The PR 776 mining dozer entered a competitive marketplace of 70-tonne dozers when Liebherr launched the machine four years ago. Ben Creagh looks at how the PR 776 has established a presence in Australia.
Investing in new machinery that has recently been released on the market will always carry specific risks for mining companies.
Griffin Coal Mining faced this prospect when the company was considering Liebherr’s PR 776 mining dozer for its coal mine near Collie in Western Australia.
The company had been scanning the market as it planned a replacement program for the mine’s existing fleet of dozers in the coming years.
Liebherr, which entered the 70-tonne category with the PR 776 mining dozer in 2016, emerged as a contender for Griffin Coal with its new machine.
The original equipment manufacturer (OEM) unveiled a unique product when its largest-ever dozer was announced and had started to make an impression globally with the machine by the time Griffin Coal showed an interest.
Notably, the PR 776 was the world’s first and remains the only hydrostatically powered crawler tractor among the 70-tonne machines available for mining.
The PR 776 is powered by a Liebherr 12-cylinder diesel engine that generates 565kW (768HP). It has a maximum operating weight of 74 tonnes and is equipped with blade capabilities of 18.5 cubic metres or 22 cubic metres.
Liebherr also promised a dozer that would deliver significantly lower fuel consumption than the industry standard while maintaining similar pushing performance.
The dozer’s advanced features, supported by Griffin Coal’s existing relationship with Liebherr, convinced the mining company to take Western Australia’s first PR 776 on a 12-month trial-to-buy basis in 2019.
Griffin Coal commercial fleet manager Warren Hann says the coal miner always looks for a competitive edge and the PR 776 offered the potential to deliver that.
“Anything new that comes on the market we do look at,” Hann tells Australian Mining. “There’s also usually good value in a prototype or a new product.
“Because we have Liebherr diggers we also knew the systems and how they work. The dozer has similarities to the digger in the way they have designed it.”
Griffin Coal’s experience with Liebherr excavators over the past decade, including the two R 996Bs and one R 9200 among its current fleet, increased the company’s confidence to agree to the trial.
The excavators also provided Griffin Coal with an understanding of Liebherr’s commitment to aftersales service, as well as the mechanics of the OEM’s machinery and its supply chain via factories in Europe.
Together, the two companies set a series of key performance indicators (KPIs) for the trial dozer based around fuel usage, the mean time between failure and availability.
Hann says the PR 776 comfortably beat the targets set by the KPIs over the 12 months across each of these areas.
“The fuel burn was a lot less than even Liebherr predicted, which was really surprising,” Hann, who has spent 33 years with Griffin Coal, says.
“The mean time (between failure) was not that far under triple what was required – it meant the machine had not broken down between planned outages.
“Availability was well above the 93 per cent target at around 96 per cent. It maintained that rate (above the target) in every month apart from one over a year.”
Liebherr-Australia provided a full-time customer support representative on site for Griffin Coal throughout the trial period.
The representative, in collaboration with the Griffin Coal team, monitored the operation of the dozer against the KPIs, developing weekly and monthly reports summarising its performance.
Griffin Coal experienced no major teething problems with the PR 776 from a performance or maintenance perspective, Hann says.
The key challenge the company did face, however, was changing its operators’ mindsets towards a new machine that performed differently in certain ways to the site’s existing dozers.
“We have an experienced workforce that can be set in their ways because they have become used to the traditional product at the mine,” Hann says.
“Liebherr’s machine being new, we thought we may have an issue getting their buy in. But the feedback from the operators, who we have done surveys with, has been really positive. They say it has good vision and very good pushing power.”
For Liebherr, the trial at Griffin Coal strengthened its belief in the PR 776 and the future of the dozer in the Australian market.
Liebherr-Australia customer support manager Gerard Fonceca says the OEM supported Griffin Coal from the beginning of the trial and the coal miner quickly committed to a second dozer.
“There was high expectation bringing a new piece of equipment into the field, but through the 12-month trial we have proven the potential that this dozer has,” Fonceca says.
“The trial was the way to go, particularly in this market and moving forward we have the confidence that others will see how it has performed at Griffin and adopt the machine themselves.
“The hardest thing when you are trying to break into a market, and I’ve also had this with other clients, is when operators are used to another OEM’s equipment.
“We don’t object to that, but it was unanimous at every meeting we had with Griffin that they loved the machine.”
Griffin Coal’s acceptance of the PR 776 has been a breakthrough for Liebherr-Australia in Western Australia, with the coal miner set to replace its entire fleet with the OEM’s product in the coming years.
The dozer is also building a reputation in Australia’s eastern states, having left its mark at coal mines in New South Wales and Queensland.
Internationally, Liebherr celebrated the commissioning of its 100th PR 776 at a mine site in September.
Liebherr-Australia technical support advisor – mining dozer, Tony Di Prima, says the dozer’s unique features stand out with operators.
“The outstanding competitive edge is the hydrostatic drive where the power is transferred from hydraulic pumps to hydraulic motors and directly to the traction drive (final drive), applying positive power to the undercarriage,” Di Prima says.
“Our customers have also commented on the ergonomics and design for the operators cabin workplace, which is intended to maximise productivity by reducing operator fatigue and discomfort.
“From a maintenance perspective, the operator cabin is able to be tilted at 45 degrees and the extra 90 degrees is allowing the ease to access the hydraulic pumps and hoses for serviceability and maintainability.”
As Liebherr-Australia continues to build acceptance of the PR 776, it intends to achieve this with the same level of support that is provided to Griffin Coal.
And with the coal miner set to establish an entire fleet of PR 776 dozers, Liebherr-Australia has secured an ally on this journey to help grow the machine’s presence further.
“If this dozer continues to prove itself and I think it will, it will establish a foothold in the market and challenge the main supplier, because everyone is looking for an advantage,” Hann concludes.
This article will appear in the November issue of Australian Mining.