Preventative maintenance practices are the backbone of efficient fleet management for GKR Transport.
There’s nothing easy about running a national fleet when individual trucks are covering up to 410,000 km each year and a return trip can notch up nearly 9,000 km. That’s only part of the daily concerns for Neil Anderson, transport manager for GKR Transport, as he ensures the GKR fleet maintains absolute reliability.
Based in Perth, the GKR Transport depot looks after the maintenance requirements of a fleet of 48 prime movers, of which around 40 are utilised on constant linehaul work. The remaining eight units are based from the company depots in Perth, Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Adelaide.
“To be effective you have to be efficient and that means having a high degree of reliability in all aspects of the business,” said Neil.
“We run AB triples and road trains from Perth to Adelaide, then break them down into B-doubles or single trailers to continue to Melbourne.
Our Sydney and Brisbane B-doubles do not go via Adelaide, with those for Sydney heading through Renmark, and Mildura before joining the Hume Highway for Sydney at Wagga. The Road Trains head over to Broken Hill and then to Dubbo before being broken down into smaller units. The Brisbane route takes them up to Bourke, then Moree and through Goondiwindi,” said Neil.
All our linehaul maintenance is carried out at our Perth depot, and because of the long distances involved the service intervals are largely dictated by matching the distance travelled to the nearest timeslot required for maintaining correct service intervals.
“We use Valvoline lubricants exclusively and now run their synthetic oils in the diffs and transmissions, with mineral oils in the engines.
As mentioned, we balance our service schedules against the trips completed, so, in the case of a Perth-Brisbane return trip of 8,500 to 9,000 km, you’d be looking at service intervals of 24-25,000 km. With Sydney trips of 8,000 km the service intervals would be on the second or third trip at 16,000 or 24,000 km. Melbourne is 7,000 km return so we have to service vehicles and trailers at 14,000 or 21,000 km.
“Basically, we run bonneted trucks on road train applications, and on the Perth to Brisbane run we operate Kenworth T909s, T609s and T604s plus a K200. We have a few Eaton AutoShifts with one UltraShift Plus and we have found the drivers are happy with the move to automated manual gearboxes. We find the service life of the AMT exceeds the manual version, but you have to balance that cost benefit against their additional purchase price.
“Running a fleet effectively means establishing good relationships with local dealers and component suppliers. We look at all our suppliers as partners, we need them and they need us. We have to get on and produce the best outcome for everyone.
“We had a good relationship mainly with Series 60 Detroits from the really early days, and gradually the fleet ended up with about 100 percent Series 60. As they increased the horsepower, the less reliable they became, so we went then to Caterpillar with whom we also had a good working relationship.
“West Australia was very much a CAT-based state, mainly because up north in the mining areas the CAT presence was very good. At the peak of our relationship with CAT we were running around 60 percent of the fleet on CAT 485, 500 and 550 hp engines.
“When CAT pulled out of on-highway we had to make a choice as to which brand of engine we would use.
“It’s been a big change for us and it takes time to build strong relationships with different suppliers. We set our goals as to what components we want to replace, and then when a manufacturer introduces a new engine or diff it all changes and we have to start again.
“In terms of preventative maintenance we are running on our own experience and knowledge all the time to make sure each product maintains its reliability. With every component we have to estimate its realistic service life. We can’t afford to have vehicles break down out on the road as this will impact on any number of customers from 1 to 200 that have their delivery delayed.
“An unscheduled breakdown also impacts on our health and safety requirements. We can’t have a driver parked up by the side of the road without air conditioning and support. An on-road breakdown could cost $7000 to recover the vehicle, and that places the need for reliability into perspective.
“Our replacement judgments are made on what we know the product will do. If all of a sudden it fails earlier, then you have to find out why.
“We have certain schedules for when we do air compressors and turbos and water pumps. It’s a fine line whether you are doing it 50,000 km too early or too late.
“We are not really interested in the terms of the warranty. All our trucks do similar work and if we get a specific run out of a product then we expect that to be universal in terms of service life across the fleet.
“As an example, if we run 40 trucks, each with a new model diff in them, and one of them fails early, then in our experience it has not reached its proper service life expectation and has failed prematurely. That is when we will approach the manufacturer for an out of warranty claim.
“This is what we are combating all the time. With seven Cummins ISXe5s in the fleet an extra 50,000 km on a component life can mean delaying spending $1000 for a water pump change out. I have had two cases of air compressors on ISXe5 engines failing earlier than on the ISX EGR engines, so we have to constantly revise our service expectations and consider pulling the replacement schedule earlier.
“The ISXe5 engines are showing an improvement over the ISX EGR engines with lower engine operating temp figures on flat ground at around 80-85 degrees, and they will still pull up to 100 degrees before the fans come in. In normal running the ISXe5 is showing a good 15 degrees lower operating temperatures together with marginal fuel improvements.
“From a DANA perspective we had the old DS461 and 462 driveline and then went to 46-170s when the new head came out. The new diff head has improved through some modifications and we now see in excess of 2.0 to 2.5 million km before replacement.
“We have always been a company that prefers to run our bearings in oil and not grease. We do not suffer from wheel seal problems when running with oil.
“The timeframe to clean and repack a hub blows out when you are trying to service vehicles and turn them around to get back on the road. In order to reduce the pressure on our workshop staff at busy times we now maintain a stock of six BPW ECO Plus hubs, plus Horton fan hubs that we have serviced on our quieter days, ready to use as a straight swap.
“We have looked at European trucks as an alternative and have run a Volvo 13-litre at 540 hp with I-Shift transmission for the past three years on linehaul, plus a couple of Volvos running local.
“The Volvo on linehaul has just finished three years and it was purchased with a fixed monthly cost repair and maintenance plan. In that R&M plan we pushed hard for a replacement programme with components at certain times and negotiated a set schedule on 40,000 km oil drain intervals.
“It worked out well on the Sydney run, covering 415,000 km for the first year and 829,000 km on the second anniversary and never missed a trip. In the last year it missed two trips, finishing the three years at 1.20 million km.
“From a service perspective, it had two cylinder heads in that time as a result of valve recession. We also experienced a fan failure and the vehicle was stuck on the side of the road for a few hours. I think they had a programmed 500,000 km change out and this went at 350,000 km as a premature failure.
“When comparing the Volvo to Kenworth, we were buying them at around the same price but there was around a $40-50,000 reduction in trade-in price. If someone is going to buy a truck with high distance, they know they are going to be up for parts replacement. I can put a set of two diff heads in a Kenworth or Western Star for $7000, not including labour costs. Some of the Volvo diff heads are $30-40,000, three to four times the cost, just for one diff head.
“We basically went with an R&M agreement because we didn’t know the expected maintenance costs. As we do not have our own service outlets in other states, an R&M agreement could enable servicing to be completed in other capital cities, so there could be gains in that area.
“One downside is the paperwork. We have to maintain records and we don’t always get the full story when the service is completed elsewhere. To get this information back, the manufacturer doesn’t want to show you its costing for a warranty replacement. At the end of the day we are the ones that are audited, not them, and we have to show we are responsible for the records, not them.
“We do have concerns about the compatibility of ABS and EBS trailers with earlier equipment and have been looking for answers from the component suppliers.
“We’ve included EBS as part of our standard trailer spec but have not yet started retrofitting older trailers. Because we run laden at all times we do not need to progress to the additional advantages provided by EBS such as lift axles.
“It is difficult to bring EBS universally into a fleet, especially on the road train side of things. I can see the advantages, but we can have difficulty running power for the EBS system. I am concerned that some reports say not all systems are compatible and that a 12-volt unit will only run two trailers and not three. A 24-volt system will run three, but, if not, you have to put inducers along the trailer.
“I am looking at this and not finding the right level of information coming back from the suppliers. Everyone has to be on the same playing field. The alternative of using a load-apportioning valve system is not viable, as we have to weigh the trailer empty and laden to check out the valve performance. If the valve fails you have to reweigh the trailer again. You can’t just replace the valve unit.
“The simplest way to achieve compatibility for EBS is if the Wabco system talks to the Knorr-Bremse system and vice versa. The other thing that surprises me is the voltage drop. When you run quads, such as with a B-double behind a road train trailer and then another road trailer, where is the power supply system going to suit that?
“Our turnaround times are tight. If a trailer comes in with problems it has to be grounded. Are dollies exempt? What is happening to the braking efficiency under heavy braking, when you have two controlled trailers and no control over the dollies? It makes it easier for the voltage problem, but we still have to run harnesses for our dollies. Achieving total compatibility could be a five-year programme.
“We run with drum brakes, as we know their life expectancy. During the 4,000 km run to Sydney the brakes are only really being used in the last 800 km of the trip. In the six or seven years since we started fitting BPW axles and brakes, we have found we retain 60 percent of lining life over an excess of 900,000 km. Although the brake adjustment might be automatic, it’s important to remember that brakes, bearings and other components must still be checked,” said Neil.