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Apr 03, 2009

World's largest hydraulic excavator makes its mark on African soil

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Integrated leasing and capital equipment group Eqstra has marked a milestone in its relationship with the third-largest capital equipment manufacturer in the world, Terex, through the introduction of Terex's 1 000-t RH 400 hydraulic mining shovel into South Africa.

The Terex RH 400 is the world's largest hydraulic excavator, capable of loading ore into dump trucks at a rate of about 10 000 t/h. With one scoop, 90 t of ore can be deposited at a time, filling one 300-t dump truck in only three passes.

Only ten other RH 400s are currently in operation throughout the world, most of which work in some of the world's toughest environments, extracting oil sand from the frozen wastes in Canada.

This eleventh RH 400, which is destined for service at Anglo Platinum's Rustenburg platinum mines' Mogalakwena section, is the first RH 400 on the African continent.

It is also the only electrically-driven RH 400 in the world. The machine runs on dual South-African designed power units, each delivering 1 800 kW. The modular design of the power-units is a well-tested technology already employed by the RH 400's smaller sibling, the 580-t RH 340, 12 of which are currently in operation at the platinum mine.

Terex Africa director Frank Reid says that the decision to obtain an electrically-driven RH 400 was in line with Anglo Platinum's request. The huge platinum mine at the Mogolakwane section has it's own power-generating infrastructure and most of its equipment is already electrically-powered. Linking the machine up to already existing infrastructure would require no extra capital expenditure. It would lower the operating costs of the machine as opposed to the machine running on diesel.

The decision was also an environment-conscious one, as the mine is cutting back on diesel powered machinery to lower its carbon footprint and avert some of the high costs associated with liquid fuels.

The decision by Anglo Platinum to acquire the RH 400 hydraulic shovel, rather than a competitively efficient rope-shovel, was also influenced by the fact that the mine already operates 63 pieces of Terex equipment and as such, can rely on a well established relationship with the equipment provider and its associated services, such as maintenance and training.

Mogalakwane Section engineering manager Bertus Schoeman says that it was logical to purchase the RH 400 as substantial infrastructure is already in place at the mine, such as repair shops and power-generation infrastructure.

The mine has the single largest concentration of Terex equipment in the world. It is the only operation in the world that now contains Terex's smallest 105-t excavator, and the largest, the RH 400, on the same premises.

Mogalakwena section production manager Hendrik van Niekerk says that the RH 400's capacity makes it extremely cost effective, which was the primary motivation behind the purchase.

The Mogalakwena section is known as the single largest opencast platinum mine in the world, and, following dropping platinum prices and the need to reduce cost per ton of ore produced so as to remain profitable, the decision was made to purchase an RH 400.

Operators

A skilled Australian operator and specialist, Stephen Maloney, was brought into the country to upskill eight RH 340 operators to operate the RH 400. Only one operator is required at a time, however the skill level required is high as the controls are sensitive.

"The bucket can be controlled by a touch of the fingers. It can be manoeuvred within inches through highly sensitive and responsive controls. It is very sensitive for something so large, and the operators need to be very experienced," says Terex CEO Ron DeFeo.

A staff compliment of 14 personnel has also been put in place to manage, maintain and monitor the machine.

The working eye-level height for the operator is at 8,8 m.

Transport/assembly

The arrival, transportation and assembly of the shovel required coordinated teamwork.

The machine was built in Terex's factory in Dortmund, Germany, and arrived in Durban on January 10, 2009. The first stage of the operation was to unload the giant shovel, which was shipped in component form, and transport it to the North West province for on site assembly.

The machine arrived in 75 components, the largest of which weighed 85 t. These were transported overland using 25 large heavy-duty trucks.

"It took six days to unload the RH 400 and transport it, with the final consignment arriving at the mine in the early hours of the morning," says Terex Africa project manager Eben Pietersen.

A team of 15 Terex Africa employees assembled the shovel, with the assistance of technical staff from Germany, who will also be involved in maintenance training.

More in future?

The RH 400, which carries a price tag of about R130-million, including shipping and transport associated costs, is a big capital investment for any mine.

"Africa presents a tremendous opportunity for either the RH 400 or the RH 340," says DeFeo. "If commodity prices return to where they were before, to a level that better reflects the economic growth throughout the world, then we'll see more sales."

Eqstra's CEO Walter Hill says that the RH 400 has a good track record around the world, and that the RH 340 has already proven itself on African soil.

"There is a keen interest from a number of mines, which will be monitoring the success of the RH 400 closely. We believe the machine will be a success and that we'll sell another few in the next few years. There are a number of customers that we are already talking to at this point," concludes Hill.


To watch a video clip of Terex CEO Ron DeFeo and Eqstra CEO Walter Hill discussing the first RH 400 in Africa click here.


Edited by: Laura Tyrer
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