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When it comes to hauling rock, a mine in Western Australia is achieving outstanding performances and record productivity. It’s secret? Improved mine planning and a dedicated maintenance regime for its Atlas Copco mine trucks which has substantially boosted their availability.

At the Pillara Mine in the remote Kimberley region of Western Australia, one of two underground mines on the country’s Lennard Shelf, an incredible 46,000 tonnes of ore per week is being hauled by seven Atlas Copco Wagner 50 tonne trucks. That’s 2.4 million tonnes per year.

According to Richard Jordinson, General Manager Lennard Shelf Operations, no other mine comes close to achieving this level of productivity. And without increasing the fleet, the trucks are expected to be hauling 48,000 tonnes per week and ramping up to 2.5 M tpa in 2002.

MT5000 sets the pace

Just 18 months ago, however, it was a vastly different story with the same operation struggling to attain 30,000 tonnes per week with availability’s languishing around 70% and an annual output of 1.6 M tpa.

Pillara mine, owned and operated by Western Metals, produces high quality zinc concentrate and lead. And at a cost of US32 cents per pound, is one of the world’s lowest cost zinc producers. The mining method is sublevel uphole bench stoping, with the one in seven 5.5m x 5.8m decline currently 4.1km from the surface. The average one-way haul from the ROM pad is 3.7km.

Western Metals was one of the first in the world to own a Wagner MT5000, commissioning its first truck in late 1998. And based on this truck’s performance, it opted for haulage rather than shaft development – specifically because of the truck’s speedy 12 kilometers per hour performance up the decline and true 50 tonne carrying capacity.

Currently on site at Pillara are four upgraded MT5000s incorporating the changes built into the new MT5010 and four of the newer series trucks.

Quest to boost production

In May 2000, when Richard Jordinson contacted GPR Dehler Consultants, Pillara had a production target of 1.6 M tpa, which was not being met, and it faced a 200,000 tonne targeted increase.

“We were just meeting the budget, we were just getting there and it was hard work,” he says. “There always seemed to be a lot of dramas and always some reason why we sat at 30,000 t/week. Low reliability with the MT5000s were seen as the root cause of the problem. I was under a lot of pressure to buy more trucks, get more fitters. Everyone had an opinion and there were lots of red herrings, but GPR just stuck to the facts.”

GPR was asked firstly to determine whether there were sufficient equipment and resources to achieve 1.8 M tpa. And secondly, to determine what needed to be done to achieve the target.

“At the time, we had seven MT5000s and six loaders - GPR found we needed only three to four trucks and three loaders to increase our production to 1.8 M tpa,” says Jordinson. “And this was at the historically low truck availability of 70%!”

The major reasons found for not getting the productivity were related to mine planning, management and supervision. Jordinson explains: “When the trucks were going there wasn’t any dirt broken, when there was dirt, the trucks were broken down – the mine was being run by engineers and technical people – not by managers – we were drowning in data. There was a belief that you had to throw all your resources at one site. The fleet wasn’t being utilized effectively.”

Western Metals committed to and embarked upon an implementation program over four months and all internal processes were examined – production reached 2Mpta within six months and at the same time, mine safety improved. “Once production was up to speed and the planning was right, people were better informed – they knew what they were doing, they didn’t cut corners and the operation became intrinsically safer,” he said.

Dedicated truck maintenance

For production to further increase to 2.4mtpa, Western Metals needed to improve the availability of the trucking fleet. One of the biggest changes on the maintenance side was a dedicated trucking crew. Six crew, including two Atlas Copco fitters were assigned to provide a 24hr service. The maintenance team compiled an extensive truck history to determine the lifecycle of major components and, based on this, set up a planned component change out prior to failure.

“Early replacement reduces rebuild costs while increasing reliability. This is important to us to move the tonnes – the expensive part is having the equipment down,” said Tony Ryan, Maintenance Manager Lennard Shelf. “We are achieving costs over 10,000 hours at about AUD$65 per hour including tyres, parts labour and consumables (excluding fuel and oils). Similar trucks at other operations have costs of around AUD$120 an hour,” he maintains.

Andy Millar, the Pillara Mine Superintendent, is equally enthusiastic about the maintenance program. “When you can clock up 5000 hours on a truck in 10 months, it’s phenomenal.”

Utilisation for the entire fleet is running at 80%, but the KPI used by Western Metals is tonnes per km hour (t/kmh). The mine now averages 225 t/km/h and has an ambitious target of 250 t/km/h. “Previously, 12-18 months ago, we would have been sitting on 160 – 170 t/kmh at the most, “ says Millar. “There has been a 35% increase in production – it’s been absolutely amazing!”

Going deeper

According to Richard Jordinson, with correct planning and maintenance procedures, Western Metals has established highly reliable trucks which means that as the mine goes deeper it will stick with truck haulage over shaft.

“Industry wisdom is that you can only go down to 500m – 600m with trucks, but underground mines are going deeper and are looking for production,” he says. “As decline size is 5m x 5.5m the only thing that’s going to lift production is speed. And Wagner has done it – these are the fastest 50tonne trucks anywhere.” And Wagner is 20 –30% faster than the opposition. Instead of eight MT5010s I’d have to have 12 of the others with all the associated costs.”

Two new MT5010s are scheduled to arrive in December/January, followed by an additional two MT5010s in June/July. These trucks will replace the MT5000s and will leave Western Metals with a fleet of eight MT5010s. In addition, the company owns two Atlas Copco Simba and 3 Boomer drill rigs.

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