A longwall shearer is a complex piece of heavy machinery that is used to cut coal from the coalface, the part of an underground mine where the coal is cut out of the rock. The CAT EL3000 longwall shearer, manufactured by Caterpillar Global Mining at its plant in Lünen, Germany, was engineered to meet the requirements of the most demanding longwall installations in the world. This particular piece of equipment was destined for Whitehaven Coal’s Narrabri North mine in the Gunnedah Basin of New South Wales, Australia. Having set a new production record of 5.659 million tonnes the previous year, the mine ordered its second EL3000 shearer.

Due to the sheer size and weight of the machine, Caterpillar previously opted to transport equipment of this kind as separate components, dividing it up into parts prior to shipping. On arrival at the destination, the machine would then be reassembled before being transported to the end customer. On this occasion, however, Caterpillar was presented with a totally new option: the possibility of shipping this large, heavy and complex piece of equipment in one piece.

The advantages? Not only would it reduce lead time, as it would eliminate the need for a time-consuming reassembly process in Australia. It would also reduce costs and provide assurance of high transport quality.

“It’s traditionally considered cheaper to ship this kind of cargo as separate components and pay for assembly at the destination,” explains Shintaro Tsuchiya, WWL’s account manager on the project. “By finding a way to ship the unit fully assembled, WWL was able to justify to the customer that RoRo can, in fact, be an even better, cheaper, faster solution for large cargo projects.”

In the mining industry, a delay of even a day or two can result in millions of dollars in losses, and since Caterpillar was on a very tight delivery deadline, timing was of the essence when selecting a transport solution.

As WWL’s manager of the Caterpillar account in Europe, it was up to Tsuchiya to ensure that the project progressed smoothly, as well as coordinate the planning and communication between the customer and WWL. Throughout the project, regular contact was maintained between WWL and Caterpillar’s transportation teams in Europe and Australia, Caterpillar engineers and project managers, as well as WWL’s own naval architects. A key objective was to identify the most suitable handling equipment for loading and transporting the shearer without jeopardising transport quality.

“On this occasion, it was natural to seek out the expertise of WWL’s cargo handling experts to ensure that we were exploring every possible risk and eventuality,” Tsuchiya says.

Andreas Söderberg is a technical equipment adviser in WWL’s Cargo Solutions team. He explains that communication was key due to the tight schedule, as well as the fact that the shipment required various types of equipment. 

“The direct interaction with the customer enabled them to explain what they wanted and needed from WWL, allowing us to respond directly with suggestions for how best to comply with their expectations,” he says.

The subject of how best to receive, load and transport the 17-metre, 102-tonne shearer as a single unit was discussed extensively among the respective teams. Various solutions were evaluated, but, ultimately, a specially designed 16-metre Samson rolltrailer with low ground clearance was chosen as the optimal handling equipment for the sea voyage. Söderberg then prepared an operational blueprint of the handling process, which was first approved by Caterpillar and then shared with the port and vessel operators, to make sure everyone was on the same page.

The loading of the CAT EL3000 longwall shearer went off without a hitch. The shearer was rolled on board the M/V Asian Emperor on the Samson rolltrailer using two tugmasters. A third tugmaster with a wire rope was added to provide extra pulling power to move the heavy cargo train on board the stern ramp and into the vessel with complete safety guaranteed. The cargo was discharged on schedule in Port Kembla, Australia, and Caterpillar was able to meet its delivery deadline for the Narrabri North mine in New South Wales.

“We were pleased that WWL was able to comply with all of the special requirements to support Caterpillar in making this important shipment a success – from reducing the cost of shipping and meeting critical delivery times, to finding innovative solutions and setting up a close and successful collaboration,” says Tom France, director of logistics and transportation management for Caterpillar.

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