David Meredith meets with Craig Burrows, founder of Fuel Distributors of Western Australia
Between the line of the Great Eastern Highway running east from Perth to Kalgoorlie, and the magnificent southern coastline of Western Australia, the WA country is dotted with small communities.
Each is connected by relatively few major routes – the Forrest Highway, South-West Highway, Brookton Highway, Coastal Highway, Albany Highway and the vast straight stretches of narrow-gauge bitumen heading for Ravensthorpe and Esperance through Wagin.
North of that line the roads are even more sparse, and, except for the key regional cities of Kalgoorlie and Geraldton, population centres are often smaller and separated by bigger distances.
But fuel dependency is critical wherever you are in WA, and from Esperance to Albany, up to Perth and then reaching to the far north Kimberley, plus everywhere in between, fuel is supplied almost exclusively by road.
Given the wide range of bulk fuel customers across WA – primary industry, transport, commercial fishing, retailers, local government municipalities and mining operations – distributors have to buy tanker rigs that are as manoeuvrable as they are capacious.
The fuel distribution business is in a constant search for capacity and accuracy. That’s why one local distributor ordered his latest truck as an 8×4 – to grab another 5.0-tonne capacity, which translates to 5000-litres of fuel. Six loads a week for around 50 weeks of the year in total is around 1.5 million litres of additional fuel per year. Not a bad revenue boost for ticking the right box on the order form.
In April 1999 Craig Burrows started Fuel Distributors of Western Australia Pty Ltd (FDWA), with a single truck and trailer. His first contract was with Gull Petroleum, distributing its products over an extensive territory in WA.
Before getting behind the wheel of FDWA, Craig spent a lot of his time on the footy field, making his AFL debut in 1995 with the Fremantle Dockers – a step up from his days playing for East Fremantle Football Club. Multiple injuries brought that career to a premature close, but his next venture had to be just as challenging, and proved to be more rewarding.
Based in Kwinana near the shores of Cockburn Sound, he now operates a fleet of over 30 trucks and 50 trailers, servicing a wide range of commercial and retail customers throughout WA’s wheat belt and the Perth metropolitan area.
Craig has successfully steered his company to become one of the leading distributors of bulk fuels and lubricants in WA, and it’s now the largest distributor of Puma Energy petroleum products in the state.
The nature of the work and characteristics of the company’s customer delivery points means a fleet specification that varies across the network.
The Fuel Distributors’ fleet list reads like a truck show inventory. There are nearly a dozen Kenworths, split between three K200 8x4s and a single 6×4, with the remainder being seven T359 6x4s for single trailer work.
Volvo is well represented with 6×4 FH and FM prime movers, plus FH eight-wheelers for rigid tankers. MAN TGX 540 6x4s are fairly recent acquisitions, and the fleet is rounded out by a single DAF XF105 6×4, a Freightliner Argosy 6×4, a Scania 8×4 rigid tanker and a single UD mini tanker.
The company has a fleet of pocket road trains focused on linehaul and larger deliveries. For commercial customers, the company uses semitrailers and rigids with pumping capacity, while for retail deliveries semitrailers are used without pumping capacity.
I followed the process recently when one of Fuel Distributors’ pocket road train was preparing for a run north to Geraldton, about 400 km north.
In what was once a predominantly Volvo fleet, the Kenworth K200 8×4 was chosen for this job by the Fleet Distributors’ fleet manager for several reasons, including height restrictions under the filling gantry and low tare weight.
The K-series is rated to 105-tonne and the whole rig is wired for electronic stability, with the Kenworth configured to ‘talk’ to the BPW system on the trailers. As a Knorr-Bremse engineer told me recently, a 24 V system is necessary to make sure the system can intervene instantly at any point along the length of the rig.
There’s a GPS location system installed on the fleet that allows the company to track its trucks in any area that has mobile communication. The system generates data on driving style and fuel usage and will download the data to base as long as the rig can receive a mobile signal.
This truck’s EBSS system includes traction control, drag torque control, electronic brake force distribution and the electronic stability programme, and reflects the company’s insistence on specs that will enhance safety as well as productivity.
In terms of innovation and the latest technology, it’s the tankers that take the spotlight.
For the tanker fleet there are multiple Holmwood Highgate tri-axle trailer and tri-axle dolly combinations for the road train work. Under the Accredited Mass Management scheme the largest volume of fuel on a Fuel Distributors’ pocket road train is over 80,000 litres.
In addition, there are Omega tri-axle trailers and Australian Tank Engineering (ATE) tri-axle trailers with the Alfons Haar fuel systems split between retail and commercial work. The remaining trailers are from Holmwood Highgate, Tieman and Marshal Lethlean.
After taking on over 80,000 litres across five compartments on each trailer, the two brand-new ultra-light Holmwood Highgate aluminium tankers were at maximum weight, and required every kW the Cummins ISX could generate.
The trailers are not interchangeable as the tri-dolly is fixed. The axle spacing on the lead trailer and dolly is very wide, but it means that when the loaded rig is rolling it’s super stable and stays glued to the track of the prime mover.
ATE is based in Sunshine Victoria, and fabricates the new Fuel Distributors’ tankers locally. The company claims the “Made in Australia” tag is quite often used with more enthusiasm than fact, which is why the ATE team proudly waves the Australian Made triangle on all its products.
ATE’s Mark de Sauty told TrailerTorque the company “custom designs and builds the world’s only certified Australian-made road tankers”.
“ATE’s Australian-Made certification guarantees its raw materials and components are purchased from local suppliers, and its product is truly manufactured in Australia (not just packaged or assembled). This is another level of quality control and assurance – we inspect and have full visibility over every aspect of the tanker and its components as it is being built – ensuring stringent compliance with Australian Standards”.
The ATE tankers were specified by Fuel Distributors to include new safety features, plus an upgraded delivery system that will extend service life beyond the life of the trucks that pull them.
With a full WABCO braking system, the new trailers are also fitted with WABCO’s ‘TailGuard’ reversing safety feature that adds three ultra-sonic proximity sensors to the rear bar of the tanker. If a person walks behind the tank outside the driver’s view while the rig is reversing, the system will recognise unexpected movement and will apply the trailer brakes.
If a pedestrian strays near the trailer when out of the driver’s sight, the first the driver will know is when the rig stops automatically, and, as most fuel prime movers are now AMT transmissions, that won’t stall the engine.
It’s a vital measure when so many people walk out of places like service station shops and head for their cars with their heads – and attention – buried in their smartphones. The sensors are also mounted low enough on the rear bar so they will spot children, introducing a safety system that has the potential to remove a driver’s worst nightmare. The system is a valuable safety addition in today’s world, where many people habitually ignore safety signs and even beeping reversing beacons.
Another WABCO feature is ‘Optiturn’ that is especially appealing to the company, particularly when servicing those tight spots around the smaller delivery points.
Although it doesn’t lift the axle, the system deflates the rear axle airbags to reduce scrub off when the rig is manoeuvring. When the steering wheel is turned under 30 km/h, it effectively turns the trailer into a dual-axle rig until the steering straightens out.
The rig feels as if the truck has an adjustable steering ratio. The driver can feel the trailer drag reduce as the weight comes off the back axle and the turn tightens. The reduction in tyre wear is a bonus.
Underneath the tanker is the most appealing new component of the rig, at least as far as supply accuracy is concerned.
The Alfons Haar PreciTURBO system is an NMI approved tanker-mounted gravity metering system, which enables split compartment deliveries into underground tanks. It includes a combined metering outlet that can deliver specified fuel types to within 100 ml accuracy, minimising overflows and eliminating the need for drivers to climb on the tank to dip levels.
Weighing only 32 kg, the multi-product single metering system is connected to an automatically operating manifold, allowing the metered delivery of multiple compartments in any simultaneous or consecutive order.
Put simply, the operator selects the required delivery volume, chooses a compartment or multiple compartments, and PreciTURBO does the rest automatically. Flow rates up to 1000 litres per minute and the ability to drop a complete compartment while measuring off another via PreciTURBO provides ultimate flexibility with no added delivery time.
Ivan Laurie, director of Haar Australia, the distributor, says the system is an industry first, “since a fuel delivery at 1000 litres per minute can now be gravity metered into an underground tank, making it the fastest metered discharge system on the market today. It also delivers both petrol and diesel through a single system with an automatic purge function”.
Mr. Laurie claims that features like the ability to split gravity drops make this metering system one of the most state-of-the-art devices on the market. According to Mr. Laurie, PreciTURBO is “grabbing the attention of industry operators across Australia”.
The outlet is smaller than the standard API array that sits above it, but the one-step process eliminates swapping hoses when multiple compartments are required to top off the one underground tank.
Most importantly, all the operator’s work is done at ground level. There is no climbing on top and dipping compartments, a process known to only be accurate within 50-60 litres. Night deliveries and wet weather are now far easier and safer.
The precision of the metering enables deliveries to bring ground tanks up to near maximum capacity with minimal possibility of overflow.
From an operational point of view, it means a tanker won’t have to leave the depot with a part-filled compartment for a customer who only wants a small delivery. All compartments can be filled at the depot as the delivery size is metered at the customer’s premises.
The system’s control BUS brings all process control to the one unit. The large display of the delivery volume is active and visible from 50-60 metres away, highlighting to the public that a delivery is under way.
Inbuilt safeguards mean the system remembers the last product delivered so the possibility of blending is minimised. The system is TUV certified for complete drainage for contamination-free product changeover.
The main components in the Fuel Distributor’s units are the basic platform for additional systems such as crossover protection to be added in the future, future-proofing the system to a large extent.
Fuel Distributors enjoys a couple of firsts with its new tankers. With both systems providing a vital base to add further innovations as they become available.
Of its many advantages the system allows metered deliveries of different products, while conventional gravity feed drops can be made at the same time. The advantages of being able to load each tanker to its capacity and then meter out the deliveries by customer are both operational and financial.
Complementing the ease of operation, and the safety in eliminating the need for operators to climb on top of the tanker, the system’s accuracy to within 100 ml takes productivity to a new high.
The latest trailers brought into the fleet are a good example of Fuel Distributors’ fleet manager’s eye for efficiency. In particular, the latest WABCO braking and stability technology shows the company is keen to incorporate new safety features as they become available and viable.
It’s the Margins that Count.
In WA there is only one refinery. It’s at Kwinana and is operated by BP. It also happens to be the largest producer of fuel in Australia, accounting for around 20 percent of the national capacity.
WA is also Australia’s leading producer of oil and condensate – 71 percent of it to be exact. Most is exported, so the Kwinana refinery gets its supplies from a combination of other Australian sources and Asia.
So, no matter what brand of fuel West Australians prefer, the base stock is BP. At each distributor gantry, a carefully metered batch of additives are routed into the tanker compartments as the fill starts, mixing with the pumping turbulence and converting the BP base into the unique blends of each brand.