Impressive dump truck out-muscles WA rivals

If there’s one thing to stay out of the way of, it’s a mining company boss on the hunt for savings – capital and/or operational. 

The pressure on productivity, cost effectiveness and maximum use of capital is immense, driven in part by the demands of shareholders for ever-increasing returns.

That’s why Tatra’s latest import, the thoroughly ripped 62t GVM 10 x 10 Phoenix dump truck has opened some eyes on sites where it is comprehensively outperforming articulated dump-trucks.

The positives are plentiful, especially as the Phoenix is a road-legal truck that can move itself between sites without the need for a heavy-haulage rig with a float. Presently, that’s only possible in WA, where the expanded limit of 12-tonnes for the front twin-steers has been a boon.

Work-wise, a comparison in the table below between two popular artic jobs is helpful – we’ll leave the other brand names off to be polite.

The VS-mont body is made in Czech Republic.

Tatra’s greatest technical asset is of course its chassis design, which is why operators can mix and match drive, steer and lazy axles in any configuration. All the wheels drive, through Tatra’s modular swing-arm set-up, mounted on the unique tubular chassis pipe. 

At the front, there’s air-bellows suspension with telescopic shocks, plus dis-engageable front drive and hub reduction. The rear bogie has leaf springs instead of air, with its own diff locks and hub reduction. The pusher axle has air bellows, and steers as well, helping – just a little – with the turning circle.

The result is the smoothest off-road ride of any heavy-duty truck by far, especially on broken surfaces with undulating and uneven terrain. I drove a military spec 8×8 Tatra on the company’s test track in the Czech Republic a few years ago. 

Fully loaded with 40-plus tonnes of pretend weapons on board, I carefully steered the truck along the pothole-strewn goat track to the edge of the test property with no hint of traction loss. My co-driver was one of Tatra’s non-English speaking and manic test drivers. At the end of my run, he clearly indicated “swap seats” in sign language, aimed the rig in the general direction of the factory and floored it.

Each axle did its job, keeping the load platform relatively level. Needless to say, we got back in half the time with no real difference in ride quality or indications that the chassis was taking a hammering.

And that’s one of the benefits of this suspension system. Each sub-axle handles the road surface independently of its mates on the other side, in front, and behind. Truck bodies on Tatra’s experience minimal twisting moments when off-road, or indeed on some of Australia’s bitumen nightmares. That’s also the secret to its traction capability, and the reason Tatras are pretty much unstoppable.

Jason Hooper has personal experience with the new Tatra configuration. He owns WA-based Manage Mi Operations and has three of the new trucks working, with another two on order. Two are in Port Hedland on dry hire, and the other is based in Perth. 

He is on his way to building a fleet of the 10×10 configuration as his business grows and is currently having alternative body solutions designed around the platform. The Phoenix has worked in cycle with 8x4s, 6x4s, semi-tippers, 6×4 with dog and 40t articulated dump trucks (ADTs) in soft sand and limestone. 

The truck generates a lot of comments on site, generally about speed of return, number of trips and in particular the smooth ride whether full or empty. Hooper has frequently jumped the queue at the loader when other trucks have traction problems. 

The Phoenix 10×10 services the biggest tipper loads on site.

He wouldn’t bother with another truck or even an Articulated Dump Truck (ADT) for any of his contracts. 

“I get more loads than other tippers on site as this thing takes six buckets of material versus the four buckets on 8x8s. It does five times the volume of the 6x6s,” said Hooper.

He said the current regulations in WA allow him 12-tonnes on the front steers. The truck’s tare weight is a hefty 16.7t, which means he can only carry 7-8t on highway: “But I’m only on-highway moving between sites, so I’m running empty.”

The advantage of never needing a heavy-haulage float to shift the truck between jobs is huge.

The truck is imported with a tipping body by VS-Mont, also a Czech company well experienced in heavy-duty off-road applications. The cable operated tailgate saves on hydraulics and servicing. 

Hooper hardly uses the service brakes on-site, as the engine brake and Allison’s retarder do most of the work. Tyres are another economy. They cost between $1200 and $1500 each, a lot less than the several thousand dollars for a loader tyre. Tyres on typical mine site plant are not designed for long transits at speed, and this is where the Phoenix cruises comfortably between loading and drop-off.

Fuel is a major saving – between 8-14l/hour, around half the rate of an ADT. It also helps the equation that the up-front cost of a dump truck can probably fund close to two Phoenix 10x10s.

The Perth-based truck has clocked up 2000 hours, or around 13,000km with no downtime. Tatra’s distributor, OffRoad Trucks Australia keeps parts for every component on the ground in Perth, so he’s never had an issue with service delays.

“I enjoy driving this truck,” said Hoopers. “The steerable tag axle lets me navigate anywhere on site without having to do point turns around the loaders. But I can also disengage the steering on the tag axle for transit sections on-highway.”

The Phoenix model range has been a huge boost for Tatra in Australia. Tatra’s standard eastern European styled cab, which is still available on certain models, is what you might call “functional,” although even that’s a little kind. 

Phoenix’s DAF-sourced cab on the other hand brings the latest European digital trimmings, as well as the PACCAR MX-13 530hp 2600Nm turbo diesel six, with an Allison 4700 7-speed auto transmission bolted on the back. The drive transits through Tatra’s own auxiliary gearbox which delivers two ratios and up to 1.435 reduction.

Hooper first experienced Tatra before launching Manage Mi, when Chevron used some Tatras on Barrow Island for the tasks other trucks couldn’t handle. 

He got to know OffRoad Trucks Australia owner, the late Larry Gill who brought Tatra to Australia, and they developed the idea of the 10×10 tipper together. 

The long-term performance of the Tatra deserves a close look in a year or so.

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