Sept/Oct 2010

Caterpillar to produce line of mining shovels

Equipment manufacturer eyeing growth markets in India and Asia

By Peter Caulfield

Caterpillar shovels

The new line of shovels will draw on design elements from the previously manufactured 5000 Series of machines | Photo courtesy of Caterpillar

Caterpillar Inc. of Peoria, Illinois, recently announced it will produce a line of five mining shovels, ranging from a 113-tonne model to a 725-tonne model. The move marks the company’s re-entry into the mining shovel market, from which it had exited seven years ago. Production of the shovels will take place, at least initially, at Caterpillar’s Aurora, Illinois, manufacturing facility. The company is also looking at producing the shovels in other parts of the world.

Caterpillar will begin pilot production of the new 113-tonne class shovel in early 2011, which is expected to be commercially available later that year. The larger shovels are expected to be introduced in 2013 and 2014. Ed McCord, truck and shovel product manager in the Caterpillar Global Mining Division, said the company’s intention is to match the new shovels to its existing line of trucks — from the 90-tonne class 777F to the 360-tonne class 797F.

Chris Curfman, president of the Caterpillar Global Mining Division, said much of the shovel production is intended for expanding markets overseas. “The economies in India and the rest of Asia are growing, and the market for shovels is moving in that direction, too,” he said. But at the same time, McCord noted, Caterpillar is not seeing a decrease in its traditional markets.

Curfman said Caterpillar stopped producing mining shovels in 2003 because the market was “minimal” at the time. “But the market grew by a factor of three between 2003 and 2008 and we expect it to keep growing,” he explained. “The mining industry rapidly came out of the recession and accelerated in 2009.”

The shovels will be tested at the company’s two proving grounds in the United States, one of which is near Peoria, Illinois, and the other near Tucson, Arizona. The 2,428-hectare Tucson Proving Grounds, which are set up for testing large mining equipment, include waste dumps left over from an old copper mine. Adjacent to the Proving Grounds is Freeport McMoRan’s Sieritta Mine, an active copper mine that has taken part in the later stages of some equipment testing. Caterpillar says southern Arizona is a good location for testing the shovels because of its high ambient temperatures and difficult digging conditions.

After initial testing and development of the shovels at the Proving Grounds, Caterpillar will test pre-production models at customer sites, which are selected on the basis of site conditions and the willingness of mining companies to participate in testing programs.

Generally, a Caterpillar test unit works in the regular production cycle, but an onsite company engineer will pull the unit periodically from production to assess the condition of the machine and to calibrate its monitoring systems. The usual practice at Caterpillar is for a number of test units of a new equipment model to accumulate several thousand operating hours before a new model is released for commercial manufacturing.

The Caterpillar dealer network is equipped to support the new line of shovels. A company spokesman said “many Cat dealers now sell and support O&K (Terex, now Bucyrus) shovels, so the large shovel experience will not be new to them. Also, many Cat mining dealers have 5000 Series Cat shovels in their territories, and the dealers provide full support for those machines, even though Caterpillar stopped manufacturing them in 2003.” Parts inventory and some training will be needed to support the new shovels properly.

“But Cat dealer technicians already are well versed in the maintenance of engines, hydraulics and structures,” he said. “The Cat engines used in the shovels are the same engines used in Cat dozers, wheel loaders and mining trucks. And all Cat mining dealers have component rebuild-centres that can rebuild engines, hydraulics, undercarriages, structures and other components. All in all, Cat dealers’ steps to support the new shovels will be incremental rather than major additions.”

The company is also accelerating its previously announced truck manufacturing expansion plans in Decatur, Illinois. Together, the long-term shovel development program and added truck capacity represent investments of nearly US$700 million in Caterpillar mining products.

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