Ball Stud Removal Tool puts Geographe on the map

The BSRT weighs under 20 kilograms and travels in a wheeled case.

After the Geographe team received a call from the workshop of a Tier 1 miner regarding a maintenance challenge on a common haul truck, the West Australian manufacturer turned a major safety issue into a patented, time-saving tool. 

If you’ve ever maintained a Caterpillar haul truck, you may have come across a particularly stubborn ball stud which forms part of the steering assembly.

By no one’s fault other than a dusty and harsh work environment, these ball studs can become effectively welded in position, requiring some real grunt work to remove them for routine maintenance. 

After one particularly difficult stint removing a ball stud, a Tier 1 miner tried calling Geographe’s research, development and innovation manager Sean Martin to leverage his team’s many years of industry experience and knowledge. 

“They had a situation where it had taken two shifts (up to 24 hours) to remove one ball stud,” Martin tells Australian Mining.

“You can imagine the downtime of having a truck parked up in a workshop for that amount of time – it must have been extremely frustrating.”

After almost three decades in the industry, Martin says he’d never heard of the issue, but his team was up for the challenge. 

He says the real issue was in the lack of effective tools to remove the stubborn studs, with usual processes requiring more brawn than brain. 

“Traditional methods of removing them sometimes just don’t work to the point where they often need to be cut out using lancing type of equipment,” Martin says.

“It starts to get dangerous, very noisy and there’s a lot of potential for damaging the components around the ball stud. Basically, it can be an all-round nightmare for maintenance teams.”

The solution, after several iterations of research and development, was Geographe’s patented Ball Stud Removal Tool (BSRT). 

Using the BSRT, Geographe has received reports from its customers that four ball studs can be removed in just 20 minutes – a mammoth time saving compared with one shift per stud. 

The ball studs in question can be found on seven models in Caterpillar’s haul truck range – the 773, 777, 785, 789, 793, 795 and 797. The BSRT is currently applicable to the 785, 789 and 793 trucks, with the remaining models to be added soon.

Martin says the tool has received terrific support in Australia while also being available in Indonesia, South America, the United States, Canada and regions of Africa. 

“We started off with the most prevalent machines in Australia before rolling out for the bigger machines,” he says. 

“We’re getting a lot of interest from overseas, particularly from the United States on the larger trucks. But there’s not many of those in Australia so we first concentrated on the mid-sized models.”

The BSRT is made from a forged high-tensile alloy, which then receives further heat treating to ensure its reliability in a high-stress environment. 

Martin describes the process of developing the BSRT for a very specific application. 

“It had to be fairly quiet, there shouldn’t be any impact required, it shouldn’t damage anything else around it and the ball stud should be reusable,” he says.

“The aim was that if a ball stud was removed, crack checked, cleaned, and they wanted to put it back in, they could do so. And we nailed this brief.”

The difficulty in developing such a tool – to be used in a tight space under the truck – was in its weight, mobility and its ability to fit between the truck’s steering control arms and the bell crank.

“We had about 17 millimetres for the fingers of our tool to slide into and up to 50 tonnes of applied force was on these fingers. So the material needs to be very resistant to fatigue over extended use,” Martin says. 

To ensure the strength of the tool, Geographe implements a Finite Element Analysis (FEA) using a computer program to understand how reliable the product is under stress. 

“You essentially punch in information such as the loads, the dimensions of the tool and the materials, so that the program can understand where the load is distributed and where any weak points in the tool might be,” Martin explains. 

Martin gives just one word to describe the feeling of having his team members names on a patent.

“Mindblowing,” he concludes. “I don’t mind admitting it – it’s not something that everyone has. 

“Product development manager Nick Pyper and product designer Jamal Barikbin were pivotal in co-designing a tooling solution which has helped our customers succeed in meeting their site targets.

“It’s been very much a group effort, with innovation project manager Ryan Hyder being instrumental in the ongoing development of the tool’s variations.  

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This article appears in the December issue of Australian Mining.

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