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Fenix Resources does things a bit differently to the major iron ore miners in Western Australia.
For one, the company’s Iron Ridge mine is “boutique” compared to other, larger mines. But what Fenix doesn’t have in quantity, it makes up for in quality, with Iron Ridge hosting the second highest grade iron ore resource in Australia. That allows the company to export DSO (direct ship ore) product without significant processing requirements.
Iron Ridge is also one of the only operating mines in the Weld Range, located in the Murchison region or WA’s Midwest. That means transport infrastructure is limited to roads, requiring Fenix Resources to truck its ore 490km to the nearest port at Geraldton, which is managed by the company’s joint venture transport operator, Fenix Newhaul.
Once the ore reaches Geraldton, it is offloaded at Fenix’s dedicated materials handling and port storage shed before being loaded on to ships every 14 to 18 days.
Fenix Resources also helped establish and engage the services of Schwarze Brothers, an indigenous-owned and run materials handling company to manage material handling at the port. The company is run by four brothers, all loader operators, who are members of the Wajarri Yamatji community, Traditional Owners of the Weld Range region in which Fenix operates.
According to Fenix Resources Managing Director Rob Brierley, the ship loading activity becomes quite frantic, with each ship carrying some 60,000 tonnes of ore.
“It’s a continuous cycle of mining and trucking 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Rob says.
“When a ship comes in, we operate continuously over about a two-day period with wheel loaders in our storage shed loading material into hoppers that go out to a series of conveyors and on to the ship.”
Part of Fenix’s commitment to Schwarze Brothers was to supply equipment, with an agreement to transition machine ownership to the fledgling company over a three-year period.
After consultation with WesTrac, which has a regional branch and major workshop in Geraldton, Fenix and Schwarze Brothers settled on the Cat 982 Next Gen Wheel Loader as the model of choice and placed an order for three machines.
While delivery was anticipated to be quick, COVID-led shipping delays resulted in a two-month delay.
“We let WesTrac know about the urgency to deliver the machines and they were as frustrated as us about the delays,” Rob said.
“But they helped us to source hire loaders and did their best to expedite the delivery of our new loaders in as timely a fashion as they could. “They arrived in November and were put straight to work at the Port.” According to Schwarze Brothers co-owner and operator Matchum Schwarze, the wait was worthwhile.
“These are the best machines we’ve been in,” Matchum said. “They are easily the smoothest and they’ve got the power we need to get through the work.”
That includes running the three loaders almost consistently for 30 to 40 hours while ships are in port, with the four brothers rotating shifts until loading is complete and potentially running each machine for up to six hours without stopping.
Features on the new Cat 982 are evident across all areas of efficiency, productivity and operator comfort.
“The first thing you notice is the space when you get into the cab,” Matchum said. “And it’s a lovely, smooth ride.”
Joint owner and operator Dwight Schwarze says the auto set tyres function provides a considerable benefit.
“When you enter the pile, the machine automatically provides a lift bucket command in a split second which stops the tyres spinning,” Dwight says. “It keeps the floor clean, helps with the digging and saves the tyres.”
The brothers also say dust ingress into the cab is eliminated, which is an important factor when working inside the shed.
Rob admits that fast loading is one of Fenix Resources’ top priorities and the Cat 982 Next Gen Wheel Loaders, coupled with the Schwarze Brothers’ operational skills, are ensuring that is occurring.
“When a ship comes in, I like to see it leave as soon as possible,” he says. “These guys are really hard workers and their primary objective is to work safely and efficiently, but quickly, so they couldn’t be happier because they get to spend hours and hours in these brand new, exceptionally productive and efficient machines.”
The Cat 982 Next Gen Wheel Loader also incorporates a range of innovative fuel efficiency and safety technologies, while maintenance times and costs are reduced thanks to extended fluid and filter change intervals, convenient access to hydraulic and electrical service centres and the ability for dealers to run remote troubleshooting to help diagnose problems quickly.
Fenix hit a major milestone in November 2021, shipping its one millionth tonne of ore from more than 1.2 million tonnes mined. With an expected mine life of six years, and the iron ore price recovering from recent lows, the Cat 982 Next Gen Wheel Loaders undoubtedly have many hours of hard work ahead.
But neither Fenix Resources nor Schwarze Brothers are concerned, because that’s what these productive, efficient and intuitive machines are built for.