Most Australians assume that it is easy to send and receive mail, without even considering the vast and sophisticated organization that ensures the timely delivery of letters and parcels.
Over the past two decades, Australia Post’s business model has changed dramatically, brought on by the massive decline in traditional mail volume due to the advent and widespread adoption of email.
Over the same period, the online shopping revolution has seen a massive growth in the requirement for reliable and efficient parcel deliveries, with volume supercharged by the COVID pandemic.
In 2021, through its expanded workforce of 60,000, Australia Post handled 2.6 billion items, delivering them to 12.4 million delivery points in Australia and 115 countries around the world.
Australia Post’s corporate structure dictates that it is wholly owned by the Commonwealth Government, which is essentially all of us as taxpayers, but unlike some other government entities, it is expected to produce financial dividends which it realizes coherently.
As an organization that takes its responsibilities seriously, Australia Post also seeks to minimize the environmental impacts of its operations where it can.
To this end, it has reduced its carbon emissions by 25% since 2010 through activities such as the increased use of bicycles and electric vehicles.
Australia Post has also diverted 10,000 tonnes of material from landfill since 2016. Terry Bickerton has the role of Head of Fleet and Equipment across the Australia Post spectrum, including the StarTrack division, and with General Manager of James Dixon networks, spins the wheels and the deliveries take place.
Terry’s portfolio spans the nation’s largest on-road fleet, ranging from motorcycles and e-bikes to motors capable of pulling A-doubles, along with various vans, trucks, trailers, passenger cars, forklifts and transfer equipment. also loads into the diverse mix.
In 2022, a total of 40 new Volvo FH engines will join Australia Post’s fleet, which already includes a large number of Volvo trucks.
These latest Volvos are powered by 13-litre Euro 6 engines developing 540 hp. Transmissions are 12-speed AMT I-Shift, with the top gear being direct and feeding power to the 3.09:1 rear axles mounted on Volvo 8-bag air suspensions.
New Volvo engines are used for line haul work, pulling a variety of configurations, primarily B-double and A-double trailer sets.
Australia Post has expanded its A-double fleet as new approved routes are gradually added.
The Australian prime mover market is highly competitive and fleet prime buyers are often faced with very difficult choices as there can be very little differentiation between specific makes and models.
Energy efficiency is always a consideration for every fleet operator, and Australia Post is no different.
Yet fuel is only one factor in the complex purchasing decision process.
“We have evaluated other vehicles, but the safety aspects of Volvos and their service network are critical to our operation,” says James Dixon.
“Volvos, especially these new FHs, are very fuel efficient.”
The Volvo FH Euro 6 offers two options for fuel tanks, 900 liters and 1,200 liters with integrated running boards, plus 150 liter AdBlue tanks.
“I always go for the bigger tanks because we’re in the process of ‘back to base’ fueling,” says Terry. “When we had AdBlue issues, we made sure we had enough land we could access and weren’t at the mercy of retail sites, many of which aren’t really set up for B -doubles and A-doubles.”
The Australia Post Volvo fleet operates on fully serviced service contracts for the life of each truck.
“It reassures me to know that the vehicles are returned to the OEM for any maintenance campaign and for any updates to be carried out in the course of maintenance, which is different from an independent service provider who would not have no access to those latest bulletins,” says Terry.
Australia Post’s main engines are typically retained for six years during which they will travel an average of 1.2 million kilometres.
The main engines of the Volvo FH receive a ‘refresh’ at around 800,000 kilometers where the turbos and injectors are changed.
“Then they sail through their last 400,000 and at 1.2 million they’re out the door,” says Terry.
“I could count on one hand the number of engine failures I’ve had on Volvos, and even then it was an ancillary part like the turbocharger that had failed catastrophically and caused engine damage. They are very robust and very reliable motors, especially under OEM service contracts. »
The policy provides for a replacement point at 1.2 million kilometres, but vehicles selected for exchange may remain in service until new replacement vehicles arrive.
“With some of the delays we’ve had with manufacturing, some of these vehicles stay with us for 1.4 or 1.5 million kilometres,” Terry adds, “and again, there’s been no major issues.”
Similar to the experience with Volvo engines, Terry has had very few issues with Volvo I-Shift transmissions with the entire fleet equipped with automatic transmissions, from vans and small trucks to heavy trucks and prime movers.
All are two-pedal vehicles. Volvo’s renowned comprehensive security package is essential for an operator like Australia Post.
“Safety has always been a core value and we always aim to take the highest safety specifications we can achieve in vehicles,” says Terry.
“When we opt for our prime movers and rigid trucks, we always opt for as many safety features as are available.”
It had paid dividends commercially and also from a human point of view.
“Operator safety is always the most important factor,” says Terry. “Fortunately during my time in the fleet we had two major incidents with significant impacts and both drivers of these Volvos survived and I am absolutely convinced that the reason they survived is because they were in Volvo I’m not sure they would have been in other vehicles.
Most line drivers can sleep in their own bed at night.
“We don’t make people sleep in trucks. On the Melbourne-Sydney trip, we swap trailers at Tarcutta and both drivers turn around and go home and sleep in their own beds,” says Terry.
“Our drivers want very little. The average age of trucks is very low and we will put 40 new engines this year, and probably 40, 50 or 60 next year. Every year we spend a significant amount of money on new trucks and they are always the best possible specs we can find. So it’s a good place to be for a driver.
Australia Post uses driver-facing and forward-facing cabin cameras in its heavy-duty vehicles.
The trucks are equipped with MyFleet telematics and the Volvo Connect (formerly Dynafleet) system is used for matters such as service scheduling.
Electronic work logs from a number of vendors are tested as part of the integration of various technologies.
There is a very robust system to protect drivers in case something goes wrong. Australia Post is very risk averse, so if a driver reports a problem with a truck, that vehicle is taken off the road immediately and the problem fixed, rather than waiting for it to be looked at at the next scheduled service.
“We want to be market leaders in security,” says James Dixon. “It’s more compliance and innovation, but it makes the network more secure and the management team is very supportive of that.”
Most of Australia Post’s passenger car fleet has already been converted to hybrids as the best solution, at present, until charging infrastructure becomes more widespread and accessible.
Opting for Euro 6 exhaust emissions standards in new Volvo FHs is another indication of Australia Post’s commitment to environmental reform, as is the transition to more electric vehicles across the the operation.
Fuso eCanters have joined the fleet and other zero-emission vehicles will begin trials this year from SEA Electric as well as Volvo.
An electric Volvo FL fitted with a rigid body will undergo extensive testing in the Brisbane area later this year.