Five years and €80 million ($112 million) since its inception, Liebherr officially commissioned its new mining excavator plant in Colmar, France, at the beginning of October. Located close to the town's airport, the new factory symbolizes the complete separation of the company's mining-excavator product line from its smaller construction machines.
With its mining-excavator line-up comprising eight machines—from the R9800 down to the 100-metric ton-class R9100—Liebherr now has the capacity in its new plant to produce between 200 and 250 machines a year, depending on the model mix. What's more, the company said, the increasing market for its mining machines means it is already evaluating an expansion to more than 250-unit capacity.
Speaking at the opening ceremony, Wolfgang Zülch, director-general of Liebherr France, described the new plant as "a real jewel and showcase within the company," a theme echoed by the president of Liebherr Inter-
national's administrative board, Dr. Willi Liebherr. "After many years of supporting our mining truck business [in Newport News, Virginia, USA], it was time to come back to our excavator business in Colmar," he said.
"We have all of the facilities we need here," he said, pointing out that while the global financial crisis had led to a near-collapse in the market for new construction and mining equipment soon after the company had taken the decision to build the plant, mining in particular had proved particularly resilient with only a relatively short downturn in demand.
Comprising both assembly facilities and a dedicated parts warehouse, as well as design offices specifically for mining-market machines, the new plant is now handling production of the R9100, R984C, R9250, R9350, R9400, R995, R996B and R9800. Introduced at this year's bauma trade show in Germany, the R9100 is powered by a new, fuel-efficient Liebherr V12 diesel engine that is designed to comply with U.S. EPA Tier 2 and Tier 4i emission limits. The company also stated the design of the machine's 6.8-m3 (8.9-yd3) backhoe bucket has been optimized for mining applications, giving improved penetration and a high fill factor.
Meanwhile, the first R9800 has accumulated more than 4,000 hours of service time at the Burton coal mine in Queensland, according to Dr. Jörg Lukowski, executive vice president of the company's mining division. According to Lukowski, it has made some significant achievements since being commissioned on site earlier this year, not least of which are its specific fuel consumption and cycle times. In both cases, Liebherr engineers monitoring its performance at Burton have reported it is outperforming the R996 excavators there, a success Lukowski attributes to improvements made to both the engine technology and the hydraulics; together, these give lower power losses.
The introduction of the R9800 with its 42-m3 (55-yd3) backhoe bucket has also led to a re-think on shovel-truck matching, Lukowski said. While the original intention had been to use the excavator to four-pass load 290-ton-class haulers, mining companies are now actively evaluating the alternative approach of three-pass loading into 240-ton trucks that were previously the domain of the R996. In such circumstances, Liebherr can see the R9800 taking market share from these 34-m3-class machines, he said.
Dr. Liebherr said since the company has now effectively separated its construction and mining excavator businesses, it can focus more effectively on its mining market. For mining, the market had suffered only a brief dip and had then come back, he said, so the new plant has come on stream at the right time. In regards to the company's plans to extend its mining machinery range, he said, "We have the in-house capabilities and expertise in both components and drive systems, so expanding our range is inevitable."
Similar investments are planned for Liebherr's mining truck division. Liebherr plans to invest more than $20 million over the next five years at its truck plant in Newport News, Virginia, USA. "Our target goal is to double our manufacturing capacity by 2012," said Joachim Janka, president, Liebherr Mining Equipment, speaking to a group of trade press editors invited to tour the plant in late October, The plant currently averages one haul truck per week.
Janka also explained Liebherr intends to move beyond equipment supply and support to assist its customers; these efforts include but not limited to: applying its in-house knowledge and resources to provide project finance on a larger scale, as well as providing support on legal matters such as international and local law, tax rules and insurance issues, and international mining standards, safety norms and rules; development and installation of global IT solutions for inventory and spare parts administration; handling of international human resource issues to ensure recruitment and retention needs; and establishment of new organizations and extension service worldwide. This is not only to maintain and enhance Liebherr's general service network, said Janka, but increasingly involves placement of workshops and its own service staff on the premises of major customers, based on a long-term assignment.
"Liebherr remains committed to the classic disciplines of engineering, development, manufacturing, sales and service," Janka said. "Our customers rely on these competencies and they are being systematically enhanced and extended." "Flexibility in manufacturing is one of the main objectives along this substantial engagement. Other goals are the optimization of existing locations and processes. All this takes place under the traditional Liebherr principle of 'growth under your own steam.' Moreover, significant capacity and resources have been invested in the further development and extension of the in-house range of core components for mining equipment—truck drive systems, hydraulic components and cylinders, gears and electronics."