Talent transcends continents

At some stage, almost everyone in the commercial road transport game will reach a point where they want more out of the equipment they use – more payload, more productivity, or simply more confidence.

For South Australian Barry Fennell, the point came in 2014, when he needed seven new trailers to haul wood chips on a 400 km round trip from forest to port. He knew the job wouldn’t be easy, as the trailers would be moving non-stop from Monday to Friday over some rough ‘council’ roads, but he still didn’t want to trade extra resilience for a loss in payload. 

Barry Fennell and his sister Wendy own Fennell Forestry, a family-run harvest and transport company in the vast state of South Australia. Established in 1991, Fennell Forestry has grown from a relatively small business to a market leading operation that is known for having an innovative edge. “We’re always at the ‘pointy’ end of new technologies,” says Fennell – who regularly scouts the Internet and industry media for new trends and developments in his field.

On his virtual search for the latest in trailer technology, Fennell came across Titan Trailers, a family-owned and run trailer manufacturer based in Delhi, Ontario. On trips to Canada, Fennell had seen the aerodynamic, smooth-sided Titan equipment before and now wanted to know if he could get it in Australia too.

Fennell’s search revealed that by using Thinwall, a double-wall extruded aluminium panel, Titan would be able to build equipment that is both strong and lightweight. Without the need for a steel frame, Titan promised a weight reduction of 453 kg compared to a standard trailer – an intriguing figure for a perfectionist like Fennell. The fact that the company also seemed to have experience in building specifically designed forestry equipment – including a 19m B-double which can hold up to 141m3 of wood chips in a single run – finally sold Fennell on the concept. But there was still one problem.

While he could see that carrying more volume per run would generate savings in driving time and fuel costs – and that Titan had the right equipment for it – Fennell also knew that more than an ocean stood in between himself and his ideal trailers. So, he needed to weigh the risk of buying from an overseas company he knew from the Internet with the benefits of owning a North American Thinwall trailer. He considered the costs and logistics of shipping and assembly and realised that there would also be many legal hurdles to overcome.

On top of that, there was also major unknown factor – would the Titan trailers really save him money? To find answers, Fennell emailed the Canadian company and soon received a response from Titan Trailers’ Owner, Mike Kloepfer. “For Fennell, it was a gamble,” says Kloepfer. “We were estimating the weight.”

Based on Kloepfer’s estimates, the weight saving of the Titan trailers would allow Fennell to carry just over three tonnes more wood chips in each load. With a fleet of seven trailers on the road 24-hours a day, five days a week, the savings would quickly add up – so Fennell decided to take a calculated risk. “We’re not afraid to try things,” he says. “Titan builds hundreds of trailers a year. They’re very well put-together trailers, surely they’ve found all the problems.”

And not only had Titan found all the problems, but it was finding solutions already that Fennell wasn’t even aware of – including how to ship trailers around the globe in an economically reasonable way. As it turned out, Kloepfer was already sending trailers to the UK for assembly there.

Three weeks after his initial email to Titan Trailers and following many Skype calls, Barry Fennell, his father Graham and resident engineer Doug Thorne flew to Canada to meet Kloepfer in person. Fennell says, “Seeing two old guys with over 100 years of combined experience in the Australian transport industry walk around the Titan shop shaking their heads in amazement, saying ‘there is nothing like this in Australia’, brought a smile to my face.”

Fennell tested the Titan Thinwall trailers on the roads in Ontario, which he says are similar to those in Australia. During the trip, he also travelled to New Hampshire to meet an existing Titan Trailers customer, who – despite the obvious bias – remarked that Fennell seemed like someone who enjoyed having the best gear, “because Titan is the best you can get.” The customer’s comment together with the successful test drive boosted Fennell’s confidence, and the deal was signed.

As part of the deal, Kloepfer would build, pack and ship eight B-double trailers to Fennell, who would then assemble the trailers with help from Kloepfer’s staff. From there it all moved pretty quickly, considering the challenges and requirements, but working in their favour was the fact that Fennell had the facilities and permits required to build trailers back in Australia.

However, there were still some obstacles to overcome. Kloepfer had to confirm that the trailers met Australian standards, including the red/amber running lights, and ensure that the ‘road-friendly’ Hendrickson Turner suspensions were accepted and well supported in Australia. While Fennell also needed to obtain an import license to receive the flat-packed trailers, he already had a Government certificate allowing him to assemble them for use in Australia, which simplified the process.

The trailers arrived in Australia packed in five cargo containers, and Kloepfer sent over a team of nine people to assemble them and train the Fennell Forestry staff. The whole process – from the time they left Canada – only took about two months, he says. At one point, the welders were operating 24 hours a day to assemble the trucks within five weeks of delivery, then Fennell sent the trailers for a custom paint job, which took another week.

Fennell’s business decision paid off. The trailers turned out to weigh an additional 40kg less than anticipated, and they’re turning heads in Australia. “They’re brilliant,” he says in retrospect – adding that Australian transportation officials were pleased with the outcome as well. “The trailers reflect well on the company. We’ve had 100 per cent positive response across the board.”

Although Fennell only needed seven trailers for his business, he ordered the eighth trailer to sell, and had no problems finding a buyer. “If we had 12 trailers, we would have sold them all,” he says. Fennell plans to order more trailers, so the partnership between Titan Trailers and Fennell Forestry is likely to continue beyond 2015.

Back in Canada, Kloepfer is also happy with his side of the bargain and pleased with his team’s work. “We managed to slice and dice the trailers, pack the kits, have them land in Australia and put them together with no major hiccups,” he says. “That’s impressive.”

What’s more, Kloepfer found that although the two businesses are on opposite sides of the world, they’re really not so different. Both men did what they promised to do and got the job done, discovering that it’s not such a long way from highways of Ontario to the forests of Southern Australia.

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