AUSSIE ANGLES – Driver coaching drives profit

In Aussie Angles15 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineJuly 31, 2019

Reliably delivering around half a million litres of diesel every day to outback Queensland requires more than good equipment and good management. In the coalfields in Queensland‘s Bowen Basin, K&S Energy‘s driver coaching programme is driving profit and safety.

Most of Mackay is still sleeping when the elevator bell dings its arrival at the fifth floor of the innercity motel a little after 3.30am. Darryl Menzies, K&S Energy‘s QLD driver assessor-trainer, steps in and pushes the button for the ground floor. On the short drive to their North Mackay depot, Darryl explained that although their operations in Gladstone and Mackay predominantly service mining customers, a large portion of the business delivers fuels to both city and rural service stations also. “Our trucks will deliver approximately 400,000 litres of diesel into the Goonyella Riverside Mine today,” Darryl said. “That‘s where we are headed this morning, however when they [Goonyella] get busy, that figure can go as high as half a million litres per day.”

The Goonyella Riverside Mine is one of seven BMA mines in Central Queensland, and produces approximately 11 million tonnes of coking coal annually. The product is transported via rail to the ports of Hay Point and Dalrymple Bay for export to more than 78 customers in 28 countries. To understand how the mine consumes such a large quantity of diesel, a quick flick through the Caterpillar performance book, which is predominately used for job costing estimation (edition 38 – for the diehard train spotters), reveals that a Caterpillar 789C, which is a mid-range rear dump truck with approximately a 170 ton payload, will consume 70 to 106 litres per hour under low load and up to 142 to 180 litres per hour under high load.

Therefore, one of these massive machines will easily devour approximately 1800 litres per 12-hour shift. The bigger 350 ton machines, even more. At the time of writing, the mine supervisor said he could see 36 of these large rear-end dump trucks operating on his screen, and that didn‘t include the contractors‘ vehicles. It‘s little wonder then that K&S Energy has a steady stream of B-double tankers feeding the massive diesel storage tanks at the Goonyella Riverside Mine site. At the depot, Todd Taylor, driver trainer for the Mackay operation, had checked over the Kenworth T610 and loaded the tankers with approximately 50,000 litres of diesel ready for the 230-kilometre early morning run west to the mine. Darryl‘s role is a multifaceted one, where he conducts training for all new drivers entering the company to ensure they are competent in all aspects of the operation before being allowed to perform fuel deliveries solo. Another aspect is to audit drivers to ensure that all procedures are followed, as well as providing training on any updates to procedures as they arise. Today, he was providing procedure updates to Todd as well as coaching guidance, so that Todd can pass this knowledge on to others in the Mackay operation.

Photo: Running at full tilt, the Goonyella Riverside Mine will guzzle half a million litres of fuel per day.

“Over the past decade, the technology that is in trucks has taken a quantum leap forward,” Darryl explained. “Look around our yard here and you‘ll quickly see that the average age of our drivers is well into the mid-fifties. Overall, they are pretty good drivers, but you have to remember that trucks were operated entirely differently back when most of these guys commenced their driving career. “However, if they drive one of these new T610s like the trucks they drove a few decades ago, then we wouldn‘t be able to get the economic benefits of the new technology in these vehicles,” Darryl said. “So, while I‘m out doing audits and providing training, I‘m also delivering driver coaching as well. “Driver coaching differs somewhat from driver training in that it provides ongoing support to the driver on a regular basis to help them understand the new technologies and develop better driving and work practices that promote reduced fuel usage, with more economical use of the vehicle and fewer driver errors.”

Darryl concedes that careless mistakes are an unnecessary cost to any transport company and in most cases, can be avoided simply by taking more care when performing the tasks. “In some cases, these careless mistakes can cost a transport company as much as 10 percent per month,” he said. “Thankfully in our company this is not the case, as it is something that we monitor and work closely with our drivers to ensure that this kept to a minimum. “You only have to watch some of the clowns on Outback Truckers to see how quickly careless mistakes cost a trucking company money,” I mused. “Fuel at 35 percent is our next biggest cost, followed by finance at 25 percent, then salaries, tyres, R&M and admin,” Darryl said. “You can see that if we can shave a few percent off our fuel costs that is a big saving off our operating costs when compared with the other operating costs in the pie.” Darryl believes that with the correct specification, driver training, coaching, and maintenance, it is possible to not only reach but also exceed the common fleet target value, which is where they start to realise their biggest savings. “These new Kenworth T610s with the Cummins X15, ADEPT and the UltraShift PLUS are really cutting-edge machines that tick all the boxes for the correct specification for optimum economy and payload advantage in our operation,” Darryl said.

Photo: Feeding time at the CATery.

“The next step is to fine tune our driver training and coaching. If we get our drivers operating the equipment efficiently we see a comparative reduction in our repair and maintenance costs. “We start with a reference value of what the vehicle is currently recording – the average fuel consumption and other parameters are recorded, such as harsh braking, harsh acceleration, idling time, driving outside the green band, and coasting. Typically, we find these parameters will be quite high before the training and coaching development starts. “Take idling time for instance. At idle (600rpm) the Cummins X15 uses 1.8 to 2.2 litres per hour. Tap the cruise control button and bump the engine up to fast idle and the usage rises to 3.9 to 4.2 litres per hour. So, if we have a driver who pulls up at a roadhouse for their half-hour fatigue break and sets the fast idle going while they‘re in the roadhouse for 30 minutes, they have burnt approximately two litres of diesel for that period. That is roughly $3 dollars worth of fuel. They will do that in the yard while they get ready, and multiply that by two fatigue breaks and all of a sudden it has cost us $9 dollars per shift just in idle time. Add that up over the number of trucks in our fleet and the final number is a significant figure.

“With the Cummins ADEPT-equipped T610s we get free kilometres when the truck is coasting. We spend time explaining how this works and going with the drivers to teach them how to get the maximum amount of coasting. It‘s all about encouraging the drivers to get as many free kilometres as possible.” Anticipation is another area that Darryl works on. “If we can get our drivers to better anticipate what is going to happen, for instance getting off the throttle a little earlier approaching corners and roundabouts so they don‘t need to stand on the brakes, that is another big saving. It cost roughly $15,000 to reline the brakes in one of our B-doubles,” Darryl added. “With the efficiency of the T610 and B-double combinations combined with the driver coaching, we are seeing a 10 percent saving in fuel. This equates to a fuel saving of $65.68 per truck per shift. Multiply our six T610 B-doubles and that‘s $394.08 per shift we are saving on fuel. In a week, we‘ve saved $2,758.56, which equates to half of one truck payment per week. Over a year working 48 of the 52 weeks, we have saved $132,419.88 just in fuel alone. “On top of the fuel saving we also save on R&M and get increased vehicle utilisation as the trucks are lasting longer, with fewer breakdowns.

Photo: Darryl Menzies, K&S Energy‘s QLD driver assessortrainer, discusses process and procedure with Todd Taylor, driver trainer at K&S‘ Mackay operations.

“Remember, these savings are just based on the Mackay operation. It becomes even more significant when you start adding up the savings that can be realised over all our depots. Sadly however, not all our operations run such state-of-the-art combinations so the challenge is considerably harder,” he said. When asked if he has plans to achieve even more economy and how he‘ll go about it, Darryl was quick to add that to advance to the next level, he can see that a realistic driver reward system will need to be introduced. He said because it is the driver who has the biggest influence and who is making the biggest effort, they should be rewarded for their efforts. “The other aspect we will look at is fine tuning the vehicle spec even further to best suit each job. At the moment, our current truck spec is broad, which enables trucks to be moved throughout the fleet based on vehicle demand. Although out here in Western Queensland the new gear down-speccing might help shave a few additional percent off the fuel, only time will tell how that will go.”
At the time of writing, these Kenworth T610 B-doubles had clocked up an average 400,000 trouble-free kilometres working around the clock with two drivers on 12-hour shifts each. “Driver coaching is the way of the future if we want to remain profitable,” Darryl concluded. “We invest a lot in driver coaching and training to ensure our staff are highly skilled and the business unit is operating safely and sustainably going forward.

Photo: A lot has changed in the past three and half decades and that‘s when many of today‘s drivers started out. With training in up-to-date techniques, significant money can saved.