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Lifting Standards

A Brisbane supplier has grown its business throughout Australia, setting a high standard in workshop design, writes Amie Hickland of Australian Bus and Coach (http://www.busnews.com.au/). 

Safety and quality are two aspects a Queensland business is pushing hard, as a nationwide reputation for complete workshop design steadily builds. Levanta Workshop Solutions supplies a range of workshop equipment — from jacks to lifts — as well as coordinating complete workshop fit-outs with suppliers. 

The team has an important message for bus operators who are considering renovating or upgrading their workshops — get in early. National Product and Technical Manager Joe Bourke says they try to stress this point to make sure nothing goes wrong in the complete process. “We provide a level of consultancy for the outcome of the workshop,” he says. “It’s in everybody’s best interests to get engaged early. “So many times we get engaged way too late in the process and we don’t get a perfect finish with the workshop or the customer doesn’t get the best outcome for their business.” 

Owners and brothers General Manager Karl Sharples and Sales Director Lester Sharples are also based at the Brisbane site, which they say is a perfect location for the thriving business. The Sharples family purchased an established business, Garage Equipment, in 2003. At the time the company had a very narrow focus with only two suppliers out of the United States — BendPak and Huth. The brothers saw that there was a much larger opportunity in the industry and in 2008 decided to develop a direct-to-trade business and bolster the product lines with complementary equipment from suppliers in Europe. Thus Levanta was born. 

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Levantar is the Spanish word ‘to lift’ and ideally describes what the brothers are trying to achieve. “When we launched the brand in 2008 we dropped the ‘R’ off it,” Karl says. “We were looking for something fresh and something that talked about our business and had a little twist to it. “The name itself is really getting out there. It’s not just ‘Sharples Engineering’ — it’s something that’s a little bit different.” And with that, the business has grown to supply whole workshop solutions for those who need it. “At that stage we couldn’t and we saw the opportunity and said ‘okay let’s open the doors’,” Karl explains. “We could see new potential for it … that’s where most of our focus has been in the last couple of years.” The company launched into a number of industries, but from a bus perspective that’s when Levanta started to push the product.

“We’re a big supplier to the bus industry,” Lester emphasises.

The business boasts complete workshop fit-outs for operators such as Kangaroo Bus Lines and Brisbane Transport’s Eagle Farm depot — both in South-East Queensland. The Kangaroo workshop was designed and installed in conjunction with Melbourne-based business, Dzine Construction Group. “We bounced ideas around and came up with a framework of things,” Joe says. “Kangaroo were initially planning a traditional pit with the option to add a second one later on. We said let’s put a double suspended ceiling pit in and they said ‘okay’.” 

Suspended ceiling pits provide a number of advantages over a normal pit. They not only allow for two or more pit openings, but also provide a large open space between the pits which provides an excellent work area, increasing the available floor space in a workshop. “That idea of that suspended ceiling pit, it gives the guys the feeling that they want to go down there and work,” Karl says. “Those things are all fully ventilated and very well lit.” 

Kangaroo Bus Lines also had CCTV cameras installed in the pit to ensure the safety of people when they are working alone. This idea, among others, is the type Levanta share with other operators who are looking at similar renovations. “We have our own workshop technicians that are very broadly skilled,” Karl says. “We don’t do the actual civil works.  We do however have an eye on everything to do with the pit.” 

He says Levanta take a lot of pride in the finish of the product. “We fabricate the steel and put it into the ground then the builders hook up their stuff and pour the concrete around it,” Karl says. Joe describes the team’s workmanship as “second to none” and the workshops have drawn a lot of praise from other businesses. “Kangaroo Bus Lines is one of the best bus workshops not just in Australia but the southern hemisphere,” Joe says. “With the expansion of the company into Western Australia and New South Wales we’re doing workshops all over the country, whether it’s small bits and pieces or whole workshops.” 

Levanta has about 18 international suppliers it uses — all of which have been put through a rigorous screening process. “We haven’t just gone for the cheapest equipment,” Karl says. And their persistence for quality has paid off. Karl says operators are now buying the equipment based on its merits. “We do not have to sell the quality of the product to a heavy vehicle operator. A bus operator can see the advantage of the equipment we’re selling,” Karl says. “We’ve become expected to supply what they want.” Joe says most operators know what they want and bus operators in particular recognise the value in the long service life of a quality product. “There are other options out there and we still have to justify the cost of our equipment,” Joe says. 

Karl says one of the main benefits of using Levanta for workshop work is the coordination of the project. “Smart operators would rather deal with one company that can coordinate the other things they need in the workshop,” he says. “If they have got to go to 15 different suppliers it’s a big process.” The team attend the Automechanika trade show in Germany every two years to check out potential new suppliers who are then put through a gating process. “We then go through some fairly rigorous testing of the equipment,” says Joe, who adds safety is a very big focus for the business. “We do put safety very high on the list in terms of what we do.” To do this, the company has many safety policies in place and ensures each piece of equipment complies with the relevant Australian standards.

Levanta technicians, or certified partners, also install each piece  of equipment to ensure the highest safety standard. The workers are all put through regular training processes to ensure the highest possible standards are maintained. “The Australian Standard requires that a competent person install and maintain hoists — but how do you determine a competent person?” asks Joe of the equipment installation. Karl says Levanta and similar suppliers are trying to set the standard in what is a fairly unregulated industry. “There’s nothing there to say you must be a mechanic and have this training and that training,” he says.

Levanta is also working with competitors to help increase regulations, particularly after a number of mishaps with customers’ equipment. Joe says one of Levanta’s suppliers started manufacturing its equipment in a different country which led to it being an inferior product. “After some discussions with that supplier we reduced the range we carry of their equipment and sourced better value products from an alternative supplier.” 

Due to regular product checks the change in the standard was noticed before the equipment was given to a customer. Joe says this could have been a disaster if not picked up quickly. “It literally had the potential to tear the heart out of the business,” he says. “We’ve put too much into the brand to have it eroded by poor quality products.” 

Levanta also offers long-term warranties, some up to 10 years, to demonstrate their confidence in their products. The business takes its team training seriously and often sends people around the country and the world to ensure the standards are met and everybody is happy with the end product. 

“It’s a culture here. It is part of our DNA,” Joe says. “It works better for us to send a couple of guys with a plan and send them to Perth. Our guys will go and finish it. “We do take a lot of pride in finishing the job and delivering what we promised and exceeding the expectations of customers.” 

The company has offices and warehouses in Brisbane, Sydney and Perth and ships all equipment to these sites for pre-inspection and commissioning before it’s sent to the customer and installed. The Brisbane office is 10 minutes from the Port of Brisbane, while the Perth office is in “the heart of industry area,” according to Joe. 

Karl says Levanta will never ship anything directly from the manufacturer to the customer’s site. “If it’s not, for whatever reason, what was expected he’s immediately got that doubt,” he explains. “We stay involved with them for quite some time until they’re satisfied they’ve got the best value out of the equipment.” 

The company also offers training to businesses which have installed their equipment. “We like to build a relationship with our customers, particularly if we’re putting a range of equipment in,” Karl says. “We try to make it as easy to use and understand for the customer.” Levanta staff will often go back to check on equipment and will offer quick training sessions if necessary. “If they just need a quick refresher because they’ve forgotten how to use this then it’s like ‘yeah, sure’,” Karl says. He says the company will continue to focus on the bus and coach industry in the years to come, with significant growth seen in the business each year so far. “We can see significant growth in the bus and coach industry,” Karl says. “There’s going to be a lot more buses and coaches on the road within the public transport industry.” Joe says the industry is a very good one for the supplier to be in. “We find the operators are astute business people. They understand what they need in their workshops to do the job,” he says. 

Amie Hickland
Australian Bus and Coach Magazine
http://www.busnews.com.au/

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