Survival of the fittest: New challenges for mobile plant operators

Infrastructure construction, driven by the Australian mining boom, is coming to an end.

With the expected recovery in demand for quarry products from a resurgence in residential building activity being delayed by a stubbornly high Australian dollar, quarry owners, operators and contract crushing companies are forced to deal with a lull in demand that is challenging their profitability.

During the boom, companies geared up to meet peak demand “in full” and “on time”, with little concern for operating costs and process efficiency. But as market prices weaken, companies are shifting their focus from maximising output to minimising costs and improving their productivity.

Family-owned contract crushing business Pro Crush has adapted well to these changing market conditions and is prospering.

Based in Burleigh on the Gold Coast, the company specialises in mobile crushing, delivering its services to the construction and mining industries. The owner and operator of a modern fleet of mobile crushing and screening plant, Pro Crush attributes its ongoing success to a hands-on approach with its staff and customers, combined with a prudent equipment selection process. {{image2-A:R-w:300}}

Since 2009, Pro Crush has grown significantly thanks to an opportunity it saw in the market for a customer-focused contractor with enough flexibility to adapt to the priorities of customers.

Despite the downturn, earlier this year Pro Crush found it was in need of an additional mobile crusher.

“Many quarry owners and operators have their own plant that can produce the required quality and quantities on time but under current market conditions they are finding their running costs too high or their plant too expensive to maintain,” Pro Crush director Richard Hill said.

“Since Pro Crush specialises in contract crushing work, our offering has always needed to be cost-efficient. This has positioned us well to provide quarry owners with end to end solutions that keep them competitive and profitable in their supply contracts.

“Using our mobile equipment we can quickly establish site, run operations and then move on when the contracted quantity has been produced. Much of the new work we are undertaking involves the operation of crushing trains for major quarry owners.

“It is this type of business that has bucked the downturn trend for us, and early this year we picked up a string of contracts of this nature, and so found ourselves in need of additional mobile crushing plant.”

A typical outsourced crushing contract sees the quarry owner paying for machine fuel, which can represent up to 40 per cent of the total operational costs.

In choosing a contract crushing partner, not only do quarry owners have to consider the labour rates and track record of the contractor, they must also scrutinise the equipment to be used. 

For example, while Pro Crush does its own due diligence on the production rates, final product quality and durability of the equipment it selects, it is the company’s careful consideration of running costs, including fuel consumption, that is most recognised by its customers. Pro Crush believes choosing equipment with the best performance in all these areas gives it a competitive advantage in winning work.

Commenting on the lead-up to the purchase of the new crushing plant, Hill said: “Our information was that Metso’s Lokotrack LT106 was at least 15 to 20 per cent more economical than the previous model and other brands of comparable sized jaw crushers, and so we contacted Justin Guilfoyle at Tutt Bryant.”

Tutt Bryant Equipment, Metso’s exclusive Australian distributor for mobile equipment, had a Lokotrack LT106 in stock in Sydney.

Hill signed the paperwork, took delivery of the machine and placed it on a float heading for a client’s site in Victoria, all in the same week that he had initially contacted Guilfoyle.

Guilfoyle attributed the lightning speed of the transaction to two key factors.

First, the machine was available ex-stock, but more important was Hill’s confidence in Metso’s mobile crushing and screening equipment, built in the 10 years he spent working on the maintenance, field service and sale of Lokotracks before joining Pro Crush as a business partner in 2009.

This experience provided Hill with a strong appreciation of the comparative benefits of Lokotrack equipment, which he considers to be a premium product that sets the benchmark in performance, reliability and longevity.

While the first job for the LT106 was as the primary crusher in a crushing train producing roadbase and aggregate for a Victorian road project, its next job was working overburden at a quarry north of Brisbane, to produce select fill for an infrastructure project. In this application, fuel economy was important to the client, as select fill is a relatively low value added product and any savings in operating costs have a big impact on profitability.

Pro Crush’s focus on efficiency extends across its entire fleet of equipment, and Hill estimates that on its next job the fuel economy of the LT106 combined with the company’s other new equipment will return fuel savings that are up to 50 per cent better than the next alternative. {{image3-A:L-w:300}}

The machine’s superior efficiency is also a win for the environment, as less fuel consumed means less carbon dioxide emissions, which helps Pro Crush and its clients reduce their carbon footprint. Quarry operators are under constant scrutiny as to their environmental impact, so engaging a contractor with equipment that can reduce emissions is always a benefit.

“While fuel economy is a key benefit of our mobile equipment, another area we have focused on to assist machine owners is the mobility and transportability of our Lokotrack equipment,” Metso’s Australasian marketing manager Peter Newfield explained.

“Crushing contractors only get paid when their equipment is producing on their clients’ sites. So the contractor’s ability to quickly pack up a machine, transport it to a new location and have it operating again as quickly as possible minimises unpaid downtime, which strongly contributes to their profitability.”

Pro Crush operations manager Bevan Heaslip said: “The LT106 has high clearance on both ends, making it easier to load. The hydraulic hopper sides, latching mechanism and radial side conveyor make it faster to set up on site and to prepare for transport.” 

Bevan said Pro Crush’s ability to reliably service its clients is directly linked to machine uptime, so build quality and robustness are also very important.

“Overall, Metso machines seem to be more strongly built and you get the benefit of better reliability and longer hours before a rebuild,” he said. “Less frequent maintenance intervention also reduces the number of spares we need to hold.”

Metso’s dealer business manager Greg Clayton works closely with Tutt Bryant, as well as the company’s distributors in New Zealand and Indonesia.

“We work actively with our distributors to define their machine stock, to ensure that together we can provide rapid service to our clients,” he said.

“We also have an active training program for our distributor partners, which helps them to provide accurate, consistent and up to date information to our end customers, wherever they are.”

Tutt Bryant’s long-term outlook for mobile crushing is optimistic, believing weakened market prices for quarry products will not rectify for some time but that demand for more efficient, modern equipment will continue to grow.

This has led the company to expand its commitment to the sale and support of Lokotrack mobile equipment, through the appointment of Paul Doran as national business development manager for Metso equipment.

“By the nature of their work, crushers have a lot of high value wear components, so not only do we have to have the right machines in stock but we also have to ensure we stock the right components to support our customers,” said Doran, who has had a long exposure to construction materials.

“We have put a concerted effort into bolstering our stock levels of wears and spares to support our bullish outlook on the market.” 

Source: Metso

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