Prime Mover Magazine: One of a Kind
As one of the first transport businesses in the world, Melbourne company Cartage Australia has fully relinquished the classic concept of prescriptive vehicle design and created a fleet that is 100 per cent Performance-Based Standards (PBS) approved. Every piece of equipment bearing the distinctive blue and red livery is now tailored to maximise payload and push the technology envelope – nothing is standard.
Yet, if you ask founders Ray Cauchi and Wayne Vella how they feel about crafting what could be the most progressive quarry transport service in the world, the response is exceedingly modest.
“It’s fascinating when you think about how far we have come by embracing PBS, but we’re not doing it for the fame,”
says Ray, whose meticulous work ethic has seen him travel across the globe in search of the most efficient transport equipment for the quarry industry. “We haven’t gone down that path because we wanted to write history, but because there was a problem that needed solving. We’re in the quarry business, where the competition is fierce and the work is tough, so standing still can be economically fatal.”
Ever so hands-on, Ray says being in the transport trade is all about creating new opportunities to grow and improve and not let complacency take the lead. “Every new contract is a new challenge to revisit what you consider best practice and look at how you can push the envelope – be it regarding safety, fuel efficiency or payload,” he says. “I think that kind of continuous improvement really is the key to having on-going success in our line of work.”
According to Ray, being exposed to a payload-driven industry like bulk haulage has helped himself and Wayne keep the focus firmly on productivity and embrace PBS early on. “The extreme focus on payload in our line of work has certainly inspired us to make some bold decisions in the past,” he says. “More importantly, though, we work in a high-risk environment, so safety is always at the top of our agenda. What we’ve learned quickly was that with PBS, you can increase your payload quite substantially without compromising on safety, so we provided the ideal breeding ground for PBS equipment, if you will.” Wayne recalls that Cartage Australia was the first company in Victoria to run a PBS-approved truck and five-axle dog combination in 2008, then achieving a payload of 45 tonnes at a GCM of 63 tonnes when using a pre-approved road network. It then became the first fleet in the State to employ a truck and six-axle dog combination, with a payload of 49 tonnes achieved at a GCM of 68.5 tonnes – a set-up that is still popular with the company today.
“Cartage Australia is a young company that was only founded in 2003, but we’ve embraced PBS as soon as it was available in Melbourne, so you can say we’ve grown and matured with the scheme,” he explains. “However, we’ve never made any conscious decision to become a PBS-only fleet, especially not in such a short timeframe. It just happened organically. “That being said, I do think we have a different mind-set compared to those who jumped on the bandwagon of late. Some people are scared by what they don’t understand and simply didn’t buy into the hype at first. But for us, there was nothing holding us back, which gave us a real competitive advantage at the time and is still benefitting us today.”
“Cartage Australia is a young company that was only founded in 2003, but we’ve embraced PBS as soon as it was available in Melbourne, so you can say we’ve grown and matured with the scheme.” Wayne Vella
The result is a company with a surprisingly relaxed attitude toward the inherently complex PBS scheme. “Yes, PBS can be a time-consuming process, but you have to look beyond that and see the Return on Investment,” Wayne says. “What we do is grant our clientele access to game-changing equipment that significantly improves the performance of their own businesses and gives them a competitive edge. Executing such a strategy requires us to be at the leading edge of science – and that means investing in the smartest technology out there.”
Built on that premise, Cartage Australia now has a fleet of 60 trucks that is solely dedicated to pulling PBS-approved trailing equipment – making it the largest bulk haulage company in the
Melbourne region and the only sizable PBS-only fleet in Australia. “It’s a classic ‘one thing led to another’ scenario,” says Wayne. “First you try something new just to explore how it could benefit you, and before you know it you are breaking records you didn’t even know existed.”
According to Ray, with an average age of just 2.5 years, Cartage Australia’s all-Volvo fleet might actually be the youngest in the nation, coming in more than a decade below the average of 13.84 years the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) calculated in March. “I’m not surprised about the difference, because we do a lot differently compared to the average transport business,” he says. “We turn equipment around quickly and never say no to a new safety feature. “We always want the best truck on the road that money can buy, so our brief is simple – spec any extra safety feature you can. We don’t calculate our Return on Investment on safety, that’s just a given for us.”
Ray adds that the entire Cartage fleet is now equipped with Volvo’s iShift transmission, which he considers to be both a safety and productivity feature, as it allows the driver to concentrate on the road and leave both hands on the wheel, while actively contributing to saving fuel. Also important to him are ample power and torque to ensure the Cartage fleet is able to handle even the steepest quarry ascent. The 540hp version of the Volvo FM is performing especially well in that regard, he adds, with close to 20 units of the new model already on the road in Cartage Australia livery.
“We push every truck to the limit here. Working in a metropolitan construction material business is as tough a work environment as it could get, with long periods of stop-and-go traffic and heavy brake use, all while carrying enormous weight on the back. Volvo has done really well in what we believe is the hardest workplace a truck could find.”
When not working on the road, Ray says Cartage Australia’s fleet is covered by a comprehensive Volvo service contract to keep overheads low and ensure a consistently high maintenance standard across the business. It is carried out by CMV Laverton, whose team of mechanics plays a crucial part in Cartage’s story of success, Ray says. “We believe our strength is in providing smart logistics solutions to the construction industry, so that’s what we’d like to focus on. Volvo’s strength is building and maintaining heavy equipment, so we leave that part of the equation to them and keep our business nice and lean.”
In line with that, Ray and Wayne agree that Volvo and Cartage Australia have developed a unique dynamic over time, with the transport business consistently challenging the OEM to push the innovation envelope and Volvo bringing in new technology from around the world for Cartage to trial. “We understand the whole idea of continuous improvement more as a constant dialogue between two businesses aiming for the same outcome. It’s not a race or a competition, it’s more about having the same vision and finding a steady rhythm of questioning everything you do,” says Wayne.
“It’s a new world out there, with 24-7 service expected as standard, and no room for error, so you need to ask the right questions before someone else does it for you. In working with Volvo, we have perfected that thought exchange to a point where the Volvo President personally invited Ray to Sweden to brief top executives on the concept of continuous improvement as we live and breathe it.”
According to Ray, getting to that stage was far less glamorous a process than it may sound, though. “Getting to where we are now was really hard work, but it’s safe to say it all started with PBS. Going down that path didn’t just show us how to transport more freight safely, but also helped us reassess our supplier network in general. Volvo obviously left a lasting impression, but so did component suppliers like SAF-Holland, for example, who we trust in every trailer suspension and coupling-related question. With SAF-Holland, we know we will be looked after in any scenario, which allows us to focus more on our core business.”
Ray and Wayne agree that by embracing modern, high productivity equipment early on, they adopted a high technology mind-set that is very European in nature, with a focus on young, efficient and safe equipment. After the company’s recent move into the port services and bulk storage industry, they say the next challenge will be to transition that attitude into the new business division and keep building it with the same commitment.
“We’re extremely excited about diversifying and expect the port operation to give the company a real boost over the next decade. There’s no reason why we can’t double in size over that time frame, if we only retain the attitude we developed when adopting PBS,” says Ray.
“We want to be the best at what we do, work with the best people and use the best equipment. And if there is a process like PBS that can help us get there, we will embrace it wholeheartedly. It’s as easy as that.”