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Quarry-spec machines excel in shipping, rail loading

 

An ASX-listed bulk materials and logistics giant with expertise in mine and port solutions has in recent years enjoyed enormous success with a suite of earthmoving products encompassing quarry-spec loaders, excavators and dozers. Damian Christie reports.

Qube Bulk is part of the greater Qube Holdings Group. It provides comprehensive mine to market and mine resupply solutions servicing mines, roads, rail, storage, ports and shipping. It operates coast to coast across more than 30 mine sites and manages 10 key regional depot locations where there are mining hubs – in effect, from Gladstone, in central Queensland, to Meekatharra and Leinster in Western Australia.

Qube Bulk’s clientele consists of more than 100 customers in Australia, ranging from junior miners (including small mineral sands companies) to larger players such as BHP and Rio Tinto. As Todd Emmert, the director of Qube Bulk told Quarry, the company specialises in mine site services and project consulting, assisting “junior and mid-tier mining companies with their pre-feasibility and bankable feasibility studies, particularly around logistics costs, access to markets and key approvals for export operations”.

Emmert added that part of this work entails working with “environmental regulators, main roads departments who look after road networks, and infrastructure port authorities that deal with access to market and port approvals. We will work with these bodies on behalf of the mining companies we represent as they are setting up their projects”. On average, Qube Bulk would load and transport more than 85 million tonnes per annum of bulk ores, concentrates, mineral sands, salt, coal and other products around Australia.

“Essentially, we’re handling every bulk commodity that you can think of,” Emmert said, “right from battery minerals to industrial minerals used for chemicals, to bedding minerals like iron ore, manganese, through the coal streams to the heavy metal concentrates, such as nickel, lead, copper and zinc. We’re dealing with the whole spectrum of mined materials.”

While it doesn’t service quarries as such, Qube Bulk does deliver pneumatic operations for mining consumable and also road stabilisation programs, including tankers for cement and lime applications and bulk liquid tankers for fuel and sulphuric acid.

“We put in place fuel infrastructure and consumable infrastructure,” Emmert explained, “because our customers need consumables to operate their mines and their minerals processing facilities. We manage bulk ore stockpiles for mining companies. We do heavy haulage from pit to crusher, rail head, we do haul road maintenance and repairs. We do crusher feed and end crushing services, and we obviously do train and truck loading on mine sites as well.”

Qube’s contract haulage service is particularly impressive. Emmert said Qube Group would be one of the largest operators of off-road haulage, with about 80 200- to 240-tonne conventional C-trains operating nationally. In terms of on-road haulage, it also operates more than 1000 multi-combination vehicles.

An L 580 is one of 34 XPower loaders in Qube’s nationwide fleet.

THE ‘YELLOW’ FLEET

Emmert estimates that there would be between 200 and 300 machines in Qube’s off-highway, “yellow” fleet across Australia – wheel loaders, excavators and dozers (Qube Bulk doesn’t operate dump trucks). Of these, Qube owns more than 30 Liebherr wheel loaders, two crawler excavators and three dozers. The fleet today consists of quarry-spec Liebherr L 566, L 576, L 580 and L 586 XPower wheel loaders across Australia.

The loaders are mainly working in port applications, loading in a shed and moving from stockpile to hopper, which transfers the feed from conveyor to ship. The XPowers are also being employed for loading into Qube’s Rotabox containers, which are positioned on the back of a road train. Once the road train reaches port, the Rotaboxes with their contents are then loaded by mobile harbour crane into a ship, and the empty container is returned to the road train.

Qube Bulk has a long-term relationship with Liebherr, as it has bought the latter’s mobile harbour cranes for its port operations for two decades. The extension of that association into earthmoving equipment is more recent and, according to Emmert, was to “optimise our performance. The key drivers for that decision were around fuel burn, and improving the availability of the machine, because they have extended maintenance intervals and their reliability is good”.

Emmert was introduced to Steven Shore, Liebherr-Australia’s accounts manager for Qube Holdings, in 2017 and the pair have worked closely since. Liebherr initially supplied 12 loaders to Qube Bulk, which have subsequently worked in the company’s operations in WA.

“The biggest requirement for Qube was for a productive loader that was efficient, reliable and could overall lower the cost per tonne moved, and increase production per hour,” Shore recalled. “The XPower loader achieved all of the above to great success, by significantly reducing the fuel consumption, and with improvement to tonnes per hour moved, especially with jobsites that incurred long distance travel from stockpile to hopper/truck.”

 

Above: An L 566 in the shed with long carriage boom and bucket.
Below: An L 580 in the shed.

 

QUARRY-SPEC MACHINES

Although Qube Bulk’s fleet of XPower series wheel loaders are engaged in bulk materials handling, Shore said they are nonetheless very well suited to the quarrying application. They are equipped with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that can change seamlessly through a continuous range of effective gear ratios, thereby reducing fuel consumption by up to 30 per cent on average and enabling the engine to run at its most efficient speed. The rear-mounted engine also acts as an organic counterweight; a more favourable centre of gravity and less counterweight also saves significantly on fuel consumption.

The loaders are also equipped with a mid-mount cooling pack, coupled with an automatic reversing fan, that is well suited to Australia’s hot and drier climates. The low noise emission engine is also ideal for many quarry sites that are close to residential areas and Liebherr in turn can offer a factory noise reduction kit for extremely noise-sensitive areas.

In turn, the XPower loaders are fitted with integrated weigh scales, tyre pressure monitoring, and rear personnel and object detection, thanks to autonomous emergency braking.

Shore said Qube’s R 920 Compact crawler excavator, with blade configuration, is best suited to quarries. At Qube Bulk, this machine is remote-controlled to clean out ship holds while the operators continue to operate the crane during vessel unloading.

“This makes the excavator very safe by removing an operator from the danger zone,” Shore explained. “Liebherr worked with RCT Global [an Australian company which specialises in automation and control systems in 71 countries] to remote control the R 920 Compact. The excavator is primarily used for civil works, and jobs that require a machine with little overhang. Therefore, it is perfect for vessel unloading but Liebherr have a very broad range of excavators from 14 tonnes all the way up to 800-tonne machines, so we can offer a machine for any size job.”

Shore said the R 920 Compact was designed for safety, high performance, reliability and easy maintenance. Rear and lateral cameras are provided as standard, and the excavator is fitted with a new platform concept for secure undercarriage access. The excavator is equipped with high digging and traction forces, along with elevated engine power. The stick and boom design incorporates internal and external welding for longevity, as well as a unique fastening system for hydraulic pipes on the boom which moderates stress from additional welds on the boom and stick. All maintenance points are accessible from ground level and fluid levels are visible in the cab via display.

“All the above are key factors that Liebherr machines offer, especially when choosing a quarry-spec machine,” Shore said of the R 920 Compact excavator. “There are so many safety and performance features to mention.”

The R 936 excavator at Qube’s Whyalla depot in South Australia.

MAINTENANCE AND IMPROVEMENTS

Emmert said that while Qube Bulk’s earthmoving fleet also consists of other brands, it has purchased “by far” more Liebherr vehicles in the past three years because “they compared favourably with other equipment, in terms of total ownership and asset life cycle cost”. That incorporates initial upfront capital costs, running costs, maintenance costs, and resale value avenues.

“We’ve spent the last two or three years on a loader replacement project,” Emmert said. “We have about 15 of the Liebherr L 586 XPower loaders now in play, and they’ve definitely delivered the fuel burn in line with the trials we conducted before making the decision to purchase them. They’ve certainly met our expectations in reducing the fuel burn.”

Shore said Emmert’s feedback has been very positive, “especially when it comes to reliability and overall low running costs”.

To ensure that there are no hiccups and to keep improving their business solutions, Emmert and Shore meet monthly to review the Liebherr fleet’s performance, including asset reliability and availability. While Qube Bulk has its own maintenance facilities and personnel, Emmert said Liebherr’s aftermarket service offerings can be invaluable. “Aftermarket servicing is always a challenge when you’re operating in very remote locations,” he said. “It’s fair to say that Liebherr’s aftermarket servicing has been very good and certainly in line with our expectations, in that we’ve been able to keep high levels of equipment availability.

“Steve is always looking for ways to improve our business, whether that’s through the application of innovation or technology, and in particular if Liebherr has product development coming off-line. He’s always looking at trying to deploy that into our business as early as possible.”

Shore said that he and Emmert often talked about replacements for existing machines, and about new projects, in which Liebherr could offer “off the shelf and tailored bespoke solutions”. He added that Liebherr had taken several steps in the past to ensure Qube Bulk was adequately supported in the maintenance of its fleet.

“A recent contract comes to mind where there was the need for three Liebherr PR 766 dozers on a very remote site in WA,” Shore explained. “The machines are pivotal to the operation and Qube couldn’t afford any downtime. Liebherr worked collaboratively with Qube on a solution by supplying a full-time technician on-site, along with a fully stocked purpose-built parts container to ensure there was no unnecessary downtime.”

Emmert said he would recommend Liebherr’s earthmoving products to larger or medium-sized quarries and operations. “Certainly, they are very good for the purposes that we’re operating them for. I’ve witnessed them operating in European quarries, and those quarry managers seemed to be very happy with the equipment, so I would have no hesitation in recommending the equipment for use.”

Shore encourages quarry operators to try out Liebherr’s products for themselves. “Go into your nearest Liebherr branch and experience our machines in person, and bring your operators and your technicians along to experience the operation,” he said. “The engineering speaks for itself. We would love to show you our family, and hear more about yours.” •

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