Poles Apart | COMPANY PROFILE- East Coast Scaffolding

It’s a long way from making safety rails to providing full scaffolding support for the building industry, but it’s proving to be the right route for East Coast Scaffolding. Words and images by Warren Caves.

There are times when the future of a company depends on a total change of direction, and for two businesses located in Liverpool that change resulted in the merging of the talents of engineering company owner Chris Fermanis and roof tiler Chris Whicker to form a single entity called East Coast Scaffolding.

Prior to their amalgamation and the formation of the new company, Chris Fermanis was manufacturing roof rail components for the home construction industry. As a tradesman, specialising in tiling, Chris Whicker was critical of design shortcomings with some of the products available on the market. The result was a collaboration of their joint expertise to produce a better system.

Armed with ideas for improving this section of the building industry, both of them set about creating a better, more user-friendly product, and for several years ran the roof rail business alongside the engineering business.

Times were changing within the construction industry and WorkCover requirements and OH&S (as it was known then) was driving that change.

The two Chrises were starting to see the increased need for scaffolding on home construction projects, not just for multistorey dwellings but also for single-height constructions.

To learn the full background to the foundation and development of East Coast Scaffolding, PowerTorque met up with Chris Whicker, East Coast Scaffolding’s general manager, and Chris Fermanis’s son Aaron, now installations manager and co-director for East Coast Scaffolding.

“We knew nothing about scaffolding, but we learnt,” said Chris. “We were focusing on the safety rail side of things but saw an opportunity in combining the two systems, as up until that time companies were either dedicated to the safety rail or scaffolding, East Coast Scaffolding developed from an idea of starting a company that combined both the industry’s needs”.

Chris explained that, “W soon outgrew those original premises, and the engineering business was sold off to focus on the expanding scaffolding and safety rail business. This expansion saw us move to our purpose-built current Glen Denning location in 2004”.

East Coast Scaffolding now employs a total of 60 staff including drivers, warehouse, administration and site supervisors.

Originally utilising subcontract transport hire that worked well for that time, the home building landscape was changing and the company saw a need to change as well, as Aaron explained, “We were seeing our pack sizes increasing mainly due to factors such as larger house sizes, more complex facades and builders demanding more scaffold on not only double-storey dwellings but single-storey work as well”.

It was becoming apparent, that the subcontract vehicles they were using, being predominantly 6X4 trucks with around 9.0-tonne payloads, were becoming redundant for this type of work for East Coast. “We were seeing the contractors doing double turnarounds for the one job, with the second load being only a partial load, this was not cost effective for us or our contractors,” said Aaron.

This change in workload dynamics led to some number crunching and a final decision to purchase their own vehicle to cover the increased demand. After some initial scepticism and research, the decision was made to purchase the first DAF CF 75 in 8X4 configuration.

The first CF 75 was shortly afterwards inducted into the fleet on an 8X4 platform, the PACCAR 9.2-litre engine @ 360 hp provides power with optimum efficiency and SCR ensures Euro 5 compliance. The transmission is the ZF 12-speed AS Tronic

One of the DAF trucks in the fleet utilises an Allison automatic transmission, which came about when the need for a new truck arose and a stock truck was purchased with this option – interestingly, the feedback from the drivers on the Allison transmission is very positive, “They love driving it,” said Aaron.

Also, part of the DAF’s appeal for East Coast was the low tare weight, in particular the light weight but strong chassis, with its flat pre-drilled design making the job of body fitment and Hiab installation a much easier process.

The rear-mounted Hiab Space 4000 crane takes care of the unloading task with a capacity of 1000 kg at 12 metres reach. The location of the crane to the rear of the chassis also benefits axle weight distribution, further maximising payloads.

With the first DAF ready for service, and Hiab crane installed, these new units were now capable of 13 tonnes payloads, an increase of 4 tonnes per load, which slated the new acquisition as an ideal transport solution for their operation.

Chris Whicker said, “We were a little dubious at first about our choice. However, this proved to be unnecessary doubt as the DAFs have worked out brilliantly for us, there have been no real reliability and maintenance issues and we are very pleased with the running costs”.

With the first truck in service for a while and an analysis of costs, it became clear this direction taken with regards to moving their own products was a viable one, so much so that within six months of purchasing the first DAF, the second was on order. “The more DAF’s we bought, the more our cost of transport reduced,” said Aaron.

Five DAF 8X4 trucks in the same format now work within the East Coast fleet, four are owned by the company and the fifth is an ex-company truck purchased and now exclusively operated by a subcontractor for East Coast. “The configuration we have chosen has worked so well for us that when we are ready to upgrade our equipment our contractors are lining up to buy them from us,” said Chris.

“Our trucks are averaging around four loads per day on Sydney metropolitan duties, which keeps them busy, and we have them on 10,000 km service intervals. We envisage that we will upgrade the trucks at around four to five years of age,” explained Aaron.

Finding drivers for their trucks has not been an issue for East Coast Scaffolding, as Aaron explained, “If we need new drivers we often offer our warehouse staff the opportunity to upgrade their licences, which we arrange for them and cover the costs. We find this gives them career advancement and variety of work, and in return we receive a happy and loyal driver”.

Ray Casley of Gilbert and Roach Huntingwood has looked after East Coast Scaffoldings DAF purchases.

Ray suggested that for future purchases, if time permits, the truck could be purpose built from the factory in Holland. This is taking place right now, with the latest truck for East Coast arriving in Australia with the chassis tailored to suit the customer’s needs rather than having to get the original chassis extended once it arrives here, along with any other factory options. A small reduction in cost is an added benefit. This truck is due to arrive in August this year.

DAF Trucks have had mixed success here in Australia, loyalty to other brands by existing operators makes for tough sales targets. However, low tare weight and economical operating figures, for some, can’t be ignored.

Whilst I’m not sure you’ll see too many DAF trucks running in road train guise on the vast outback road network of Australia, there’s no denying that there is a place for them within metropolitan operations and intrastate/interstate highway work for those looking to see a vehicle purchase for what it is – a business equipment purchase for making profits.

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