In for the Long Haul
The Importance of Mine Site Trailer Efficiency and Preparedness
An efficient operation is often a profitable one. That efficiency is especially impactful in the equipment that ties it all together. Although they aren’t digging, crushing, or sorting the material that brings in the bulk of the profits, no mining operation would be able to function without its support equipment. From trailers to haul trucks and water tanks, the behind-the-scenes equipment has a huge impact on how smoothly and efficiently an operation runs.
This is especially true for trailers, a vital piece of equipment for any operation, no matter the size. That’s why it’s important that mining operations have versatile trailer solutions to maximize hauling efficiency, safety, and preparedness. Operations should consider how specialized trailer designs can improve performance and allow sites to not be limited by the size of their trailer, how custom solutions are the best fit for the application, and how proper tools can allow for safe and effective vehicle recovery. These considerations can mean significant savings and extra production, allowing for a fast return on investment.
There’s very little question that lowboy trailers are the clear choice for efficient and versatile heavy equipment hauling on a mine site. This is largely because they can carry heavier and taller loads compared to semi-trailers and flatbed trailers reserved for smaller equipment such as excavators. Capacities from some manufacturers range from 300-ton to as much as 2,000-ton, size classes that include everything from breakers and loaders to mammoth-sized shovels and draglines.
How the trailer connects to the hauler can have a big impact on efficiency. It affects both loading and unloading speed and safety. Certain features and qualities allow some models to load in as fast as 15 to 20 minutes, shortening the hauling process so the crew and equipment can get back to work faster.
Most lowboy trailers use a gooseneck system that needs to be detached and requires operations to load equipment from the front. Though common, this is not the fastest or safest method. These systems require the trailer to be backed up and then completely detached, and often need a separate power source. With detachable gooseneck options, workers load the equipment onto the trailer by mechanical or hydraulic ramps or a dirt ramp. After the equipment is on the trailer, the truck driver needs to back up to the lowboy to reconnect, creating a potentially dangerous pinch point for the spotter guiding the driver. In addition, if the trailer isn’t completely secure when connected, it’s possible for the trailer to tip and for the equipment to topple off, creating a dangerous situation for crews on the ground. The entire process is made even riskier in extreme weather, at night, and with icy or muddy conditions.
Some manufacturers listened to the frustrations mine workers have with the challenging, time consuming, and potentially dangerous process and decided to come up with a different system that minimizes those risks. As a result, some lowboy trailers feature a fixed gooseneck, which allows producers to load from the rear and doesn’t need to be disconnected. These trailers feature automatic locking and unlocking rear axles that swing out of the way. The deck drops to the ground and the rear ramps descend for faster, easier loading, and unloading. At this point it’s convenient to walk the equipment up the deck. In addition, some ramps are designed to maintain a consistent flat plane with the trailer deck, eliminating apex loading and potential damage to the idlers and rollers on tracked equipment. Once the mobile equipment is secured on the trailer, the ramps raise, the axles swing back into place, the deck raises, and the trailer is once again in transport mode, fully ready to move the equipment.
The importance of high-quality support equipment makes it worth considering custom solutions. Off-the-shelf options can get the job done, but they are rarely going to provide optimal performance, nor the efficiency found in custom designs.
This is especially true in terms of the heaviest equipment, which standard lowboy designs are not engineered to handle safely. Some specialized lowboy trailers are designed from the ground up to accommodate loads as high as 2,000 tons — the highest on the market and a load that could buckle traditional designs. While searching for inspiration, a trailer manufacturer came upon the idea to use a design that millions around the world make use of every day: bridges. Manufacturers of these high-capacity lowboys designed what is essentially a bridge on wheels, replacing the traditional platform suspended between axles with a system of truss work and supports. The design allows increased trailer capacity without a significant increase in trailer weight.
The result is a custom design ideal for ultra-class-rated equipment such as high capacity electric shovels, mammoth machines that often need to be moved several times a year. An operation’s ability to move a shovel of this size with a trailer provides cost savings that can result in a return on investment as quickly as one year after purchase. This is because shovel transportation is traditionally completed via the equipment’s tracks under its own power, putting excessive wear on the undercarriage. A shovel walked on its tracks typically requires undercarriage replacement every three years, at a cost that starts at $1.5 million.
That time to relocate the equipment also costs a lot of money. When walking, a shovel moves only about a half a mile an hour, meaning it may take a week to relocate the equipment from one side of the mine site to the other. Mining shovels can easily load more than thirty, 340-ton truckloads of material per hour, around the clock. Extrapolating the lost productivity of one out-of-service shovel over seven days can equate to more than 1,700,000 tons of lost material. With no other option for moving shovels, producers have been forced to accept this lost production as a hazard of doing business, but there is no denying the negative impact on overall operation.
An ultra-class-rated lowboy can provide significant savings by moving the shovel in as little as one afternoon and eliminating the wear it otherwise would have accrued moving across a site on its own. Those time savings can save an operation as much as $900,000 a year per shovel in lost production and downtime costs. It can also save as much as $200,000 a year if undercarriage life can be extended to five years before replacement instead of three.
Look or ask around for a manufacturer with a history of custom solutions. Some take pride in viewing each mine site as different and deserving of unique equipment. These manufacturers visit the site and work as an engineering partner to customize a solution for the equipment’s size and weight, and even consider such details as haul road width, turns, and switchbacks. Then, after the equipment is built and delivered, they follow up to make sure everything is working perfectly.
Disabled equipment on a mine site is a headache that typically results in downtime, repair costs, and the challenge of retrieval. Without a large enough trailer, operations either have to risk using a trailer that may not be suitable to attempt to transport the equipment to the shop, or painstakingly repair it in the field.
For maximum efficiency, consider being prepared not only with high enough capacity trailers, but also with specialized equipment designed to improve the efficiency and safety of equipment retrieval. Some manufacturers offer vehicle recovery systems designed to work either with a lowboy trailer to increase its capacity or on their own with a haul truck, track-type tractor or wheel loader.
When working with a compatible trailer, these systems can allow for the high capacities necessary for ultra-class equipment such as drills, shovels, and draglines. In these situations, the vehicle recovery system acts as an intermediate between the prime mover and the trailer. This adds loading capacity to the trailer by spreading out the weight amongst the additional wheels.
Operations can also use some of these systems as a towing device. The equipment pivots upward and attaches to the front bumper of the disabled vehicle, lifting the vehicle’s tires off of the ground. This process eliminates the need for a counterweight on the prime mover because the weight is spread evenly between the vehicle recovery tool, the prime mover, and the rear wheels of the disabled vehicle. In addition, the wheelbase of the prime mover is similar to that of the vehicle recovery system, so its wheels are kept firmly planted on the ground. Other vehicle recovery systems exist that instead cantilever the equipment off of the back of the haul truck. These systems are effective, but can put more stress on the prime mover compared to the more evenly supported load on systems that keep the disabled vehicle’s back tires on the ground.
The Value of Support Equipment
It can’t be overstated how important support equipment is to an operation, but it can become even more valuable with careful considerations into efficiency, safety, and whether an equipment choice is a perfect fit for an operation.
Consider features and custom designs for lowboy trailers that can assist with loading safety and productivity, as well as allow for unheard-of capacities. Also, think about how to maximize vehicle recovery efficiency with versatile equipment. Finally, consider working closely with a reputable manufacturer that has the experience that comes from offering a wide variety of high-quality equipment. The resulting efficiency is worth it in an industry that measures productivity by the second and in which days can feel like years.
About the Author
Josh Swank, vice president of sales and marketing for Philippi-Hagenbuch, oversees their global sales team and has been with the company for more than 20 years. His previous roles within the company include global sales and marketing manager and account manager. Outside of Philippi-Hagenbuch, he participates in multiple industry and philanthropic organizations, including the National Stone Sand and Gravel Manufacturers & Services Board, the NSSGA Young Leaders, and the National Mining Association Board of Governors. He is a trustee of the JWAS Foundation and active within the Peoria, Illinois, technology startup community.
About Philippi-Hagenbuch Inc.
Engineering innovative haul-truck solutions for over 50 years, Philippi-Hagenbuch Inc. is located in Peoria, Illinois and has been building equipment for off-highway haul trucks since 1969. During this time PHIL has become the global leader in off-highway truck customization. In addition to their innovative tailgates, push blocks, rear-eject bodies and trailers, Philippi-Hagenbuch designs and builds end-dump bodies, trailers, sideboards, load ejectors and water tanks for nearly every make and model of articulated and rigid frame off-highway truck available. For more information visit www.philsystems.com.