Wheel Loader Tips for Working at the Face of Mining Muck Piles

Here’s a comparison wheel loader operators working at a face don’t often hear: If you’re doing it right, it’s like ballet.

OK, hear me out on this. In my numerous visits to mines, I’ve noticed that what separates the really good operators from the OK ones is that it almost looks like they’re going in slow motion. Much like ballet, it’s fluid and continuous. There are no pauses because they’re operating the machine the right way — no extra stress being put on the machine, no overuse of power, and no overuse of fuel.

So how can your operators develop the right moves?

Here are some tips for approaching a muck pile and operating at the face:

  • The first thing operators should consider is what the muck pile looks like and how tall it is. If it towers over the wheel loader, send an excavator in to remove the high points that are at risk of rolling into a machine or avalanching.
  • Operators must be extremely aware of wheel spin and how much throttle and horsepower they’re applying to the machine at all times. If the tires slip, the underfoot gets messed up and work must stop so it can be graded out. Proper operation means the machine runs smoothly and deliberately — no jerky movements.
  • Operators must communicate with the truck driver to maintain the shortest distance between the muck — 1 to 1½ wheel revolutions is ideal.
  • To optimize fuel use, avoid transporting more of the rock than you have to and load the bucket properly.
  • Be aware of the largest rock the crusher can handle and put the right rocks in the truck.
  • Be sure the load out area is kept in good shape. One way to achieve this is to uniformly work the muck pile back toward the face, instead of having one giant channel — systematically taking buckets from left to right versus creating a “channel” where material can fall in. Operators need to communicate with the trucks to make it happen.
  • Keep the work area flat, clean and away from rocks. Tires on large wheel loaders can cost upwards of $20,000 per tire — same for haulers. One rupture to either will stop production.
  • Always wear your seatbelt and read the operator’s manual. If you have a big piece of wedge rock that doesn’t break off in the underfoot and you put your bucket in to clean, it can instantly stop the machine and cause operator collisions with the steering wheel.

Learn more about what Volvo wheel loaders, and other equipment, can do for miners in this article about a Kentucky limestone mine that is using inventive techniques to improve its efficiency.

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