Body builder Austin engineers comeback

IT HAS been a tough few years for buckets and body builder Austin Engineering, however, managing director Peter Forsyth believes the turnaround plan in place has the company on the right track.
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An Austin Engineering body fitted to a haul truck in Chiquicamata mine in Chile.

Arguably the biggest change has been the decision to forgo things such as its crane business in Chile and concentrate on its engineering smarts.

To do that the company has restructured into three divisions. One, under chief financial officer Christine Hayward looks after the corporate side of the business including treasury and finance; another under global manager market development and innovation David Pichanick is focused on finding out what customers need and the third under global manager operations Simon Mair makes sure customers get what they need.

That restructure has been progressing over the past 12 months.

"We're getting back to our core competencies," Forsyth said.

"We believe we're an engineering company. Some of the businesses we operated back in 2016 don't fit that anymore.

"We think we're better to develop large, fit for purpose bodies, buckets and water tanks. Providing solutions for loading and large equipment."

Forsyth believes Austin can help miners reduce costs simply, without resorting to high-tech fixes.

"One of the things miners are doing is looking at technology in relation to despatch systems, remote area management and automation," he said.

"One area we believe they can get better cost per tonne is from bodies and buckets and optimising the matches between bodies and buckets.

"Every mine is slightly different, be it bench heights or design.

"There are a whole lot of factors that go into designing our bodies and buckets. It's all the one percenters that add up to make a difference on the mine site.

"That helps people get the best out of their mine site.

"We're working closely with customers on different sites."

However, Forsyth said the company had also been looking at what was happening with automation and believed it had something to contribute.

Will the cabin still be needed? Probably not.

"Because we can do these bespoke designs we're in a good position to assist original equipment manufacturers maximise the payload capabilities of their autonomous trucks," Forsyth said.

"With automation OEMs will be taking off cabs eventually."

Forsyth said customers had different philosophies around how they used their truck bodies.

"Some customers want a body that only lasts 14,000 to 20,000 hours," he said.

"Other customers want a body that lasts the length of the chassis.

"Whatever the customers want we can help them with.

"We have the almost throwaway bodies to the bulletproof 60,000-plus hour body.

"In South America they want to keep repairing bodies as opposed to putting new bodies in.

"In parts of Australia they are more innovative and look for fit-for-purpose quick turnover bodies."

On the technology front, Forsyth said the company had created a research and development group within its engineering group.

That engineering group harnesses the engineering teams at Austin's Perth operation and its operation in Casper, Wyoming.

"We're looking at lighter body designs and two-piece buckets," Forsyth said.

"We're looking at composite materials."

Forsyth said the company was mainly looking at composite materials for its water tanks.

"This will help us differentiate ourselves from our competitors," he said.

Forsyth said carbon fibre may have a place in truck bodies but probably not right now.

"There has been a lot of discussion about carbon fibre bodies," he said.

"At this stage we don't believe a carbon fibre body is an option."

Forsyth said handling impact and ease of repair were issues facing carbon fibre bodies.

"I believe there are areas where we can implement some composite materials into bodies and perhaps buckets as well," he said.

"The R&D group is exploring all of those alternatives.

"It all comes back to cost per tonne."

Forsyth said the Austin restructure was about getting back to where it thought it could make the greatest impact for its customers.

"It's also getting back to the one Austin story," he said.

"Doing what we do well under the banner of one Austin. Consistent quality and consistent safety."

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