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A dying breed

A dying breed
This article was published by Ben Hailes on 20 August, 2020

As a primary tool used on mine sites, the 'digger' is a critical piece of infrastructure that can significantly impact a site's operational performance.

Depending upon the type of resource, expected life of mine and extraction method incorporated, the equipment options considered include the dragline, rope shovel and or hydraulic excavator.

With advancements in technology, reliability, mobility and market dynamics, mine sites are increasingly favouring the hydraulic excavator. Like the demise of the beloved Boeing 747, these dynamics have accelerated the expiration of the dragline and is now directly impacting the rope shovel despite the many valid arguments for their use.

Outside of the practical considerations relating to productive capabilities and site-specific requirements, there's a lot to like about rope shovels. Those au fait with the machines will tell you the many rationale reasons for their use.

Notwithstanding their proven efficiency in moving dirt and practical cost savings achieved over the life of the machine, the 'short-termism' of financial markets and spot pricing employed has led to the pursuit of grade, aka 'selective mining' to maximise profit.

This obsession has rewarded the machine mobility and flexibility afforded by hydraulic excavators, with these diggers being lighter and better able to operate remotely without the requirement of a stable electricity supply.

With the general increase in reliability and expected lifecycle of the hydraulic excavator, this trend has resulted in the hydraulic excavator quickly becoming the digger of choice here in the Hunter Valley.

Rationally, an argument exists for the incorporation of all three digger types however, the pricing points (even excluding the impacts of foreign exchange rates), simply aren't adding up.

In a world, desiring immediate rewards, long-term efficiency, and cost savings are proving harder to promote, particularly when the upfront purchase price is significantly more. Hey, I could be wrong, however with cash as cheap as it is, I can't help but feel a changing of the tide, where the hydraulic excavator now has the upper hand.

This article was originally published by the Components Only team in the August 2020 issue of "@ The Coal Face" magazine.

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