In a complex and fast-changing space like the world mining sector, there is a single common understanding: no two mine sites or operations are the same.
The challenges, though not dissimilar, each require a tailored and bespoke solution – and no truer exemplar of this is there than the shifts underway in the development of lightweight OEM attachments.
The once heavyweight champion of this space – both literally and otherwise – was a kind of OEM standard, one-size-fits-all approach.
Now though, it’s a lightweight approach to truck bodies and OEM attachments that has muscled in on a big world market.
Leading the charge is Austin Engineering.
Truck Bodies Designed and Built for Purpose Mechanical engineers like Deon Wessels have been a part of this shift. He and Executive General Manager Paul Clarke have helped pave the way to a move away from off-the-shelf, usually heavyweight, long lifespan OEM options.
The new way, as they have seen it, is in the form of site-specific, usually lighter weight, shorter lifespan alternatives.
Greater consideration is being given to mine life and the required lifespan of equipment. This takes into account whether operations are looking to a longer lifespan, higher maintenance approach (which generally comes with the heavier body options); or a high capital, low maintenance approach offered by lightweight body options.
Essentially, this means operations can maintain and upkeep bodies which might have a lifespan of up to 60,000 hours, or they can go with a lighter option with a greater load carrying capacity, with a shorter lifespan (say 24,000 hours) where the life of mine may be between four to eight years.
Options still exist to repair or refurbish lighter truck bodies, but often they are simply replaced at the end of their duty cycle.
There are many paths open to the mining customer in order to tailor a truck body to both their operational and financial requirements.
As with most innovations, what this gives those in the market is that most coveted of commodities: choice.
Deon has a bit of a laugh when he compares a high pay load, surface mining truck body to a good old garden wheelbarrow.
“They both carry dirt and other material from one place to another, but there is really a lot of science behind it than what meets the eye,” Deon said.
Deon is part of the large global footprint of the Austin Engineering group. Under the organisation’s ‘One Austin’ philosophy, he is working with a single world team which is at the cutting edge; innovating world-class solutions for the biggest client share of its kind in the world.
“The market is focussed toward a lighter construction with delivery of a higher payload,” Deon said.
“That means we look to carry more at the lightest possible body weight without hindering design intent.”
Paul too is behind the cutting edge of the science and innovation which has underpinned the solutions-based culture of excellence that Austin Engineering – and their brands, JEC, Westech, and Ultima – adheres to.
“Austin is the global leader,” Paul said.
“We have more truck bodies in the space across the world than any of our other nonOEM competitors.”
Austin Engineering might be the leader in the truck body and OEM truck space, but that’s not by accident.
Starting in 1982, originally, as a family-run business in Brisbane without even a hint of involvement in the mining industry, Austin was bought in 2003 by a group of investors under the banner of Western Australia Metals and was publicly listed on the Australian Stock Exchange in 2004. Between 2006 and 2013 the business expanded throughout Australia, Asia and the North and South Americas.
In 2018, after a couple of years of business consolidation and the integration of all global operations into a single business model, Austin rebranded, and it is now the leader of manufacturing, design and solution delivery in its sector of the global mining industry.
Key to this, the group saw an opportunity to acquire JEC (Perth-based Johns Engineering and Cranes).
Already, they had experience and design in buckets and water tankers and other mining attachments, but they did not have a truck body design. The business was building to the designs of the likes of Caterpillar and Komatsu, but it was shortly after that, that Westech was acquired.
With that came the scope and capacity to develop Austin’s own truck body design.
“It was quite a way-out concept at that point – very curved shaped and different – that took us down a very different path,” Paul said.
The movement away from heavier to lighter truck body designs – with an eye to delivering higher performance, higher production and, therefore, higher payload for clients – was a game-changer.
“We very much led the way to converging the more conservative mining industry to going to a lighter-weight truck body,” Paul said.
That innovative approach attracted the attention of large blue-chip miners and Austin would soon flush out and re-populate mining companies fleets across the Pilbara.
With new innovation comes the compulsion – and market imperative – for others to follow suit.
While others in the space have, as Paul puts it, ‘been nipping at Austin’s heels’, the business’ commitment to innovation and bespoke, tailored solutions for clients the world over has enabled their leadership to hold.
“We have seen a lot of competition in this space coming up with different designs and concepts, but we have continued to innovate along the way,” he said.
“Austin still have the original Westech and JEC range of bodies within our arsenal of body options, brands that have proven the test of time and are etched forever in our company DNA, one that is valued as the cornerstone and continues to evolve.”
Wide Range of Truck Bodies
Add to that, the innovative Ultima range and the Austin Engineering stable boasts a range of products which are designed, developed, and tailored for customers using worldstandard modelling and analysis systems. Indeed, that is one of the things which has cemented Austin’s sector leadership while raising the bar industry wide.
The timing has been good as well.
Both men cite the need Austin Engineering met within the world market to respond to the individual, site-by-site requirements around mine location, ore type, load capacity, tailored design and life of mine.
Increasingly, specifically tailored attachments are being procured that best suit the characteristics of a site and the material being loaded – all with the view to maximising load and minimising risks, roadblocks and blockers.
Everything from safety to operation, payload to even dust is being factored into the development of Austin’s solutions.
Such is the commitment that in 2011, Austin’s Westech T282C Flow Control Body, which was manufactured for use with a Liebherr T282C Ultra Class haul truck chassis in North America, was awarded a Guinness World Record for Largest Truck Body.
The truck held 447.3t of coal and empties. At the time it was the largest body by volume – and the payload alone was close to 300t (of lightweight coal).
The Westech Flow Control Body was developed works to essentially tip and allow the coal to metre out the back without a sudden flow. This enables a gradual break away of the materials (coal versus dirt and overburden material, for example), to flow evenly – shearing away in layers rather than a single mass. This then reduces the incidence of crushers choking under a sudden flow of material – and it dramatically reduces dust creation on site.
This approach can then be further calibrated, with floor tilts, and rotations to meet the needs presented by different materials and their respective properties and characteristics.
Another example of a tailored solution occurred in the haulage of tar sands in Canada.
The inclusion of a taper in the tray body (opening to the rear) and using a patented system to heat the load using the truck’s own exhaust gases, allowed the oil sand (which usually resembles a loaf of bread in the freezing climate, to flow easily out of the tray without jamming.
3D Modelling and Digital Twinning
Austin Engineering’s commitment to innovation is even more evident through the extensive use of 3D modelling and material flow dynamic analysis software.
Packages such as EDEM and ANSYS are staples in the development of innovations and solutions – improving accuracy, saving time and money, but also enabling faster delivery of custom tray designs to the customer.
Using tools such as three-dimensional modelling to basically “build” the truck bodies virtually, means bucketloads of money and time saved in building, testing, and rebuilding scaled or in-field prototypes.
Both Deon and Paul said even in the most unique of circumstances, where there are acute and intricate factors to be accounted for, the use of this modelling can enable refined solutions which can be tested virtually, but still practically and accurately.
The modelling also means much – if not all – possible applications and conditions can be assessed and mitigated prior to final physical development.
And as for that quip about the wheelbarrow? Deon said no solution is ever linear: there is always much that is analysed and state-ofthe-art simulation and analysis tools enable the engineering of a solution.
That means finding a solution that accounts for everything from the type, flow, stickiness, range of fragmentation and the angle of repose of the material being hauled, to the way the material interacts with the tray or bucket when it is being loaded or dumped, i.e. what forces are generated when designing a truck body or bucket that must remain within the OEM’s envelope and limits.
This simulations enables the team to factor in all relevant site and situational data – from material type, SG, moisture and movement characteristics to site conditions.
In many cases an actual video of a current truck body tipping an actual load on site is the perfect place to start.
From this video footage, the Austin Engineering team can create a digital twin of the truck and simulate its tipping time and the characteristics of the load as it shears and falls. With close representation of the actual conditions faced on site, the design team have an accurate benchmark to test the reactions of the simulated load in order to design the product.
In this way, they can be confident that the design will be accurate in the real world when being translated into steel.
“We use world class software to carefully analyse the original situation and from that we can develop the exact solutions, taking in each of these variables, for our customers,” Deon said.
“More and more competitors are coming into the business now with new designs – but they don’t have the miles on those designs,” Paul added.
“We continue to innovate to stay ahead of the curve.
“We are a solutions provider and not just a manufacturer.”
Both men agree it is years of experience, an investment in innovation, and the organisation’s One Austin approach, which sees them invested in the contribution of the entire Austin team, that enables Austin Engineering to maintain its world leading status.
And clearly, it is a design – and a philosophy – that is engineered to work in a changing and dynamic world market.
While Austin is at the forefront, with the largest world market share, there are organisations the world over working to uncover, develop and then market similar solutions – across the entire spectrum of innovation in mining and resources. Like anything in mining, the possibilities are rich and run deep.