Joystick control enhances efficiency at bauxite operations

A Hyundai forklift with tyre handler, featuring Rexroth hydraulic valve bank and Hydraulink-installed joystick.

Collaboration among Australian engineers has supported Rio Tinto’s Weipa and Gove bauxite maintenance operations. Australian Mining reports.

Rio Tinto’s bauxite operations in Queensland and the Northern Territory have received an uplift in safety and efficiency thanks to an Australian-engineered joystick control.

Queensland-based forklift company, Norlift, has actuated a Rexroth joystick control for Rio’s Hyundai 160D-7 tyre handling forklifts. Norlift supplied these forklifts and fitted them with cascade tyre handlers.

With the expert hydraulic engineering assistance from Hydraulink, the joystick has made Rio Tinto’s 50 million tonnes of annual bauxite exports from the Weipa and Gove mines in the Far North Queensland and Northern Territory, respectively, safer and more reliable.

Rio completed a $2.6 billion project to expand its Weipa operations last year, the single biggest investment in Far North Queensland at the time.

“Rio wanted a tyre-handler with better ease-of-use and safer operation, so we worked with Rexroth and came up with a joystick solution, where the operator only has to move one joystick instead of the typical eight levers. Hydraulink installed all the hydraulics neatly and efficiently,” Norlift owner Greg Rynne tells Australian Mining.

One joystick replaces eight levers, which not only reduces errors, but improves the efficiency of operations.

“It’s a great system. If you push left on the joystick, it responds left. It’s essentially like a robotic arm. It can pick up a wheel flat on the ground and raise it vertically, then tilt it left, right, forwards or backwards,” Rynne says.

The Norlift owner suggests that Rio Tinto is consistently “striving for the highest levels of safety and standards compliance.”

Safety was, in fact, Rio’s number one priority for the tyre-handlers for the Weipa and Gove operations, Rynne adds.

As tyre handling equipment is tasked with lifting heavy loads in the mining industry, machinery needs to be completely safety compliant to reduce the risk of crush injuries or fatality, according to Hydraulink Cairns co-owner Brett O’Hara.

A single hydraulic hose that has been installed incorrectly can cause a serious safety risk when working at such high pressures, which can typically go up to 7000 pounds a square inch (PSI).

“(But) with the exponential advances in technology, more and more innovative solutions become available to the mining industry,” O’Hara says.

“Our hoses are now slimmer than older technology, while simultaneously featuring greater durability and performance. This means that they can fit into more compact spaces and better hydraulic solutions can be developed where there simply wouldn’t have been the space in the past.

Close-up of the custom-engineered hydraulics.


“Not only are Hydraulink hoses one of the toughest and highest quality products on the market, they are also installed by experienced hydraulic engineers and fully backed in the field by mobile technicians available 24/7.”

Hydraulink Cairns, the branch responsible for this project, is part of the Australasian Hydraulink network, with more than 400 hydraulic service points across the region.

“They’re highly responsive. If we need something, they’ll be there. They’ve never let us down,” Rynne says.

Neat engineering

Norlift has chosen Hydraulink as a partner of choice due to its responsiveness, 24/7 support, hydraulic engineering ingenuity and experience and attention to detail.

Hydraulink takes pride in all the bits: most of the hoses, connectors and fittings are hidden away in this application, but Hydraulink still set it up with incredibly “neat” engineering, according to Rynne.

The company also takes a solutions-focused approach and works to customer needs, rather than providing a one-size-fits all approach.

For this custom design, Hydraulink has removed the pilot system from the forklift and fitted a full electronic control valve. It’s proportional and allows infinite control, according to O’Hara.

Further, the joystick is 100 per cent programmable and has a function that prevents the tyre from being inadvertently released.

Operators benefit from greater and simpler control, leading to safer operation and less chances of human error.

“Rio is very happy with the tyre-handling forklifts. The enhanced ease-of-use was very well received by their operators, and the fact that it also enhanced safety – one of their top priorities – was a major asset,” Rynne concludes.

This article also appears in the August edition of Australian Mining.

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