Imerys take on new Cat 390D and Sleipner fleet managed solution


Ed Buscombe, Mining and Production Manager at Imerys
For over 250 years, some of the world’s highest quality china clay has been mined from Imerys’ mid Cornwall operations, near St Austell, Cornwall.

Imerys’ Cornish china clays goes into the worldwide market used in paper fillers, ceramics, both sanitary ware and tableware and specialities, including paints, rubber, plastics and pharmaceuticals. Approximately one million tonnes of china clay are mined annually from these operations with over 85% being exported.

With the clay deposits first discovered in 1746, the once highly labour intensive extraction process has recently ‘got its skates on’ with the arrival of a new Caterpillar® 390D fleet of three large excavators, complete with their own set of E90 Sleipner units.

On a recent visit to the site, Finning News spoke to Ed Buscombe, Imerys’ Mining Production Manager, about the change in direction for the business and its vision for the future.

Ed: “For the last 10 years we have been working with contractors for our main excavator extraction and loading fleet. In 2014 we took the opportunity to examine our existing contract and set about analysing our overall fleet mix and production requirements.

“Initially we were looking to work with contractors to renew equipment, as we had challenges with the current fleet that was made up of different types of excavators, with different configurations. Essentially in some cases, we had to do more prep work to be able to use one unit instead of another.

“This in-turn required additional work and mine management time. With an aging plant fleet, we also had to take into consideration the availability of certain units. We have also faced issues when trying to secure good operators for both our in-house plant fleet and the contracted out services. This has led to increased use of agency staff, which creates further challenges. This is mainly because you can’t invest time in training and the development of advanced competency levels for specific applications; in general it is difficult to attract people to this type of role within the industry.

“So faced with these issues, we needed to look carefully at our next solution. From a financial perspective, we certainly didn’t want to incur large upfront capital expenditure on a new equipment fleet.

“So this is why we went out to the market with an open mind, to look for new ideas. As part of this fact-finding mission, we spoke to Finning, who has for years supported our in-house team maintaining our fleet of 775 off highway trucks.

“Its Finning Managed Solutions team came to site to look at the operation and analyse the production process, which in some cases requires equipment to be moved up to 6 times a day on occasions to get the blend of product right.”

“As part of this fact-finding process, we visited Hope Construction Materials quarry site in Derbyshire to see a Sleipner unit in action. The site had similar issues to our operation, with the need to move an excavator to different benches to get the right products needed for a nearby cement works.

“Seeing the data from the site and the dramatic reduction in track wear, due to its Cat 390 being pulled along using the Sleipner units, we recognised there was a real opportunity to change the way we operated our primary excavator fleet.

“Working with Finning and Cat Finance, we were able to pull together a complete service and equipment package, that from a cost perspective really opened our eyes to the possibility of bringing the operation back in-house.

“It was a big decision to bring the fleet in-house and in addition to the financial elements we felt that there were real additional benefits to making the move. The first was the ability to employ new operators directly and invest in training them to optimise the performance of the equipment they would operate in the live mine environment.

“By looking at operator training in more depth with Finning, we also saw a long-term opportunity to change the schemes we put the operators through. This could mean changing over from the CPCS card scheme to the MPQC scheme, with a view to looking at the new Gold Card competency qualification.

“Anecdotally we have already seen operators react positively to the new fleet with a sense of pride that they display the Imerys logo.

“What is also interesting is the new conversations we are having with Finning about items like ground engaging tools or GET. Because we have not been responsible for GET with the previous arrangement we are now seeing just how much of an impact good GET management can have on productivity and reduction in bucket wear.

“Couple this with other data we are able to access from the machine and we have a much bigger picture of our true cost per tonne per litre. This in-turn helps us to look at our operation in more depth.

“So for Imerys the Finning Managed Solutions is much more than just equipment. It’s a partnership with a supplier that is focused on reducing our overall cost of extraction, supporting our staff skills development and enhancing the sustainability of our operations. The wheels are certainly in motion and set to make a major impact on our business.”