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MacLean’s van Koppen on affecting industry change

MacLean Engineering has been a fast mover when it comes to leveraging battery-electric equipment, having announced an EV Series platform back in September 2016 and rolled out electrified machinery across its production support offering in the five-and-a-half-years since.

A family-owned company with roots in Canada’s mining technology heartland – Sudbury – MacLean is continuing to innovate with new solutions that leverage not only electrification, but the latest in automation and digitalisation too.

IM spoke to Maarten van Koppen, VP Product Management, ahead of his presentation at The Electric Mine 2022, in Stockholm, Sweden, to find out how these three industry trends are converging in line with the company’s Application Intelligence philosophy.

IM: As a mine engineer with experience integrating both battery-electric and autonomous equipment into mining operations (at the Borden operation, among others), what new perspectives have you brought to MacLean since you joined in 2020?

MvK: It’s a little atypical for a mining engineer from a mining company to join an OEM. Mine engineering graduates do join OEMs, but the typical route is to head there straight from school.

In terms of electrification and automation, the perspective that I brought to MacLean was an acute awareness of what is ‘on the other side of the fence’. Having that knowledge has slightly changed the way we interact with customers.

I made a point of preparing material for consultants and study managers that could be very useful in preparing tradeoff studies and inspiring more discussion. We now have an overview for consultants that lists the budgetary prices – based on an ‘average’ MacLean vehicle – for both electric and diesel equipment in an apples-to-apples comparison. We also have crude cost models that can be customised with different energy prices, labour rates and a couple of other key drivers. That really helps consultants with these early tradeoff studies.

Having been a study manager at Borden, I can appreciate what it takes to make consultants and study managers’ lives easier. We are now getting positive feedback from industry that speaks to that.

The good news for me and MacLean was that there was a solid team with Stuart, Anthony and others already doing this work. They understood what the industry was looking for and our key strengths as an OEM.

Since coming in, I have also taken over the static simulations for our EV Series offering. A lot of customers still have range anxiety and I have been able to help with that by customising these simulations for their own sites factoring in, for example, their ramp grades, lengths, etc. Through those simulations, you can outline different scenarios and explain the opportunity charging philosophy in a way that is specific to their operation.

And, finally, MacLean was already on this track, but I reiterated that our battery rental arrangements were very simple and needed to remain so. It is typically just a fixed rate, single number per month. Other OEMs use other arrangements that are a little more complicated, but my experience is that, in terms of forecasting and budgeting, these systems can become onerous to administer and difficult to model out accurately without encountering a bias around expected machine utilisation rates.

IM: At the same time, what was it that attracted you to a company like MacLean?

MvK: First and foremost, my dad, until he retired, was a heavy-duty mechanic who was promoted up the ladder in the company he worked for. This was primarily in the Port of Rotterdam where he helped maintain the big forklifts that operate there – these can be quite complicated from an operational point of view. In that regard, I have always had an affinity and interest in equipment, something that has carried through to my siblings, all of whom are involved in engineering.

Second, joining a family-owned company with three generations of MacLeans involved is a sign of long-term commitment. That was also very attractive.

On a slightly different note, I felt that joining an OEM would allow me to affect the greatest amount of change across the industry. In my role, I get to talk to customers all over the world with a wide range of projects, enabling me to explain where electric machines might make most sense for them in terms of generating increased shareholder value, improved working conditions for employees, etc. That also had a bearing on my decision to join MacLean.

Then, of course, there was an opportunity to embark on a steep learning curve – learning about powertrains, drive trains and all the mechanical and electric bits and pieces that go into our machines. It has been very rewarding so far.

Maarten van Koppen, MacLean Engineering’s VP Product Management

IM: Have you been surprised by the industry take-up of these new solutions since joining MacLean? What trends have supported this acceleration in demand?

MvK: That’s an interesting question. Taking it back a little further, when I started off at Borden, I expected the industry adoption to be quite rapid – perhaps more so than it has been.

We were on a good track in 2019, but the pandemic caused a brief interruption. I think a lot of operations took that time to re-evaluate certain choices or projects.

We were very busy with consultants on tradeoff studies in the early days of the pandemic – that never really stopped – and we’re starting to see these studies result in fleet orders.

The other thing that went under the radar with the pandemic is, in 2020, all the big mining companies made massive commitments to carbon reductions. Part of that is now starting to trickle through with quotes and interest.

For companies that have aggressive targets for 2030, this is impacting fleet decisions today. If you buy a machine now, it will most likely last for 15 years or more, so you are effectively deciding today about what machines you will be operating in 2037.

IM: MacLean initially announced an equipment electrification plan all the way back in September 2016 at MINExpo, selling your first EV Series machine that year. Since then, you have accrued in excess of 100,000 operating hours on these machines. When evaluating this data, what has surprised you in terms of operating performance, industry acceptance, cost outcomes, etc?

MvK: We have a lot of experience with all our BEV equipment, which is spread out across the offering. We have, through this experience, confirmed operating performance and proven the increased speed of these machines going up-ramp. For instance, with the new batteries we are using on 17% ramps, providing the road conditions are OK, you can drive up that ramp at 15 km/h with an empty battery-electric boom truck. You are looking at 8 km/h with a diesel-powered boom truck, so the speed difference is quite significant.

We have also carried out some very targeted trials, one of which was with a customer in British Columbia, Canada, last summer, where we captured those carbon savings with a bit more detail.

In that trial, we recorded 315 hours on the machine over the course of three months. If you had used a diesel machine over those hours, it would have consumed about 5,000 litres of diesel, generating about 18 t of carbon. With the grid being as clean as it is in BC, the carbon emissions from powering up the machine were about 100 times lower than pure diesel – about 130 kg in total.

Even when we do the back calculation using conventional diesel generation to power up these electric machines, it is still three times cleaner than a machine with a diesel engine.

The one thing we still need to do at our test facility in Sudbury is to confirm what heat savings we can achieve when using BEVs compared with diesel vehicles. We know from other work in the industry that we should see an order of magnitude lower heat emissions, and we are looking at building on our own in-house simulations with real-world test data.

IM: Has this data and feedback influenced your EV Series product line developments over this timeframe? What new products/concepts have come to light on the back of analysing this data?

MvK: Absolutely. Our on-board chargers, for instance, now come from a different supplier that offers better performance, a lower price point and an improved tolerance to less-than-ideal power infrastructure. If you have more robust electronics on these batteries, it is always likely to be better suited to more underground mines.

We have also been able to simplify the drivetrain by removing the transfer case for some of our lighter machines such as the shotcrete sprayer.

As well, we have some exciting changes coming up with the offering of a CCS-2-type off-board charger receptacle. For all-electric mines where off-board chargers are required to power other equipment, such as trucks and loaders, we figured it would make sense for our equipment to be compatible. This means we can charge machines with up to 250 kW of power, provided the off-board charger can push that kind of energy. As for on-board charging, we hit a practical limit to our maximum 100 kW charging capacity. Most mine grids have a limit of about 150 kW on their 400-1,000 V AC mine grids to accommodate jumbos, so we have to stay within that limit. Depending on customer needs, we can configure the charging solution to what makes sense for their project or operation.

MacLean, on the charging front, is also working with the BluVein consortium out of Australia to explore overhead battery charging. While primarily focused on haul trucks, this type of charging solution could be a good fit for our battery-electric grader. Graders typically work on ramps – where this charging infrastructure would be located – and, out of all the machines in our portfolio, a grader is the one machine that should not stop moving in ideal circumstances. The overhead charger matches the application in that regard.

We don’t blanket everything with one solution at MacLean – there is a niche for every solution when it comes to batteries and charging. Yet, knowing and understanding what the application is provides us the opportunity to configure a better product for the customer. That type of Application Intelligence is at our core.

Where this ties back to our battery-electric vehicle experience is in the importance of the ramp quality in these types of operations. In every haulage operation, you know the smoother the ramp, the faster you can tram and the more efficient it is for the overall mine. Yet, the added benefit that comes with battery-electric machines is the regeneration opportunities presented with a smoother ramp. That is why we felt it was necessary to come up with a product like this.

IM: On-board, opportunity charging with a standardised battery capacity has been the order of day for the majority of machines you have deployed in mining to this point. Is this blueprint changing for the next generation EV Series in line with the different applications?

MvK: We’re open to evaluating just about everything, but the one thing we are married to is the idea of the battery staying on our vehicle. This makes sense for the type of equipment we make and the applications we serve. Outside of that, we’re pretty flexible.

On top of the CCS 2-type charger coming out in 2022, we have a chiller for active cooling available to allow BEVs to work at higher ambient temperatures. That is currently on a boom truck in South Africa. As you can imagine, it is easier to test a chiller in a South African summer than a Canadian winter. We think we can operate those machines effectively up to 50°C ambient temperature and possibly more.

The battery supplier change is very big for us and we now have a roadmap to improve performance where we can more easily switch between battery products with that one supplier, taking advantage of future improvements.

It is interesting times as that whole battery-electric vehicle component field is changing so much with the world going greener in general terms. The more components we can pick from that are meant for mobile industrial uses, the better we can configure our machines. The one thing I don’t think people realise is that mining equipment manufacturers are way too small to mandate customised components on a machine. We are at the mercy of what components are available on the market.

Those technology improvements will also hopefully put some downward pressure on costs when all the supply chain interruptions settle down.

IM: Where is the industry’s level of maturity with battery-electric solutions? Have many of the initial barriers to entry (upfront cost, worries over range, etc) been overcome?

MvK: I think there is still a bit of a ‘sticker shock’ when people see the quotation for a BEV, which is common among the OEMs. Yet, people are now looking beyond the initial capital cost, taking into consideration the cost savings that can be realised over the lifetime of the machine.

What I find interesting is how capital markets are now playing a role.

For example, underground coal miners, on top of the regulatory pressures they are facing, are now finding it very difficult to attract capital for their operations. The flipside is true when we think about some junior companies out of Canada that have announced plans to go carbon neutral and fully electric – they have been able to attract capital from investors that would typically steer away from mining. This is especially true when they are looking to mine ‘battery minerals’.

There is still a level of scepticism and hesitancy, but customers that have trialled BEVs generally realise the need to go all-electric. I do expect with the regulatory changes in certain jurisdictions where we do a lot of business, there will be more enquiries. If it becomes a tradeoff between going all-electric or spending a tonne of money on upgrading your ventilation infrastructure to abide by regulations, the battery-electric vehicle value proposition for existing operations will become a lot clearer.

“Knowing and understanding what the application is provides us the opportunity to configure a better product for the customer,” van Koppen says. Pictured is the battery-powered TM3 concrete transmixer

IM: In terms of technology development, MacLean has also been developing automation and digitalisation solutions. How do you see all three – electrification, automation and digitalisation – complementing each other?

MvK: The combination of electrification and digitisation is a good match. A lot of our telemetry developments came from the BEV side where we needed those diagnostics; these are now carrying over to the diesel side. Also, integrating automation and digitisation makes a lot of sense for a lot of the same reasons that you need the data to automate operations.

A lot of the engineering challenges will be around automation and electrification working together, and how you get energy into the machine. Driving, stopping and controlling the machine is not a problem – it is actually probably easier on an electric machine – it is how to get energy into it. The consortium we are in with BluVein is one solution, but I don’t think it is the ‘only’ solution. There are others on the market, but they currently come with a price point that makes them prohibitive.

IM: I know you have partnered with universities and colleges on the robotics side of things in recent years. What’s the latest on these developments?

MvK: A lot of the collaboration, to this point, has focused on boom movements. We are starting to automate boom movements as we think it will have applications in not just oversize management with water cannons, blockholers, or secondary ore reduction drills, but shotcrete and explosives loading too.

We are also partnering on several other things with universities and colleges on tech development. One of the things that comes to mind is the Robobolter we are working on right now. Here we are looking to put a robotic arm on the deck of our tried and proven Omnia bolter platform to take the operator out of the environment.

Customers have been telling us for a while that, due to the travel times, heat or seismic exposure, they would like to see the operator further removed from the face when it comes to bolting operations. At the same time, we wanted to make sure this solution had all the strengths of our proven platform bolter – being able to load up for an entire round, provide multiple types of support without extensive retooling, etc. We’re looking to introduce that product in 2023.

Like many of our new products coming out, these vehicles will primarily be designed around battery-electric operation, with a diesel option. That is a shift in thinking – designing for electric with a diesel consideration, instead of the other way around. The grader is the exception to that as we had to make the first one in diesel form. But, when we look at our new explosives rig coming out next year, that is primarily designed as an electric machine, which we will make available in diesel as well.

IM: Is the Robobolter likely to be your most advanced machine in terms of automation, digitalisation and electrification when it comes out in 2023?

MvK: I think the Robobolter, at launch, will be our most advanced machine, but there is increased internal competition within MacLean to reach new benchmarks across our offering. That competition is good for the business and the industry.

It’s refreshing and encouraging that the MacLean ownership is big on growth in both product lines and the territories which we operate in. We also want to disrupt the sector in the niches we operate in, having full support in terms of innovating and coming up with new products.

On top of that, as it is family-owned company, you can make decisions that best suit our customers. For example, our ownership will not allow us to sell machines we cannot support in the field.  This philosophy has somewhat saved our bacon with the supply chain pressures the industry is experiencing of late, ensuring we have enough spares to supply new machines as well as service those in the field.

Maarten van Koppen will be presenting ‘Electric, automated and digitally-connected: the MacLean machine pipeline’ at The Electric Mine 2022 conference in Stockholm, Sweden, on February 17-18, 2022. For more information on the event, click here.

Jacon, MAAS Group reflect on underground mining opportunities

Jacon Equipment, an Australia-owned specialist supplier of underground shotcreting and related equipment, says it has received a new lease of life in the past two years since it became a fully owned subsidiary of MAAS Group.

MAAS Group, a diversified supplier of construction materials, equipment and services, floated on the Australian Securities Exchange in December 2020.

The group’s offerings include regional quarries throughout New South Wales and in Queensland, crushing and screening services, civil contracting, plant hire – across civil construction and infrastructure, as well as underground mining and tunnelling, electrical infrastructure and property development.

And now Jacon is backed by MAAS Group’s strong financial resources, management expertise and engagement in the infrastructure and construction industries.

According to Jacon Product Manager, Michael Rutten, becoming part of MAAS Group represented a major step forward in the brand’s ability to service and support customers.

“With the size and financial backing of MAAS Group, we can offer customers the peace of mind of knowing that we have the resources and capability to meet all our customers’ supply, parts, service and support needs,” he said.

“For example, we now stock a full complement of spares, our parts availability is right up where it needs to be, and we are able to support all our machines out in the field as an OEM should.

“As well as that, Jacon now has significantly more funding for R&D, with a whole line of new products in development – and which we’ll be announcing in the near future. That means we can continue to develop innovative products and solutions for underground mining, tunnelling infrastructure and construction.”

For many years, Jacon’s products have been designed and developed in Australia, with engineering and manufacturing carried out in Vietnam. The company has recently opened a new state-of-the-art 21,000 sq.m design and manufacturing facility in Ho Chi Minh City.

“Following our purchase by MAAS Group, we have also increased the number of engineers and technicians in our Ho Chi Minh City factory, giving us the ability to not only put more resources into the development of our product, but also to increase our holdings of stock machines, as well as parts and components,” Rutten said.

The bulk of Jacon’s customers are mining contractors operating in Australia, including some of the biggest contractors in the business, as well as smaller mine operators and contractors. Jacon rigs are also in operation at some of the largest underground hard-rock mining projects in the world, according to the company.

Rutten said that, in addition to supplying innovative products that offer features not available with other brands, a key competitive advantage for Jacon is its ability to offer much shorter lead times for new equipment orders.

“Our philosophy is to be ‘component-ready’, so we can build and deliver new machines as quickly as possible,” he said.

“And since we’ve been a part of MAAS Group, that philosophy has been enhanced so that we have the right components ready for our core products, including throughout the lockdowns associated with the COVID pandemic.”

Another result of MAAS Group’s ownership of Jacon has been to move towards a more streamlined and standardised product offering.

“In the past, Jacon has had a reputation that every single machine out in the field is different,” Rutten said. “That’s come about because of the way we’ve traditionally worked with customers, designing and building machines to suit their specific needs.

“Now with this more standardised approach, combined with improved engineering and design, we can continue to meet each customer’s unique site operating requirements, but with a higher commonality of parts across machines – which also helps keep operating costs down – and improves order turnaround for new machines.”

Another product differentiator of Jacon products has been their lower operating costs, compared with other suppliers, the company says.

“Two of our core products, our Maxijet shotcrete rigs (one pictured), and our Transmix machines, have a reputation in the industry as being very low-operating-cost products,” Rutten said.

Reasons for this include:

  • A high percentage of parts and components designed in-house, allowing the company to keep parts prices down;
  • A philosophy of not “over-complicating” the product line; and
  • A commitment to ensuring all Jacon products are easy to maintain and repair.

Rutten said: “Our shotcrete machines are all rigid chassis, rather than articulated, so they are simpler and less complex, they have fewer ‘pinch points’ which can be a safety hazard, and they can move around mine sites more easily.”

As an emerging player in the underground shotcreting equipment supply market, Jacon says it has always been able to maintain short lines of communication between customers and its management.

“That’s always allowed us to have a streamlined decision-making process, which enables us to be flexible and dynamic in how we respond to customer feedback and requests,” Rutten said.

“And now, as a part of MAAS Group, we’re able to continue with simple lines of communication between our people in the field, our factory and engineering people, and senior management, while now having this very significant financial backing and security.

“That means that while we are continuing to compete in the OEM market, we are able to combine the best of strong financial backing, with a focused and dedicated management team.”

MAAS Group and Jacon, prior to the transaction, already had a long-term relationship, through MAAS Group’s ownership of a number of pieces of Jacon equipment for its underground services hire fleet, according to Wes Maas, CEO of MAAS Group Holdings.

“Both companies are a good fit for each other,” he said. “Plus, there are some excellent opportunities for us to significantly expand these operations.”

For example, MAAS Group owns 23 quarries throughout Australia, and there is design and manufacturing capability within Jacon’s Vietnam factory to build crushers and other types of quarrying and processing equipment.

The company is exploring additional synergies with another company of Maas Group, JLE Mining & Tunnelling.

JLE is a dedicated electrical division specialising in electrical services and supplies for the underground mining, tunnelling, civil construction and rail industries across Australia.

“Jacon’s Vietnam factory has excellent capability engineering and manufacturing quality products for the mining and construction industry,” Maas said. “With this long-standing relationship between the two companies, MAAS could see real opportunities in the Jacon brand, in building it up to achieve its full potential.

He concluded: “We’re now at the point where we want to take a more prominent position in the global underground mining and construction marketplace – and we have some exciting new products and innovations coming out in the next 12 months. Following the acquisition of Jacon, we completed a major review, and identified 118 items that we can improve in the Jacon business. As of mid-September 2021, we are about halfway through that improvement program.”

Sika looks to acquire shotcrete major MBCC Group

Sika has signed a definitive agreement to acquire MBCC Group, the former BASF Construction Chemicals, from an affiliate of Lone Star Funds, a global private equity firm, for a consideration of CHF5.5 billion ($6 billion).

MBCC Group is a leading supplier in construction chemicals worldwide. The acquisition will, Sika says, complement and broaden its product and solution offerings in four of five core technologies and seven of eight Sika Target Markets, in addition to further strengthening its geographic footprint.

Both MBCC Group and Sika have large shotcrete offerings for the mining sector.

“The combined business will be a key accelerator in enabling both Sika’s and MBCC Group’s customers and the construction industry to drive the sustainable transformation further and faster,” it added.

MBCC Group, headquartered in Mannheim, Germany, is active in the field of construction systems and admixture systems. It has operations in over 60 countries and more than 130 production facilities.

“With its broad and balanced product offering, MBCC Group participates in all phases of the construction life cycle and is a key contributor to the decarbonisation of the construction industry,” Sika said.

Thomas Hasler, CEO of Sika, said: “Two sustainability champions will join forces. Sika is first in class for sustainable solutions across the entire construction industry, and similarly, sustainability stands at the core of MBCC Group’s business. Together we will reinforce our complementary range of products and services across the entire construction life cycle. With our combined portfolio, we will enable and accelerate the future of sustainable construction for the benefit of customers, employees, shareholders, and coming generations.”

Jochen Fabritius, CEO of MBCC Group, added: “We have found a perfect partner who shares our core beliefs. Sika is well known for its entrepreneurial spirit and its profitable growth strategy, including a strong acquisition track record. Our products and competencies will again be at the core of the business. Together with Sika, we are looking forward to exploring new and exciting business opportunities.”

The transaction will see Sika expand its product and service offering in construction chemicals and industrial adhesives by adding the highly complementary portfolio of MBCC Group, and is set to reach sales in excess of CHF13 billion in 2023.

Customers will benefit from an enhanced and more efficient distribution network across all construction markets, it said, while sustainability stands at the core of both companies.

Today, 70% of Sika’s sales is generated by products that have a positive effect on sustainability, whereas more than 35% of MBCC Group products are sustainably advanced, according to the company.

“Through the combination, Sika is committed to generating 80% of its sales from products that positively impact sustainability.”

The acquisition is subject to regulatory approval. Sika is confident it will obtain all clearances and will actively engage with the authorities. The closing of the acquisition is targeted for the second half of 2022.

Sika boosts shotcrete offering for mining industry

Sika says it has further expanded additive production for shotcrete at Spånga, near Stockholm, Sweden, and upscaled to the latest-generation technology.

The new process makes it possible to deliver tailored solutions in demanding projects for customers, with the primary customer of the set accelerator, marketed under the Sigunit® brand, being the mining industry. Sika says a high level of early strength development and maximum safety in shotcrete applications is key for the mining sector.

Ivo Schädler, Regional Manager EMEA, said: “The new technology allows us to offer reliable shotcrete solutions that are tailored to customer requirements in the best possible way. Our customers include leading mining companies that sign long-term supply agreements with us. The potential for growth is not limited to Sweden alone, with mining projects in Finland and tunnel construction projects in Norway and Iceland.”

Putzmeister to show off value-added solutions at Bauma

The Putzmeister Group plans to present 24 machines and product solutions from construction and mortar technology on 2,600 m² of space at the upcoming Bauma fair in Munich, Germany, on April 8-14, it said.

The concrete pump manufacturer will be demonstrating the added value of its products in terms of safety, efficiency, connectivity, Human Machine Interface and service, it said, with visitors able to follow product videos and interactive presentations on pylons.

Martin Knötgen, CEO of Putzmeister Holding GmbH, summed up the new features at this year’s Bauma by saying: “We set benchmarks in efficiency, safety and connectivity. We give our customers the means to generate true added value with our products as effectively as possible.”

Putzmeister will be presenting the latest generation of truck-mounted concrete pumps with the M63-5, M36-4 and M51-5 type models. These are all geared towards providing increased efficiency, improved operating comfort and greater profitability.

Meanwhile, the new iLS concrete pumps (pictured) – set apart by its high conveying capacities even under extreme conditions – will also be on show. “Thanks to larger cylinder diameters and fewer strokes, they are low-wear and hence more durable,” the company said of the pumps.

FORMKRET, the automated shutter filling system, will also get an outing. This system reduces personnel expenditure in the prefabrication plant and, for tunnel shuttering work, increases application safety and shortens project lead times. Putzmeister’s pioneering concepts for the prefabrication industry, in the form of the Autocor® modular system, will also be shown off.

At the show, Putzmeister will offer perspectives for a digital future. “On the Putzmeister exhibition stand, visitors can enjoy a live experience: In the clever machine cockpit, all relevant machine data are shown in real time,” the company said.