Kopex overhauls Waratah Engineering

KOPEX Waratah exported its first Waracar shuttle car to South Africa last week while two other Waracars are destined for an underground mine in Queensland and five are heading to mines in Wollongong.
Kopex overhauls Waratah Engineering Kopex overhauls Waratah Engineering Kopex overhauls Waratah Engineering Kopex overhauls Waratah Engineering Kopex overhauls Waratah Engineering

The first Waracar heading to South Africa.

Blair Price

Back in July 2009, original equipment manufacturer Waratah Engineering went into voluntary administration.

The Kopex Group of Companies, a major Polish supplier of mining equipment, acquired Waratah in late October, saving the company best known for its Waracars from bankruptcy.

But there have been plenty of bumps in the road to recovery for the shuttle car manufacturer.

Kopex Waratah operations manager Matt Frost told ILN that sales did not meet expectations for about the first six months since leaving voluntary administration.

But a corporate restructuring about three months ago has resurrected the business.

The Polish parent company appointed Christoph Schroeder from South Africa as Kopex Waratah’s new chief executive officer, along with Tony Fairclough, who has long-time expertise in the international mining industry, to serve as a co-director.

Schroeder is also the CEO of Kopex+Genwest in South Africa and was instrumental in reorganising the overhead structure inherited from Waratah Engineering, which resulted in a wave of redundancies.

But by tapping into the engineering strength of the Kopex Group, improvements are also underway and are being implemented to the Waracar and the overall business.

Frost discussed some of the changes since last year, with Kopex Waratah as a subsidiary of Polish shearer manufacturer ZZM, a member of the Kopex Group.

He was impressed with the “very extensive” research, development and engineering capabilities of ZZM.

“We have had some technical difficulties with our machines and we have been able to call on the Kopex Group for engineering expertise to help us address those issues,” Frost said.

“We just couldn’t do that before.”

He expects the resources of the Kopex Group to further assist parts manufacturing and support of the Waracars in other parts of the world.

The new management has also addressed issues with the parts supply chain for the shuttle car that arose due to the voluntary administration last year.

“I believe that our turnaround time on repairs and our lead times on spare parts has reduced fairly significantly in the last couple of months,” Frost said.

The recent order of two Waracars from Queensland represents the first one won in this area.

Other contracts are rolling in.

Frost said Kopex Waratah had “about 11 firm orders” for Waracars up to May 2011.

Preparations are also underway for the next generation of Waracars.

Frost said the engineering team was reviewing the reliability issues of the shuttle cars to get them corrected and this phase would be complete by October.

He said the next line of shuttle cars would have “fairly significant improvements to operator safety and comfort”, but could not provide too much detail as some of the innovations still need to be patented.

Taking on South Africa

The first Waracar to leave Australia is heading to the Electra Mining exhibition in South Africa starting October 4.

“There is huge market for shuttle cars in South Africa,” Schroeder told ILN.

“At the moment we estimate between 600 and 700 shuttle cars in the field.”

Noting that Joy Mining Machinery manufactures all their shuttle cars in the country and completely dominates this market, Schroeder believes there are still opportunities for the Waracar.

Schroeder said Kopex Waratah was invited for all major tenders for shuttle cars in South Africa, including those put forward by the major coal producers such as BHP Billiton, Xstrata and Sasol.

While observing that Joy has a good shuttle car, he expects short lead times and lean management to be some of the points of difference in favour of Kopex.

He would be happy to get a 20% slice of the South African market for the machines, which is the largest market for shuttle cars after the US.

Kopex is evaluating manufacturing options in South Africa with the main emphasis on whether it makes economic sense to manufacture the shuttle car bodies there.

The takeover of Waratah Engineering serves several purposes under the broader Kopex strategy.

Kopex uses its own technology for its underground transformers, shearers and longwall systems.

The company’s goal is to be able to provide existing mines or greenfield sites with a complete range of underground development and mining equipment.

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