Warehouse Wonderland

By: Ricky French


Isuzu Australia's new facility tackles a new world of transport and logistics

A view of Isuzu's new Melbourne Head office and distribution centre

When ATN first visited Isuzu’s new Melbourne head office and distribution centre back in July 2017 it was plain this was no ordinary construction site. The shell of the 24,000 square metre building reared out of the flat, Truganina landscape like a monolith. Perched on the corner of Dohertys and Foundation Road, its sleek, glassed-fronted showroom gleamed under the low winter sun. Cars slowed their revolutions on the roundabout to get a better look at the new kid in town. Progress on building the ambitious facility has been swift, with Isuzu due to move in at the end of February.

The facility is designed to consolidate operations and bring nearly all of Isuzu Australia’s operations under one (very large) roof. It will house the parts warehouse, a training facility, product development centre, an industrial engine area, the boardroom and seven meeting rooms. The parts warehouse alone will take up 15,000 square metres.

Construction company Qanstruct was chosen to build the facility. Dexus is the developer, with the facility located within the Dexus Industrial Estate, whose tenants Coles, Visy and Carlton United Brewery. The location in Melbourne’s west has become increasingly popular with transport and logistics companies, being close to the port, airport and major freeways. Development is rife throughout the area, but few buildings make the impression that this one does.

Building for the future 

Isuzu Australia Chief Operating Operator Phil Taylor (left) inspects the showroom floor during construction

Upstairs in the two-story building the office and training area was already beginning to take shape in July, but something was noticeably missing in this ultra-modern construction site. There were no sparkies clambering in the ceiling running wires everywhere. With the panels due to go on, surely they’d want to make a start if they wanted to have internet hooked up to the work stations? Had ATN just uncovered an embarrassing oversight? The answer was no. This office is completely wireless.

Isuzu Australia director and chief operating officer Phil Taylor sweeps an arm across the first floor and explains the rationale. "It’s all wi-fi connectivity, there’s no wiring."

But the party tricks don’t end there. The warehouse lighting is daylight harvesting, meaning when the sun is bright enough the lights will reduce in power, or even turn off entirely, to save power. All the lighting will be LED. The building wears a coat of solar panels and water tanks harvest rain. Recycled water systems are installed. It’s a sensible commitment not just to the environment but to the bottom line. Embracing industry-leading eco-practices is set to bring both environmental and economic benefits.

Back upstairs the offices are laid out into collaborative areas. The days of each worker being glued to their desk is over. People will be free to move around and take their computers with them (another advantage of wi-fi). High lift desks will rule the roost. Such is the commitment to creating the ultimate workspace of today you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve stumbled upon the Google offices, not a trucking company.

Consolidating success

Construction company Qanstruct built the $15 million Truganina facility

It’s no accident that Isuzu has been Australia’s number-one truck supplier for nearly 30 years. As Steve Brooks noted in ATN’s January issue, a big factor in Isuzu Australia’s success has been its autonomy. Isuzu’s parting from General Motors led to the formation of the Australian arm, which has continued to demonstrate its agility and forward-thinking with this major investment.

Taylor says that consolidation has been a big priority with this new move. Previously the various departments had been scattered all around Melbourne. The parts distribution centre and product development centre was in Brooklyn. Head office was in Lorimer Street in Port Melbourne. "Bringing all our operations under one roof increases our efficiencies, particularly with parts," says Taylor. "There’s a huge focus on after sales in the automotive industry. This (move) enables us to have our parts people here right on hand."

Focus on training

The sod-turning ceremony in April 2017

Taylor says Isuzu will continue to focus intensely on technical training, given how quickly truck technology is evolving. Technicians who don’t keep up with the play can find themselves rapidly left behind. The new facility boasts a comprehensive training centre to get everyone up to speed with new developments as soon as possible. "We’ll be training all our dealers’ sales, service and parts people here, as well as training all of our own people. We’ll even train our fleet customers – we’ll teach them basic service techniques as this new technology gets to a much higher level."

The massive shift towards on-board computers has meant automotive mechanics need thorough professional development. The nature of the game is much less hands-on and manual. Today, mechanics are likely to throw the cab forward and hook up wires from their computer into the ECU of the truck rather than go looking for the fault themselves. "We need more out of the younger techs," says Taylor. "Their training is increasing all the time, and they must be qualified to do that in the field."

By providing a state of the art training facility Isuzu will be hoping to attract the best of the young talent in automotive engineering. Apprenticeship training will begin, alongside sales training and parts interpretation. High tech communication facilities will give access to video conferencing, providing international hook-ups to ensure information is shared immediately and accurately. "When we introduce things like a new emissions level, things change. Same with brake systems, drive lines and engine technology. So we’ve got to make sure our technicians are right up to speed with that."

Distribution models change 

Construction of the 24,000 metre facility in July 2017

The move is geographically strategic from the point of view of how freight is now being delivered to customers. Taylor says there’s been a big change in distribution methods in the trucking industry as we shift from B2B (business to business) to B2C (business to consumer). It’s now commonplace for people to buy groceries and small products online, rather than from stores, which has contributed to the shift towards sales of light duty trucks. "The light duty market improved around 15 per cent," says Taylor. "The medium duty market didn’t enjoy the same growth and the heavy duty market is going down. That’s because a lot of it (freight) is flown from overseas straight to the ports. The way freight is being delivered now requires more engagement with light duty trucks."

That change has put an emphasis on choosing a good location for your operations. "This is one of the main trucking corridors of Melbourne. A lot of businesses are moving to this side of town. As well as being close to the airport and Port of Melbourne, we have a dealer out here. This move will put us in the best possible position to engage with the cross section of people driving Isuzu trucks." 

Meeting the future head-on

The shell of the 24,000 square metre facility during construction

 Making the commitment to invest in a building this size, with all that it encompasses, is no small undertaking, even for a business as strong as IAL. But it makes sense once you understand that the building is not just new in the physical sense, but a new way of thinking and of moving forward. None of the technological innovations that this new head office brings would have been possible under the old model. The shared, collaborative workspaces, the state of the art communication channels, the seamless interaction between departments and the ability to transfer knowledge and ideas as quick as possible are all the hallmarks of modern business. With it could come challenges in adapting the culture and work habits to the new environment. But the transition phase won’t last long. It can’t afford to this competitive marketplace.

Taylor talks about it bringing the organisation to "the next level," but it’s also about being willing to look at where you’re at and reflect. "We often talk about what we sell, but some corporations don’t spend enough time looking in the mirror. You might say to yourself, ‘We’re selling the latest technology but are we operating in the best way we can?’ That’s why we get the mirror out, dust it off and make sure we’re heading in the right direction. And we’re pretty good at doing that."

New home, new world

The modern, sunlight-harvesting design of the vast premises

One thing any head of a major company must be adept at doing is looking into the future. Competition is fierce in Australia’s trucking market and those who succeed all have the ability to see trends and advances in technology and be there waiting for when they arrive. Having a modern, interconnected facility that allows all areas of an organisation to communicate seamlessly under the same roof can only be a good thing. Isuzu has done more than that, though. It has used this opportunity to give each department a thorough overhaul, modernise communication processes and ensure it is in the best possible position to launch new technology and serve their customers’ expectations. The "Isuzu Care Program" is more than just an after sales service, according to Taylor, it’s a mantra. "We will place it at the heart of everything we do. It’s a discipline within the organisation; how we interact, how we perform. It’s all about being customer-centric."

It all starts now, at the massive, brand-new facility; from little more than a shell six months ago to the final lick of paint going on now. "You’ve no idea how happy I am to see this coming together," says Taylor. "When you look at a set of plans you can’t really comprehend what it’s going to look like. We’ve been waiting for this facility for so long."

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