The road to productivity and beyond

By year’s end the uptake of Performance-Based-Standards (PBS) equipment in Australia is expected to increase by 15 per cent across the road transport industry. No longer a niche market for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), nearly one in five new heavy vehicles built locally in 2018 will have been approved under the PBS scheme according to the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR). Such has been the industry acceptance locally for these world leading high productivity access vehicles, 11 per cent of the 6,000 new heavy prime movers to join the national fleet is approved under PBS. In May, a report released by the NHVR and Australian Road Transport Suppliers Association (ARTSA), confirmed that over 16,000 separate PBS registered, trucks, trailers and buses had been approved as part of the more than 7,500 PBS-approved combinations running in Australia – 55 per cent of these are truck and dogs.

PBS vehicles have a median age of around four years, compared with over 12 years for the entire heavy vehicle fleet. PBS fleets, as a result, are offering advantages in terms of superior safety equipment and fewer maintenance demands in contrast with older vehicles.

Les Bruzsa, Chief Engineer at the NHVR, says the industry is discovering new opportunities through PBS and with each year more is to be learned from computer simulation, the evaluation of PBS combinations and the operation of these combinations.

“From the applications we know that operators and manufacturers are chasing the maximums and pushing the boundaries,” he says. “They want to have the maximum payload. They want to have the maximum axle weight and dimensions on their trailers to maximise the efficiency of their operations which means they are looking for the valuable designs, components and parts to reach these goals.”

Component manufacturers such as suspension suppliers, according to Bruzsa, now factor in PBS combinations as they test their products for productivity gains. A presenter at the 15th International Symposium on Heavy Vehicle Transport Technology in Rotterdam, Bruzsa says European OEMs are looking at Australia as a leader in PBS and High Productivity Vehicles (HPVs), as it remains the only country to have established complete set of regulation for heavy vehicles based on performance standards.

“The Europeans would like to do something similar,” he says. “They are facing the same sort of issues in terms of increased freight and C02 reduction targets and the high productivity PBS vehicles can offer significant benefits in these areas. They are looking at our standards and they have evaluated that in most cases they are extremely supportive with the performance requirements we have implemented in our PBS scheme.”

Even so, heavy vehicle technology has vastly improved since the first PBS package was introduced. The current vehicle assessment rules and standards don’t provide enough options or flexibility for the application of new technologies.

Available technologies such as Roll Stability Control (RCS), according to Bruzsa, can be used to improve vehicle performance but currently they cannot be relied on solely for PBS compliance solutions. For instance, the existing PBS stability assessment method is not sufficient for demonstrating the effectiveness of RSC.

“Our thinking here is when we review the PBS standards and we will need to look at those technologies and ask if they would be more effective in performance enhancements and reducing road trauma?”

Just as PBS is now widely recognised across the globe as an industry-leading standard in productivity and efficiencies, the first major review of the scheme is now in progress since its inception in 2007. Dr John de Pont, who has been commissioned by the NHVR Technical Working Group, will head an independent investigation of PBS tyres and their management in practical applications for braking, tyre pressure, specifications and myriad other technical complexities.

“Currently for every approved PBS vehicle there is a list of tyres that are specified and only these tyres can be fitted to a combination – and the management of tyres can be a practical issue for transport operators,” Bruzsa says. “Tyres are consumable items but their characteristics could have a significant effect on some aspects of vehicle performance. Tyre suppliers are changing,” says Les. “Tyre makes and models are going in and out of market. Sometimes it’s a huge challenge for an operator to manage it.”

Bruzsa hopes that John de Pont will deliver some practical recommendations before the end of the year. A former PBS assessor, de Pont is recognised as an international expert in vehicle dynamics and heavy vehicle safety and has been involved in the development of the PBS scheme in New Zealand, which is currently being drafted.

“I’m hoping he is going to be able to drive this very complex project with great success,” Bruzsa says.

Since it was launched in 2016, the NHVR confirmed customers for its Portal had eclipsed 12,000 registered users in August. 60,000 successful submissions have been received to date. 99 per cent of access applications to the NHVR are now lodged through its portal to help make the approval process faster and easier.

“In the last couple of years the NHVR have streamlined the PBS design approval and vehicle certification process and now it is much quicker,” Bruzsa says. “We have introduced a number of enhancements. This year we introduced new PBS pre advised designs for B-doubles, truck and dogs, A-doubles and prime mover semi-trailer combinations that we can approve in-house. The processing time for these applications has been reduced from 25 days to three or four days. The industry immediately appreciated it. We now also have an arrangement for smaller changes to the specifications of PBS combinations . That has provided flexibility to the industry so they can get their design approved and certified more quickly.”

There is an important change in the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) that came into effect on 1 October this year with the creation of the ‘specified PBS vehicle’ category that allows PBS approved Level 1 vehicles that are no longer than 20 metres to have general access to the road network when operating at General Mass Limits (GML).

“Suddenly we’ve managed to move these vehicles out of restricted access arrangements and now they can have certainty of access,” Bruzsa says. “It’s not going to be beneficial for all PBS Level 1 combinations at this stage, especially for those which are operated above GML, but it is a step forward because now it is recognised that PBS Level 1 vehicles, at least geometrically, as they will not represent any increased risk in terms of infrastructure so that’s a huge development for PBS. If you look at the PBS network they are growing everywhere.”

Part of the challenge of facilitating vehicle access for PBS combinations has been through a lack of information around PBS and enhancing a greater understanding of how the vehicles perform on the road. So the NHVR has developed a PBS road guide for road managers.

The establishment of PBS fleets is a trend Bruzsa expects to see more of in the future. Earlier this year, Southern Cross Trailers commissioned a B-quad for Rocky Lamattina & Sons, the first approved combination by NHVR under the PBS scheme on public roads with a Gross Combination Mass (GCM) of 103 tonnes and 105.5 tonnes under Higher Mass Limit (HML). The operator, in addition to the B-quad, runs B-double and B-triple combinations, all of which have been designed on the PBS modular system. Bruzsa says it has enabled the extra agility sought by many commercial road transport companies that require PBS solutions.

“Operators now are trying to establish and utilise PBS fleets,” Bruzsa says. “Obviously we are getting new designs and innovative solutions for controlling different vehicle components. Steerable or liftable axles not just on trailers, but on trucks, innovative coupling systems, axle arrangements and new combination types are being developed by manufacturers and PBS provides the framework for experimenting in those sort of solutions.”
The NHVR is very much focused on safety and productivity benefits these vehicles deliver according to Les. In 2018 the combined PBS fleet saved around 280 million truck kilometres by reducing the number of heavy vehicles on the roads.

“Just think about the benefits. Saving that amount of trips, the fuel savings and emissions exposure and reduced crash rates,” he says. “The PBS market report produced by the National Transport Commission demonstrated that PBS vehicles are 46 per cent safer than prescriptive vehicles. The reduced truck trips also lead to reduced impact on the pavement and infrastructure, and all of that can be translated to reduced maintenance costs and obviously road managers are interested in that. I’m excited that we are getting more and more operational and performance data about the PBS vehicles and we can demonstrate the benefits of PBS to road managers and industry in general so PBS is not just a theory anymore.”

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