The coolest job of all

For Ken Cowell, a six-week work experience placement at Volvo Trucks Australia in 1979 sparked the start of an exciting and illustrious career in commercial road transport that has endured for almost 40 years.

Having grown up next door to a drag racer, Ken developed a love for cars and engines. “I loved all things mechanical and still love my cars. I fell into trucks when I went to Volvo for work experience. Cars and trucks are similar by nature but I could never get over the size of the wheel mount on a truck. It turns out that trucks aren’t only bigger but the engineering is really interesting too,” reflects Ken.

After completing his work placement at Volvo, Ken was offered a cadetship in industrial engineering, which led to an exciting 30-year career with the truck manufacturer, before launching his road transport consultancy business, K D Cowell & Associates.

Ken counts Yngve Johnsson, a Swedish expat who worked as a production engineer with Volvo Trucks Australia, as being instrumental in helping to launch his career in commercial road transport. “He got me my job with Volvo, and over the years, wherever I moved or got promoted, he always knew what was happening. When I left Volvo, he even sent me an email wishing me well,” recalls Ken.

“I got the coolest job of all – I got to look at all of the new Volvo models coming into Australia,” Ken says proudly. “Before the Volvo FH was launched in Australia in 1992, I was in Sweden for two months looking at how to build them at the factory in Brisbane. From there I started getting involved in application engineering and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.”
In fact, Ken was instrumental in the launch of several new Volvo vehicles into Australia. Among these was his work in developing the Volvo NH road train together with Max Winkless, who he calls “one of the godfathers for road-trains and Volvo”.

But it’s his work in introducing the XXL Volvo Globetrotter locally that he counts as one of his major career highlights. “That was my project. I wrote the project description and through my network in the Volvo Group, I put the project together and worked with the Swedes to demonstrate how it could be done. We took parts from the US cab, which hadn’t been done before. We designed the whole cab and built it unique for Australia,” Ken explains.

Ken left Volvo at the end of 2007 ready to begin a new chapter – he launched K D Cowell & Associates in 2008. The business offers consultancy services for truck and trailer manufacturers, specialist training services, product design and review, PBS certification as well as other advisory work. Ken is also a director for HVIA (Heavy Vehicle Industry Australia).

An industry veteran and celebrated engineer, Ken’s passion for the commercial road transport industry has never wavered. “It’s such a great industry to work in, with a great group of people. The industry is a very close-knit group. I have worked a lot with Bob Woodward, who is now Chief Engineer at the Australian Trucking Association and still class him as one of the best engineers in the industry – but a lot of the people Bob and I dealt with over the years were older than us and have already retired. The challenge we have now as an industry, is getting more young people interested in a career in
road transport.”

Industry Icons
Made possible by Smedley’s Engineers, Industry Icon, is a series dedicated to honouring the unsung heroes of the commercial road transport industry.

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