Kings of the valley

BUSINESSES in any industry cannot afford to be stubborn. Sam Jordan Jones reports on one engineering company that is taking market changes in its stride.
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SMM rope used in continuous miner power moves

Staff Reporter

Published in the Septmember 2010 Australia’s Mining Monthly

Employees at Kings General & Mining Engineering, located in Rutherford, New South Wales on the doorstep to Australia’s largest coal mining operations, seem to have repaired more coal haulers than they have eaten hot dinners.

The company was established in 1923, when phone numbers were only three digits long – Kings’ originally being 6-6-8.

Founded by Percy William George King with operational help from his two sons, Kings is still proudly family-owned – albeit by a different family from neighbouring Maitland who purchased it in 2006.

Like its phone number, Kings has changed significantly over the past nine decades but still holds the same purpose.

Primarily, the engineering company services the mining industry. It repairs and maintains equipment, does full machine overhauls, specialised and general machining, fabrication and spare parts.

As a sign of the demand for its services in the region, Kings expanded in 2008 by buying the assets of one of its competitors in Wallerawang – 200 kilometres southwest of Rutherford.

That allowed Kings to utilise a second workshop, effectively stretching its reach in the area to encompass the copper and gold mines south of the coal mining country in the Hunter Valley.

“We saw it as an opportunity, it was a business that was already established in that region and we saw it as an opportunity to expand our market share and our ability to support our customers in that area,” Kings general manager Kerry Smith said.

While Smith concedes the business has faced plenty of challenges in its time, Kings’ ability to adapt to market demands is what has enabled it to grow. In the past, Kings’ main focus has been on the underground environment in relation to onsite work but this is changing as technologies develop.

“Coal mining methods have improved, the way they extract the coals, it is a lot more efficient than it used to be so there has been a slight reduction in the amount of equipment needed to produce that coal,” Smith said.

Subsequently, the company is diversifying to offer above-ground services at minesites such as coal handling and preparation plant repairs and maintenance.

This is being spearheaded by Kings’ sales and service manager Patrick Walters.

“You can’t keep on doing the same thing because you are just going to keep getting the same results,” Walters said.

“It’s been a bit of a push, rather than have the labour in here at our workshop, to get our labour out there onto the field.

“We’ve put some money into training our guys, confined space training and all the inductions done. Now we can provide a diverse range of guys from our machine shop, our fabrication shop and also our overhauls workshop [to the minesites].”

The move is already paying dividends for Kings. It has landed contracts with Xstrata to service its Liddell operations and the business is also in negotiations to service the coal giant’s Ravensworth mine and Ashton Coal operations.

In another bid to expand its market share, Kings is expecting to release its own version of the coal shuttle car early next year – the Kings Koal Hauler.

“After years and years of repairing and overhauling shuttle cars, it just seemed a natural progression to manufacture our own and give the customers an alternative supplier,” Smith said.

Kings already has more than a dozen of its self designed and built haulers in service but is undertaking further developments before making these completely commercially available.

“We are not going to flood the market place with machines until we have settled on the final specifications,” Smith said.

“My philosophy is, let’s make sure this is right before we try and sell it, rather than sell it and then try and fix it out in the field.”

One of the newest additions to the Kings Koal Hauler is the Ergo Pod, which was bought as part of the Wallerawang acquisition.

This is a patented design that allows operators to remain seated and rotate through 180 degrees so they are always facing the direction the hauler is travelling.

The latest prototype has been in development for the past three years and began after Kings was continually fixing recurring problems with underground coal haulers.

Smith said Kings simply looked at the issues with the machines available to the market and decided to learn from their shortcomings to make its own improved hauler.

He said the prototype was on track for testing within the next month.

“Once we have concluded those trials we then tend to talk to one of our customers to put it underground for a period where we can monitor the performance in the underground environment,” Smith said.

“Then once we are happy with that then we will go to the market with the machine.”

“My philosophy is, let’s make sure this is right before we try and sell it, rather than sell it and then try and fix it out in the field.”