Waste Management In Action

Purpose built wheel loader increases productivity: Komatsu

A bold move by a Western Australian Local Government has resulted in a threefold increase in the collection of waste metal from its landfill facility and contributed to the increased life span of the site.

The Town of Port Hedland devised a specification for a purpose-built wheel loader to work exclusively on its 45,000 tonne per year landfill site to make the entire waste disposal process more cost efficient and productive.

Results to date point to a new protocol which could be adopted by similar operations across Australia.

The Town determined a dedicated wheel loader would be fitted with puncture proof solid rubber tyres and would be equipped with a semi-enclosed grapple bucket to better dig and secure loose material like metal.

The results in the first six months of operation have been spectacular – the sale of recovered waste steel has increased to more $5000 per month from a base of $1-2000.

According to engineers, the ability of the lighter and more agile wheel loader to climb deep onto the landfill to assist in recovery and compacting has increased the life expectancy of the 22-year-old facility.

The Town had been using two machines, a wheel loader and an excavator to undertake general duties as well as working on landfill duties.

However, when both came up for renewal, having already surpassed council’s machine replacement policy of 8-10,000 operational hours, the decision was taken to secure two-wheel loaders – one for use on landfill and the other on general duties.

All four machines – the original equipment and their replacement, were sourced from heavy machinery specialist Komatsu, which six years ago invested $10 million in a decentralised service facility in Port Hedland to provide direct response in the burgeoning mining and export port.

Mineral exports through Port Hedland from the resource rich Pilbara region approach $30 billion a year and account for 1.9 per cent of Australia’s Gross Domestic Product.

“Local support was a critical component of the tender process,” Town of Port Hedland CEO Carl Askew said.

“Although the Town has in-house mechanical personnel, we value the machine induction by the manufacturer and it will take advantage of the 2000-hour factory service program offered in the purchase.”

The Town has placed one of Komatsu’s new WA270-8 on general duties working on assignments as diverse as drainage maintenance and the area’s restricted access programs.

The other was effectively purpose built and customized in a joint venture between council’s maintenance and landfill departments and the manufacturer.

“We had already had some experience with the use of solid rubber tyres fitted to remove the risk of punctures in waste disposal operation,” Dean Jones, Komatsu Business Development Manager with responsibility for the far north of Western Australia said.

“Each tyre weighs 750kgs – three times that of a standard fit pneumatic tyre, but experience has enabled Komatsu to warrant their use in defined operations.”

Komatsu also approved the use of a semi-enclosed hydraulic bucket grapple with a hardened cutting edge to enable operators to better sort and pick resaleable materials from the waste, particularly steel recovery.

Operator comfort, in the airconditioned cabin, was a primary concern in an area where all day external temperatures can remain above 40 degrees Celsius.

Operators have positively reported on the combination of a comfortable airconditioned cabin and a single lever hydraulic control for the purpose-fitted bucket.

They are able to work far deeper into the landfill, with greater success, than with heavier, more powerful machines, although a machine with greater power is still necessary for overall site maintenance.

According to Rebecca Walter, Port Hedland’s landfill manager, the customised machine, while successful, remains a work in progress – in the spirit of continual improvement.

Further strengthening improvements would be made to the grapple bucket’s teeth as operators ambitiously sought to pick larger and heavier resaleable refuse.

Operator feedback indicated the solid tyres did reduce comfort in rough conditions, and a solution was being sought.

According to Jones, Komatsu is monitoring progress closely to further refine the specification which could well become a blueprint for landfill operation across the country.

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