Caterpillar opted for ro-ro as its ocean transport solution for shipping a super heavy 17-metre longwall shearer from Europe to a coal mine in Australia, marking the first time this sophisticated model of heavy machinery was shipped in a single piece.
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.
About the cargo
A 17 metre longwall shearer (EL3000), weighing 102 tonnes, left the Port of Zeebrugge, Belgium, bound for Port Kembla, Australia, on board the M/V Asian Emperor. A specially designed 16-metre Samson rolltrailer with low ground clearance was used to move and stow the machine for the sea voyage. The shearer, from leading construction and mining equipment manufacturer Caterpillar, was bound for Whitehaven Coal’s Narrabri North mine in Australia. Although this was the second Caterpillar longwall shearer ordered by the mine, it was the first to be transported in one piece using a ro-ro shipping solution.
About the customer
Caterpillar is one of the world’s premier manufacturers of construction and mining equipment, as well as diesel and natural gas engines, industrial gas turbines and diesel-electric locomotives. It employs more than 132,000 people across the globe, and in 2014 it posted revenue of more than USD 55 billion. Caterpillar’s mining products are in use all over the world, from underground coal mines in China to surface gold mines in Mali to the oil sands of Canada.
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? It would reduce lead time by eliminating 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 ro-ro can, in fact, be an even better, cheaper, faster solution for large cargo projects.”
TIMING WAS OF THE ESSENCE
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.
“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.”
“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,” Söderberg 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 Whitehaven Coal 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.