WesTrac buying in $100M of equipment to beat shortage

YES there is an equipment shortage looming and Caterpillar dealership WesTrac has bought $100 million of equipment as inventory to help alleviate it.
WesTrac buying in $100M of equipment to beat shortage WesTrac buying in $100M of equipment to beat shortage WesTrac buying in $100M of equipment to beat shortage WesTrac buying in $100M of equipment to beat shortage WesTrac buying in $100M of equipment to beat shortage

WesTrac Western Australia CEO Jarvas Croome

WesTrac Western Australia CEO Jarvas Croome told Australia's Mining Monthly that wait times were starting to increase for equipment as mining activity increased.

"It can be anything from 16 weeks to 40 weeks depending on the model," Croome said.

Say, for example, somebody who was attending the launch of the CatMD6250 drill at WesTrac's Perth Airport facility last Friday was to place an order and the few already coming in were already sold, Croome said they would be waiting until next February to get one.

"With big shovels there are some slots available but they are drying up as well," he said.

How quickly things change. It was not so long ago that Hitachi chief Eric Green was lamenting the fact that only three large shovels had been sold in a year.

That is why Croome put in the big order of equipment to try and minimise the wait time for customers.

While equipment is getting short, so too are skills.

Croome said WesTrac was putting on 15-20 apprentices every six months.

The intake, he said, was staggered, to even out the flow of apprentices going into the trades.

The numbers are also capped to make sure the ratio between apprentices and tradespeople is kept optimal.

Croome said increasing automation would also help ease the skills shortage.

While he admits that the fully autonomous systems WesTrac supports for the likes of Fortescue Metals Group and BHP are probably beyond the reach of a lot of miners, there are other options that automation are bringing that will help with the skills shortage.

Croome said there are a number of "driver assist" tools coming out of the automation program that could help make new operators closer in capability to good experienced operators.

"If you think about the skilled workforce, the challenge is providing tools to help less skilled operators become best in class operators," he said.

"What solutions will enable you to narrow the gap between good operators and less skilled operators."

Some of those tools include truck spotting, which helps a driver move into position alongside a loading tool.
That helps free the loader operator up to either prepare for the next load or clean up the dig site.

There are also proximity detection systems available - basically drawn from automotive technology - that help drivers know where other vehicles are in relation to their truck.

While some of the automation-derived tools will help with the skills shortage, automation is also growing in the mining space.

So far autonomous haulage has been largely limited to Western Australian iron ore mines.

Croome said it was starting to extend into the Canadian oil sands and South American copper operations.

He said it was also being spread to a wider range of vehicles such as the Caterpillar 795s and 797s that are popular in the coal industry.

"There are some [coal] projects indicating interest," Croome said.

Of course getting into automation is not a cheap undertaking.

There is considerably communications infrastructure to put in place and there are a lot of workplace issues to work through.

"If you're looking at a new mine you would look at technology differently than you would have say five years ago," Croome said.

"Plus, if you have an ageing fleet you may wait until you do a fleet renewal program."