The latest releases have been a long time coming but speak to pressing, timely needs

by jesse morton, technical writer

Shoestring budgets year over year going back a half-decade have taken their toll on underground haulage fleets, insiders said. A general manager at an equipment company told Coal Age many mines have, in the last couple of years, deprioritized needed rebuilds. “So many mine managers are currently facing aging fleets, which is resulting in rising downtime and mine cost,” Jarrod Bailey, Highland Machinery Co., said. “This has led to machines being run far beyond when they would historically be sent in for refurbishments and rebuilds. Over time, fleets began to experience severe and catastrophic failures.”

At the same time, the underground haulage equipment market has downsized. “The industry has changed exponentially over the past five years,” Bailey said. “We have seen times where the market had suffered setbacks and has lost a considerable amount of manufacturers.”

Both trends bode well for the suppliers still in the space. The ones that spoke with Coal Age all mentioned new opportunities now arising. They each had a new or improved battery-powered solution waiting for the right moment. Hopefully, they said, the time is now.

Komatsu’s Joy line of electric scoops hit the market in Q2 2019 and are expected to see demand in emerging markets. (Photo: Komatsu)

It’s Back, Orange and Going Global

Komatsu reported the Joy line of Electric Scoop Vehicles (ESVs) is set to go global.

Near-future market for the product line will focus more intensely than previously on emerging markets, including India, Russia and South Africa, Dennis Conner, product manager, scoops, Komatsu, told Coal Age. “There are several global emerging markets in the underground coal industry,” he said. “We are aggressively pursuing those.”

For a couple of those countries, the scoop is novel technology, he said. “It is a new concept, a new technique being applied in India and Russia where they don’t currently use the scoop.”

The product line, formely known as Fairchild scoops, was quietly purchased by Joy from General Electric in June 2018.

Since then, Joy has made some changes to the design, which is now backed by the Komatsu brand. “It is essentially the same design,” Conner said. “We made some improvements, some modifications to fit in with our other product offerings,” he said. “Essentially, though, it is still the proven, time-tested Fairchild scoop.”

Some of the changes ensured the scoops shared common parts with other Joy products. “And there were some minor tweaks to resolve known issues,” Conner said.

Those resulted from a year of design analysis, he said.

“It is not as simple as taking our designs and sending them out for manufacture. We had to analyze and redraw everything. The complete design had to be taken down and then built back up,” Conner said. “In many cases, things were not changed, which is why it is essentially the same design, but along the way we did find areas for improvement and took that opportunity.”

The updated scoops were available in Q2 2019 and featured electrical component upgrades and minor structural improvements. “For some of our purchased components, the manufacturers changed to Komatsu-preferred vendors, like going from one brand of hydraulic valves to one that is more commonly used by the company,” Conner said. “And when they found any errors or higher-cost ways of manufacturing something due to the design, we looked at those and tried to reduce the cost and minimize the customer’s price or the customer’s costs.”

The smallest unit in the line, the 01ESV36, (for 36-in.-plus seams) uses a 660-ampere-hour (amp-hr) battery, weighs 23 tons, has a 75-hp motor, offers a tram speed of up to 5 mph, and has a breakout load rating of 10.4 tons and a maximum payload rating of more than 20 tons. It has ground clearance of less than 13 in. and a bucket capacity of 120 ft3.

The biggest unit, the 01ESV60, uses a 1,240-amp-hr battery, weighs 35 tons, has two 75-hp motors, offers a tram speed of up to 6 mph, and has a breakout load rating of 15 tons and a maximum payload rating of 30.4 tons. It has ground clearance of less than roughly 17 in. and a bucket capacity of 165 ft3.

Company literature said the lead benefits include twice the battery life of standard 128-volt (V) units, increased stability, and capacity control on steep grades, a proven braking system, and reduced battery maintenance.

Other benefits include “consistent performance over the diesel competitors in torque, in its ability to work,” Conner said.

The battery technology is lead-acid based. “There is a lot of experience with lead-acid battery usage in underground coal mining,” Conner said. “The users are typically familiar with the care and maintenance, and the mitigation of risk.”

While utilization practices and mine conditions vary, the batteries can usually go between six and eight hours. “It could last a full shift,” Conner said. “Reality is they normally change it out sometime in the shift.”

For that, charging stations are strategically placed near working sections. “Normally, in a multisection mine, there wouldn’t be one centralized battery charging area,” Conner said. “They would place one charging area close to each working section.”

The entire battery pack is replaced. The old one is situated in the charging station. The new one is installed, and then the scoop is back in service.

Many of the mines in developing countries will have to make an upfront investment in infrastructure to adopt the scoops. “There is an additional investment required to set up the battery charging stations and to train your workforce for battery maintenance,” Conner said.

Adoption for mines already deploying battery-powered Joy equipment is more streamlined, he said. “If they do, for example, have Joy battery haulers, the adoption of the scoop is not very difficult because they are already familiar with the battery-powered equipment and the battery maintenance.”

Either way, adoption is a win for the miner because “in most cases we are displacing a piece of diesel-powered equipment,” Conner said.

That means less heat, noise and diesel particulate matter, which translates to ventilation cost savings. “Overall, we show a savings, both monetarily and in the personnel health and safety realm,” Conner said. “Over the life cycle of a machine, the total cost of ownership is a fraction of what it costs for a similar piece of diesel equipment.”

Additionally, the units are supported by Komatsu’s global mining service support network, “which has a huge presence in underground coal mining,” he said. Further, users can leverage the expertise of the broader Komatsu engineering team.

“Komatsu’s footprint and support network are both large,” Conner said. “We are in a great position to support this product for future success.”

Designed to Make a Splash

Highland Machinery Co. (HMC) showcased the re-released battery-powered 280 AC-VFD Scoop at the Bluefield Coal Show in September.

The upgraded model was the subject of a yearlong redesign project and featured improvements that made it “head and shoulders above everything else on the market,” Jarrod Bailey, general manager, parts, HMC, said. “We took what we had learned from our previous machines in the field and looked at what operators and maintenance professionals from the industry wanted and combined them to make the machine that we have today. This machine is based upon years of real-life work and experience, not just ideas on computer screens and unproven theories.”

Improvements included a “much larger oil tank to allow for greater hydraulic demand while allowing for cooler operation during long operating hours and moving the pump motor and pump to the side of the machine for easier access,” Bailey said.

Highlands Machinery Co. says the upgrades to the 280 battery-powered scoop are based on real world experience. The scoop already had the ‘highest quality frame on the market,’ the company reports. (Photo: HMC)

The scoops already had the “highest quality frame on the market,” he said. “Components can be replaced over time, but frames are the backbone of the machine. The frame is the basis of your investment.”

The unit at the show was purchased at the booth by a customer new to the company. “We consider that to be a great testament to the machine,” Bailey said.

The original 280 Scoop hit the market more than seven years ago. Company literature said the model has a 140-ft3 bucket, an HMC wet disc brake system, John Deere planetary four-wheel-drive axels, and a variable frequency drive (VFD) controller and main breaker panel.

It can run off a 240-V or a 128-V battery system.

The 128-V design has an 850-amp-hr battery and a 1,000-amp-hr battery. The motor is rated at 75 hp. Ground clearance is approximately 15 in.

Options include a hydraulic winch, camera and proximity systems, and a forklift attachment.

Benefits include increased battery life, longer run times, and more power over DC machines, Bailey said. Others include high machine availability, longevity and dependability; “industry-leading warranties; and lower cost of ownership over the life of the machine when using HMC replacement parts.”

Customers can also expect an elevated level of support and service. “We built our team with the most talented minds in the industry,” Bailey said. “We have numerous employees in critical roles in production, development and quality control that have been with HMC for 30-plus years.”

Accordingly, the “beauty of the HMC product lines is the customization we offer,” he said.

For a customer in search of a low-cost option, “we can provide a basic DC electrical panel,” Bailey said. For a mine with steep grades and wet conditions, “we can provide a machine with optional AC VFD Traction systems,” he said. For a big mine needing a larger machine, HMC “offers larger scoops with dual tram motors that can produce twice the amount of torque generated by the 280 model.”

HMC will first sit down with a customer to qualify them for a specific base solution. “When talking with a mine manager we first ask them to outline all of the concerns and issues the operation is currently facing,” Bailey said. “Once we fully understand all of the aspects of the operation, we can then make recommendations for the best type of setup that will help to resolve the issues and improve the operations. We like to stress to managers that we want to improve their daily operations by providing greater availability of the equipment, reducing downtime and replacement parts, and improving profitability.”

Illustrating the durability of HMC machines, the first AC scoop produced by the company recently came due to be rebuilt and proved it didn’t need it. It had been deployed in two mines and has at times seen near-continuous use. “After our regional sales representative met with the customer to discuss the condition of the machine, we determined it was in their best financial interest that we did not recommend a full rebuild at this time,” Bailey said. “We provided them with a list of repairs that we felt needed to be performed. These repairs were minimal and only included items such as replacement of bushings, pins and a few weldments. The repairs were so minimal that the customer felt they could be made on mine site with Highland OEM replacement parts and consultations with our expert staff.”

Adoption requires no major infrastructure investments or upgrades. “When purchasing a machine, the customer would only need to purchase a charger for the batteries,” Bailey said, “which is always included with the quote for the machine.”

The customer can use HMC as “their warehouse to reduce overall cost and initial investment,” he said.

“There is no need for customers to make a large investment for replacement parts,” Bailey said. “We carry a very large inventory to support all of our lines, and we provide parts for most other OEM machines through our aftermarket parts sales division.”

Thus, adopting a new HMC scoop “should be a seamless transition,” he said.

Bailey said HMC expects the re-released 280 to make a major splash. “The market is currently open for getting these machines into the field,” he said. “I think that we will look back 10 years from now and when most operators are asked what brand of scoop, they are running they will tell you Highland.  They will tell you that over the past years they have partnered with a company that had the customers best interest in mind.”

Simmons’ new SE30XL Hauler features a vertical articulation system that makes the machine 3 ft shorter than the competition and allows for superior maneuverability, the company reports. (Photo: Simmons Equipment Co.)

Game Changer Awaits Release

Simmons Equipment Co. announced the impending release of the battery-powered SE30XL Hauler, which the company described as “game changing” and offering the best cost-per-ton value of any haulage vehicle in its class.

In an exclusive report for Coal Age, the company reported the hauler offers a uniquely optimized drivetrain, a patented vertical articulation system, part interchangeability, as well as other cost-cutting, production-increasing features.

The hauler speaks to demand for a haulage solution other than shuttle cars or complex continuous haulage systems.

“The current state of the mining sector has pushed many mines to abandon battery haulers, which give increased production, for the cheaper alternative of shuttle cars,” the report stated. “This cost-saving move has come with many headaches including cables, which limit freedom of movement dicate mine planning to the operator due to cable length limitations.”

With the cable as a hindrance, the shuttle car also presents safety risks by decreasing operator visibility while loaded. “For years, operators have made the difficult decision to stick with tethered shuttle cars in order to reduce initial equipment and maintenance costs, in spite of known capacity and flexibility limitations,” the report stated.

In comparison, the SE30XL “increases production, safety and operational benefits of comparable haulers on the market while at the same time eliminating the cost-of-ownership advantage of shuttle cars,” the company reported.

At 35.5 ft long and 12 ft wide, with a wheelbase of roughly 18 ft, the hauler offers a trailer capacity of 10 tons, a maximum tram speed of 5 mph, and battery options. It can be powered by either a 240-V AC or a 128-V DC battery.

The company reported the hauler has steering articulation of 120°. This capability, coupled with its compact design, “offers best-in-class” maneuverability, the company reported.

“The SE30XL is the lowest hauler on the market with a canopy setting as low as 35 in.,” the report stated. “There is the option of Hydraulic Canopy Assist, which allows for quick, easy adjusting of canopy height as seam height permits. Simmons’ unique two-post-canopy design also offers less obstruction and, with the optimized operator deck and battery layout, the SE30XL offers improved visibility down the rib versus previous battery hauler designs.”

The frame is designed for low seam optimization. Additionally, “the company has developed some unique and industry-first tire configurations for low-coal applications,” the report stated. The SE30XL is the first hauler specifically designed to accommodate dual tires on the tractor and trailer end, the company reported. “This combination of extremely efficient frame design and optimized tire arrangements dramatically decreases ground pressure.”

Improved weight efficiency and tire arrangement “addresses chronic overloading often found on previous battery haulers, which reduces maintenance costs,” the report stated. “It also reduces roadway damages and allows for battery hauler use in applications that previously were off limits due to bad or weak bottom conditions.”

The vertical articulation system makes the machine 3 ft shorter than the competition. It “has 2 ft less overhang from the trailer end to the trailer tire than the leading competition and much better visibility,” the report stated.

The design reduces the complexity of the unit, “which in turn leads to lower sales, maintenance and repair costs,” the report stated. “The vertical articulation also allows for superior maneuverability and increased productivity in low, undulating seams.”

Maneuverability is further increased by four-wheel-drive on-demand Hydraulic Trailer Assist, “which uses industry-leading and proven wheel motor technology,” the company reported. “This on-demand feature allows the SE30XL to navigate the most demanding conditions.”

Cab design gives operators simple, easy-to-use controls and improved visibility and safety, the company reported.

Trailer design offers improved heaping capability over previous battery hauler designs, the report stated.

The hauler also features “a simpler drivetrain system, which results in significant improvements in initial costs and reduces maintenance costs,” the company reported.

Battery system design is comparatively streamlined. “This may be one of the best improvements on the machine,” the report stated. “Because of Simmons’ ability to offer customized solutions, for the first time in history, the SE30XL offers potential battery interchangeability between haulers and scoops. This makes for tremendous savings in initial purchase, battery maintenance, and retraying costs.”

The model, first designed by company founder Jack Simmons, was in development for a decade. “Extensive testing and validation has been ongoing over the last few months,” the report stated. “Field trials are currently being planned.” Release date is planned for H1 2020.

The hauler is meant to allow miners to adapt to narrowing seams and adopt the most cost-effective practices and equipment, the company reported.

“In today’s competitive climate, incremental tonnage can mean the difference in sustaining a healthy mine operation or closing the doors,” the report stated. “The primary goal the company had in designing the SE30XL was to build the most efficient and highly productive haulage option for low- to mid-seam miners.”