Industry Q&A: Embracing Partnerships to Foster Innovation
Austin Engineering is celebrating 50 years of providing cutting-edge mobile equipment and fabrication solutions to mining businesses around the world. Over this time, they have developed a reputation for partnering with their clients to find innovative solutions to their key challenges, with the ultimate outcomes of maximising productivity and safety.
Showing their support and commitment to the Australian mining industry and METS sector, Austin Engineering will be sponsoring the upcoming Austmine Rio Tinto Smart Mining Networking Event. As a major partner, Austin have been working with Rio Tinto around the world for many years and have collaborated on several unique initiatives.
Ahead of this event, Austmine caught up with David Pichanick, Global Manager Market Development & Innovation at Austin Engineering to discuss some of these partnership initiatives, along with the keys to Austin’s sustained success.
1. Austin Engineering is a sponsor at the upcoming Austmine Smart Mining Event with Rio Tinto, a company that you’ve worked with for many years. How has this partnership created shared value?
The partnership with Rio Tinto is integral to Austin Engineering and is spread across a range of sites around the world. This has been a successful relationship for us because it is adopted in the spirit of collaboration and problem-solving. We spend a lot of time understanding their needs and challenges, dealing with all levels of their organisation. This allows us to identify the areas where assistance is needed, and we can then liaise with our innovation team to create a solution modified to that specific issue.
Going beyond this, we have an agreement in place with key customers, such as Rio Tinto, that we will release a new product or an innovative development every 6 months. This ensures that we’re remaining ahead of the game in the fabrication and dump body space, whilst constantly offering new products and services that may be required in the future. This has generated significant shared value.
2. Do you have any specific examples of this partnership you would like to share?
An example we are particularly proud of came from our joint venture with Rio Tinto in the Pilbara, at their Brockman 4 project. As part of project Obelix, we had the challenge to get higher payload on trucks than the existing OEM dump body, also working with Komatsu and Michelin on this initiative.
The trucks were developed with improved specification tyres and larger, lighter trays than the previous design. When fully operational, the trucks essentially allowed for an extra bucket per tray, or 50 tonnes. When this is calculated per load, per hour and per day, this adds up to significant cost savings and efficiency gains. We painted the dump bodies blue to help digger operators know that they can safely load it to the additional tonnage.
Another collaboration with Rio Tinto led to the design of a dump body that reduces stickiness of the ore and material to the tray, known as ‘hang-up.’ A lot of companies attempt to use rubber linings for this, but it is largely ineffective. We created a strong, durable material and dump body design that reduced the hang-up and also improved productivity for Rio Tinto. We’ve rolled that design out in other parts of the world where sticky material is a challenge, such as New Caledonia.
Austin Engineering's Trays in Action with Rio Tinto
3. It sounds like Austin Engineering has been able to innovate on a number of operational challenges. What is the process of this innovation?
It all starts with understanding the customers’ needs, along with what else is happening in the market. We host regular customer forums where they give us feedback on the performance of our products and what they think we should be focusing on. We also attend a number of different shows around the world such as CIM, MINExpo and Austmine to see what else is in the market.
Following this, the customer needs and market research are filtered back to our dedicated innovation team. This is a group of 4 creative engineers who work together to find innovative solutions to the identified challenges, adopting a new way of looking at these.
An example of a recent challenge we had involved an excavator bucket of a major client. A company had put liners in their buckets to protect from rocks wearing the material. However, they created this by bending the metal when welding it and the steel had energy to release. When the liner is worn and cut out, the stored energy explodes out and this led to a severe safety incident. To combat this, our innovation team created a new two-piece bucket design, which was another game changer and example of thinking out of the box. Not only did this improve safety, it has also reduced cost for the client.
4. 50 years of operations is a fantastic achievement for Austin Engineering. What has been the key to your success?
As previously mentioned, listening to customers and jointly solving challenges is critical. We constantly strive to find ways to improve our products, whether that be better materials, new designs or greater support.
The key challenge for us is to educate prospective clients on having a long-term strategy and to consider the total cost of ownership of a product, not just the purchase price. We make an exceptional quality product that is durable, innovative and enhances productivity. On the other hand, there are many products in the market that provide cheap, stop-gap solutions that lead to greater maintenance costs, downtime and safety incidences in the long-term.
5. What’s next for Austin Engineering?
Looking forward, we remain committed to continuously improving our products. We are investigating ways to increase productivity, but more importantly, to improve safety. For example, we have partnered with miners, contractors, universities and government in an attempt to fully automate the tyre handling process. This business is extremely unsafe and unfortunately, we have seen the consequences of this in recent times.
Elsewhere, we’re utilising new technologies to scan our dump bodies to investigate wear. This enables the client to have greater control of maintenance procedures and helps us to identify new design or product development needs. We’re working through this with our clients, with Australia and South America major markets for this.
6. Is there anything else you would like to add?
We are looking forward to the Rio Tinto event and to hearing from one of our key clients. We’ll also use this as an opportunity to share our knowledge with the industry and what the latest developments are that we are working on.
It is great to be a part of Austmine. We can share with the network and we also receive great industry knowledge back from the community. It has been a great catalyst for us.
Find more information of Austin Engineering here or get in touch with Dave.
Book your tickets for the Austmine Rio Tinto Smart Mining Event here.
David Pichanick, Global Manager, Market Development & Innovation, Austin Engineering
David Pichanick commenced with Austin Engineering Ltd in March 2018. He has a strong history of producing excellent results for his clients, his people and his company. David drives the development of global markets, ensuring innovative equipment meets clients’ needs and expectations through the expected total cost of ownership model. He also ensures correct forecasting and availability of products to deliver to the target market. David demonstrates his commitment to integrity and Austin’s core values by mentoring his team into world-class sales and marketing leaders.