The Australian trailer market is set to become much more interesting as Panus Oceania grows its presence Down Under
In the April issue of TrailerTorque, we looked briefly at Panus Oceania as it completes what could be described as a six-year apprenticeship in trailer manufacturing for the Australian market.
This is not an apprenticeship in terms of building trailers; with an almost 50-year history of trailer and equipment-building, this Thailand-based conglomerate has plenty of runs on the board.
The apprenticeship in this instance relates to Panus evaluating the Australian market and fine-tuning its existing and future product range to suit the very specific requirements of Australian operators, rather than adapting an existing design and expecting the buyer to make the final compromise.
To understand why Australia figures so prominently in the future plans of Thailand’s largest trailer manufacturer we travelled to the Bangkok suburb of Chonburi to speak exclusively to the company CEO, Watanachai Panus. His Australian sales team is headed by industry stalwart Ron Gysberts in his role as International Marketing and Sales Director, together with National Sales Manager Scott Wettenhall.
The company is currently recruiting sales and service outlets in all Australian states, adding further personnel in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney as the brand grows its customer base. Currently there are three Panus Oceania-approved outlets: MJH Mechanical of Geelong, K&J Trucks of Coffs Harbour and Express Engineering of Dubbo.
The past six years have seen a fanfare-free approach from the company as it introduced a selection of options from its expansive product range into the Australian market, Ron Gysberts explains.
“Initially we were looking at the breadth of product range we could substantiate. But we soon came to realise that establishing the Panus name should rely on the major product lines of flat-tops, drop-decks, curtainsiders, skeletal trailers and PBS-approved designs, which together comprise around 80 percent of market requirements,” he says.
“These are the more common trailer designs that we can offer with a solid reputation for durability and reliability. What makes us different are the economies of scale coming from dealing with the Panus organisation.
“Our design team uses Finite Element Analysis (FEA) with Computer Aided Design and Manufacturing (CAD/CAM) to identify potential stress and hot spots. We source our steel from Sweden, Australia and other markets, with high-tensile options enabling lighter tare weights. We have also developed our own trailer and equipment tracking and onboard weighing systems by working with LogiSenses, with a system that also monitors and reports on repair and maintenance tracking and reporting.”
As the Panus business nears its half-century celebration in 2021, the company is well into its expansion phase covering an expected doubling of production capacity. As the largest trailer manufacturer in Thailand, Panus has also expanded into different metal fabrication areas, making vehicles and equipment for defence use such as mine-resistant personnel carriers.
On a global basis the company includes the Bliss Fox division which manufactures aircraft tugs and tractors to suit airside requirements from light planes to the largest commercial airliners. The latest development includes the F1-340E, a push-back airline tractor. With a tare weight of 34 tonnes, this 4WD, 4WS unit can handle A380s and 747s with a GM of up to 340 tonnes, and is fully electrically powered.
The rail division manufactures rail wagons for cargo, while its passenger division manufacturers extra-wide-bodied buses for airside passenger transportation.
Panus is also the largest manufacturer in Thailand of car carriers and is working closely with Kerren Smith, managing director of Smith Global Pty Ltd of Gympie, an engineering consultancy business renowned for its designs of Australian car carriers and specialist coal and hard rock mining equipment. This association also benefits the close cooperation required to develop PBS approval for different Panus semi-trailer and rigid truck-and-dog trailer designs.
And of course there is more, with a bunded fuel tank division manufacturing remote-location fuel storage options for mine sites and rural truck operations, providing a fully accessible, controlled fuel storage and distribution service.
“Our future growth is only possible outside Thailand,” Mr Panus says. “Since we started our Australian operations back in 2012 we have made a commitment to this market and we are now reinforcing that commitment with making stock available.
“We currently manufacture 3000 trailers each year and when our expansion is complete we could increase that to between 6000 and 8000 trailers per year. To proceed further we can then also add a third production shift, so we have tremendous capacity and tremendous flexibility.”
The total market for trailer sales in Thailand tops out at around 12,000 units per year, which is why the desire to expand production capabilities comes with the need to expand into new markets. While Australia is a very firm part of that expansion, Mr Panus says the company could also be looking to establish closer cooperation with an existing Australian trailer builder to underpin its growth.
“We are continuing to invest in robotic manufacturing techniques to speed the production of individual trailers, while also improving welding integrity and production values where there are repetitive manufacturing procedures,” he says.
“Our trailer designs incorporate high-end safety standards with EBS (Electronic Braking Systems) standard across all products. In our first six years of association with the Australian market we wanted to develop the right product, right for the customer and right for the factory. Now, with 20 models available for introduction to the Australian market, we can build stock and have it available in the market.
“The ready-built bodies for rigid trucks fitted prior to sale is also a market that is attractive, having established the reputation of overseas-built factory-supplied bodies. These can be provided in flat-packed containerised import for local fitment.
“Once we have fully established our Australian operations we will the look to the New Zealand market and further expansion through areas such as Papua New Guinea. The PNG scenario for expansion uses a different product focus. This is more aligned with heavy-duty vehicles that draw similarities with existing Thai domestic products used in remote and rural areas.”
The Thai management style is very different from that of Australian companies through various programmes designed to ensure the wellbeing of staff and also to participate in local communities. Examples of this management style include sponsorship by the factory of workforce soccer and volleyball teams as this ensures a raising of fitness, as well as being highly popular. It also extends to local community projects, with Mr Panus explaining that in a business based on steel fabrication, there are always off-cuts and scrap metal left over.
When a division in the workforce is experiencing a temporary downturn, employees are redeployed to turn the scrap metal into equipment for children’s playgrounds. Having picked an area such as a town or village, the company finds workers that come from that village so that they can go with the playground equipment when it is delivered for the children. This links the workers with the location and to the children and creates a much more personal involvement by the company in the local community.