The BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA) took over operation of the open cut Goonyella Riverside coal mine in the Bowen Basin south west of Mackay in 2001.
Since then the mine has been producing around 11.5Mtpa of prime coking coal. However the world’s unprecedented demand for coal has prompted BMA to expand its operations in the Bowen Basin.
In recent years Goonyella Riverside has been one of the few mines in Australia using trucks with more than 240t capacity, but the purchase of the eight 340t Cat 797Bs marks a quantum leap in truck size in this country and reflects the scale of BMA’s proposed expansion.
Over coming years, Goonyella Riverside’s three fleets of trucks and shovels will move 52Mbcm of overburden a year. Loaded by a P&H 4100XPB shovel, the new fleet of 797Bs will move about 40% of this material.
At the heart of the trucks deal is a five-year global strategic alliance between BHP Billiton and Caterpillar signed early in 2003. Through the alliance, BHPB aims to reduce the cost per tonne of its earthmoving equipment and reduce the risks to health, safety, the environment and the community in earthmoving equipment operation.
Goonyella Riverside mine maintenance manager Bob Garrick says the alliance ensures a close working relationship between BMA and Caterpillar.
“As a result of the alliance, we do receive benefits when we buy Cat, but there’s a lot more to it than that,” Garrick says.
“Cat must also demonstrate to us year-on-year that they are committed to our business and show how they are helping improve our bottom line,” he says.
As an example Caterpillar performs benchmarking studies at all BMA sites to evaluate how BMA uses its trucks and shovels.
At regular intervals operators are brought together in a truck and shovel forum. Using videos taken at BMA sites Caterpillar and dealer staff demonstrate the benefits available from improved road conditions, haulage profiles, site severity ratings, loading techniques, shovel positions and truck exchange techniques.
“Cat are very proactive, they will say: ‘This is where you currently are from a maintenance and production point of view, but if you do these things there are incremental improvements possible out of your fleet that will improve your bottom line by X amount’.
“Then they’ll do another benchmarking study and monitor what improvements have been made,” Garrick says.
“We like to think that Cat is part of our business, helping us improve our business, not simply selling us equipment and parts. Not all improvements are measurable, so it’s also a visible and demonstrated commitment from Cat that we look for,” he said.
Doug Bestwick, manager product support of Caterpillar’s Queensland dealer Hastings Deering Australia (HDAL), says the BMA-Caterpillar alliance is part of a well-established international trend towards these strategic alliances.
“A commitment by both parties to such an alliance creates a win/win situation,” Bestwick says.
“As Caterpillar’s Queensland dealer, HDAL gets a substantial part of the Goonyella Riverside business and Cat gets an indication of what machinery will need to be supplied in the future and when,” he says.
“As for the mine, they get a commitment from us to continuously develop improvements that will deliver them ongoing ownership and operational cost benefits,” Bestwick says.
“An alliance also eliminates the costly, traditional process of calling and evaluating tenders for the supply of equipment. This ensures mine staff remain focused on maximising production and gaining efficiencies,” he says.
HDAL has committed to a Maintenance And Repair Contract (MARC) to manage, plan, schedule and perform on-site maintenance in conjunction with Goonyella Riverside mine maintenance personnel, as well as manage all off-site repairs for the full life of the trucks.
Through this arrangement HDAL effectively underwrites the mechanical availability of the fleet and the cost of its maintenance. Over the term of the contract each truck is likely to require two full rebuilds.
Maintenance crews will be made up of both HDAL and BMA personnel and they will cover the 24/7 truck operation.
The first 797B truck arrived at the Goonyella Riverside assembly site late in February and the final (eighth) one in June. Several of the trucks are now at work.
Truck bodies are made at a Caterpillar facility in Mexico and each unit shipped to Australia for assembly at a Mackay fabrication shop. BMA directly sourced the tyres and rims.
The truck assembly teams were made up of HDAL and BMA maintenance personnel who will become part of the ongoing MARC team.
HDAL engineering services staff, working closely with the Goonyella Riverside mine maintenance department engineering personnel, supported the crews and developed the “mine pack” for the trucks, a package of documentation recording post-import truck modifications and corresponding technical drawings, part numbers, assembly instructions and maintenance procedures.
Caterpillar says given the “uniqueness” of this particular model truck in Australia, Caterpillar also had engineers from its Decatur manufacturing plant in Illinois on site to supervise the assembly.
HDAL and Caterpillar have trained all those who will operate and maintain the trucks, as well as those providing branch support.
A 797B technical trainer travelled from Singapore to carry out “train the trainer” theoretical and practical tuition for selected staff members.
Now, HDAL has developed its own training courses for more broad brush training on an on-going basis and has borrowed ideas from Caterpillar’s dealer Finning in Alberta, Canada, where Finning looks after a fleet of about 70 797s working in Canada’s oil sand mines.
Finning has developed its own 797 training packages covering everything from basic preventative maintenance to troubleshooting and overhauling the various components and systems.
These skills are progressively being passed on to BMA’s operational staff.