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Leaning locally

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Rhino Trailers is well prepared for the major growth spurt in its Toowoomba home, thanks to the support of suppliers like component specialist, Fuwa K-Hitch.

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The city of Toowoomba, Queensland – also known as ‘The Garden City’ – is blossoming. Heavy investments in the region from government and private entities alike will pump upwards of $1 billion into infrastructure and roads, much of which will directly benefit the heavy vehicle road transport industry.

One such project is the Toowoomba Enterprise Hub (TEH), which claims to be one of the most significant transport, logistics and business hubs in Australia, encompassing an internationally capable airport and a major freight facility with more than 2,000 hectares of industrial land. On top of that, access for heavy vehicles is being improved thanks to the $1.137 billion Toowoomba Second Range Crossing (TSRC) project, which is making progress with Stage 2 of the Gore Highway works at Athol and the Warrego West interchange projects now underway.

Local trailer builder, Rhino Trailers, is already riding the wave of the region’s growth with an order book brimming with requests for its trailing equipment. Scott Arnold, General Manager of Rhino Trailers, says requests for its tippers and low loaders have been particularly strong over the last two years – also thanks in large part to the trailer builder’s close proximity to the Darling Downs and its significant grain production.

“Rhino Trailers has a strong focus on manufacturing tippers and road transport equipment with low tare weights and short lead times. Demand has certainly grown recently, we have 80 units on order and it’s absolutely crazy here,” Scott says. “The market is doing well, and thanks to our diverse trailer offering, we were prepared for this shift and are ready for any future fluctuations in demand.”

Scott says that when Rhino Trailers is in the thick of it, it turns to its suppliers for their support and on-time deliveries.

“When we’re dealing with such hectic times in the business, we need suppliers we can rely on to provide the right equipment at the right time that will perform – no questions asked,” Scott says – adding that a significant quantity of his fifth wheels, landing legs and axle and suspension units come from Fuwa K-Hitch.

“Fuwa K-Hitch makes a good, durable product that is known country-wide. As well as building quality components, it has a nation-wide after sales service that is always really good at giving us the help we need,” Scott explains. “Although we mostly deal with the Brisbane guys, every now and then it will fly someone up from the Melbourne head office to lend a hand if we need, it’s just fantastic.”

Fuwa equipment is Rhino’s standard fitment, Scott says, adding that other brands can be fitted on customer request. “It’s important to offer our customers a choice to ensure they receive a trailer that suits their needs. It’s part of our tailored manufacturing promise.”

That custom promise is echoed throughout the Fuwa K-Hitch offerings, explains Jayson Federico, Sales Manager Queensland and Indonesia. “Fuwa K-Hitch has every axle dimension covered, from general-purpose on-highway gear in the standard nine to 13 tonne range to extreme off-road equipment in the 20-tonne and beyond category,” he says. “On top of that, we will always go that extra mile to tailor a package that will suit the individual client, which is incredibly important in a time like today if you want to be able to add value.”

Jayson says Fuwa K-Hitch is very much a locally focussed business, aiming to deliver trailer builders like Rhino Trailers high-quality yet cost-effective equipment with no time to waste. “We place huge value on holding stock locally to ensure the quickest possible turnaround times from order to supply, which means we react quickly to our customers’ requirements while reducing their own inventory costs and reliance,” he says. “We have also forged close relationships with many trailer manufacturers locally to offer them the best possible pricing and service.”

Mirroring Fuwa K-Hitch’s customer focus, Rhino Trailers has recently expanded its service to encompass all its client needs, from small repairs right through to full refurbishments at its 11-acre facility in Toowoomba. “We’re really starting to push full refurbish and major crash repairs to ensure we can offer as much to the end user as possible,” says Scott.

He adds that Rhino’s location is a real drawcard for the transport operators working on the massive local infrastructure projects, with the most common alternative a two-hour drive away in Brisbane.

“We’re right on the doorstep of the construction, which is handy for people who don’t want to travel for repairs. Plus, our facility can handle combinations up to AB-triples right to the gate, otherwise to get to Brisbane they’d have to split the trailers,” Scott says. “Toowoomba is growing, and we’re growing right alongside it.”

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Record breaking tanker design

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Transport equipment innovator, Peter Max, and running gear specialist, Fuwa K-Hitch, have teamed up to create Australia’s largest ever Performance-Based Standards-approved LPG tanker.

In a surprise announcement, Melbourne trailer specialist, Peter Max from Gas Tank Hire, and Fuwa K-Hitch (FHK) have just pulled the wraps off a new tanker design that could permanently change the country’s LPG transport market.

The LPG tanker boasts a Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM) of 50.5 tonnes and lays claim to the title of the “longest, largest, most sophisticated LPG tanker in Australia,” according to Peter. “No one has ever done anything like it in the world. This tanker carries 30 per cent more payload than a standard one, and we expect it to increase operator profitability by up to 60 per cent.”

After a lengthy 10-year development process, Peter says the ongoing evolution of the Performance-Based Standards (PBS) scheme and constant lobbying of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) have finally made the quantum leap possible.

“The idea has been in development for quite some time, but it wasn’t until the advent of PBS that we found a way to make it a reality,” he says. “It is a great scheme that helps manufacturers design and build better, safer trailers that increase productivity and reduce the number of trucks on the road – and provided us with a pathway to make our vision a reality.”

While the Australian first is already approved to run at 50.5 tonnes in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia under the PBS framework, Peter says he is currently working on approvals for the remaining states to ensure free movement nationwide.

NHVR Chief Engineer, Laszlo ‘Les’ Bruzsa, agrees that Peter’s design is a step forward in Australian tanker design, and therefore pushed hard for it to get through the PBS approval and certification process. “Because the tanker is the first of its kind, it has been a struggle to get it through the system,” he says. “But it was worth the effort. Peter’s tanker design is revolutionary and will be important for the future of road transport.”

The LPG tanker is unique for more than its size, Peter adds. Rather than the standard three-axle setup most LPG tankers use, his design adds a fourth axle in the centre of the tanker – which is where FKH’s expertise came into play.

Under its ‘belly’, the tanker features a self-steering FKH lift axle, while the front axle of the tri-group is a tapered FKH lift axle. As a result, the unit can run on two axles when empty. “It is the first trailer in Australia with a centre belly axle, so we knew we needed an experienced running gear expert on board the project,” Peter notes. “The four-axle set up we’ve developed together lowers the unit’s centre of gravity and spreads the load over a greater surface area, which is much more stable and protects the road’s integrity with less weight per tyre on the road – and also increases the unit’s braking ability.

“I knew from past projects that the FKH product is up there with the best on product quality, while still coming at a competitive price,” he adds. “But it’s been the team’s engineering know-how that made all the difference. If you want to discover unchartered territory like we did, you need to partner with suppliers that truly understand the matter and take ownership of the project.”

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Agrees Chris Barrett of FKH, saying the objective was to provide a stable platform for the trailer whilst still allowing for tare savings to maximise productivity and ensuring compliance to all ADR and PBS requirements.

The axle and Weweler Ultra lite suspension welding and assembly process was carried out in the FKH workshop, Chris says, so Gas Tank Hire would receive a complete modular package with little lead-time. “I am very pleased that FKH has the product range, engineering capability and production capacity that allows us to work hand in hand with projects of this significance,” says Chris.

“The trailer is certainly an innovative design. I commend Peter and his team for their vision and perseverance in the design and certification on a development which will join the transport industry as a safe and highly productive vehicle.”

The complicated design took Peter six years to perfect, with another three years just to manufacture the prototype unit at his facility in the western Melbourne suburb of Sunshine.

Part of the process involved a substantial scientific evaluation process to perfect the way the steel was welded, he reveals. “We invested around a quarter of a million dollars to get the welding procedure right,” Peter explains. “I sounds bizarre to spend so much just to perfect the welding process, but it was necessary to comply with the latest LPG standards. Now we are the only business in the world capable of welding this particular type of steel to 100 per cent weld strength, while still retaining a certain flexibility in the material.”

The result is a tanker that is lighter and stronger, but still flexible. “Retaining the flexibility of the metal was an important part of the design process as the size of the tanker meant it had to be strong, but also able to flex a bit,” Peter says. “We also used the largest pump and full bore valves available for this type of tanker in order to speed up the loading and unloading process. Even smaller tankers don’t operate as swiftly as ours.”

For the record unit to go into operation, only one last series of on-road tests remains – and initial feedback is positive, Peter reveals. “We are seeing phenomenal results from the on-road tests that are currently taking place, in terms of handling, braking, load times and stability. This tanker has everything, because we were looking for every operator advantage possible during the design stage and brought in the best suppliers to get the job done.”

Peter is confident the unit will make a significant impact on an industry he says was “screaming out” for a new approach to tanker design. “Our new LPG tanker will make Australia a safer place,” he concludes. “I’m aware that other tanker manufacturers out there will copy my design, but I think it’s a good thing for the transport industry. Besides, I’m already hard at work on version two.”


Fast Fact: The 50.5 tonne LPG tanker boasts a number of design features to improve vehicle safety, including an additional internal baffle for stability. “Normal tankers have three internal baffles but we have included a fourth one,” says inventor, Peter Max. “Throughout the project, we made sure every design choice would improve vehicle safety, which is important for both industry and the public.”


Fast Fact: A FKH kingpin is fitted to suit the 20mm skid plate’s unique mounting, which Melbourne trailer specialist, Peter Max from Safety First, describes as reminiscent of an ice-cream cone. “Any shocks or vibrations the tanker may encounter during transit are dissipated into the side of the barrel, ensuring the longevity of the tanker even on rough roads,” explains Peter.

 

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Applied innovation

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With the eLeg rapidly gaining a global fan base, Melbourne’s Fuwa K-Hitch could hold the key for unlocking the second wave of the Federal Government’s innovation and science agenda.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull once again helped the term ‘innovation’ receive buzzword status last month after a cabinet reshuffle saw former Innovation, Industry and Science Minister, Greg Hunt, move to the health portfolio, and Senator Arthur Sinodinos step into the innovation role.

Innovation had been the centrepiece of Turnbull’s 2015 campaign, which focused on Australia’s transition to a more balanced and diversified economy, but didn’t quite find traction over the course of 2016 – even though industry had gone into overdrive to make the promised ‘ideas boom’ a reality.

With a new Minister now driving the portfolio, the transport equipment industry is once again hoping for the focus to return to high-tech manufacturing and innovative problem solving – an area in which it has traditionally held a leadership role.

One company predestined to lead the way in bringing innovation back on the big stage is Melbourne’s Fuwa K-Hitch (FKH). As part of a world-spanning knowledge network created by Chinese manufacturing giant, Fuwa, it has garnered a reputation for being especially agile and connected – an important quality to maximise the innovation potential of Australian-based businesses, as Henri Burges, a Senior Lecturer in Strategy and Innovation at the Queensland University of Technology, explains.

“Research shows companies who are more internationalised are more innovative and perform better. Winning at innovation requires joining the global marketplace to find new users for your products, services and technologies and to gain knowledge helping you to further innovate.”

Chris Barrett, National Sales Manager at FKH, agrees: “Our long-standing involvement with Fuwa has helped us build an international support network that is unique in the transport equipment scene. Our latest innovation, the eLeg, would not have been possible without it.”

Designed in collaboration with automation specialist Razor International, the eLeg is an integrated electronic landing leg that can be lifted and lowered at the push of a button – effectively creating a whole new sub-segment in the landing leg market. Chris says the eLeg will positively affect driver recruiting, safety and maintenance, as well as aerodynamics and idling time – making it a quintessential equipment innovation for the 2017 season.

“The eLeg is a great example of how an idea conceived in Australia can make a global impact if the framework is right,” Chris explains. “It’s just as much of a safety device as a cost reduction tool, which makes it attractive for almost any market worldwide. Only by combining Australian know-how and the global manufacturing prowess of Fuwa and Razor behind us, we were able to scale the project and meet that demand.”

According to Chris, FKH’s slow and mindful internationalisation over the past decade has not only helped it open up to new markets and services, but also exposed it to new insights that stimulated more innovation. “The amount of data we have gained access to by rolling out the product worldwide continuously helps us improve,” he explains. “To us, that kind of feedback cycle is incredibly important to ensure we keep growing and evolving as a business.”

One key take-away from FKH’s success story, he adds, is that even small- and medium-sized businesses like FKH and Razor have the opportunity to reap the benefits of international expansion – even with limited resources – by creating smart networks and finding the right partners to collaborate with. As such, he sees FKH as a prime example for the second wave of the Federal Government’s innovation and science agenda Minister Sinodinos is now tasked with managing.

“With innovation back on the agenda in Australia, I think it’s important to acknowledge that taking a proactive, globally minded approach will make Australian businesses more competitive, successful and robust in the longer term,” he explains. “At FKH, we have certainly proven that is the case. The eLeg is a highly disruptive product that has changed the very concept of landing leg design, both in Australia and overseas.”


Fast Fact: The eLeg is operated with a push button and a simple high/low range gear lever and is easy to install. Find a detailed installation and operation video online on www.bit.ly/2kh4cdq or google Fuwa TV.

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World best practice

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Melbourne company Fuwa K-Hitch is right at the centre of a global network of expert axle and suspension businesses that has set out to revolutionise the transport equipment market.

Fuwa K-Hitch’s (FKH) long-standing involvement with Chinese manufacturing giant Fuwa has not only catapulted the company into the highest echelon of the Australian axle and suspension market over the past decade, but also helped it build an international support network that is unique in the transport equipment scene.

Via Fuwa, FKH is connected to US axle and suspension expert AXN as well as European counterpart Valx, allowing it to grow and nurture what could be the most complex axle and suspension knowledge base in the world. Also part of the Fuwa support network is innovative Dutch brand, VDL Weweler, which has developed a unique Modular Bolt-On Suspension (MBS) that continues to set the FKH, AXN and Valx triad apart in the trucking scene.

The key to VDL Weweler’s MBS system – available in Australia exclusively via FKH – is a parabolic trailing arm that acts as an integrated roll stabiliser and guiding arm for the axle and is manufactured in a new, world-unique facility in The Netherlands.

“By being part of the Fuwa family we have access to the latest in modern axle and suspension technology,” says Chris Barrett, National Sales Manager at FKH. “The resulting suspension and axle package is able to provide excellent weight savings without compromising on strength, stability and life of components, which is critical in the Australian transport market.”

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According to Chris, the MBS system does not only simplify product engineering by forging the axle clamp into the actual trailing arm, but will also positively affect operational performance by keeping weight down. “By continuously minimising the amount of components used in the design we also minimise the risk of failure,” he says. “The MBS suspension module only features one trailing arm, one shock absorber, one hanger bracket and two tail ends, and it is friendly on the axle because there is no welding involved. On top of that, the design is able to absorb stresses in a way no conventional solution has ever been able to.”

Chris explains that the wide, weld-free clamping area, combined with the small diameter pivot bushing of the suspension and Fuwa’s unique 146mm axle beam, will lead to “superb” roll stiffness and stability – particularly for loads with a high center of gravity. The result is less stress on the axle, and with it an increase in service life.

Another unique selling point is that the suspension is ‘locked’ in position by a groove in the axle beam, providing a “high degree of modularity” in spring track, ride height and offset, as Chris puts it. “By removing the axle seat, there is no need for welding in the axle. In combination with the in-built clamping area, Fuwa’s unique axle design and leading wheel end technology, this realignment-free, non-welded solution will provide exceptional roll stiffness while putting less stress on the axle. It’s the ideal package for on highway vehicles, particularly PBS equipment.

“Of course things can and always do happen, but the major benefit of the system is that whether due to accident or simply end of service life of components, all parts of the suspension and axle are easily replaced or repaired – unlike complete integrated designs – therefore maximising and controlling costs over the life of the trailer.”

According to Chris, Fuwa’s combined knowledge has led to the creation of a product that will be hard to beat in the Australian marketplace: “I think having the new VDL Weweler plant join our global support network will enable us to be more competitive across the board, especially here in Australia,” he says. “The message we really want to get across is that MBS has evolved into a globally proven technology that is backed by years of development and testing, and coming out of one of the most advanced manufacturing facilities in the world. The benefit for Australian road transport will be enormous.”

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Second coming

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Dutch company Valx is not new to the European trailer axle market anymore, yet hasn’t quite managed to break into the industry’s top echelon just yet. With the help of Fuwa K-Hitch, that could now change.

It’s fair to say that the official launch of the Valx brand at the 2010 IAA Commercial Vehicle Show in Germany was a game-changing moment for the European trailer axle industry. Then part of Holland’s MCB Group, the novice seemingly ignored the traditional market hierarchy and staged itself as a fresh alternative to the German establishment – boasting a distinct international edge and a firm commitment to innovation.

Helped by a stunning visual campaign rolled out both traditionally and online, the young brand’s British Racing Green-inspired colour scheme quickly gained traction in the market and would have probably caused the competition some serious embarrassment had the trailer market not slowed down so dramatically in 2011 and beyond – not just because of smart publicity, but also because of the convincing value proposition behind it.

Even with the Eurozone crisis silhouetted against the horizon, though, Valx’ integrated axle module – combining innovative componentry supplied by Fuwa, Wabco, TMD, Timken, SKF and VDL Weweler in a price competitive package – left a notable impact on the market and earned the company a fan base stretching from Portugal’s Atlantic coast all the way to the Russian capital of Moscow.

In 2014, with Europe slowly recovering and Valx studiously stealing market share from the powerful German competition, Australian Fuwa-subsidiary, Fuwa K-Hitch, stepped onto the scene to acquire what had hitherto been but a – somewhat nonconventional – client business. Sensing the disruptive potential behind the brand, Fuwa K-Hitch hoped it would be able to bring the necessary firing power to the table to help Valx shake up the market once more and finally break into the top three of the European sales ranking.

To do so, Fuwa K-Hitch installed a completely new management team led by Joop Arends as Managing Director and Martin van Willingen as Sales Director, and moved the Valx head office to a new location in Veghel, The Netherlands. From here – with guidance from the new Australian parent and an ever-present, highly ambitious and equally resourceful Chinese mother ship – the company is now ready to take on the establishment once again.

“Via Fuwa K-Hitch, we are now officially part of the global Fuwa family, so it’s been quite a substantial evolutionary leap for our small company,” explains Joop. “Fuwa is the biggest axle manufacturer in the world and has already opened a lot of doors for us in the market to ensure our product will be even more competitive in the future. Product development, for example, has been accelerated extremely by being so close to our main supplier, and the input we’ve received from our new sister companies in Australia, China and the US has been invaluable too. For our customers, however, the main message is that our new parent is a company with the same core business as us – axles.”

From a brand perspective, however, Joop says not a lot has changed. “Even now under new ownership, we will continue to operate independently and deliver a high-end European product. What has changed is the scope of our operation, though: Helped by Fuwa-K-Hitch, we’ve quickly learned that the Valx product is suitable for export markets outside of Europe, too.

“Quite a few of those markets use specifications that are comparable to, or derived from, European standards, and many of them value our robust design – so we see a lot more opportunities globally today than we’ve seen in the past. Of course it also helps that the product had had time to prove itself in the field over the past five or six years, because now we know just how versatile it is, both on and off the highway.”

With the dynamic of the trailer axle market in Europe very similar to trailer building itself, where two big market leaders are followed a range of contenders for the number three spot, Joop says the revitalised Valx business has “all the potential” to become a top three player over the next five years or so. “There is no doubt that when Valx first came into the market, people looked at it with a certain amount of caution – some deliberately taking the time to see how the product performed over the long run before committing to it,” he explains.

“But now that we are 100 per cent owned by a global powerhouse like Fuwa, there is obviously a lot more brand integrity and staying power behind it, which has helped us gain the same kind of trust from the market our competition has.”

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Fast Fact: Made by Fuwa, the Valx axle is based on a seamless, cold-drawn and non-welded beam structure to eliminate the risk of weakening or material degradation. As a result, the Fuwa axle beam is said to have a high strength-to-weight ratio.

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