Operating in either the trucking or mining environments is not for the faint-hearted. Both are demanding industries requiring a special breed of men to drive these sectors forward. Given that, when you choose to operate in both sectors simultaneously, you have to be classified as ‘˜looney tunes’ material , and that’s exactly what Cobra Petro Products, MAN Truck & Bus SA and the Exxaro Mining Group have done writes Patrick O’Leary.
When I was invited by phone to the launch of a ‘˜thing’ called the Motivator by my old friend Bruce Carolin, I thought we were going to be spurred on to greater heights in life by one of those former druggie types now turned motivational speaker who had forgotten to take his daily dose of Ritalin. But no, it was all about going down rather than up. Will get to that later.
The clue to reality came later in the invite which stated that it was a handover of the newly constructed MAN 40-480 Motivator to the Exxaro Mining Group. There was the link to why FleetWatch was invited. MAN is a truck not a speaker.
I had also never heard of Cobra Petro Products, the host of the event and found them tucked away in an industrial area in the deep south close to the truck stop where another of my old friends, John Hayes, used to hang out. On top of that, I have never been down a mine , and after watching the Chile mining saga on TV some months ago , will more than likely never go down one. So it was all new to me.
So what is this ‘˜thing’? Here’s the official description given on the invite: “The CPP (Cobra Petro Products) Motivator is a 3,2 MVA mobile generator that will be used to power Demag 455 hydraulic excavators at Grootegeluk coal mine in Lephalale. The giant Genset is powered by a 95 liter MTU 20 cylinder diesel engine that generates 3 010kw of power and works in a tram condition with the Demag excavator. The unit is electronically managed from an on-board air-conditioned control room.’
So that’s it. Are you truck fundis any wiser from that? Probably not. Don’t feel bad. Nor was I when I read it.
It started becoming clearer when I arrived and saw parked in the yard a magnificent looking MAN 40-480 truck tractor hitched to a trailer on which a huge mobile home type structure had been built. Workers were still swarming round the ‘˜mobile home’ seeing to the finishing touches. So that was it. The MAN was pulling this thing to the mine. Not quite.
It then became even more clearer during the conference that followed where Exxaro’s senior mechanical engineer, Pat Ellis, along with a few other guys knowledgeable in the workings of this ‘˜thing’ spelt out , in a slow but sure, one step at a time, patient manner , how it all works.
As it turns out, rather than merely being hitched to haul the Genset to the mine and then go on its way, the MAN 40-480 is hitched to that trailer for life and will be operating with it in an open cast mining site some 200 metres below land surface where temperatures, according to Ellis, reach up to 50°C. Eieeesh!
The reason for this is that the Motivator will be linked to the huge Demag excavator as a power source when the excavator has to move from place to place. And hear this! It moves at the break-neck speed of 5kph. So basically, electricity is needed to move the excavator – which by the way, has a 50ton bucket lift – from place to place. The electricity is provided by the Genset and the Genset is moved alongside the excavator by the MAN 40-480. Thus the need to be hitched for life.
Up to now, the mine has been using an electrical cable which plugs into the back of the excavator. So why not keep it that way? Enter Eskom. “In the unlikely event of a power failure’ – yeah, we’ve all heard that before – the excavator sits and at R50-million bucks a throw, plus lost production from downtime, that’s a definite no-go. It is thus the mining group approached Cobra Petro Products to come up with a solution to the problem. And the MAN 40- 480 Motivator is that solution.
To put it into perspective, think of the time a few years back when, with no prior warning, Eskom turned South Africa’s lights off with one flick of a switch. We all rushed out to buy generators to keep our kettles boiling. This is the same thing , except the kettle is a bit bigger and the generator needs more than a pull-start cable to kick it in. Now, instead of using an electric cable from the mains supply, the Motivator will supply the electricity and the work goes on , with or without Eskom.
According to Ellis, this is a world first and if it pays off, he estimates the potential exists for another 20 or so units ordered by other mining groups. At R20-million a pop, that’s good business for all. Other mines around the world will also be looking at this project so a lot is riding on it.
And how does MAN feel about having its truck operate at 50°C, on rough terrain in dusty conditions going at a maximum speed of 5kph? Enter Dean Temlett, TG Product Manager.
“This is an ex-Works unit and apart from the Evolution campaign performed on the vehicle, there are no modifications done to the standard vehicle as we are convinced it will perform satisfactorily with factory-fitted equipment,’ is what he tells FleetWatch
Now that’s interesting – and especially from a cooling point of view. FleetWatch will definitely be following this one. In the meantime, congratulations to all on this bold venture. Here’s wishing you all the best of success with your trials. Bring the trophy home guys!