The Neilsen Group of companies is a supplier of premixed concrete and extractive products in southeast Queensland. The family company, originally founded by Ernie and Ruby Neilsen, is based in Brisbane and commenced operations in 1976 with a small sand and gravel operation at Brendale, in Brisbane?s north.
Today, in addition to the Brendale site, the Neilsen Group operates two hard rock quarries (one is leased and the other is on a family owned site) in the Beaudesert region, and has a lease on a fourth quarry operation in the Sunshine Coast region. It also owns three concrete plants, with a fourth due to commence operations early 2010. As a result, Neilsens produces and sells a range of river gravel and basalt materials, to various customers, including-mix concrete producers, local councils, contractors (large and small), garden supplies companies and direct to the public.
The second of the Beaudesert hard rock quarries – Neilsen?s Bromelton plant – commenced operating in May 2008, and is located around 70km south of Brisbane and 60km west of Nerang on the Gold Coast. This greenfields site produced close on 400,000 tonnes in the past year. The Bromelton rock – an olivine basalt reserve – has quickly won a reputation as producing high grade concrete aggregates, and at the time of writing, was in the process of installing a manufactured sand plant to convert crusher dust to manufactured sand.
Despite only commencing operations 12 months ago, the Bromelton quarry has won supply of a range of products to the Wyaralong Dam project – the latest dam in the Queensland Government?s plan to make southeast Queensland ?drought proof?. Rob Snowden, Neilsens? group quarry manager, said that the total volume supplied to the dam project is about 55,000 tonnes to date, but this total has the potential to increase substantially as the last two contracts associated with the overall project have only just commenced. Those contracts are the construction of a 11km road realignment (requiring some 100,000t of assorted quarry materials) and the design and construction of the dam wall (which is believed to involve some 300,000m3 of roller compacted concrete and pre-mix concrete).
IMPROVING SPEED AT THE LOADING FACE
The Bromelton operation is gradually upgrading its load and haul fleet to meet the projected future demand. Its most recent acquisition is an 80 tonne Hyundai Robex 800LC-7A crawler excavator, which was delivered at the end of April this year. The excavator joins a Caterpillar 45 tonne excavator and replaces an ?ageing? Komatsu PC650 excavator.
Rob Snowden said the PC650 was ?in excess of 10 years old, it had had quite a hard life, there had been a number of issues with it and we had been quoted up to $300,000 for an extensive overhaul of the machine. Its availability had dropped off considerably and had numerous oil leaks?. After consulting with up to six dealers for a suitable replacement, Neilsens decided to purchase the R800LC-7A from Hyundai dealer Eagle Equipment.
?We wanted to increase the capacity of our face excavator to provide for future increased production levels,? Rob explained, ?so we targeted a size of 70 to 80 tonnes. We were also looking at reducing the number of passes to load our two articulated dump trucks – a 40 tonner and a 50 tonner. Now, by going to a larger machine, we have a larger size bucket (a five cubic metre bucket was fitted to the 80 tonne excavator) and can now load our dump trucks in five to six passes, which has significantly reduced the loading time of each dump truck.
?By comparison, the old Komatsu was loading the 40t and 50t dump trucks in seven and eight passes respectively. We?ve cut that down to five and six passes respectively with the Hyundai.?
The purchase of the R800LC-7A has also freed up Bromelton quarry?s other excavator – the 45 tonne Caterpillar – to concentrate on other duties. ?Bromelton is the first kind of quarry that Neilsen has gone into which has a large, massive rock structure, so we?ve had a need for a rock breaker to handle the oversize,? said Rob. ?As there will be an ongoing need to break the oversize, the opportunity was taken to replace a hire unit with our own, so we?ve just purchased a rock breaker and had it mounted on the CAT345 excavator, which will ?float? between stripping, rock breaking and other duties around the quarry.?
Given the greater capacity of the R800LC-7A, Rob Snowden said the excavator operators on site had been ?impressed by the ease of digging the blasted rock and the speed in which it does load. They like to do the job with ease and they like to load quickly. When loading at the face, the excavator has to sort out the large rock so it can be put to one side, in readiness for the rock breaker, and get back to loading the dump trucks, so the capacity and resultant loading speed of the Hyundai has enabled the operator to perform these tasks smoothly and quickly. They are the main operational attributes you look for in a machine?.
He added the operators had had no problems adapting to the new Hyundai. ?For them, it?s really like going from one car to another. The principles of most excavators are similar but the new machines will always have a few variances that require ?re-training?. Eagle Equipment kindly provided a trainer to show our guys the ropes, but we were quite fortunate because we have pretty experienced operators who have the nous to feel their way through a new machine as well.?
Rob Snowden agreed that the interior features of the R800LC-7A promoted both comfort and ease of operation, which in turn translated to the potential to increase productivity in the quarry. ?The positioning, the viewing, the operator comfort, and ease of operation are the big improvements that have been made in recent times by the manufacturers of such equipment. Rather than just the machine?s performance, the designers of these machines have looked hard at improving the ?workplace? of the operator. They realise that the more comfortable the operator is, the better he/she will operate that machine – or at least be more inclined to operate that machine better! The excavator has a better seating arrangement, offers better viewing from the cabin, the displays are easier for the operators to see and the levers are easier to operate, so it?s all about ease of operation that translates to improved operational efficiencies.?
At the time of writing, the R800LC-7A had completed its first three month trial at Bromelton. Neilsens kindly provided some data about the overall performance, including fuel consumption. The fuel consumption has averaged 45 to 46 litres per hour that compares favourably with its smaller predecessor and the backup CAT345. On this evidence and on anecdotal feedback from the operators, Rob Snowden could confidently say that the new excavator had played a significant role in improving productivity at the plant. ?We?ve definitely improved the productivity of the load and haul phase of the quarry, and prepared the operation for going that next step, once we secure the approval for increasing the annual production. As our production output increases, we shall be able to determine the next operational phase that requires upgrading.
ADDING TO THE LOAD AND HAUL FLEET
Neilsens has a total haul fleet of nine articulated dump trucks across its operations, including the Hitachi 40 tonne and 50 tonne articulated dump trucks at the Bromelton site. In addition to acquiring the new excavator for its operations, Neilsens was offered the opportunity to trial an Astra 40 tonne dump truck from Eagle Equipment for two months.
?I mentioned at the time that we purchased the excavator that we would be looking at purchasing a new dump truck for next year,? Rob Snowden explained. ?Wayne Reichow, the Eagle Equipment representative, asked us if we would like to trial their Astra 40tonne articulated dump truck, and we said, ?Sure, we?ll give it a try?. I took them up on their offer and we trialled the Astra 40t unit for two months.
?Once again, the operators were very impressed with the Astra. We used it throughout the quarry, loading at the face, loading the large rock, and working through the stockpile area to take material from one stockpile to another. It was a two month trial, for which we?re very appreciative.?
However, Neilsens is yet to make a final decision about the best vehicle for its dump truck fleet. ?We fully accept the attributes of the Astra and it will be held well in contention,? Rob explained. ?With the purchase of the R800 excavator, we can certainly assess Eagle Equipment for its back up support, parts and service, as they?re all very important criteria when purchasing new equipment. So that?s what we?ll be looking for when making our decision. We have service agreements with all the suppliers of our mobile equipment – Hastings Deering for our Caterpillar gear, Komatsu for Komatsu, Hitachi for Hitachi, and Eagle Equipment for Hyundai. We rely upon the back up facilities of all of our suppliers, so it becomes an important part of the assessment criteria.?
It is likely that the new dump truck will be an articulated model, in line with Neilsens? current haul fleet. ?I believe from the commencement of its river gravel operations, Neilsens has always preferred articulated dump trucks. The ?artics? have shown all their strengths and manoeuvrability in working in the sand and gravel pit, and that?s been transferred through to the rest of our operations with the use of those trucks. That?s not to say that we?ll be standing by them all the time, but at least if you have those particular trucks the guys are familiar with them. I never discount going to rigid trucks. However, our ultimate decision will also depend on what is available at a particular time, and when we do our complete assessment, as to the pros and cons of the various truck options. And to date our experience has been very good with the articulated dump trucks.?
Another factor that influenced Neilsens? purchase of the R800LC-7A excavator (and which could be influential in future purchases of earthmoving equipment) was the Federal Government?s 30 per cent capital investment allowance. Neilsens was able to claim the rebate on the purchase of its excavator and Rob Snowden predicted that other companies would have followed suit.
?That was certainly part of our criteria,? he said, ?and I gather, judging from discussions with some of our suppliers, that many other companies did likewise. We placed a few purchase orders prior to 30 June for the extension and benefit of our business for the year ahead because we swathe advantages in the incentive package that the Government was offering.?
(While the 30 per cent allowance ceased on 30 June, 2009, larger quarries are still eligible to claim rebates of 10 per cent on equipment
purchases made between 1 July and 31 December, 2009. Smaller and medium size quarries may also be eligible for a 50 per cent deduction on new capital that is purchased and ready for use between 13 December, 2008 and 31 December, 2010.)
CHOOSING THE BEST PLANT AND EQUIPMENT
Rob Snowden was asked to offer some insights into applicable criteria for smaller and medium quarry operations that are looking at purchasing new earthmoving and haul equipment, or upgrading their plant and equipment in general.
?I don?t think that we do anything different to most people in the industry, I think we all know the basics,? he said. ?The dollar is very important – the price. The specifications do vary slightly between machines, so you don?t get a perfect comparison. Generally it?s a matter of what suits your particular environment, your particular requirements. You can go a little bit bigger with a particular machine and you can come back a little bit. It really boils down to your main criteria and what the operational requirements are.
?In particular, you don?t want to have the machine working hard from day one. You want that machine to have the capacity to undertake all the work that is required of it, plus have that bit in reserve, because all machines do age, and all operations do vary with time, but the required demand on equipment generally increases more than it decreases. You have all these variations of workload and you want to have the machine with the capacity to handle ?every option?! So a machine?s capacity/size is very important, but ultimately we want the ?best bang for our buck?, so price is the determining factor – what can I afford? – and as such, trade-in and financing become crucial factors to consider. And, of course, the true test of any purchase is performance of the machine and performance of the manufacturer and dealer.
?I guess it all comes back to the net price, but you want to be comfortable that you can work with the distributor and you have to have the confidence that they will be able to respond to your needs in backing that machine up, whether it be in service, maintenance or any other advice, training, the lot.
?It is the whole package and I think the people in the industry are very switched on to that same set of criteria. In the current circumstances we?ve had with the financial crisis, we?ve found that most suppliers have been prepared to go that little bit extra with pricing.
?I would also say that for our purchase, Eagle Equipment, supported by Hyundai, was eager to get an excavator of that size into the quarrying industry, and I believe that Neilsens is the first to have that Hyundai size machine in the quarrying industry in Queensland. Eagle was eager to sell the machine so that the industry could then have a look at how the Hyundai machine performs in the quarrying environment. From that perspective, I think it?s been a win-win for both Eagle and Neilsens.?