Developing a new vehicle is all in a day’s work for WA-based Bis Industries – Words by Neil Dowling
A Western Australian mine-haulage truck that went from concept to testing in a mere 13 months now has garnered a strong global following by specialist resources and logistics companies.
The Rexx, developed by the Perth-based Bis Industries mining and allied services group, is a 160-tonne payload haulage truck that specifically answers all the problems that Bis identified after its years at, literally, the coal face of the resources sector.
Bis, which started in 1915 as Brambles Industrial Services, initially specialised in underground coal mining equipment leasing and now has expanded into other resources including iron ore.
It bought Powertrans – the company that developed dual-powered road-train technology – in 2014 and this acquisition triggered the ability to involve itself in the design and construction of specialised equipment such as Rexx.
Now, after testing at the Murrin Murrin mine in WA’s north-eastern goldfields, Rexx has completed all its trials with flying colours and promptly won the Future of Mining 2019 Innovation Award.
Though similar trucks exist, Bis wanted a machine that fitted its stringent demands.
Bis Industries’ CEO Brad Rogers told Power Torque that the company was in a unique position of being a mine haulage operator which has worked in diverse resources in different countries.
“We are an experienced mining operator. We have worked for the major miners across most commodities in Australia and Indonesia so we get to see the problems,” he said.
“Secondly, we own Powertrans that specialises in mine-haul trucks. So that’s our strategy – to recognise and then solve problems through the invention of bespoke equipment.
“What we were aiming to solve with Rexx included the range of the truck. Dump trucks normally have a range of five to seven kilometres. On the plus side, they are a very good tool because they are fast and manoeuvrable.
“We saw a need of a dump truck that could be loaded using standard equipment but go further than a standard dump truck. This enables us to avoid stockpiling and so save on the cost of re-handling materials and the risks associated with re-handling.”
Presented with the problems, Bis engaged skunk-works methodology to create a very specialised truck to solve these issues.
“Rexx has been intentionally designed with some of the common features of dump trucks, so it tips and can be loaded by typical mining tools,” Mr. Rogers said.
“We wanted to be assured that it could be retrofitted for tasks while also giving operators flexibility.”
The result took a staggering 13 months from discussing the problems with haul trucks to drawing sketches, designing, proving, fabricating and then launching the truck now known as Rexx.
The endeavour to make a better truck has paid off, but it’s still early days and Bis has some twists in its future plans.
“We have very good interest from around the world,” Mr. Rogers said.
“Most of the conversations have started in Australia but we have been speaking with mining companies from around the world.
“There are also inquiries from other sorts of companies because Rexx doesn’t just have to be exclusively for mining. We have looked at requests from industries including civil construction and oil sands, for example.
“Anywhere where you need a dump truck, Rexx’s flexible and manoeuvrability features can be an advantage.”
Bis is now planning the next move. It has options including local production or moving manufacture offshore. But Mr. Rogers is keen to keep the truck closer to the company’s chest with strength being given to Australian manufacture for its customers while retaining Bis as the operator.
“We could export it, but we have to look at what is the most economically sensible thing to do,” he said.
“We operate in Indonesia and have manufactured products before in Indonesia, so that helps for local content and means we don’t have to deal with import and export restrictions and costs and the logistics of moving heavy assets over distances.
“We’ll look at case-by-case positions. Initially we have to get the first Rexx into operation in Australia before we look at long-term manufacturing. That’s likely to be in Australia or South-East Asia. It makes sense for us to start production in Australia and deal first with our Australian customers.”
Mr. Rogers said Bis is offering Rexx through its operating company and so the truck can be provided through contracts.
“What we don’t want to do is punch out a series of Rexx trucks as an OEM,” he said, discounting mass production in Australia.
“That’s not our business model. The production model for future Rexx trucks is to line up customer contracts and then make Rexx to meet demand.”
Mr. Rogers said Bis did not receive any grants from the government.
“That is something we will look at in the future. We wanted to focus on keeping Rexx confidential and protect the intellectual property.
“We built the first one under the cover of secrecy for various reasons, so it would positively surprise the market and also because it would be protected.
“We will think about assistance going forward but the first Rexx was all funded by Bis.”
Also, for the future is autonomous operation. Mr. Rogers said the design of the truck is “very efficient” and that the ability to be autonomous had already been built into its design at an early stage.
“We have spoken to customers who have automated machinery and Rexx will fit into their programme,” he said.
“In the first instance, we would want to get manned Rexx trucks into a contract and then move to automation later. We want to launch Rexx first.”
Technically the truck uses a Cummins engine and Allison transmission, but its steering and drive systems are protected by patent and Mr. Rogers would not discuss any detail.
It is an multi-axle system and has 20 wheels of more conventional size than rival dump trucks, promoting the reality that any fault in a rim or tyre would be cheaper to replace.
Features include its 13.6m turning circle – not much bigger than a large SUV – and its ability to run for two 12-hours shifts without refuelling, eliminating downtime.
Testing at Minara’s Murrin Murrin mine, carried out in real-life operating conditions, showed that the truck has the ability to deliver up to a 30 per cent reduction in operating costs compared with conventional dump trucks.
Mr. Rogers said one area of the savings which could be passed on to Bis customers in haulage costs was average fuel use by Rexx, which was around half that consumed by rival dump trucks of equivalent capacity.
Safety features include Bis’s fatigue management system, 360-degree view cameras and reversing cameras.
“One of the most exciting elements of the project was starting with an idea based on the problem definition and seeing that through from concept to design, redesign,” he said.
“All those stages, including patenting, fabrication and final launch were completed in 13 months.
“What our engineering team has delivered in Rexx is exceptional. They can be proud to say they have been instrumental in creating a real game changer for mine haulage. It was a lot of seven-day weeks and late nights and it was a passion project for our people,” he added.