Toowoomba-based MAKTRANS takes the family approach to business – Words by Chris Mullett, images by Nathan Duff.
When the owner of the company has worked in the business and experienced life on the road firsthand, it leads to a better understanding of the pressures that can apply to drivers and how these concerns can be addressed.
MAKTRANS QLD Pty Ltd is very much a family business, with the company headed by Rob Hannemann and his wife Angie. Today, Rob controls the logistical side of the operation, with Angie looking after the administration requirements. They are in turn assisted in the office by Charlee Munro, who is responsible for the administrative and occupational health and safety compliance procedures.
When the Hannemanns bought MAKTRANS some 13 years ago it was operating as an existing fuel tanker distribution business. At that time, the company was owned by the original founder, Mike McDonagh, and Rob Hannemann had worked alongside Mike McDonagh as he became familiar with the structure of the business prior to its acquisition.
“I joined the business with the idea of taking it over and started driving one of Mike’s two-vehicle-strong fleet that was standardised on Sterling prime movers. Mike had built the business as a subcontractor for Brambles distributing BP refined product for Campbell’s Fuels,” said Rob.
“There was no point in changing the name of the company as it had a very good reputation and a good name. It was important for the continuity of the business to maintain the MAKTRANS brand,” he added.
Mike had founded MAKTRANS on the Ford HN80 product and continued on to the Sterling brand when it succeeded Ford.
When the Sterling brand was discontinued, many of the product features were subsequently absorbed into the Freightliner portfolio for the Australian market. As the Sterlings had worked well in the fleet, it became a natural progression at the time of fleet replacement to shift allegiances slightly to the Freightliner Century Class.
The fleet today comprises seven Freightliner Coronado 114s – all powered by Detroit DD15 engines with Eaton Roadranger manual transmissions and hauling 25-metre B-double aluminium fuel tankers, supplied by Holmwood Highgate of Brisbane.
“The Freightliners have been an excellent choice for our company and we are about to take delivery of our 26th Coronado prime mover purchased in the company’s history. Apart from one unit that was powered by a CAT engine, all have been supplied with Detroit power.
“Our replacement programme means that we run each unit for approximately three years, during which time they travel on average 900,000 to 1,000,000 kilometres. Our Coronados are supplied through Jeffrey Corbett of Westco trucks, Toowoomba,” said Rob.
All the Coronados operate in B-double configuration and are pretty much identical, with each carrying a capacity of 54,000-54,500 litres of diesel. The majority of the loads are distillate as MAKTRANS predominantly specialises in the longer distance rural work that local distribution companies find difficult to fit into standard daily transport work programmes. Normal scheduling includes the distribution of fuel out of Brisbane and Newcastle, and as far west as towns such as Walgett in NSW and Cunnamulla in South West Queensland.
Drivers work usually on a roster system of five days on and five days off and may spend three or four nights away, but are then home for five or six nights. Specific prime movers and B-double combinations are assigned to two regular drivers, although some distribution work remains a one-driver/one-truck basis.
Rob Hannemann is very specific that the company will not operate fuel distribution on a 24/7service requirement.
“It’s not something that we would enjoy doing, and it’s something that we avoid for the reasons of fatigue. Many of our drivers have been with us for ten years and we have a very good relationship with all our people. Because we remain a small company we can work around individual requirements, such as when someone wants a specific day off, we organise it to happen. If we were employing 40 drivers it would be much more difficult to manage,” he said.
With a firm compliance programme already in place, MAKTRANS has joined with other fleet operators and distributors to form a group together and benefit from a common source of expert information on health and safety compliance procedures. This ensures uniformity of advice, and with each of the members of the group needing the same information it maximises the return on investment by the individual operators.
“We used to gain most of our information on health and safety compliance from the individual fuel companies. Now I believe this group initiative is leading the development of providing advice that is beneficial to the fuel companies as well as our members,” said Rob.
“We need to have the benchmark set high to prevent any non-compliance occurring and to ensure a level playing field where everyone operates to the required standards,” he added.
With the service intervals of the Detroit DD15s now averaging 40,000 km, the option of extending the oil drain intervals out to 50,000 km has been considered, but Rob Hannemann is comfortable with the current maintenance schedules.
“We went from 20,000 to 40,000 km and the mechanics have the trucks every 10,000 km anyway. I am well aware we could go further if we included engine oil sampling, but the additional gain of perhaps another 10,000 km is not what we consider worth the concern. We receive regular engine information downloads through Darren Price of Penske Commercial Vehicles and that data is always valuable.
“Our common average fuel economy average is a fraction over 1.7 km/litre while running laden one way and empty on return. When using roads such as the New England it drags the fuel economy back a bit. Our diff ratios are standardised at 4.30:1.
“We are very fortunate to have built an excellent team of drivers, many of whom have been with us for over ten years. So far there hasn’t been much interest by the drivers in changing from manual to automated manual gearboxes, and I personally have only driven one of the earlier versions of the AutoShift, rather than the latest UltraShift Plus. At the time, it wasn’t ideal and I didn’t particularly like it, although I understand they are a lot better with the latest versions.
“As a company we stay a manageable size and that provides us with the ability to adapt to the market requirements if demand changes. Our size ensures we can keep excellent drivers with us because we can discuss individually what needs to be done. If they need a day off we can work around it. Larger companies can’t have that personal touch and be able to provide support and assistance to work around what a driver might require as part of their personal situation.
“I do like the idea of moving with new technology and am particularly interested in when Freightliner might introduce the 16-litre Detroit/Mercedes-Benz engine matched to the PowerShift 3 AMT. I prefer bonneted trucks, and, although we have stayed with manual gearboxes, the prospect of that combination has a lot of appeal. We will also adopt lane departure warning and other similar technologies when they become available.
“Safety is obviously the major focus in fuel transport and our fleet runs with WABCO EBS, ABS and roll stability systems for all the latest purchases and we are either retrofitting or replacing any trailers in the fleet to incorporate these latest developments.
“Our mechanics advise us to stay currently with drum brakes throughout the fleet, and on issues such as braking we follow their advice. We are also incorporating other recommendations to add underrun prevention systems and add yellow reflective striping down the sides of the trailer combinations.
“The company has adopted an effective tyre maintenance programme provided by the local Bridgestone Tyre dealership in Toowoomba and Warwick to ensure tyre rotation, regular pressure checking and replacement. The preferred tyre fitment for the fleet is for Bridgestone 295/80R22.5 156s on the steer and with 11R22.5 Firestone products on the drive axles and Kumho on the trailers.
“We inflate our steer tyres with nitrogen, and that resulted from some scalloping we experienced when using earlier Bridgestone 150s. Adding nitrogen and changing to 156s cured that problem,” said Rob.
“Our fleet movements are monitored through the Ctrack GPS vehicle tracking solutions for speed, distance and location under the IAP and Mass Maintenance requirements, and fitting dash cams to every vehicle is part of that system, it’s all built in.
“I watch the developments in the US where they now offer advanced telematics for the engine to provide a report if a fault code comes up on the dashboard. Having the engine being able to self diagnose and order a replacement part from the nearest dealership is a great option. Electronic logbooks would also be great. It’s something that we should develop – for a driver to tag on, then have the system inform them when they should take a break would be an excellent safety and compliance feature,” added Rob.