Komatsu Legacy at Century Zinc
At its peak, it was Australia's largest open-cut zinc mine, but in September 2015, the final ore was mined at MMG's Century mine in north-western Queensland.
Throughout its 16-year lifespan, Komatsu products and services played a major role in the mine's success. In this two-part feature, we firstly look at the Komatsu equipment used at Century and, in the next edition of D2E, we'll look at how the pioneering service and maintenance contracts put in place at the mine have become the basis for Komatsu's customer support offerings today.
Located at Lawn Hill, 377 km north-west of Mount Isa in the Lower Gulf of Carpentaria, Century was Australia's largest open-cut zinc mine; it began open-pit production in 1999 and 2015 saw its final year of production.
During its 16 years of operation, Century produced and processed zinc and lead concentrates at Lawn Hill, with product then transferred in slurry form via a 304 km underground pipeline to Century's Gulf port facility at Karumba for shipping to smelters in Australia, Europe and Asia.
AndKomatsu equipment was on site for the initial infrastructure works, followed by clearing of the natural surface layer to get to the ore body below with many of those original machines still there until final mining operations.
According to Peter Hayward, Komatsu Australia's Major Accounts Manager for North Queensland and someone who's been involved with Century during most of its history at the mine's peak in 2010, there was a total of 54 pieces of Komatsu equipment on site, consisting of 46 trucks (thirty-eight 830Es and eight 630Es), three wheel loaders (a WA320, WA380 and WA500 and), five excavators (PC3000, PC2000, two PC1800s, one PC1250).
Some of that equipment has stayed on site and will remain operational there for the mine's rehabilitation program, which will extend over the next two or three decades.
However, Komatsu's involvement in the mine wasn't just restricted to supplying equipment.
The company was also contracted to provide service and maintenance on all equipment Komatsu and other brands from the mine's earliest days until the end of 2004, when the full maintenance agreement ceased.
The processes put in place and the lessons learnt from what was Komatsu's first major maintenance and repair contract (MARC) in Australia helped form the "launch platform" for the company's market-leading offerings in maintenance, service, fleet management and safety that are in place today.
In the lead-up to the mine's opening in 1999 (the year of its first shipment of concentrate) Komatsu then known as NS Komatsu won a contract to supply mine owner (at the time) Pasminco with eight 630E dump trucks, four WD900-3 wheel dozers, as well as some smaller items of equipment for infrastructure and cleanup work.
It also supplied a Demag H285s excavator (later rebadged as a Komatsu PC3000), and various Ingersoll-Rand blasthole drill rigs (for which NS Komatsu was the dealer at the time).
These were delivered to the mine site for assembly and commissioning from May 1998.
In addition, the company had a major contract to carry out all on-site repairs and maintenance not only for Komatsu-supplied equipment, but for other makes as well.
To carry out development and initial mining, contractors Roche Bros and Eltin formed a joint venture, known as the Roche-Eltin JV, which used the equipment supplied to the mine owner. This JV remained on site until 2005, when the mine owners took over mining and the equipment.
In addition to the original 630E trucks, Peter Hayward said other Komatsu trucks to see service at Century included five 830Es purchased used in 2004, a further five 830Es also purchased used in 2007, and twelve 830Es purchased new in 2007.
"There were also a number of diggers purchased over the life of the mine, including two new PC1800-6s bought in 2004, a PC2000-8, PC3000-6 and a PC1250-8R purchased in 2008," he said.
"In particular, those PC1800s have been remarkable machines; one of them has done over 51,000 hours over 11 years, which is a real credit to that size of machine."
In 2008, Peter was in charge of a rebuild program for six of the original 630E trucks.
"These were incredible machines, and we rebuilt them at around 54,000 hours," he said.
"We stripped them all down to the bare chassis, sand-blasted, crack-tested and line-bored them, and upgraded, repaired or changed out components as necessary.
"This investment certainly paid off in terms of productivity and longevity of the trucks.
"The trucks kept operating until close to the end of the mine's life, each logging between 70,000 and 80,000 hours as of late last year."
As the mine operations began winding down in early 2015, surplus equipment was progressively parked up, and either cannibalised for parts to keep other units working, or cut up for scrap.
"However, there are still around six 630E trucks staying on site for the mine rehabilitation program over the next few decades as required.
"The longevity, reliability and availability we got out of the equipment at this site, whether trucks or diggers, is testament not only to the quality of our equipment, but also to what can be achieved with proper fleet maintenance scheduling," Peter said.
"It's also a tribute to the national and local support Komatsu Australia was able to supply to the mine over its 16 year life span, across quality of component rebuilds, truck refurbishments, spare parts, technical service and back up.
"The company has been able to work closely with our clients to help increase the reliability, availability and productivity of each of their Komatsu investments throughout this period.
"Personally it has been a privilege to able to be a small part of this.
"Will there be another Century Mine, I would love to think so!" he said.