Hills Tankers: The true meaning of disruption
- Posted on Wednesday 7th, December 2016
In a world besotted with the idea of instantaneous innovation, Hills Tankers has chosen a surprisingly measured approach to infusing new technology into daily business practice – and created what could be the most progressive fuel haulage fleet in Australia.
Peter Hill, long-serving Managing Director of Newcastle-based Hills Tankers, is the first to admit there is a certain irony to how the family enterprise has evolved into one of Australia’s most forward-thinking fuel haulage businesses. Now a fierce advocate of Performance-Based Standards (PBS), he says the decision to embrace high productivity vehicle design only came after a period of “sitting back” and observing the market.
“Fuel haulage is a delicate business and the equipment we use must help us achieve the best possible outcome for our clientele, so there is a certain innovation pressure on us, if you will. But, that doesn’t mean we follow every technology trend blindly,” he says, reciting British architect Cedric Price, who famously asked, “Technology is the answer, but what was the question?”
According to Peter, infusing new technology like PBS – where traditional, restrictive design standards give way to a more liberal, simulation-based method – into daily business practice must follow a highly strategic approach to truly add value and cannot be rushed.
“PBS can be incredibly useful to achieve that next level of productivity, but only if you do your homework,” he explains. “By observing the market for a while, we quickly learned that simple binaries such as ‘old versus new’ just don’t hold up in the digital age. You need an integrated approach; you need to innovate the smart way.”
Peter says for the Hills Tanker operation, the ‘smart’ solution was to seek advice from Brisbane-based Holmwood Highgate and Volvo Trucks Australia early in the process.
“Once we had seen what PBS could do in the truck-and-dog segment, we felt compelled to try and apply it to fuel transport. To do so, bringing all stakeholders together felt like the right starting point.”
Peter says it wasn’t before early 2014 that he had seen enough to confidently embark on his own PBS adventure, but once committed, he didn’t want to settle for a low-key solution.
“We knew early on that the real potential was in the A-double, so we set out to bring the first-ever A-double to the fuel haulage market. We knew it wouldn’t be easy, but the opportunity to re-set the benchmark for an entire industry segment was too good to ignore.”
In collaboration with Volvo and Holmwood Highgate, Peter and his team went on to develop a modular A-double concept that could be broken down and used in a single, B-double or even AB-triple configuration if required. “Holmwood Highgate certainly was the driving force during that initial consultation period, but the scope of the whole project quickly expanded. Volvo’s Application Engineering team came on board soon after that to ensure we could use the new equipment with a range of suitable prime movers and helped us find the best mix of engine, transmission and gear ratio to achieve the best result.”
By joining forces early on, Peter says Hills Tankers was able to use Volvo’s FH model with the standard wheelbase and only had to adjust the rear axle ratio to a more torque-y 3.78:1. “It was amazing to see just how in sync the Volvo team, Holmwood Highgate and the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) were.”
Holmwood Highgate Sales Representative, Ian Williamson, says it was the first time Volvo and Holmwood had collaborated on this type of combination, and the entire process was handled “incredibly professional” by all involved. “We worked hand in hand with Volvo and Hills Tankers on the combinations and it was a very positive experience,” he says.
Peter adds Hills Tankers-branded A-doubles have been running through Sydney as well as in and out of the Port of Brisbane and Eagle Farm since the start of the year now, with the company enjoying a 30 per cent payload increase per trip in each location. Among the company’s 133 Holmwood Highgate tankers are now four dedicated A-double sets that work alongside a range of tri-axle semi-trailers, 19m and 25m B-doubles. Some trailers in the 25m B-double bracket are also PBS-rated and ready to go straight in A-double.
“Our modular fleet design is what sets us apart today,” Peter says. “It’s really quite remarkable how far we’ve come since we gave PBS a go, especially given the early feedback we received from our competition. Many didn’t believe it would be doable to run an A-double fuel tanker through Sydney, for example, and we proved them wrong. They used to call us out for running ‘strange-looking’ equipment, and now can’t wait to get on-board.”
While staying up-to-date about new technology is important, Peter says not losing sight of what that technology should ultimately accomplish for the business is key – “continued relevance in a fast-changing marketplace”.