Screens & Feeders

Technologies change but customers? expectations remain the same

If you’ve ever wondered just how quickly the industry can change, here’s a classic example.

This issue of Quarry focuses on load and haul. I recall seeing some sepia photos from the quarry heritage paper industry stalwart Greg Goodsir delivered a few years ago. Those photos showed quarrymen with spoiling hammers working on the rock pile, shovelling rock into horse-drawn carts.

Obviously production had to increase (a basic driver of our industry), so a train track was laid into the quarry and small train carriages would ship the rock out. Loading moved to track-mounted wire rope face shovels, either steam- or diesel-driven, and transport changed to small tip trucks.

Just imagine writing the capital expenditure request to management to change the quarry’s load and haul method from hand shovels and trains to the new face shovel and trucks. This would have been a leap forward in output at that time.

More research and development saw the articulated wheel loader introduced in quarries and underground mining. At the time it was promoted as “trackless mining”. Then we saw the hydraulic excavator and hydraulic face shovel appear, and an increase in capacity over time to the sizes we have operating today. Wheel loaders remain in use, either at the face or, predominantly, as sales loaders.

Rigid trucks have basically remained a staple of quarries but the physical size and capacity has dramatically increased. The mining industry has taken the size of the rigid truck from the earliest hydraulic dump bodies such as the Robertson steam wagon (circa 1900) to the recently launched Belaz 75710, which is manufactured in Belarus, with a payload of 496 tonnes. Mind boggling stuff!

Load and haul development has taken us to driverless remote-controlled autonomous trucks, now operating in Western Australia’s Pilbara region. These have been driven by the need for greater safety, lower costs and the shift from human to machine labour. I don’t expect us to have anything like this in our quarries any time soon but maybe one day we will.

When the quarry manager changed his quarry from horse-drawn carts or trains to the face shovel and rigid trucks, that would have been viewed as cutting edge production. Automation and new technologies are making it much easier for load and haul fleet operators to plan their fleet management and monitor the performance of their vehicles, eg telematics and software can accumulate data on nearly all aspects of the load and haul process.

Essentially, such technologies are making it easier for quarries to choose the type of vehicles they need for load and haul, set schedules for preventative maintenance of the vehicles, monitor fuel consumption (in particular, can a driver/operator complete a load-out in fewer passes?), accumulate data on the tonnages machines are managing and even plan for the eventual upgrading and replacement of their fleet.

Data collection on loaders occurs in underground mines, and that data can be analysed on the other side of the world the same day. By comparison, the old quarry managers with horses and carts would have had to painstakingly work with written records and replace their livestock more frequently.

If you think about it, while the advances and technologies today would have been inconceivable to quarrymen 30 years ago – let alone 100 years ago – there are some similar principles in play.

Quarries of yesteryear would still have had to perform maintenance, at least in terms of keeping their livestock healthy and happy for hauling the aggregate, and they would have been confronted with the same challenges of delivering their materials in a timely fashion to meet infrastructure demand. The technologies may have changed but the expectations of customers remain much the same; the difference is technology now enables us to deliver in more efficient, time-effective ways. Where will it take us in the future? Who knows? But it will happen.

Until next time, stay safe!

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