HEAVY LIFTING On the dusty surface of a giant mine, a team of men and their International® Trucks build a shovel of epic proportions.
“Out here in a mining atmosphere, everything is just huge,” says Duane Barton, his neck craning as he stares almost straight up at the task at hand. Towering above him in the northern Utah morning sun is a jet black and mustard yellow Erector Set of titanic proportions. What appears to be a two-story apartment is resting atop a foundation of two enormous crawlers that could move a desert war tank. A 74-cubic-yard bucket, 50-foot-long crane and numerous block counterweights all lie on the gravel, waiting to be plugged into the puzzle. The end product will bear a strong resemblance to the part of a Tonka truck set driven by toddlers as they scoop sand in the backyard, only this sandbox is more than a mile wide and 7,000 feet deep. Yes: Barton is building a giant shovel.
He is one of 14 mechanics, electricians and engineers charged to keep this mine’s most heavy-duty equipment— blast-hole drills, draglines and electric shovels—running, and running smoothly. For the past 10 years he’s built them up, torn them apart when something goes wrong and pieced them back together, and done so with speed. His employer, global mining supply and support giant Joy Global, has similar service operations close to mining customers everywhere from Appalachia to Australia, but this one holds its own. The open pit that these shovels service harvests enough raw material to yield more than 237,000 tons of copper in a year, nearly 25% of all U.S. production.
According to Barton’s colleague on the corporate side, Nate Kendall, uptime is especially critical to this mine’s economics. “A down hour can cost [a mine] up to $100,000,” he says. When Kendall and company are commissioned to build a new shovel (there are currently 13 in service here alone, and Joy Global Surface Mining has 650 to 700 running globally), his team is usually given 60 to 70 days to complete the operation. But the mine is in need, so his team is pulling 20-hour days to get the job done in 40.
It’s a tall order, and one that requires a tool that’s reliable, consistent and favorable to the operator. That’s where the International DuraStar® steps in: Joy Global’s do-it-all service truck of choice for surface service operations.
“The International trucks have the capability for all of the air supply, cranes, hydraulics and welding, as well as the tools that are required to do this job safely and correctly,” explains Paul Doyle, the site’s service manager. Doyle assigns each technician and welder his very own truck. The idea is simple, he says: “By having everything onboard and well maintained, the guys don’t tend to take shortcuts. They can always use the right tool for the job, because it is always on hand.”
The 10 DuraStars strewn about this 7,000-feet-above-sea-level construction site are 2010 to 2012 models, but having International Trucks serve as the backbone of his company’s builds is nothing new, explains Mike Butsch, director of fleet operations for Joy Global’s Surface Mining group. As the team leader for matters concerning fleet equipment acquisition, the well-spoken Butsch is constantly on the move, inspecting vehicle performance. Last week it was Europe; today he’s at the northern Utah site.
Being in one location isn’t part of the job for Butsch (he often forgets to provide his Milwaukee office contact number because he’s so rarely at a desk), yet if there’s one constant in his operation, it’s the source of his trucks: Matt Cochran, a quiet sales manager with a service background, stationed at Heritage, an International dealer in West Virginia. Linked up through a mutual co-worker in 2003, the two have collaborated on more than 325 International builds—200 DuraStars, 125 WorkStar® 6x4s, and a handful of ProStar® and LoneStar® haulers—in the past three years alone.
“I asked Matt to spec as if he was putting trucks on the road himself,” says Butsch. “And because of his unique background and exposure to the mining industry in the eastern U.S., as well as his background with actually fixing trucks, he managed to put together a solid package that most of our drivers are really pleased with. The trucks service well and retain really high resale value.”
In the case of the Utah package, Cochran spec’d the DuraStars with a 33,000-pound GVWR frame, Allison transmission, side-to-side lockers, and the high horsepower and weight differential needed to move through the mine’s mud and snow during Mother Nature’s less inviting months. Yet it’s one particular innovation that really gets Butsch talking.
“Compressors, cranes and lighting equipment have gotten pretty demanding,” Butsch says, “and Diamond Logic® [electrical system] has allowed us to really clean up the inside of the trucks. It’s much safer and more convenient and intuitive for the driver from the cab. We also put together rear crane compartments on most of our mechanics’ trucks, which really helps the operator when he or she needs to take control from outside the cab.”
It’s that nod of appreciation for operator ease that Cochran claims makes Butsch stand out as a great customer, and the men working with him have taken notice. “[Diamond Logic] makes our lives a heck of a lot easier, especially if we’re working on top of a drill,” says Barton. “If we have to pick a pump off of there, we can start and control the air compressor and crane all from this remote.”
BUILDING FOR THE FUTURE
Although the Joy Global Surface Mining team is working feverishly to make its tight deadline on the shovel, the composure of the mechanics and engineers says otherwise.
“We’ll load each of these up one at a time,” says Cecil Cotten. The young, tattooed mechanic is a natural multitasker, managing to detail his assignment while still barking directions at his crane operator, who is casually guiding a 400-pound piece of catwalk on its way up toward the top of the shovel. “We’ll fly them all up there, and once that’s done, we’ll finally get on top to button it all up.”
After starting the job an hour earlier than anyone in his or her right mind is even firing up a coffee pot, this group will switch out with a team of electricians around 3 p.m. That squad will make gains on the nearly 37 miles of cable that runs inside the shovel’s “house” until well past midnight.
When all drills are down in a few weeks’ time, the shovel will be spading scoops of earth, weighing in excess of 100 tons, from the bottom of a pit that’s taken six years to dig. At the push of a button, the bottom will be pulled out from under the dipper, allowing the raw material to fall into the back of a two-story truck with a loud, long, trickling thud. Shovels, scoops, trucks, pits, blast holes—everything here is as large as it comes. And it makes for an operation of impressive proportions.
“In the future for us one thing is for sure: Nothing is getting smaller,” says Butsch in a tone of certainty, looking on as his crew takes steady strides toward completing the shovel, tacking on one piece at a time. “As we evolve and have to take care of larger and larger pieces of equipment, we’re sure that the International product is going to help us fill that need and adjust to that changing dynamic.”
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