Kennedy Express applies a strong work ethic to control profit and performance – Words by Warren Caves, Images by Torque it Up
As the operator of an overnight express parcel operation on Australia’s eastern seaboard since 1989, Kennedy Express, managing director Michael Kennedy bought his first truck, a MAN, after driving with IPEC doing linehaul work.
At that time IPEC was operating MAN trucks and “we drove the wheels off them, and they just kept turning up, night after night, for more,” Michael recalls. For him, the decision of which brand to buy when he went out on his own was obvious.
From that first single truck purchase, Kennedy Express has substantially grown its fleet over the years to encompass many different vehicle makes. An association with Mack ensued for some years, along with a couple of LF 55 DAF rigids which would play an integral role in the ongoing success of the business and influence future equipment purchases.
For a time, Kennedy Express ran UD and Hino rigid trucks on express work between Sydney and Brisbane. Yet Michael was concerned with the condition of the Pacific Highway, and decided when fleet expansion or replacement time came around that he would revert back to MAN, for the increased driver safety offered by European trucks.
Today’s increased demand for overnight freight is consumer-driven, he believes. Companies want to offer next-day deliveries and there is an obvious tendency for businesses to resist holding inventory or parts stock, relying instead on streamlined express freight operations and just-in-time deliveries.
These customer demands have seen Kennedy Express substantially increase its fleet size, now encompassing 34 trucks on the road. A further eight spare trucks are located at strategic positions on Australia’s east coast to back up primary fleet trucks in the case of a breakdown.
Michael explains: “As soon as we get notification of a breakdown, in the case of a semi-trailer or B-double, we dispatch a prime mover from the closest location and also request a technician to attend. If the technician arrives and gets the truck mobile again, we stand-down the prime mover and direct it back to base. If the truck can’t be fixed, we swap trucks and carry on with the load. It’s this time-critical approach we give to our time-critical freight that has held us in good favour with our prime multi-national contractor for many years. So much so, that if on the rare occasion we are late with freight, we don’t receive any pressure from them.”
The biggest fleet expansion came about in 2000-01, with the company purchasing four new Mack Quantum models, plus two XF95 DAFs, along with seven trailers.
With the discontinuation of the Mack Quantum, and mixed results from two Mack Trident models, the relationship with that brand waned, resulting in the current fleet still strongly featuring both MAN and DAF models.
Recently commissioned into the Kennedy fleet are two MAN 580 and two DAF XF105 prime movers, together with three 2663 Mercedes-Benz prime movers that form part of the company’s R&D programme. These trucks have been introduced along with 10 new trailers in single and B-double configuration from manufacturers Lucar and Vawdrey.
The decision to purchase both the DAF XF105 and MAN TGA580 trucks is quite clear. Historically, both these brands impart reliability and bring whole-of-life cost benefits to the company, so it’s interesting to see Mercedes-Benz also getting a run in the fleet.
Michael believes MAN is one of the most undervalued and unappreciated trucks in Australia, a view formed over many years of operation, with similar sentiments for DAF.
Kennedy Express has DAF trucks with in excess of one million kilometres of service with minimal downtime experienced. In two million combined kilometres covered by the LF DAFs, Michael says he can count the breakdowns on one hand. They didn’t even require a brake re-line. Even though these vehicles operate as overnight parcel trucks at low gross weights and without a lot of traffic, the performance is still impressive.
As for the Mercedes-Benz trucks, it’s important to keep an open mind to new products by evaluating alternative brands for comparison purposes in order to keep the fleet at optimal productivity.
As part of this research process, the MAN 580 and the Mercedes-Benz 2663 prime movers are the subjects of an evaluation, running head-to-head on opposing routes at opposite ends of their respective interstate legs. This will eventually give a real-world comparison with multiple drivers at regular weights, to see which brand offers the best proposition in terms of trip times, power, economy and maintenance cost-effectiveness. At this point, Michael says the fuel economy figures are as expected, and he believes that the next 12 months will reveal a true indication as to which truck offers the best option.
With fleet expansion comes increased workload for maintenance, operations and administration. To help with this, Kennedy Express has inducted a second generation of family members to assist with growth and ultimately take full control, as 64-year-old Michael winds back a little.
Laura Kennedy, Michael’s daughter, has taken on the role of Business Manager, completing her degree in transport and logistics. Michael’s son, Daniel, who has been around trucks since he was a boy, fits into the Operations Manager role for drivers, with Daniel Ainsworth covering the role of Operations Manager for maintenance.
The company has its own maintenance facility at Chipping Norton, but a lot of preventative maintenance is carried out at customer depots to streamline processes and ensure the best possible reliability.
Any warranty work is returned to the appropriate dealerships for actioning. To further fine-tune this process, Kennedy’s has cars located at the dealerships and its own maintenance facility, allowing drivers to drop off trucks for repair and take the car home before returning the next day to collect the truck. Michael says this not only simplifies the task; it addresses any fatigue issues that could be imposed on the drivers.
Laura Kennedy adds: “We have over the years identified critical parts that may pose a breakdown risk or common component failure. To address these concerns, we have amassed a parts inventory of high turnover items, which we keep in stock.
“In the case of a warranty job needing to be carried out, the dealer may have to order in the parts required. On numerous occasions we have had those parts that we can supply to speed up the repair on-hand and available, subsequently being replenished by the dealer. We are very proactive in our approach to preventative maintenance.”
Michael also recalls a recurring problem with alternator brackets breaking on a particular model. “We put spare alternator brackets in all of the affected trucks. Drivers were able to change them if they broke; or at least when a technician arrived, they had the part needed to get the truck moving again.”
Oil drain intervals are currently at 70,000 km for the MAN, 50,000 km for the DAF and while the Mercedes-Benz trucks are at service levels determined by fuel burn and other parameters, Daniel Ainsworth says that he will implement oil changes at 70,000 km if the trucks system has not prompted one.
Michael explains: “We carry out maintenance inspections fortnightly on all our equipment. This is double the minimum NHVR regulation for maintenance management and is in addition to our drivers’ daily vehicle checks.”
Laura adds: “This is in part why we have tried, but not embraced, dealer R&M contract arrangements. With the reliability of our vehicles and the additional proactive preventative maintenance we carry out which is not covered by the maintenance contracts, we find it more cost-effective to not adopt these maintenance contracts.”
Upon talking with both Michael and Laura during Power Torque’s interview, it’s noticeable that critical time management underpins the company’s success. Each task is time-monitored, and this contributes to satisfying their prime contractor’s needs.
It will be interesting in 12 months’ time to see which truck comes out on top of the Kennedy Express comparison test, in the fast-paced world of overnight express freight.