Liebherr legacy lives on with R 9600 excavator

The original equipment manufacturer’s latest ultra-class excavator is set to transition its range towards a new generation of machine that will support the evolution of the mining industry.

Australia, more than any other mining jurisdiction, can lay claim to being the unofficial home of 600-tonne class excavators as the leading market for these machines.

The prolific iron ore deposits in the west and vast coal fields in the east have made 600-tonne excavators ideal for where these bulk commodities are mined.

With these credentials, Australia has been the key testing ground for Liebherr’s R 9600, an excavator that has been developed to lay the foundation for this class in the future.

Since early 2020, Liebherr’s first R 9600 pre-series excavators have been operating at iron ore and coal sites in Australia.

After being proven during a validation period, the R 9600 has now entered the global market, with eight to be operating across Australia by the end of 2021.

Liebherr-Australia managing director, mining Trent Wehr describes the R 9600 as, clearly, the most advanced, innovative and efficient excavator that the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) has ever released.

“And I would go as far as saying, that extends to any ultra-class excavator that has ever been introduced into the global mining market,” Wehr tells Australian Mining.

The R 9600 not only carries Wehr’s support, but also the expectations that come with it being the successor to the company’s acclaimed R 996B excavator.

Liebherr first introduced the R 996 in 1996 and then the R 996B in 2009. A quarter of a century after its launch, the R 996 is recognised as an icon of the 600-tonne class, particularly in Australia where 70 per cent of them have or are operating today, accumulating 5.5 million machine hours.

As much as the R 9600 builds off the R 996’s accomplishments, the new model is a significantly different proposition that is designed to establish a unique legacy because of how it will support the mining industry’s progression. 

“The R 996 has been a fantastic machine for its time, but there is no doubt that the R 9600 is moving into this new phase of where mining is heading,” Wehr adds.

“We are already seeing substantial change within the mining sector. We have seen automation become a big part of mining operations and now it has become about the drive for decarbonisation – ultimately a machine like this can deliver on that vision.”

Despite its future focus, the R 9600 shares many of the components that have made Liebherr’s R 9800, 800-tonne excavator popular over the past 10 years.

Beyond these components, the R 9600 comes into its own. The machine is equipped with two QSK50 Cummins engines with advanced combustion technologies.

Liebherr has developed and introduced efficiency management systems for the engine and hydraulic system control to reduce fuel consumption without compromising productivity.

These features are also a step towards the Liebherr Emission Reduction solutions.

In standard backhoe configuration, the R 9600 comes with a 37.5-cubic-metre bucket that is ideally matched to Liebherr mining trucks. The excavator is also available in face shovel configuration equipped with a standard 37-cubic-metre shovel.

The R 9600 entirely separates itself from the OEM’s past excavator release with additional technology products and services, including Assistance Systems and Semi-Automated functions.

Liebherr’s advanced on-board Assistance Systems are products that are designed to support operators in becoming more efficient through analytics and actionable insights, to realise improvements in safety, maintenance and overall equipment effectiveness.

 

The Truck Loading Assistant, for example, helps the operator attain optimal productivity and efficiency. With 99 per cent measurement accuracy, the system measures the instantaneous bucket payload and provides real-time information to the operator for efficiency gains during the truck loading process.

Liebherr has also introduced its first hydraulic excavator automation product in mining with the release of the company’s Bucket Filling Assistant, which provides a semi-autonomous digging function currently available as an option for the backhoe version.

“We see this product as the first step in the journey towards excavator autonomous loading,” Wehr says.

The development of the R 9600 is based on almost a decade of customer-centric research, focussed on both field experiences with the R 996B and R 9800 excavators.

Feedback and insights were collected from mine operators, maintenance crews, procurement groups and executive management teams to establish an understanding of the challenges they meet every day and their strategies for the future.

Liebherr-Mining Equipment Colmar SAS, senior product manager for excavators and Assistance Systems, George Barturen, says the development of the R 9600 has been guided by two separate research phases that ran concurrently over many years.

“The technology aspect was an important separate discussion from our customers’ experiences with the R 996B and R 9800 excavators,” Barturen says.

“The Assistance Systems journey for Liebherr started with understanding the customer challenges to develop the desired products needed on machines to improve safety, reliability and effective productivity.

“Liebherr then embarked on the definition and prioritisation of product developments and system integration to the machine.

“The value add over the course of the developments has been the utilisation of the learnings and machine information for the ongoing and future development of enhanced machines and technology products and services for our customers.”

Liebherr has analysed field information from the Australian sites alongside its partners since early 2020, learning more about the R 9600, which has validated its competitive advantages for applications within both the local and international mining industry.

The R 9600 enters the market with an expected lifespan of more than 80,000 operational hours and includes a new undercarriage which has been designed with knowledge gained from the company’s decades of engineering experience.

From a maintenance perspective, the uppercarriage has been designed to allow for quick and easy access for maintainers. Enlarged walkways with handrails and non-slip perforated steps provide safe access for inspections and maintenance at all levels of the machine, including engine and powertrain components.

The R 9600 incorporates a new cabin design, which provides a larger 14-cubic-metre workspace that has been developed based on direct feedback from operators and customer engagement workshops. The design has focussed on improvements in ergonomics, operator working area visibility, reducing vibration and limits noise to 69 decibels to maximise operator comfort.

Liebherr-Australia R 9600 technical support advisor, John Illarietti, says the introduction of the R 9600 at the iron ore and coal sites he supports has, overall, been smooth.

The OEM’s support teams have maintained a constant presence on the sites throughout the validation, which Illarietti believes has been critical for helping the customers understand the R 9600’s technological advances.

“At the end of the day the clients are familiar with excavators, so for us it’s been more about the technology side of the machine, its functionality and ensuring they are using them to the best advantage,” Illarietti says.

“The advanced hydraulic and electric control architecture of this machine supports enhanced machine performance and troubleshooting capabilities, making it easier and safer to maintain.

“Liebherr’s on-site presence enabled us to work closely with our customer’s teams to transfer the required knowledge and provide the required support, which ensured the successful introduction of the R 9600.”

And with that experience, Liebherr is ready to shed light on the excavator to the mining industry following its launch to the market.

As the successor to the R 996B, the R 9600 excavator comes equipped with the required attributes to spark a changing of the guard for Liebherr in the 600-tonne excavator class.

“The R 996 has a fantastic legacy and we now believe that the R 9600 is going to create the next legacy for us,” Wehr concludes.

This article will appear in the April issue of Australian Mining.

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