Jason Smith, general manager for mining sales at Queensland-based Cat dealer Hastings Deering, discusses the latest equipment and technology trends with Australian Mining.
The mining equipment sector experienced a lift in optimism in 2017 that has gathered momentum so far this year. Buoyed by the increasing health of coal and base metals prices, Queensland has shown considerable growth.
Strong international demand for coking and thermal coal, and the relative stability of prices for both, has led to a spike in operational activity. Queensland coal royalties soared to a record-breaking $3.8 billion in the 2017–18 financial year in a sign of the turnaround.
Base metals, meanwhile, are enjoying a revival of their own in Queensland.
Activity around mineral-rich areas like Mt Isa have increased to levels not seen since the mining boom as operators capitalise on surging prices. Zinc, for example, has hit 10-year highs in 2018.
For Cat dealer Hastings Deering this shift has been palpable, with a host of new product offerings arriving over the past year to help meet renewed demand.
Jason Smith, Hastings Deering general manager for mining sales, says the momentum has definitely continued since this time last year.
“We’ve certainly seen that across all our products from new equipment to used equipment, to parts and service. It’s across the board, really, we’re not seeing a spike in one particular area,” Smith tells Australian Mining.
Caterpillar has launched several new or updated machines over the past year, including the R1700 hard rock loader in June.
The loader boasts improved productivity, payload and fuel consumption when compared with the previous model. It has also been designed for improved modularity, which makes the vehicle easier to service.
Two hydraulic mining shovels, the 6015B and 6020B, have also performed well since their launch earlier this year, while the updated 6060 hydraulic mining shovel is scheduled for release in the fourth quarter of 2018.
Smith says higher volumes of both overburden and coal being shipped in the open cut space have driven renewed demand for machinery.
The increased volumes have, in turn, increased the ancillary need for trucks, graders, dozers and other earthmoving equipment, including the D11T, the largest dozer Hastings Deering offers.
“Once you have to move more dirt obviously you have requirements for trucks and shovels, and once you get that requirement for trucks and shovels you’ll will obviously then need ancillary for all the trucks, graders and dozers to support that equipment,” Smith says.
“So that’s why we tend to see the whole market lift as the demand lifts for the truck and shovel fleets.”
Another notable area for Hastings Deering has been the growing prevalence of early adopters of the latest technologies, with companies looking to invest more as the mining cycle has improved.
Autonomous technology, in particular, has become more accessible to operators.
The release of Cat Command for Dozing, part of the autonomous tech suite Cat MineStar, has attracted considerable attention at the equipment company.
Command for Dozing, which allows workers access to both remote line-of-sight (LOS) and non-LOS operation for dozers, finished production trials this year.
The interest in automation has led to a renewed focus on safety, Smith adds.
“I think we’re seeing increased demand in relation to monitored driver fatigue systems that we can offer from a safety point of view,” explains Smith.
“We’re seeing more customers take up the optionality of engaging Hastings Deering to utilising our equipment care advisors, who can do remote monitoring for customers, monitor machine performance remotely and advise customers of any potential issues with their machines and technology.”
It is a trend that lends credence to a memorable (and seemingly prophetic) keynote address by Cat longwall automation and engineering manager Sebastian Mundry at a conference in 2015.
Mundry stated that innovation through technology was a key catalyst for boosting the bottom line for businesses.
These signs have been present at Hastings Deering over the past year, indicative of both returning health and increasing interest in technology.
However, Smith says spending remains somewhat tempered compared with the height of the mining boom due to a more cautious breed of mining company.
“While miners are continuing to invest in the market, said investment remains considered,” explains Smith. “They’re not just throwing caution to the wind with the current investment cycle.”
And while safety is the most important factor for workers at modern mine sites, productivity is also at the forefront of customers’ minds.
Smith has found that some mine operators have a preference for running machines for longer than their planned maintenance periods since they don’t like to perform machine maintenance to a set schedule. This preference has led to increased interest in remote monitoring among customers.
“They are actually purchasing the machines with that technology so that they can be tech ready — they’re not necessarily putting the machines to work as semi-autonomous units, but they will have the option to do that in future if they choose to,” he explains.
“Essentially it’s being driven from a safety point of view and a productivity point of view, so with Hastings monitoring the equipment can pick up major events or potentially catastrophic failures prior to it occurring, and the customer is able to then take that info and action something on a piece of equipment prior to a catastrophic failure.
“Obviously that means the machine is down for a shorter period, it’s more cost-effective to do it prior to a failure, so from that point of view the customer benefits. The customer can then schedule their downtime around it.”
This article originally appeared in the August issue of Australian Mining.