking-floor units to side tippers, and they build a great product. We do have some Barker trailers, which have also served us well, but, with GLT being just off the Logan Motorway in Brisbane, the convenience is hard to beat.
“GLT’s product is of a really high standard, and what I like about their builds is that it doesn’t matter how long since you’ve had a trailer built by them, if we order a new one it will turn up exactly the same as the last one, with steps, ladders and operational equipment in exactly the same position as the previous build. This works well from an operational compliance point of view as we only need to have a single safe work method in place for multiple pieces of equipment,” says Andrew.
Al Corbet explained, “We took a proactive approach to compliance ten years ago when we saw the way things were heading, and this has kept us ahead of the game. We have a pretty good track record with regards to safety and we’re proud of that. We invested the time and money to get it right and we have three full-time guys dedicated to the compliance task”.
Plans for the immediate future include a centralisation of operations with a move from their original Jones Hill location to a larger 300-acre block just a bit further out of town to accommodate the expanding fleet of equipment. There are five new Mack trucks expected by Christmas, along with some new trailers from GLT.
With solid maintenance regimes and a professional approach to compliance and chain of responsibility obligations, Corbet’s Group has proven that keeping a close eye on costs and closely monitoring all facets of operations can positively affect success and profitability in the long-term, in this rapidly changing transport landscape.