A prototype of the world’s newest underground hard rock mining haul truck has set new standards in productivity, safety and performance during full production trials at a gold mine in Western Australia.

The 63t truck, Sandvik TH663, has impressed everyone involved in the trial from mine management through to operators and maintenance staff, with its speed, productivity, safety features, driver comfort and outstanding fuel economy.

Sandvik Mining international field-test supervisor, Kimmo Martin, and a member of the supplier’s national product support team in Australia, Barry Martin, supervised the trials.

Together, they trained operators and maintenance staff, provided on-going technical support and offered feedback to the Sandvik truck manufacturing plant in Turku, Finland.

There, a second prototype was set up to adopt recommendations from the Australian trials to ensure that production models incorporate ‘real-world’ mining experience gained in what are some of the world’s toughest hard rock mining conditions.

Sandvik TH663 demonstrated its capacity to significantly lift productivity at the mine early on. In July 2013, of a total of 56,000t of ore was hauled by the on-site fleet and the Sandvik TH663 alone moved 24,000t. In that month it logged 480 hours, hauling 54t per hour at close to its rated 63t payload.

Kimmo Martin said the truck’s sophisticated on-board weighing system helped ensure that every load was close to maximum.

"The on-board system is accurate to within 25kg at full load, with a red-amber-green light array on the rear of the cab to provide the loader operator with a visual indication of available capacity," Martin said.
Operator comfort, which directly impacts on productivity, and overall safety were key design features for the Sandvik Mining design team.

According to Kimmo Martin, the new truck has more than 60 safety features, including a four-point driver harness, bonnet guardrails for the protection of maintenance staff and ground level access for every service point covered in the daily maintenance schedule.

This last point not only creates a safer working environment, it also cuts servicing time allowing more hours per shift for the core task of hauling ore.

Kimmo Martin said that drivers onsite had no problem adapting to the new truck in a single shift and had been enthusiastic about its comfort features.

"The TH663 is so quiet that drivers don’t need to wear earplugs anymore, and the soundproofing virtually eliminates engine noise," Martin added.

"This means drivers have had to get used to using the instrument panel to check engine revs rather than listening to the engine note, as they do in most other trucks."

One driver participating in the trial described the truck as "easily the best I have ever driven," singling out its front-axle suspension for special praise.

"The suspension creates a really smooth ride, and that’s important, not just in terms of day-to-day comfort and productivity, but also for long-term driver health," the driver said.

Power from Cummins QSK19 diesel engine has seen Sandvik TH663 with a 63t load in its 38m3 body climbing the mine’s steep grades at speeds of up to 12km/h.

Full or empty, the truck, which is 8t lighter than its TH660 predecessor, trams at speeds up to 50% faster than the other Sandvik trucks in the mine’s fleet.

"In practice, on most 12 hour shifts this truck is putting in one or two more load / dump cycles than the others, which translates to a ‘bonus’ 60t to 120t of dirt shifted every day," Martin said.

"Split the difference and you’re looking at an extra 2,700t a month on a straight truck-to-truck comparison."

The trial has shown the new truck is not only fast, it is also highly fuel-efficient. Its average consumption over the first three months was 50l an hour.

This compares with more than 70l an hour used by the older Sandvik trucks on site, while other makes of truck in the 50t to 60t class typically burn diesel at rates in excess of 100l an hour.

Barry Martin of Sandvik Mining said the potential saving in fuel costs is significant.

"Cutting your fuel burn by a third on a 480 hour-a-month basis could add up to an annual saving per truck on the order of $200,000 at current diesel prices," he said.

"And, as we know only too well, prices are likely to continue escalating, making fuel economy an increasingly important factor in the equipment selection equation."

Sandvik Mining is confident its TH663 will also continue to deliver higher-than-average availability levels, due in part to its sophisticated vehicle control and management (VCM) system.

This system provides operators with an instant warning of potential or actual problems, such as low tire pressure or loss of hydraulic fluid.

A pop-up warning on the screen requires the operator to acknowledge the problem and, if necessary, take immediate action. If this is not done, the system shuts down to prevent further damage.

VCM also helps maintenance crews to make fast and accurate diagnoses, which further improves vehicle availability.

An unusual but potentially invaluable feature of Sandvik TH663 is an in-built jacking system that will lift a fully laden vehicle in less than 30 seconds for a wheel change.

"This is a really important feature," Kimmo Martin said.

"Another truck here at the mine blew a tire underground, and it took most of the shift to take a 100t jack down the hole and make the change-over, during which time virtually all underground operations came to a halt. With the on-board jacking system, time for a tire change on TH663 can realistically be reduced to two hours."

What the trial has proved is that, by current industry standards, Sandvik TH663 is faster, safer and more economical than other trucks in its class, with the potential to significantly increase productivity, while at the same time lowering operating costs.