‘Cake’ truck rolls to 100,000-hour milestone

When Liebherr’s new T 282 truck 17-139 first started rumbling down the haul roads in the Syncrude’s North Mine on March 24, 2005, 50 Cent topped the charts while moviegoers in Fort McMurray were flocking downtown to see the animated hit Robots at the Landmark Cinema.

Sixteen years later, the movie theatre is shuttered and 50 Cent is making television shows rather than music but truck 17-139 continues to roll on, reaching the milestone of 100,000 operating hours on March 28.

Syncrude Site Reliability Engineer Paul Wohlgemuth sees achieving that milestone as a success story with several authors.

“The oil sands are the toughest proving ground in the world. The operating conditions challenged this truck, just as they do with any equipment,” says Paul, who joined Syncrude in 1989. “Syncrude purchased the Liebherr truck based on its strong performance in hard-rock mines. The softer underfoot conditions in the oil sands initially posed difficulties.

Thanks to hard work and collaboration between many people in different business units and the manufacturer, we found solutions that led to this accomplishment.

– Paul Wohlgemuth

The work we’ve undertaken means today’s Liebherr haul truck is not the same truck we purchased in 2005.”

An 11-point upgrade program identified and addressed issues to improve the reliability and longevity of the 26 trucks, which are unique in the oil sands. The truck has linkage systems on the front suspensions and hoist undercarriage. It also has an electric drive train. The 11-point program targeted the truck’s structural issues.

“Liebherr has an advanced engineering arm and they are great to work with. They were very open about sharing technical information with us, which was crucial in helping us understand and address the challenges with the suspension and structures,” he says.

Syncrude also identified issues caused by the diesel fuel produced by Plant 14 and the high-pressure fuel system that created challenges with the injectors. “We needed to address the diesel fuel mix so it wouldn’t coke in the high-pressure fuel system and damage the injectors. We changed the specifications on the diesel fuel mix and added a stabilizer to prevent coke particles from damaging the fuel injectors,” Paul says. “Detroit Diesel, who produces the engines for the Liebherr trucks, was very helpful in working with us on that issue.”

During 17-139’s lengthy run, more than just pop music and movies changed. Syncrude’s commitments to managing tailings led to $3 billion in investment into developing new technologies, including the new centrifuge plant at Mildred Lake. With the increased volume of treated tailings by the plant, Syncrude repurposed 17-139 and six other Liebherr trucks to carry tailings treated by the centrifuge plant – material called cake – to placement areas in the Mildred Lake.

“Carrying tailings cake required a different box and tailgate for the truck than hauling oil sands ore,” says Sherill Stevens, Business Team Leader – Trucks & Productivity for the past four years at Mildred Lake Mining. “The Mildred Lake Mobile Maintenance shop led by Keith Singer helped fabricate new boxes and tailgates for the repurposed trucks as well as keeping them on the road.”

Sherill also praised the operators for playing a crucial role in setting a reliability milestone.

Our operators are highly skilled and responsible in how they handle the equipment entrusted to them.

– Sherill stevens

They have done a great job managing the nuances of the cake fleet and cake run in particular,” says Sherill, who was recently appointed Value Stream Leader for Mining, Extraction and Tailings.

Craig Coolen, Manager – Mine Mobile Maintenance, also praised the nearly 140 employees and contractors who maintain the fleet at Mildred Lake shop.

“Our maintenance technicians have demonstrated world-class performance in ensuring we meet our goals of being reliable, responsible, safe and profitable,” Craig says. “In our shop, that means keeping our fleet available to move the ore and overburden necessary to meet our production goals and the tailings cake to meet our commitments of being a responsible operator. Reaching this kind of milestone demonstrates how well they do their work shift after shift with the support of their peers in Operations and our Technical organization.”

And given 17-139 had an expected life of 72,000 operating hours, Paul sees another lesson imparted by the truck.

This truck has operated for far longer than anybody ever anticipated when we purchased it.

– Craig Coolen

“It challenges people’s thinking about equipment. It doesn’t have to get old and die within its expected shelf life. It demonstrates what you can do with a good maintenance program and collaboration between our operating, maintenance and technical organizations.”

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