Trailer Magazine

Long life freshness

  • From the October 2017 issue.
Long life freshness

Queensland-based transport company, Alpine Fresh, has a decidedly long-term view on the transport industry, looking to get in on the future of refrigeration technology today.

When self proclaimed ‘farm boy’ Mitch McAlpine first started running a tipper truck in 1987, he had no idea that 30 years down the track he’d be running a fleet of 75 refrigerated trailers up and down the Eastern Seaboard. In fact, he had no intention of investigating the refrigerated transport industry until Australia saw difficult economic times in the early 1990s, he says.

Following the sensible advice he was given, “No matter how bad things get, people have to eat”, Mitch invested in his first refrigerated trailer, fitted with a Carrier refrigeration unit, and started transporting fresh and frozen goods around Queensland. With the downturn now over, the Managing Director attributes his company’s success to a simple rule: listen to the customer.
“We treat our customers as partners, not just a dollar amount in a spreadsheet,” Mitch says. “If our customers prosper and we’re a partner in their business, that flows on to us. Alpine Fresh has succeeded because we listen to what our customers want and find cost-effective ways to get the job done. There are a lot of people out there that only see short-term gains, never looking at the long-term outlook.”

As such, Mitch explains that he has a serious future focus, not just on his business, but also on the transport industry itself. “We rely heavily on our suppliers in that context, we’re very loyal,” he adds. “For example, I’ve only ever bought Carrier refrigeration units and FTE trailers in the entire 30 years I’ve been running refrigerated transport.”

As part of his future outlook, Mitch is currently running a trial of Carrier’s latest technology, the Eco-Drive. When mounted to a commercial vehicle, a unique hydraulic pump connected to the truck’s power take-off (PTO) drives the Carrier Eco-Drive GenSet, delivering electrical power to the two Carrier Vector 1550 units on the Alpine Fresh 34-pallet B-double trailer combination.

According to Mitch, the trial unit has been performing admirably, running off the truck’s engine with ‘no noticeable difference’ to the truck’s fuel usage.
“The Eco-Drive is fitted to a highly utilised trailer combination where the fridges run over 100 hours per week,” Mitch says.
“In those 100 hours of operation, the Vector unit only switched to its diesel engine for two hours, running the entire 98 hours on the electricity generated through the prime mover-powered

As well as a massive reduction in the fuel required to run the refrigeration units, Mitch says a major benefit from reducing running hours is the change in maintenance requirements.

“A refrigeration unit should be serviced every 1,000km of diesel engine operation, and we have reduced its operating time to just two per cent of its previous running time,” Mitch says. “When a fridge unit hits 30,000 hours, that’s usually time to replace it. With the Eco-Drive powering the Vector, it can reach 30,000 hours of runtime with only 600 hours clocked on its diesel engine.”

Looking ahead, Mitch says that change to operating hours can hugely affect the whole of life cost and resale value of his refrigerated trailers. “If a buyer saw one of the most expensive parts to the trailer with such low hours on it, they would get fairly excited about it. It also means we don’t have to replace the fridge mid-way through the trailer’s life,” he says – adding that there are also significant environmental benefits from the electric systems.
“There may be a time where transport companies are made accountable for carbon emissions, which are based on fuel burn,” he says. “This combination would normally require three engines, but with the Eco-Drive it only needs one.”

To ensure that the data from the Eco-Drive trial is as accurate as possible, Mitch says he has the truck and both trailers fitted with GPS units that provide real-time information. Alpine Fresh is also running a ‘sister combination’ with identical setup, minus the Eco-Drive, on identical runs, as an ideal baseline. “These are brand new Scania 620 prime movers on brand new FTE trailers running side by side,” he explains. “It’s the most accurate data you could get without being in a lab environment.”

The B-doubles are transporting fresh produce and frozen goods in Brisbane and North Queensland, as well as doing the occasional trip to Melbourne and back to the Alpine Fresh home base in Brisbane. “We do a lot of loads to the major supermarkets from the farms in North Queensland,” Mitch says. “If this electric concept takes off, warehouses and depots will be set up so that when the trailer is parked, it can be unhooked and plugged straight into electricity on site. The infrastructure isn’t there yet, but it’s where the industry is heading and we’re always looking ahead.”

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