Fresh from the dairy

Trevor Illman and his family formed Milkflow in 1995, aiming to provide innovative logistics solutions to the local milk transport market. Since then, the company has grown to be one of the largest bulk milk carriers in the vast state of South Australia and is now known for running a high-tech fleet that was solely created to service the demanding bulk liquid market.

High-tech European trucks have always been a key building block of the Milkflow fleet, with Swedish brand Scania recently taking the lead. Illman and the team at Milkflow started off trialling the Scania R580 model a while back and then upgraded to the SCR-based R560 range, before eventually changing to the R620 series. Most able, the company upgraded to the top of the range 730hp rating as the fleet is now almost exclusively performing B-double work.

The main reason to opt for the maximum horsepower rating, however, was to decrease the fleet’s average point-to-point running time. According to Illman, the 3,500Nm of torque available from the 730 series were instrumental in shaving some 20 minutes off a standard trip.

“At the end of the day, we decided to try more horsepower to get the job done in less time,” explains Matt Williamson, Milkflow’s Fleet Manager, adding ‘the job’ can involve running both fully loaded or empty, going at slow speeds on rough farm access roads or acclerating up through the gears, as well as idling with the PTO pumps loading milk into the trailers – a solid sample of the work each vehicle is performing every day.

He adds that only two of the company’s truck and trailer combinations are currently used for line haul work, while the rest collect milk from dairy farms and deliver it straight to processing facilities around South Australia and Victoria.

In peak season, the Milkflow fleet is operating 23 hours per day, with each set being driven by three drivers over the course of the day. Depending on the trip, one driver will load at the farms and another driver will take the milk through to the processor. “Rest assured our trucks don’t get cold very often,” Williamson says.

At Milkflow, each B-double set remains connected to the same prime mover for the majority of the time – testament to Matt’s fleet management style, which is based on the idea that permanently linking a prime mover to a set of trailers will help monitor costs per kilometre and other maintenance expenses. “Plus, some drivers are fussier with cleaning and appreciate getting their own trucks back after a service,” he explains.

Although only loaded one way most of the time, milk collection can be hard work on the equipment, as part of the work is performed off bitumen – and some of the rugged farm tracks can be quite demanding, particularly when hauling a loaded B-double set.

According to Matt, due to concessional mass management accreditation – a special system allowing for heavier vehicles to run on approved roads in Australia – and the co-operation of the local councils, most farms are now accessible to Milkflow’s B-doubles, with most of the roads they operate on allowing for a gross weight of 68 tonnes.

In some areas, however, the company’s logistics planners have to schedule farm pick-ups in a particular order to comply with the weight restrictions on certain bridges. “This may involve passing a farm to collect from one further down the road and then calling in on the way back,” says Matt – revealing that it usually takes five pick-ups to fill both trailers. “With our larger clients, we only need two pick-ups to fill the entire combination to capacity.”

Milkflow’s tanker fleet consists of 10 B-doubles and one single trailer, which is now essentially a backup since most farm properties are accessible with the more efficient B-double sets. Each B-double combination can boast a maximum capacity of 42,000 litres. A typical full load consists of around 41,000 litres – almost maxing out the entire combination.

In line with the company’s commitment to high technology, the three latest sets all have roll stability control and ABS fitted, while most of the other B-trailers feature ABS as a minimum standard. The anti-lock system is now also being retrofitted to a number of A-trailers to ensure more combinations within the fleet can benefit from the technology.

On the marketing front, Milkflow using the latest Scania R730 V8s to make a bold statement: “We’ve always had white trucks but I managed to convince the boss to do something different; and since the company logo was blue anyway, we agreed on a new, vibrant blue colour scheme,” says Williamson – pointing out that the prime movers are now being changed over every three years at around 900,000 kilometres, which is 100,000 less than what was done previously.

“As a result, it won’t be long before the last white unit will be replaced with a blue one so all our trucks have the some unique look.”

The latest trucks Milkflow received are specified with an array of safety options, such as lane departure warning and adaptive cruise control, while driver comfort is enhanced by leather upholstery.

In addition, Milkflow has subscribed to Scania’s maintenance contracts. “We used to operate our own workshop but it wasn’t viable compared to the cost of a maintenance contract,” says Williamson. “We know from experience how many kilometres the trucks are doing every year and the contract gives us more peace of mind, especially when trucks are out of warranty. It’s to our own detriment if we miss a service because we’re paying for it as part of the contract.

“A lot of operations are going in the same direction,” he adds. “Maintenance contracts allow us to focus on the core business instead of running workshops and all the headaches that happen with that.”

Except for the two line haul units, all of the farm tankers are equipped with hydraulic pumping systems which are driven by the trucks’ power take off (PTO) units and are capable of pumping 80,000 litres of milk per hour with the engine ticking over at idle speed.

The farm tankers have also been equipped with the latest technology Zevodat Flash milk metering system, which is integrated with the on-board GPS units. According to Matt, the system effectively eliminates the potential for human error that the traditional dipstick measuring process suffered from. The milk loading details are transmitted instantly to head office in the South Australian capital of Adelaide and the farm involved receives a receipt from the tankers on-board printer. While the change in technology is arguably industry-driven, Milkflow is still credited with being the first Australian bulk milk carrier to have it installed right across its fleet.

An additional benefit of the measurement system is that Milkflow drivers can now load without exceeding the maximum on any particular axle, says Williamson. Future considerations now include the wireless transmission of axle weights to Milkflow’s fleet centre for added accountability.

In Australia, milk is considered an essential commodity and as dairy farming practices continue to evolve, so do logistics providers like Milkflow, which now use extra-long vehicles fitted with the latest technology to ensure that consumers in South Australia and neighbouring Victoria have fresh milk any day of the year.

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