In Australia’s diverse road transport environment, build quality is the decisive factor in making a purchasing decision. But, quality is more than just the result of solid craftsmanship – it has become a viable management style.
There is a myriad of attributes that can make a mediocre product a successful one, such as ease of operation, purchase cost, safety, reliability, and warranty; and they all contribute to the perception of the product’s quality. In that sense, ‘quality’ is a characteristic affecting the entire corporate infrastructure, both on an individual and on a team level.
“Some companies have an outdated idea of quality and how to improve it. Managers think of quality as minimising defects, especially in production. But, customers evaluate quality based on the value of the entire offer,” says FTE General Manager, Marcus Reid, who has no false modesty talking about the company’s unique fibreglass design. “It’s the complete package.”
Melbourne-based boutique brand FTE has gained a solid repute as the country’s leading force in fibreglass based trailer production, and Reid is convinced that Australia’s remoteness has contributed to that status. “If you compromise on quality, Australia’s road network will expose it. Only the best equipment will stand the acid test in the field,” he says – stating that ‘quality’ is a holistic concept.
“What is quality? In my eyes, there is often a large gap between a company’s quality criteria and those of its customers. Customers increasingly take factors such as long-term reliability and energy-efficiency into account, and many companies aren’t attuned to this, especially internally.”
For instance, to the quality department responsible for testing a product, quality refer to eliminating technical deficiencies, while the manufacturer may measure quality by profit and return of investment. The customer, however, may consider ease of use, performance and solving the business problem at hand. For Marcus Reid, the bottom line is simple: Once a customer has purchased a product, will they return?
In Reid’s eyes, the first step to reach that level of customer satisfaction is ensuring maximum thermal efficiency. The solid construction of the fibreglass body has convinced Australia’s most renowned fleets to use FTE when the environment is too rough for competing material to cope. “First of all, our equipment is strong and can endure the hard work in Australia,” says Reid. “But, it is also long-lasting and 100 per cent backed up by FTE.”
US quality expert Armand Feigenbaum once said that the key in quality management is customer contact, and small-size company FTE has always been able to live up to that call, according to Reid. “The message almost seems too trivial. Ask your customers. Don’t assume you know what they want. Talk to them personally,” he says. “In today’s competitive landscape, characterised by ever-increasing competition, low margins and on-going globalisation, we simply rely on the first principles of quality management. That’s the key.”
Based on the outskirts of Melbourne, FTE concentrates all energy on making high quality refrigerated trailers for the transportation of temperature-controlled products. “Our fully moulded fibreglass solution is able to stand the test of time in Australia’s demanding conditions because we never sacrifice on quality on any level,” says Marcus, revealing that the secret of FTE’s success is what he calls ‘boutique thinking’.
“Boutique thinking is the underlying principle to achieve high quality,” he explains. “It requires us to focus on what’s important about quality; for instance integrity and knowledge rather than production speed and mere quantity. At the end of the day, we’re the manufacturer of choice for many leading haulage companies because we deliver a reliable product. It’s both thermal efficient and strong, plus we’re able to individualise each trailer based on our clients’ unique requirements.”
Because of FTE’s hand-made approach and a production process that is unique in the industry, it takes a certain time to make each trailer – about four to five vehicles leave the workshop on a weekly basis. For Marcus Reid, it’s all about attention to detail, individual specifications and a flawless finish.
“The manufacturing process is improving constantly as raw materials and production processes change, but the principle hasn’t changed over the years,” he explains. “From the minute a new fibreglass sheet is created to the moment a new vehicle leaves the premises, it takes us about three weeks. Our factory is divided into specialised departments for moulding, trimming, bonding, finishing and final fitment. At the same time, the suspension is being built and components are fabricated in-house.
“There are no shortcuts in our manufacturing process, no matter what the specification is. Some of our trailers are used in Australia’s northwest, where the temperatures can climb up to 45°C, to supply food products to local supermarkets. All the way, the temperature within the box has to remain at 25 degrees below zero.”
According to Reid, a single trip in Australia can last about 4000km. “People up there bank on the quality we deliver, so we feel a certain responsibility that does not end when the trailer leaves the workshop.” Nonetheless, all FTE trailers used in Australia are standard products that have not been modified to deal with extreme conditions. “We don’t change anything to cater for a certain region. Our products can operate both in the west and on the eastern seaboard, the manufacturing process is the same. Competing manufacturers generally need to upgrade a trailer for the use in the west, but our material is strong enough from the outset. We still have some units in operation since the early 1980s, and they have outlived every prime mover.”
Especially in winter, the roads in Australia can be rather tough, but the FTE box has proven itself in the field. “We know that our equipment is treated roughly and that the conditions in Australia are abrasive,” Marcus says. “Australia in particular is different to anywhere else in the world, but we’ve always been well supported by our clientele here, which is proof that we are doing the right thing.”
Most trailers built in Melbourne retain the sparkling white surface created by using high quality fibreglass in the moulding process to maintain thermal efficiency. “It’s a white surface, and it’s best to leave it white. Dark materials absorb more UV light creating additional opportunities for unnecessary heat, which can affect thermal efficiency. Everyone loves sign writing, but realistically, white is the most intelligent choice,” Marcus explains.
It is FTE’s dedication to detail and the commitment to craftsmanship that has made the company become a byword for quality in the refrigerated transport industry. Therefore it is no surprise that FTE keeps investing into new technologies to maintain that market position and cater to future growth. “We’re never going to be a mass producer, and we don’t want to be one. But we are committed to the industry and want to be able to grow our output if the market demand will increase in the future. In saying that, we will always prefer quality over of quantity. When you buy FTE, you buy something that will last.”