After his family and snowmobiling Jimmy Väisänen’s biggest passion is operating heavy equipment, specifically larger machinery. Growing up in Gothenburg, Sweden, Jimmy’s first operating experience was on a wheel loader in his mid teens.

After finishing school in 2009 he searched though job listings for many of the mines in Sweden, eventually landing a job as a dump truck driver in Kiruna located in the far north of the country. After one year on the truck in Kiruna Jimmy then landed himself a job in the Svappavaara mine working for a company called Cliffton Mining, operating a brand new, 100 tonne, Cat 990H wheel loader. During his two years on the 990H he took an interest in operating the excavators which worked alongside his wheel loader on a daily basis. Jimmy then decided to ask a local owner of a Cat 390D called Fredrik Mattsson if he could work for free on the machine during his spare time to gain experience. Fredrik agreed and from then on Jimmy was hooked on excavator operating. 

Eventually Jimmy’s bosses at Cliffton Mining decided that the Cat 990H wheel loader would be replaced with an excavator, which happened to be the Cat 390D owned by Fredrik Mattsson. Cliffton Mining suggested to Jimmy that they could either sub contract him to Fredrik Mattsson or let him go to work directly for him . Jimmy choose the latter and went to work to work for Fredrik for four and a half years. During that time the Cat 390D was replaced with a Cat 390F with the job being simply to load oversize rocks on to Cat 775 and 775G trucks. 

Over the years Jimmy got to try out a massive range of equipment ranging from 15 tonne Hitachi Excavators right up to a 200 tonne Cat 994H wheel loader and a 500 tonne electric Cat 6060 shovel. 

Fast forward to the last couple of years when Jimmy in his own words says “ I fell in love again” when he tried a Liebherr for the first time. It was an all white R966 that he operated over the entire winter which was followed by a R980 SME with a 7.5m3 bucket. Jimmy states “It was tremendously powerful with so much capacity for work”. After operating the R980 over the Summer it was time for a brand new Liebherr R945 long reach.

New at the beginning of 2021, the R945 Multi-User, generation 8, stage V machine belongs to 65 years established GE Maskintjänst AB, a family owned construction company which has almost 250 employees, based in Gällivare and does a wide range of work from mining to residential excavation. The company had a total turnover in 2020 amounting to approximately SEK 250 million. The machine was sourced directly from Liebherr. It is customised in black for the customer as can be done with all new Liebherr machines. Jimmy describes the R945 as the most beautiful excavator he’s ever seen and has every optional extra you could want which includes an OilQuick system, GPS, tinted windows, heated seat, chrome decals, subwoofer and 19 L.E.D lights in the front and 6 in the rear, much needed during the long dark winters in what is the Artic circle. The R945 also has an LC-V R956 undercarriage with 900mm pads. 

Jimmy loves the comfort of the Liebherr, “ it’s a big and quiet cabin with good positions for the buttons and touchscreen display”. He continues,

“I sit and feel like a King in the R945…”

…as it’s such a great looking machine and fast for its size”. Jimmy says the company prefers to buy Liebherr because of the outstanding service and back up with the companies employees preferring the comfort of the Liebherr machines. 

Daily work for the Liebherr R945 is as a dredge. Water from the cleaning process in an iron ore mine is washed into ponds. The Liebherr is then tasked with keeping the ponds clear of silt. After operating the R945 and Liebherr machines in general Jimmy says he wouldn’t want to operate anything else, attributing his bias to the speed, comfort and build quality of the Liebherr machines.

LIEBHERR France SAS, COLMAR

While many excavator manufacturers will be able to supply a long reach machine in certain configurations, Liebherr are able to offer almost any of their excavator range in a variety of configurations and built specifically for the customer on their production line at Colmar, France.

Colmar has been at the heart of Liebherr excavator production for over 50 years with the factory commencing excavator production in 1961. The plant now employs close on 1500 people and builds in excess of 2000 crawler machines per year including special builds such as Liebherr’s demolition, tunnelling and long reach models. The 140,000m2 production facility currently builds models from the Earthmoving range up to the 100t R980 family with the mining models moving to a new facility a few miles away in 2011 to free up production space for the smaller models.

The design and manufacturing teams at Colmar are capable of taking the basic Liebherr crawler models and customising them in any way their customers require from undercarriage options, working equipment and paint finishes, all designed, manufactured and finished in-house.

For contractors looking to add a 100-tonne class production excavator to their fleet, the list of manufacturers offering such a machine has just got a little longer.

Liugong, a leader in China’s construction equipment industry, has recently added their 995F excavator into their European range with the first example coming into the well-known fleet of Justin Ffrench.

Ffrench are no newcomers to the Liugong family having almost 50 machines already in their large fleet. They were quick to add the 93-tonne excavator their ranks as it meets with their drive to offer both the latest and greenest equipment to their clients. Working across the UK on both demolition and large muck shifting contracts, Ffrench have taken the 995F in the manufacturer’s demolition specification which adds heavy-duty belly plates, dipper stick and tipping link protection, auxiliary pipework with case drain line and a full ROPS and FOPS cab guard. There is also a heavier 14.8 tonne counterweight in lieu of the standard 12.6t version. The counterweight has also been decorated with a VLS reflective livery.

Liugong have built themselves a reputation in the UK for delivering excavators capable of withstanding the rigours of the demolition industry with many of the leading contractors using them within their fleets. This reputation hasn’t been left behind in the new F series flagship although driver comforts have been massively improved on within the new arrival.

“In the design of the F series machines, we wanted to get the feedback from our existing and potential customer base across the World.” Harry Mellor, European Product Manager for excavators explained “We have a good reputation within the UK demolition market but obviously wanted to target other sectors within the industry.”

The development of the 995F has seen the Chinese factory set a number of prototype machines to work in quarries and mines around China. Working 24/7 and amassing over 8000 operating hours, the prototypes returned to the factory suffering very little in the way of mechanical or build issues. This spurred the company on to launch the Tier5 variant into Europe with just the addition of emissions management hardware. “The mechanicals are identical to the prototypes.” Harry explains “We are very confident in both the build quality and the mechanical and electrical reliability of the machine after such positive testing.” Justin Ffrench is also very quick to praise the overall reliability of his existing machines saying they have been excellent in service and have performed reliably since he has added them to his fleet.

Whilst added to the fleet to undertake a variety of duties, the 995F looks the typical mass excavator thanks to its short boom and 2.9m dipper but with demolition work playing a major role in Ffrench’s operation, the ability to carry a new Shearcore FS95 shear was a must for Justin when it came to its purchase. “We have an 80t machine mass excavation spec and have enjoyed some success with this in carrying large demolition attachments. We’re not about reaching high with this machine; it will be for processing large material at lower levels.” 

The new Kawasaki EH hydraulic system has been designed to provide both the required grunt for productive excavation, high flows and pressures for demolition work, but also give the finesse an operator requires to undertake lifting and grading work. “We were asked to deliver a machine capable of being a total all-rounder when it comes to the hydraulic system.” Harry commented “The EH system has been designed to deliver just this. From the electric joysticks, through to the pump and valve block, the system offers a combination of power and smoothness and response in all three operating modes.” The three modes; Eco, Standard and Power can be combined with altering the engine speed to allow almost infinite combinations in each mode. Together with a new lifting mode, allows the 995F to be good at everything the operator wants it to do. 

Any issues with the cab on previous models have been totally addressed with the new F cab. Looking similar in styling to the X Series JCB cab (not a bad thing), thanks to its steeply sloping glazing on the door and side window, the operator has been handed a fresh, light and well-appointed environment in which to spend a shift. The most noticeable change is the seating arrangement which combines both the top of the range heated KAB seat and the joysticks into a single air suspended unit. This not only allows for a far superior ride but ensures the operator and joysticks can remain in constant contact with each other at all times. The left-hand joystick contains buttons for the horn, radio mute and proportional rollers for the attachment functions whilst the right-hand joystick has both proportional rollers and buttons for the track speed power boost function. 

“We were asked to deliver a machine capable of being a total all-rounder…”

Behind the seat there is a storage compartment and fridge both of which are usefully sized rather than just fancy additions. Another huge improvement is the operator machine interface. An 8-inch colour touchscreen is situated to the right-hand side of the cab and allows such an easy interaction between the operator and the machine that first-time users can quickly set up the machine and monitor it exactly how they want to. “We wanted the system to be similar to that of a modern smart phone.” Harry explains. That it certainly is. Combined with a multi-function dial on the small and uncluttered dash under the operator’s right hand, the system has to be one of the easiest and simplest to use in any excavator on the market. The machine has a counterweight mounted camera as standard but Ffrench have opted for an additional Brigade 360-degree system to be fitted as this will allow it to operate on certain projects it is lined up for. 

South Wales based KJ Services are probably best known for the work they undertake stripping and refurbishing construction and mining equipment at their vast HQ in Rhymney. Formed in 1970 as a plant hire provider, the company has diversified into a variety of sectors including contract crushing.

Until recently, the core of their own hire and contract fleet has consisted of Caterpillar and Komatsu equipment as they have been seen as a reliable and productive choice within the industry. This has changed in recent months with the company taking delivery of their first Kobelco excavator to service a long-term contract crushing operation in the South West.

The new excavator, an 84 tonne SK850LC-10 has been specifically taken into the fleet to service a 2 million tonnes per year crushing contract. “We have been in the quarry for a number of years producing up to 850,000 tonnes of high-quality limestone.” Liam O’Sullivan, KJ’s quarry supervisor explains. “The quarry has recently won a number of additional contracts and have asked us to increase the production to meet the new targets. Our original 52 tonne Caterpillar excavator was too small to do this, so we had to look at bringing in a larger machine and crusher.”

With the need for a large excavator for the contract the company looked at both Caterpillar and Komatsu along with a number of other manufacturers before deciding on the Kobelco. A relative unknown in the UK at this weight range, the KJ Services team were impressed by the build quality of the excavator. “It looks a very solid and well put together excavator.” 

The company are already customers of Molson Group having a large fleet of crushing and screening equipment from them. “We know the Molson team very well.” Jay commented “Their Terex Finlay kit is excellent quality and their service and back up is second-to-none. This gave us the added confidence in taking the 850 on board.” The decision to change brands for their prime mover in this quarry was helped by a number of contributing factors including the ever-present issue of fuel consumption. “We operate over a dozen items of plant on this site alone and the fuel usage can be eye-watering some weeks.” Jay comments “From speaking with Molson and some of their customers, the feedback we have had on fuel use has been very good. Back up is another big issue for us. We need the excavator to be working 12 hours a day, 6 days a week so we need the reliability and the back-up that Molson supply to us already with our Terex Finlay equipment.”

The SK850 rides on a pair of mechanically adjustable track frames which push the overall width of the machine out to almost 4.5m and are shod with 650mm pads. Sturdy steps bolted to the frames allow access to the cab and upper structure aided by well-placed grab handles. Access to the refuelling pump, AdBlue tank and grease barrel compartment is from the offside of the excavator whilst a pair of large doors cover the large cooling pack to the rear of the machine. One neat feature is that the grease bucket is linked to a grease gun on a retractable reel housed in a compartment to the front of the upper structure and allows the operator, Dave Painter, to pull the gun out and grease every point on the machine from ground level. The cab side of the excavator is similarly accessed with the pump compartment to the rear. Just in front of this compartment there is a smaller doorway providing access to the front of the engine bay. This safe access means there should be very little need to climb on top of the upper structure. The cab is same as found on smaller Kobelco excavators and is finished to a high standard, and typical of most modern construction machinery, comes with a high specification including air conditioning, heated seat, Bluetooth connectivity and an intuitive, easy to navigate touch screen. Dave has already installed a floor mat and his cleaning gear inside the cab. “I’m in here all day, every day and I want it to be a decent and clean workspace. I won’t be out polishing the machine itself but will clean it off when I get the chance to.” He comments. Dave is very complimentary about the layout of the Kobelco cab… 

“I’ve not been in a new Kobelco before, but I think it’s very well laid out…“

…the joysticks are light and there’s just enough feedback through them.” 

The quarry specification excavator has been fitted with a substantial up and over protective cage to the front screen and cab top to minimise any potential damage from stray rock. Both the centre bars top and bottom are hinged to allow the front window and sunroof to be cleaned when necessary. The quarry spec is topped off with chevrons to the counterweight along with a white noise travel alarm and blue strobes to the rear of the machine.

The quarry the company are operating in is split into two areas with the railhead and tarmac plant situated within the original quarry footprint, the current extraction area is over 1000m away and can only be accessed via a tunnel through the existing high wall. Transporting blasted material back through the tunnel and into the existing plant was seen as being an expensive and time-consuming option. So, when KJ won the contract, a separate mobile material processing plant was set up adjacent to the extraction operation. Blasting is carried out on a regular basis to drop anything up to 50,000 tonnes at a time. Once the material is on the floor, the team load the primary crusher with the resulting product being loaded and transported the short distance to a large stockpile where it is then fed into the crushing and screening train. 

Dave points the Kobelco towards the freshly blasted material and through a combination of using the front end equipment and tracks, makes a path up onto the pile of material and proceeds to feed the large, 1000 tonne per hour capacity Gipo R170FDR impact crusher. “We have rented this crusher while we are waiting for our new one to be delivered.” Liam explained “They are excellent crushers and ideal to help us meet our targets.” The Swiss built crushers have a reputation for capably handling almost anything thrown at them with relative ease. 

The Kobelco isn’t your usual ME quarry spec machine and is fitted with a standard 8.25m boom and 3.6m dipper “We need a combination of both reach and breakout.” Jay explains “An ME machine would require us to have the crusher right by the side of the excavator and would mean more moving and repositioning on each blast.” A direct 5.2m3 MST rock bucket is the finishing touch for the excavator. “The MST buckets seem to be the way forward for us.” Liam explains “They are built well made products and are designed to our specifications, they aren’t the cheapest buckets available, but their build quality is something else.” 

Five separate products can be processed with the material initially being fed into a Terex Finlay 883+ inclined screener. Two Powerscreen cone crushers deal with the oversized material with the final products being discharged from the conveyors of a pair of Terex Finlay 2-deck screeners, a 693+ and 696. A fleet of Caterpillar 745 articulated trucks haul the material from the Gipo to the stockpile and then from the processing area back to the quarry’s main stockpiling areas. Loading the trucks is taken care of by a pair of Caterpillar 980M wheeled loaders. “They are a good shovel.” Liam comments “The drivers like them which is good.” A third shovel is also on site as a back-up machine should one of the front-line loaders break down whilst the Cat 352 that was once the quarry’s production excavator also stands on the side lines ready to step in should the Kobelco suffer any downtime. 

It is still early days for the Kobelco but so far, the management team at K J and the site teams seem to be very impressed with the Japanese quality. “Molson have come up with a very good package for us.” Jay comments “The build quality looks to be on a par, if not better than what we already have in the fleet and as long as it remains reliable and productive, I can’t see there be any issue in us adding more Kobelcos as and when we swap machines.”

The P&H L-2350, a 2,300hp behemoth, has arrived in Europe. Premiered by LeTourneau Technologies at the 2000 MINExpo in Las Vegas, it has taken 20 years for the first L-2350 to come to Europe.

One of two new P&H L-series wheeled loaders recently commissioned at the Swedish Aitik copper mine, the other is an equally impressive 240-tonne/2,000hp L-1850. The flagships in the four-model Texas-built range, which includes the 1,900hp L-1350 and 1,250hp L-1150, big as the L-1850, the L-2350 is in a league of its own. Available with three configurations of lift arms; standard, high lift and super high lift, even the standard 270-tonne version is listed in the Guinness World Records.

Designed for loading coal trucks, the super high lift version hoists its bucket to a lofty height of nearly 16m and is a popular option for loading high-sided coal trucks. The high lift version is plenty sufficient for the Arctic Circle mine, which complete with bucket and tyre chains weighs a tad over 300 tonnes!

Customers can choose from one of two 2,300hp Stage IV engines; a 16-cylinder Cummins QSK60 or a 12-pot MTU Detroit Diesel. Both Aitik’s versions have the Cummins block, and are believed to be the first in the world with SCR technology. Roughly 7.0m tall and wide, the overall length of the L-2350 with the 7.5m-wide bucket near the ground is over 20m and maximum height with it raised nearly 14m! Also, how many wheeled loaders can you think of with a catwalk around the outside of the cab.

And how about this… The Firestone 70/70-57 tyres on the L-2350 are the world’s largest! With a diameter of 4.0m and a width of 1.78m, each one weighs over seven tonnes. This does not include the rim or the 5.0-tonne tyre protection chain.

The L-2350 is normally only found in the big mining continents of North and South America, South Africa, Asia and Australia, and the closest most Europeans ever get to seeing one in the flesh is at MINExpo where the second-generation machine was revealed in 2012.

The initial burning question of what the world’s largest wheeled loader is doing in Sweden is easily answered. The Boliden-owned mine is one of the few European operations that needs such large earthmovers, and the two new arrivals were bought to help ramp up copper ore production to 45 million tonnes a year. 

Traditionally, the mine has relied on some of Cat’s largest machines. This currently includes a mix of 793D and 795ACF trucks, two D11 dozers, what we believe is the only 24m grader in Europe and a couple of 200-tonne 994 (18-cube buckets) wheeled loaders. To an outsider, the logical progression was to replace a couple of high-hour 994s with new K-series models, but it was P&H that clinched the deal.

The arrival of the two L-series wheeled loaders is perhaps not surprising when you consider Aitik is already a big Joy Global (owns P&H) customer and has the only 4100 electric rope shovels in Europe. This currently includes one each of a 1,250t 4100C and newer 1,500t 4100-XPC, the 46-cube bucket on both often scooping up 90-100 tonnes at a time.

The L-series wheeled loaders were added to the P&H portfolio when Joy Global acquired LeTourneau Technologies in 2011 to compliment the rope shovels. Something else that probably played a role is that Joy Global also owns Komatsu Mining, and as well as a couple of long-serving PC5500s, Aitik recently commissioned a PC7000.

In 2016, Boliden acquired the Kevitsa nickel-copper-gold mine in northern Finland, which operates the only 800-tonne PC8000 in Europe and a PC5500. Plus, it also has a 220-tonne Komatsu WA1200, the world’s largest fully mechanical wheeled loader. More recently, Boliden bought 26 new Komatsu diesel-electric trucks, a mix of 830Es and 930Es. Whatever the reasons, pictures of the first monster components of the L-1850 and L-2350 to arrive at the Swedish mine were quick to appear on social media at the back end of 2019. Assembled during the winter in the mine’s huge workshop, by early February 2020 both machines dug their first test scoops.

Operator training followed, and the L-1850 and L-2350 were ready for front line duty early March. I have visited Aitik on numerous occasions during the past 15 years and was once again kindly granted permission to head north to see the two new prime movers in action. It was not to be and the day before I was due to fly north, Boliden management took the precautionary decision to temporarily suspend all non-essential visitors at all its sites to minimise the risk of spreading the Corona virus. Fortunately, Aitik operator and good friend Joakim Norell agreed to take some pictures of the two diesel-electric wheeled loaders and share his initial impressions of both.

The amicable and knowledgeable Swede lives with his wife Jessica and five children; Alexander (22) who drives a contractor’s Volvo L-90 wheeled loader at Aitik, Hannah (18), Hilda (5), Loa (3) and Hillevi (1), a 15-min drive from Aitik in the iron ore mining town of Malmberget.

One of the Aitik’s longest serving operators, Joakim has been at the copper mine for much of his working life, and before joining the full-time Boliden payroll in 2005, spent many years working at the mine on smaller machines for local contractors. He has piloted all Aitik’s machines during the past 15 years, including ‘smaller’ Cat 980 and Volvo L180 wheeled loaders, but also all the big Cat trucks, PC5500s, P&H and Bucyrus electric rope shovels and 994 wheeled loaders.

Joakim enjoys the variety of not only getting to operate all the mine’s largest prime movers, but also graders, dozers and sometimes trucks. “They are all good in different ways and I like the variety,” he comments. He likes operating the PC5500s and P&H 4100s, but his favourite machine is the Bucyrus 495BII, a 1,300-tonne electric rope shovel that came to Aitik new in 2001. Passionate about all on and off-road machines, the best place to find the busy father when he is not working is on the ski slopes (he is also a qualified ski instructor) of the local Dundret mountain with his three youngest children!

Back to the machines, which are second nature to this well-seasoned operator, who also helps to train new drivers to operate the wheeled loaders and dozers.

WORLD’S LARGEST

Joakim was one of the first to spend time in the cab of the L-1850 and L-2350. Internally are numbered as 1244 and 1245, he has since spent many hours with them. Longer, higher and wider, he describes the 246-tonne L-1850 as one size larger than the mine’s Cat 994H, and more in-line with the physical dimensions of the new Cat 994K.

The L-2350 is a couple of sizes larger than the Swedish mine’s 994H, although he reckons this size difference is not noticeable when sitting behind the controls. “The L-2350 doesn’t feel any different to a 994, although the steering angle (turning radius just under 20m) is lower and it needs more space to move around.”

From an operational point of view, the cabs and controls on the L-1850 and L-2350 are identical; joystick steering is also on the mine’s Cat 980, 982 and 994 and one of its Volvo 250H wheeled loaders. The main difference is that he uses his right foot to drive the L-s like a normal accelerator and his left foot the 994. Another is that the 994 is a purely mechanical wheeled loader, while the L-1850 and L-2350 are diesel-electric, with a generator bolted to the diesel engine supplying electricity to individual wheels motors.

P&H calls this the SR hybrid drive system. During braking or retarding, the electrical motors become generators feeding power back to the generator, which acts as a motor to power the engine and lower fuel consumption. Big as it is, average fuel consumption of the L-2350 is reported to be ‘just’ 160lit/hr. From an operator’s perspective, Joakim reckons one big difference between the mechanical and diesel electric loaders, is rear wheel slip on the L-s when digging. “This not possible on the mechanically driven Cat.” He likes the suspended seat in the L-series machines, which he describes as “really comfortable.” He is also impressed with the stability. “They are both very steady machines, and I am never afraid to move with a fully loaded bucket raised to maximum height.”

The cab on the L-series machines is a bit wider, and while the joysticks are smoother, he reckons the Cat controls are easier to work with. Two things he is not overly enthusiastic about in the cab department on both L-1850 and L-2350 are the cooling and heating fans. “They are so noisy it is difficult for me to listen to the engine. Without it, I think interior cab noise levels would have been quieter. As it is, the 994 is much quieter.” 

Automatic bucket levelling is standard, and he likes the scroll function on the L-series to control the bucket, but he feels that the cab roof is too just a bit too low to be able to see it properly. This is not just an issue when trying to look up high in a heap of blasted rock, but also when the loader arms are fully raised loading a 795 or 930E. “I can see everything in the 994, which allows me to follow the bucket motions when loading into our high-sided trucks.”

SUB-ZERO SOLUTIONS

Exerting a breakout force of 980kN, the 38-cube bucket regularly scoops up 60-70 tonnes and is capable of loading 3,000tph. However, Joakim reckons this figure can only be achieved in well blasted material, when it is possible to fill the 220-tonne skip of a 793 in 3-4 passes, a 795 with 313 tonnes in 5-8 attempts, and a 930E with 300 tonnes in 5-6 buckets. In comparison, he reckons the 28-cube bucket on the high-lift L-1850 fills a 793D in 4-5 passes, a 795 in 7-9 and a Komatsu 930E in 6-7 attempts. 

The sun never rises for six weeks during the long and cold Arctic winter, when the 12 LED work lights (10 to the front and two at the rear) and access ladder lights are useful, although he confirms the lights on both L-s and 994s are good.

The L-2350’s fuel tank alone holds nearly 5,000 litres, and the engine cooling system nearly 500 litres. When all fluids and oils are lumped together, the L-2350 contain more than 7,500 litres! The combination of all these liquids is not good in the sub-zero temperatures, so both P&H wheeled loaders, like the rest of the mine’s machines, are fitted with the optional cold weather package. This includes a battery heater, engine oil and water heating system, grease reservoir heater and hydraulic oil tank heater. 

It is still early days and the two wheeled loaders, which had a relatively easy time during their inaugural year, each one clocking up round 3,500 hours. Proud to have the world’s largest wheeled loader on the books, Aitik managers are now keen to find out whether they can work around-the-clock like the rest of its prime movers notching up 5,000-6,000 hours a year for many years to come.