Rob Venema, currently Komatsu Australia's National Technical Support Manager, Mining Trucks, was maintenance manager at Century during the initial machine commissioning and mine development stages.
Rob and others from the-then NS Komatsu worked together closely to develop successful and effective fleet management, maintenance and safety programs and procedures that formed the basis of many of Komatsu's systems today. Here he reflects on the challenges and achievements at Century.Many of Komatsu Australia's current-day systems and processes were born out of our experiences at Century, because we had never run such a large contract maintenance program before and many of these had to be brought in simultaneously.
Our history at Century goes back to the mid-1990s, when we were awarded the contract by then mine owner Pasminco; I was appointed maintenance manager at the mine, working closely with Steve Green, our Branch Manager from Mackay.
In conjunction with our Head Office Contracts management team, we looked at the people we'd need, the tooling we'd require, and started our hiring and purchasing processes.
Komatsu also worked closely with mine owner Pasminco and local Indigenous communities to develop employment and contracting opportunities with us.
I went to the site for the first time in May 1998, helping to arrange new machine assembly at the assembly pad we'd been allocated.
By that time, Mobil was there putting in the fuel tank systems, and Bechtel was on site building the processing plant. With the main camp still under construction, we were able to use some of Bechtel's facilities.
As Roche-Eltin Joint Venture was the mine's operating contractor, they purchased the machines from Komatsu, (although the equipment was bought back from REJV by the mine operators some years later).
That meant we were working with REJV directly, and we fairly quickly formed a very good relationship.
Once the machines were assembled and commissioned, and work begun, it very quickly became apparent that the natural surface layer (NSL) of the site, which had to be removed before actual mining could start, was extremely challenging to work on.
The ground was very rugged, undulating country, with huge loose boulders, not only on the surface but also below it.
The boulders were usually set aside and blasted individually, although from time to time they were carried in trucks.
At the time, Komatsu was also the national dealer for Ingersoll-Rand mining drills, and we had supplied a number of these to the mine, including the EMC690, DM45 and DMH which was the largest on the market at the time.
We had drills operating off hillsides, and we were breaking a lot of drill rods as they hit the buried boulders. We also had to deal with unstable ground and the associated issues.
As a result, we experienced a fair bit of accidental damage. For the first six months, we had frequent truck body, digger and drill rig repairs coming through the workshop.
The NSL removal process soon became refined, so that the REJV operators would dig out the boulders using the Demag H255S backhoe configuration (later to rebadged as the PC3000 model) then pop them during the night shift with the EMC690 crew so the trucks could handle them more easily.
Once the production team got below this layer, they could start properly benching and then extracting the ore.
During the NSL removal stage, the contractor used the WD900-3 wheel dozers to run down after the blasts and race around the pit floor to clean up any throw rock before the next shift could begin. This high-speed forward and reverse work quite quickly resulted in a shortened wheel brake life.
Because of this we engaged with Komatsu in Japan. Komatsu engineers soon came to the site and developed a brake cooling system similar to what was used on the Komatsu mechanical drive mining trucks; this worked so well that it's now used in all large Komatsu loaders.
The factory had the new cooling system parts manufactured and fitted to these wheel dozers within a few months.
In my experience Komatsu Ltd has always been very quick to respond to issues such as this on our new model machines in unique or challenging applications.
I'd like to look at some of the individual solutions and innovations we developed for Century, and which contributed significantly to the way Komatsu operates today.
Fleet management systems
At Century, NS Komatsu as a company introduced a number of important systems that we'd essentially developed within Australia for this project.
We were also able to draw on our existing NS Komatsu distributor network at the time for exchange components as well as our newly developed KOWA oil analysis laboratory and software program.
Maintenance management: As part of our maintenance contract at Century, we needed to set up workshop facilities, offices, computers, and machine management systems.
Our own Shane Whittington in Mackay, in conjunction with a consultant, designed what we called MARS (Maintenance and Repair System), using Microsoft Access.
We did this as there was no specific, cost-effective, easy-to-use, low computer-RAM consumption software available at the time.
I recall sketching up screens and process flows with Shane on the way back and forth from Townsville travelling in light aircraft at the time!
MARS was used to record all machine hours, as well as any defects, accidents, repairs, planned tasks, lubricant consumption, trending of Komatsu PM Clinic diagnostic measurements, electric truck motor brush wear data, and so on.
We worked to ensure we did not over-complicate the system by adding financials and labour records,, which were handled via our normal mainframe job system. Jobs numbers were manually recorded as each maintenance case was closed off for cross reference.
This system eventually became the genesis for our more advanced MARS2 and now Komatsu's global R and M Care systems.
Automatic data transmission: Our fuel contractor on site, Liquip, had a radio communications system that could automatically transmit data between the fuel trucks and our workshop computers.
Whenever a service truck went out to a machine, the truck operator would punch in the machine number, and the amount of fuel and oils used, then as the truck approached the workshop, the data would be automatically uploaded to MARS via modem.
Oil analysis: Komatsu Oil Wear Analysis (KOWA) service was being introduced at around this time, and the great advantage of our system was that it had a "flash filer" (low RAM use) software process which meant that even though we may have a massive file of oil samples, we could very quickly bring up the machine files we were working on.
Having KOWA on this site really demonstrated to everyone involved how, when you have an effective oil sampling system in place, you have very minimal unplanned failures.
This was a big change at the time, away from the traditional system of just troubleshooting once a problem became evident during machine operation, across to much more predictive maintenance planning.
Component exchange: As the Century project progressed and machines aged, there was also a much larger volume of Exchange components coming out of our relatively small Brisbane based ECRC (East Coast Rebuild Centre) at the time.
This larger volume ultimately resulted in the development of our Reman program and its dedicated facilities (now in both Brisbane and Perth).
Having all these support systems operational within a very short time of going onsite at Century meant that we had very good management of our machine maintenance records, and could respond quickly to the changing site conditions.
Our Maintenance team was able to provide the JV with very detailed reports on each piece of equipment at all times.
This detailed monthly cost breakdown allowed REJV to then adjust production techniques and plan machine maintenance days more accurately, paying off in higher availability and lower running costs.
At the time the Century project was starting, the industry was rapidly embracing much higher levels of safety management.
Komatsu as a company in Australia was quick to examine the best systems available across the industry and adapt them to our company culture.
Remember this was in the late 1990s, and today's industry-wide awareness of the critical importance of safety management was not anywhere near as widespread as it is today.
From my point of view, this and other major projects we were engaged with at the time really helped Komatsu in Australia to be at the forefront of this change, introducing this culture via programs like Take 5 and detailed risk assessments.
As part of this change, Komatsu spent a lot of money early on to purchase the correct manual handling systems and equipment for example, so that our people were not using incorrect manual handling practices.
Also introduced at this time were toolbox talks and suggestions boxes, which took some time to manage, brought very good ideas to the fore. Pasminco found this approach aligned well with their expectations in terms of WHS management.
The mined ore also had reasonable amounts of lead and cadmium in it, so we had to be very careful to stay right on top of seals and cabin pressurisation to safeguard the operators.
This also meant hand washing before eating (and smoking at the time) took on additional importance not only to remove bacteria from peoples' hands, but also potentially harmful chemicals.
Operator training was carried out in cycles to ensure safe and efficient mining practices.
Other risk factors at such an isolated site included fatigue due to the 12 hour shifts, four-weeks-on/one-week-off roster, and off-site road travel.
To minimise these risks, Pasminco developed very rigorous procedures in relation to road travel, work hours, recreational activities and fatigue management.
Another very satisfying element of this project was the opportunity to engage with the local Indigenous communities.
Pasminco, REJV and Komatsu worked closely with community leaders several of whom had close family operating the machines.
From our point of view we wanted to ensure the local community were able to gain benefit from us working in their region, and also that our people respected their special sites and culture while off site in the local area.
We also helped build up a good business for a local Aboriginal-owned company, Kings Transport, transporting parts, consumables and small components between Mt Isa and the mine a distance of 377 km.
They had a small fleet of Toyota utes and light trucks, and we found them very quick and flexible compared to major truck companies in this remote area, and ended up using Kings exclusively for these critical local logistics.
In my opinion, this maintenance contract, along with others Komatsu was involved in across Australia at the time, really matured the company in Australia in the world of contract maintenance.
They helped inspire our own people to build in-house systems and procedures to provide the best service and value to our customers, and with a strong focus on safety.
This attitude certainly continues in what we do today.