A road train with five trailers attached isn’t something you see every day, so when Big Rigs got word that Australia’s first-ever B-quins had hit the road, we of course wanted to know more.
WA based outfit MLG Oz purchased the two sets of B-quins to bolster productivity for a particular client contract that involves lighter weight container-loads. Though the maximum allowable payload in a 20ft container is 27.5 tonne GCM, these containers can only be loaded to 21 tonne due to the nature of the product being carried.
“We challenged our guys internally and workshopped a multitude of combinations and did some engineering trials to get to the B-quin model, where we’re able to get 21 net tonne per container and have five fully laden boxes,” explained Murray Leahy, Managing Director at MLG Oz.
Privately owned and operated, the business is headquartered in Kalgoorlie, WA. It was started in 2002 as a small contractor to BHP Billiton. Since then, MLG Oz has come a long way. It now operates from 21 locations across Western Australia, Northern Territory and Queensland; and employs around 700 staff.
As for the fleet, that’s pretty impressive too. There are approximately 130 trucks, a mixture of Macks and Kenworths branded in MLG Oz’s signature blue and white, and 500 or so trailers – mostly running as triples and quads. Bruce Rock Engineering is the manufacturer of choice for on-road trailers, including the B-quins, while Mick Murray Trailers is the go-to for the company’s off-road needs.
“MLG Oz is an integrated service business, built around logistics. We move raw materials in and out of mine sites so cater predominantly to the mining sector, but also transport bulk materials for the construction industry as well. The fleet is all higher GCM equipment. Our smallest on-road truck is 147 tonne, and we go right up to 350 tonne for our off-road equipment,” said Leahy.
The innovative B-quins are towed by tri-drive Mack Titans and run around the clock on a PBS Level 3B road network. Their core duty is to transport powdered nickel concentrate between Esperance on the southern WA coast (which is where they are based) and Ravensthorpe, around 540km south-east of Perth. But you’ll also occasionally find them running from Esperance to Wiluna in Mid West WA too, stopping at three or four mine sites along the way.
“Historically this route was serviced by 36 metre B-double and dog combinations, which allowed a maximum of three containers, so they were very much underloaded. At 42 metres in length, the B-quins are no longer than a standard triple road train – the difference is in the axle spacings,” Leahy added.
And it seems the new combinations have paid off, with a massive reduction in the number of trips required to service their client’s needs. When we asked Leahy about the difference the B-quins made to productivity, the figures spoke for themselves. “On a monthly basis, we’ve gone from 140 trips, down to just 90 trips – that’s per B-quin, so it’s saved a total of 100 trips each month, which has made a huge difference economically.”
MLG Oz is certainly no stranger to seeking out higher productivity solutions that boost the fleet’s overall efficiency. Back when PBS was still in its infancy in WA, Leahy revealed MLG Oz was among the first operators in the state to take advantage of the scheme. “Out of that, we’ve built a knowledge base and understanding of how things work. So when it came to the B-quins, we sat down and worked out what would be achievable.”
Leahy added that about 20 per cent of the fleet now runs under PBS. Though the permit process for the B-quins took a little longer this time round. “It did take a fair while. We had strong support out of Main Roads and the network access guys were pro-active but there was a stringent requirement for it to hit every engineering hurdle. The approvals took around 10 months from the final PBS modelling, then making appropriate changes to meet PBS requirements.
“The advent of this sort of equipment comes from everyone coming together. You have to have clients and manufacturers that are open to change. We’re fortunate that we have such a strong relationship with both Bruce Rock and our client. Bruce Rock has been on the journey with us, so we’ve grown together. We workshop with our trailer builders on a regular basis and worked together to come up with this B-quin solution.”
All up, there are six road train operators that get to steer these units across WA, and they’ve taken to the new trailer combinations like ducks to water. “We’ve been running 42 metre road trains out of Esperance for a long time, so there was no apprehension with our operators wanting to get behind the wheel of our new B-quins. There is a really strong skillset among our team and the on-road performance of the B-quins has been great,” said Leahy, adding that the combinations did turn some heads when they first hit the road.
“The first time they were driven through town with five containers, they did get a lot of attention, particularly from competitors,” Leahy laughed. “Here we operate in arduous conditions, but we still pride ourselves on the way our equipment looks. It’s hard to keep them looking as fresh as they would running up and down a national highway, but we push pretty hard to make sure we maintain a strong aesthetic presence – so when you have a blue and white truck like these going down the road that’s clean and shiny, it does generate a lot of interest.”
So are we likely to see an influx of B-quins running up and down WA’s highways? That might be a little ambitious. “These B-quins are kind of a unique scenario. They are very specialised to lighter container work. Where the opportunity exists for this sort of configuration is actually in some of the regional intermodal hubs where they are doing a lot of container freight,” added Leahy, hinting that there could very well be more of these B-quins added into the MLG Oz fleet when the time is right.
“It’s all about customer demand. Our current client is looking at ramping up production further and we also have some other customers who are exporting lighter products that are looking at it as a potential solution.”