A global braking expert: Tony Cheyne

Tony Cheyne began his journey as a diesel mechanic in 1984, working his way up from the shop floor, to a service manager, to his current role at ZF WABCO Australia.

Tony Cheyne is an Application Engineering Manager at ZF WABCO Australia, responsible for truck, bus and trailer brake systems in Australia, New Zealand, China and Southeast Asia.

Tony says he became heavily involved in braking as a specialty in 1991, where his career as an expert in the field began to unfold.

“There was a new brake rule in New Zealand, where I was living in at the time, which meant that if you brought your fleet up to the new rule, you could gain an extra five tonnes of payload,” he says. “Obviously there wasn’t a fleet in the country that was going to allow their competitors to have a five-tonne payload advantage over them, so every fleet in the country had to have brake modification done. That’s where I started fitting ABS on oil tankers and things, and that’s basically where I started to specialise in the braking area.”

From this role, Tony became a brake certifier for WABCO New Zealand, where he was one of the engineers responsible for certifying brake system modifications before they were allowed on the road. Eight years later, the opportunity arose to come to Melbourne for a position at WABCO, and he took it up.

“The first intention of the role was to assist with the rollout of trailer EBS in this market,” he says. “It had been launched at the same time as New Zealand, but the take-up had been a lot slower. I think New Zealand had sold the same number of systems as the Australian market had, with their market being a fifth of the size. It was seen as an opportunity that we could get a lot more equipment out there.”

Since then the role has transformed, and Tony is now responsible for all brake systems in trucks, buses and trailers for Australia and New Zealand – as well as helping out China and other parts in Asia for numerous application work.

Tony says electronic braking has been revolutionary since he was introduced to braking at the beginning of his career, changing the game of the transport industry for years to come.

“On trailers it has been a huge game-changer,” he says. “It’s been a teaching aid as much as anything for a lot of fleets and drivers or operators, and that once they have EBS in their fleet, drivers get shown quite quickly just how close they’ve been to rollover for the last who knows how long driving this particular combination on this road. Drivers will say, ‘I’ve been doing that for 20 years.’ Yes, you have, and you’ve been very close to rolling it and we now know that.”

Through his extensive experience in the industry and years of braking knowledge gathered up, Tony says the thing that has changed the most is the commitment to safety.

“The emphasis on safety now is enormous compared to what it used to be,” he says. “It wasn’t unusual in the early days, that you would go out to a breakdown, and you would either wind the brake off or chain up an axle to get the trip completed or get it back to the workshop. I think anyone that was found winding a brake off on the side of the road now or chaining an axle up would find themselves in trouble fairly smartly, and most operators would say, ‘No, it’s not safe. We’ve got to do this properly.’”

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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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