Mick Murray Welding of Townsville has one approach to building trailers – they have to work, and they have to last – Report by Chris Mullett
Whenever PowerTorque meets executives visiting Australia for the first time, their comments are usually similar, in that they had not appreciated the harshness of operating conditions. The next comment usually is where they express surprise at the remoteness of some operations, typically those in the mining industry, that result in service and maintenance taking on a new level of importance when help is not available at short notice.
In general freight it’s more than possible for overseas manufacturers to find that a local solution that works in Europe will work equally well when transported to Australian line haul operations. The next question is of course durability, as to whether European designs will cope with higher speeds, longer running periods and rough road conditions.
Trailer manufacturing in China and Thailand may work well for their local markets, but the Australian market has proven difficult for them to compete effectively on the grounds of durability. This has resulted in some of the Thai manufacturers in particular pulling out of the Australian market after an unprofitable foray that has proven to be costlier than projected.
The heavy haulage sector for trailing equipment is perhaps clearer cut when it comes to the designs and construction that work, and those that fail.
Mick Murray started work as a young welder at the age of 15 and in his early 20s he fine-tuned his trade in Alice Springs, where he built dollies for road train work and repaired tankers.
Involved in the transport industry ever since completing his apprenticeship, Mick founded his own business in Alice Springs, then Darwin, before finally relocating to Townsville, where Mick Murray Welding has been based since 2013.
“The Townsville council and local authorities were totally supportive of our move to Queensland, and it’s proven to be an excellent centre for attracting the right calibre of local tradesmen. We also run an apprentice training programme, so we are future-proofing our skill set to continue into the future,” said Mick.
“In our history we’ve based our company philosophy on innovation and like to work closely with a customer to find the right solution for their transport task. Our business succeeds because we have built an excellent and very capable skilled workforce. We specialise in the top end of heavy-duty transport where strength and durability mean that equipment we have built has outlasted by three times the service life of some of our competitors.
“It’s common in on-road tippers in the southern states to run with 4 mm thick flooring, but, for the type of work completed by our customers, that’s just the point at which we start our designs. We work with trailers where the floor thickness can be up to 16 mm and the tare weight can be 21.5 tonnes. That’s at the high end, but the construction depends on the application, consequently we work with all sheet thicknesses ranging from 4 mm, 6 mm, 8 mm, 12 mm and 16 mm.
“A typical example of our work is the recent completion of five quad-axle side tipper road trains and a further six tri-axle side tippers for three-trailer road train operation by MLG Oz Pty Ltd. (Murray Leahy Group) of Kalgoorlie for bulk transport and minesite services. In the past 18 months Mick Murray Welding has delivered 11 road trains for MLG Oz, all of them being side tippers. All of the chassis builds required steel plates to be specifically rolled for the arduous operating conditions.
“We are very much innovators. Everything we have ever done has been to our own design, although we have been copied on many occasions. I’ve never wanted to build the most of anything, just to build the best. We were the first to introduce a greaseless side tipper door and body hinge system. The entire coupling systems for the MLG Oz road train side tippers were built to our greaseless design without one grease nipple in the combination, including tow couplings, slew rings, hydraulic rams etc. Cantilever hydraulic lid systems were another first, developed by MMW, and we are still holding the patents for their construction. Another innovation in design was our double deck banana carrying trailer, which dramatically improves productivity and efficiency.
“Anything that’s a bit unique and bit different we like to do, such as quad-axle belly dumpers with a pivoting suspension that was designed and built entirely by us using York suspension components. These have been really successful for the customer.
“We work with York, BPW, K-Hitch and Hendrickson. Again, most of our suspension and axle choice is generally customer oriented, as to what they want to use. We are always keen to fly to a location and look at the task in that environment and come through with a workable solution. This specialist approach results in equipment that is tailored exactly to the requirements of the customer and results in our very broad portfolio of tipping equipment that ranges from 14 – to 75 cubic metres.
“Companies we supply are utilising our trailers that are specifically built for their operation. These include 35-cubic-metre capacity, tri-axled side tippers that offer around 60 tonnes payload or 40-cubic-metre capacity quad-axled tippers with 70 tonnes per trailer payload. These operate as triple road trains in a purely off-road application,” added Mick.
The focus on safety has taken development work on trucks and trailer equipment to new levels, with the introduction of satellite monitoring incorporating geofencing with monitoring of weight and speed in addition to location.
A greater percentage of customers are now specifying disc brakes with EBS and roll stability controls for off-road application, as typified by a recent stock crate road train combination for the Kimberley region. Careful design takes into account the movement of the livestock and the weight distribution of the load together with the tow couplings and connections to maximise the handling stability of the trailer. These benefits result from our analysis of king pin and Ringfeder and drawbar lengths to maximise loading, handling and stability.
“In any industry the focus on safety is about the workers’ well-being. It needs to focus on worker safety and not just the paperwork that suggests it is safe. If it’s not safe, don’t do it. No amount of going to court will bring back your fingers, hand or even worse, your life. Decisions have to be made by people with work experience, rather than inexperienced people without industry knowledge,” said Mick Murray.
“I still love to get out on the floor and weld and build when I get the opportunity. I am very passionate about our product and our product development. The first thing in our designs we look at is how it will operate and handle. We’ve designed them to be safe and to simplify the operation for the driver. If a trailer handles well it reduces driver fatigue and makes it safer on the road.
“The right degree of care also applies to the replacement of components. We have a unique U-bolted ram system that makes getting a ram on and off really easy. Our hydraulic manifolds on the insides of our tippers have removed all but two hydraulic hoses internally and are also very easy to access. This prevents hydraulic leaks and blown hoses from occurring. It’s about making the design of the trailer work for our customers, handle the weight, and live up to their expectations, while remembering to make it easy for any mechanic to work on it.
“Lack of foresight can turn a one-hour job into a six-hour job. Anything we build is designed for ease of maintenance, service and access. In the field, you have to know that a design is easier to work on and you don’t have to remove any component to replace any worn or damaged parts.
“It’s about making things cost effective. When we build lightweight trailers, we are never willing to sacrifice weight for integrity. Everything is built for longevity and not for the length of the contract,” said Mick.