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BACK in 2001, the electric-drive dump trucks at Rio Tinto’s Mount Thorley coal mine in New South Wales were consuming plastic wheel motor covers at an alarming rate. Not only were the covers, which are designed to protect the trucks’ rear wheel motors from dust and debris, costing an exorbitant amount to replace, the downtime incurred was adding up to significant losses in production.

However, since switching to Rhinobag wheel motor covers, a flexible, lightweight product made from kevlar, in October of that year, it has been a different story altogether. Whereas before the Hunter Valley mine was discarding as many as 32 broken and unusable plastic covers a month, only three of the original 14 Rhinobags purchased required replacing over that same period. Needless to say, a complete fleet fitout was undertaken over the next month.

“We were looking for a solution,” said Dean Gerard, fitter/planner big trucks at Mount Thorley.“We were using an extreme amount of these plastic wheel covers each month. It was quite a lot of money just for the covers and it was quite a lot of money in lost production as well. The trucks can’t work without those covers and once they fall off, they can take anywhere between half an hour and an hour to replace.”

The main factor contributing to plastic wheel cover damage is impact from the tyres of other machinery during loading. It is a relatively common occurrence for wheel loaders to roll into trucks while emptying their buckets in the tray, knocking the covers loose in the process and deforming them in such a way that they are unable to be refitted. According to Gerard, the Rhinobag’s ability to absorb that kind of impact and remain serviceable is a distinguishing feature. “With the plastic covers, the impact actually dents and distorts their shape and bends the clips that hold them on,” he said. “These Rhinobags have been very good for us because of their flexibility. When the wheel loader impacts on the truck’s wheel, they just flex in and pop straight back out.”

Maintenance staff at Mount Thorley have also appreciated the light weight of the product and the fact it can assist in detecting damage to wheel motors. In the event of severe emergency braking, the plastic mesh vents on the side of the Rhinobag are designed to melt.Upon finding melted vents in their daily inspections, truck drivers are advised to notify a field service fitter, who will then perform a thorough check on the condition of the wheel motors.

Mount Thorley has Rhinobags fitted on five Komatsu 730Es and two Komatsu 830Es, all of which are loaded by LeTourneau L1400 wheel loaders. It also runs an additional eight 830Es, which are loaded by shovel and still use plastic covers because they are not subject to the same punishment. Designed and developed by Australian company DV Logic, the Rhinobag is suitable for use on any mining truck equipped with GE787 or GE788 wheel motors. It comes as a five piece kit, meaning that in most cases of wear or damage, it is only the outer face that needs replacing. This is as simple as purchasing the new part and reattaching it to the cowling.

While acknowledging it was hard to alter the industry psyche and prompt companies to take on new products like the Rhinobag™, a DV Logic spokesperson said the value of its longevity was undeniable. “Once people take them on they’re more than happy with them,” he said. “They just outlast anything on the market by at least 10 times, so the gains in production through the elimination of downtime are huge.” 

The Rhinobag had its first field application at Idemitsu's Muswellbrook Coal Open Cut Operation, back in mid-2000, a client that DV Logic continues to service today.

As featured in 'Australia's Mining Monthly'

August 2003