11 Reasons Why The Sandvik TH663 Is The World's Best Underground Truck
A prototype of the world's newest underground haul truck is currently in full production trials at a gold mine in Western Australia and, after just three months, seems set to rewrite the basic criteria by which vehicles in this class are judged.
The truck, Sandvik's 63-tonne TH663, has already impressed everyone involved in the trial – from mine management through to operators and maintenance staff – with its speed, productivity, safety features, driver comfort and outstanding fuel economy.
Eleven highlights that make the Sandvik TH551 and TH663 the world's best underground truck are the following:
- Safe and ergonomic ROPS/FOPS cabin with trainer seat
- Front frame suspension for smoother ride
- Matching LHDs for fast and efficient loading
- Reliable high production through high capacity, high speed and more up-time
- Low own weight resulting in low fuel consumption
- Low emission levels with Tier 4i engine (optional for TH551)
- Ground level daily maintenance
- Integrated Vehicle Control and Management (VCM) system
- Integrated load weighing system (optional)
- Integrated tire-monitoring system (optional)
- On-board jacking system (optional)
Kimmo Martin, Sandvik Mining's international field test supervisor, and Barry Martin, a member of the company's national product support team in Australia, are supervising the trials. Together, they have trained operators and maintenance staff, are giving ongoing technical support and, most importantly, are providing feedback to Sandvik's truck manufacturing plant in Turku, Finland.
There, a second prototype has been set up to adopt recommendations from the Australian trials to ensure that production models incorporate "real life" mining experience gained in some of the world's toughest hard rock mining conditions.
The TH663 has already demonstrated its capacity to significantly lift productivity at the mine.
In July, of a total of 56,000 tonnes of ore hauled by the on-site fleet, the Sandvik TH663 alone moved 24,000 tonnes. In that month it logged 480 hours, hauling 54 tonnes per hour at close to its rated 63-tonne payload.
Kimmo Martin said the truck's sophisticated on-board weighing system helped to ensure that every load was close to maximum.
"The on-board system is accurate to within 25 kilograms at full load, with a red-amber-green light array on the rear of the cab to provide the loader operator with a visual indication of available capacity," he said.
Operator comfort – which is directly aligned with productivity – and overall safety were high on the list of priorities Sandvik Mining set for its design team. The new truck boasts more than 60 safety features, including a four-point driver harness, bonnet guardrails for the protection of maintenance staff and establishing ground level access for every service point covered in the daily maintenance schedule. This last point not only creates a safer working environment, it also cuts servicing time – creating more hours per shift for the core task of hauling ore.
Kimmo Martin said drivers on site had no problem adapting to the new truck in a single shift, and were enthusiastic about its comfort features.
"The TH663 is so quiet that drivers don't need to wear earplugs anymore, and the soundproofing virtually eliminates engine noise," he said.
One driver in the trial described the truck as "easily the best I have ever driven," singling out its front-axle suspension for special praise.
"The suspension creates a really smooth ride, and that's important, not just in terms of day-to-day comfort and productivity, but also for long term driver health," he said. "The constant jarring you get in most trucks takes its toll over time, and many drivers develop back and shoulder problems as a result. My guess is that the smooth ride of this truck will pretty well eliminate that problem."
The unit's Cummins QSK19 diesel engine won't excite rev-heads, but the sight of a TH663 with a 63-tonne load in its 38-cubic-metre tub climbing a steep as fast as 12 kilometres per hour is impressive. Full or empty, the truck – which is eight tonnes lighter than the TH660 predecessor – trams at speeds up to 50 percent faster than the other Sandvik trucks in the mine's fleet.
"In practice, on most 12-hour shifts this truck is putting in one or two more load/dump cycles than the others, which translates to a 'bonus' 60 to 120 tonnes of dirt shifted every day," said Kimmo Martin. "Split the difference and you're looking at an extra 2,700 tonnes a month on a straight truck-to-truck comparison."
The unit is not only fast – it is extremely fuel-efficient. Over the three months of the trial to date its average consumption has been 50 litres per hour. This compares with more than 70 litres per hour used by the older Sandvik trucks on site, while other makes of truck in the 50- to 60-tonne class are known to burn diesel at rates in excess of 100 litres per hour.
Sandvik Mining's Barry Martin says the potential saving in fuel costs is significant.
Cutting your fuel burn by a third on a 480-hour-a-month basis could add up to an annual saving per truck on the order of $200,000 at current diesel prices," he said. "And, as we know only too well, prices are likely to continue escalating, making fuel economy an increasingly important factor in the equipment selection equation.
Sandvik Mining is confident the TH663 will also deliver higher-than-average availability levels, due in part to its sophisticated Vehicle Control and Management (VCM) system. The system provides operators with instant warning of potential or actual problems, such as low tire pressure or loss of hydraulic fluid.
A pop-up warning on the screen requires the operator to acknowledge the problem and, if necessary, take immediate action. If this is not done, the system shuts down to prevent further damage.
VCM also helps maintenance staff to make fast and accurate diagnoses, which further improves vehicle availability.
"Currently the truck is giving us 93 percent availability, which you'd expect from a new unit, but we're confident that it will settle down at better than 85 percent, which is a 10 percent improvement on the rest of the fleet," Barry Martin said.
An unusual – but potentially invaluable – feature of the TH663 is an in-built jacking system that will lift a fully-laden vehicle in less than 30 seconds for a wheel change.
"This is a really important feature," Kimmo Martin said. "Last month another truck here at the mine blew a tire underground, and it took most of the shift to take a 100-tonne jack down the hole and make the change-over, during which time virtually all underground operations came to a halt. With the on-board jacking system, time for a tire change can realistically be reduced to two hours."
What the trial has proved so far is that, by current industry standards, Sandvik's TH663 is faster, safer and more economical than other trucks in its class, with the potential to significantly increase productivity, at the same time lowering operating costs.
"We're getting excellent results right now, and we're still only coming to grips with the truck's full potential," Barry Martin said. "Who knows what sort of results we'll see when it really hits its stride."