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Going with THE FLOW

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High operating costs have seen many Australian manufacturers heading off overseas in search of lower labour and input bills but Austin Engineering said that strategy isn't for them.

Mining supplier Austin Engineering executive general manager for eastern Australia Tim Ekert told Australian Mining that despite having the capabilities to import it isn't a tactic the company is willing to explore at this time. 

"To date we haven't been big on importing and exporting," Ekert said. 

"Our company's got the option to do both but we'd certainly prefer to build locally and support Australian jobs. 

 "It's always been our company's policy; we've expanded from Australia to around the world. 

"The way we've done it is setting up manufacturing facilities in each local market." 

The company has a large manufacturing facility in the United States which services that market as well as a lower cost site in Indonesia. 

Closer to home, Austin has set up manufacturing plants on both the east and west coasts which Ekert explains enables the company to offer more to its customer base. 

"Austin is working with customers to develop equipment that will have enhanced payload carrying capabilities and to offer more value-adding repair and maintenance services," the company said in a recent financial report. 

"The customer likes to come up and see [what they've ordered]," Ekert said. 

"They can be heavily involved from the start, inspect the [product] on a weekly basis to see its progress." 

Manufacturing locally also allows for quicker turnaround times and is cost effective, Ekert said. 

"All our internal numbers show that we can still manufacture something locally cheaper than we can build in our own facility overseas," he said. 

Manufacturing overseas would require packing all the pieces into a container, shipping it, road freighting it, putting it back together again and then forwarding it onto a mine. 

Ekert explained the process is rife with uncontrollable risks including weather concerns, and being held up in ports. 

"Those types of risks are hard to put a number on when you're quoting," he said. 

Located across the road from BHP Billiton's Mt Arthur coal mine, the company's regional manufacturing facility outside Muswellbrook, in the Hunter Valley, employs over 50 local people. 

Austin Engineering was hit by the slowdown in the coal sector, having to lay off a number of staff, but Ekert explains that diversifying and not just relying on maintenance work has been the trick to surviving the downturn. 

"We're a bit different to other mining services companies, we have products so we're not just relying on repair and maintenance work or waiting for something to break," he said. 

Austin Engineering business development manager Wayne Morriss explained the downturn has given the company time to innovate. 

"The downturn has let us focus on new designs, marketing them and getting out there so people know about our products," he said. 

Morriss explained that twelve months ago miners wanted quick solutions but productivity drives and cost concerns means now they're looking for new solutions. 

"All our products are custom designed, we don't have anything on the shelf," Ekert added. 
The company's latest offering, the Westech Flow Control Body is purporting to improve truck stability and safety, aid in dust control initiatives, reduce maintenance requirements and increase body life. 

The three angled engineered dump truck floor is the secret behind the new body; it controls the flow of material as it comes out of the truck. 

"It does that by the shapes and angle positions along the tray and there's a lot of engineering and mathematics behind their positioning," Ekert said. 

He explained that depending on the body and type of ore being moved, for example coal or overburden Austin Engineering changes the angles for improved efficiency. 

"The idea is that it controls the flow of material out of the body and holds material in the body through the dump cycle a little bit longer," Ekert said. 

In a traditional dump truck body the material being dumped exits the body by the material surging down the floor as the body rotates which can make the truck unstable. 

"You've got all this weight hanging over the rear axle which makes the truck unstable and it's not good for hoist cylinders, it's not good for wear and that huge big rush can create a lot of dust," Ekert said. 

He said the Flow Control Body makes the truck more stable by controlling the flow of material, reduces the wear in the body because the material is shearing off itself, and cuts dust which is a welcome outcome the company didn't anticipate. 

"The whole idea of the design was to make the body and truck more stable when it was dumping, it wasn't until we got further into development that we had these added benefits of dust suppression," he said. 

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