Komatsu WA500-6 Long Term Field Test Review
A decade long test in a hot corrosive iron ore processing plant located right beside the sea in Northern Tasmania concluded last week with astonishing reliability results. An astounding 32,000 hours were clocked up on the Komatsu WA500-6 with no major component replacement as Howard Shanks discovered.
Outside Grange Resources Port Latta iron ore pallet plant and port facility approximately 70kms west of Burnie a gentle northerly breeze rolling in from Bass Strait cooled the morning air as the new bright yellow Komatsu WA500-6 rolled off the low loader and parked next to the machine that it was replacing.
That old WA500-6, covered in a thick layer of black iron ore dust from its near decade handling iron ore every day, had more than proven its worth especially when it comes to durability and reliability.
Komatsu’s Tasmanian account manager, Jason Cowling, admits that life in any iron ore operation is exceptionally hard on machinery and more so at Port Latta given it’s close proximity to the sea environment.
“That old WA500-6 has notched over 32,000-hours without any component replacement other than an alternator a month or so back,” Cowling explains. “There are two WA500-6 machines here at Port Latta and they have really proved their durability and reliability working here in these conditions. It’s an extremely hostile environment on machinery, especially when you consider they are working right next to corrosive salt water mixed with windswept sea air and the material they move is extremely hot.”
On hand to view the arrival of the new Komatsu wheel loader were Grange Resources’ Day Works Supervisor Tony Poke and Site Superintendent Tim Duncombe.
“We were really keen to get our hands on this WA500-6, which we believe is one of the last ‘dash-6’ machines available, not only because we’ve had such a good experience with them, but also to retain serviceability compatibility with our other loader,” Tony Poke explains.
“Komatsu Australia have had the dash-7 machines available for the past 12 months here in Australia,” Cowling says. “However as of today we’re taking orders for the new dash-8 machines which build upon the reliability of the proven dash-6 machines, which is why here today to see how this ten year old WA500-6 has stood the test of time.”
This operation in the north west of Tasmania is unique in that concentrated iron ore slurry is pumped 83 km from the mine at Savage River to the pellet plant at Port Latta via a 229 millimeter internal diameter pipeline which takes approximately 14 hours to travel. In mining terms this project is considered a long life mine with the current predicted lifetime of the mine extending to 2034.
At the Port Latta plant the cleaned concentrate is pressed into pellets using bentonite as a binding agent. The pellets are then fed into one of five vertical shaft pellet furnaces where they undergo heat induced processing for approximately 4.5 hours. The finished pellets are screened to grade excess coarse and fine material then transported by conveyor to the stacker-reclaimer where the pellets are stockpiled to cool while waiting for shipping.
This new Komatsu WA500-6 is one of two that feeds slurry into the processing plant.
Komatsu WA500-6 Smart Sytems
Standard features like the dual-mode Engine Power Select System (EPSS) on the WA500-6 not only enhance the machine’s productivity performance but add to the economic operation as well.
“This wheel loader features two selectable operating modes ‘E’ and ‘P’, Cowling explains. “The operator can easily adjust the machine’s performance with the selection switch from either Economy or Power. The Economy mode is ideal for achieving maximum fuel economy for general loading and stockpiling. The Power mode delivers maximum power output for hard digging and hill climbing operations.”
The automatic transmission in the WA500-6 comes complete with an operator controlled mode select system, which allows the operator to engage manual gear selection or two levels of automatic shifting – low and high.
“Auto ‘L’ is best suited for fuel saving operation with gear shift timed to change at lower engine speeds than when Auto ‘H’ is selected,” Cowling says. “Therefore the engine is operating at a relatively low rpm range for fuel conservation while delivering adequate tractive force by depressing the accelerator pedal.
“Most customers specify the optional Lock-up torque convertor,” Cowling says. “The Komatsu designed lock-up torque converter provides optimum fuel savings with increased production efficiency with reduced cycle times in load and carry or hill-climb operations.”
“Here at Port Latta the WA500-6 loaders are travelling long distance (in loader terms) shifting material from the plant to the stockpiles and that’s where the Lock-up torque convertor really delivers significant economic advantages.”
The ‘variable displacement piston pump’ (VDPP) combined with the ‘closed-center load sensing system (CLSS) delivers hydraulic flow just as each job requires preventing wasted hydraulic pressure.
“Minimising the waste lost in the hydraulic system notably contributes to better fuel economy,” Cowling adds.
The hydraulic hose connections are joined using flat face-to-face O-ring seals to securely seal and prevent oil leakage. In addition, buffer rings are installed to the head side of the all-hydraulic cylinders to lower the load on the rod seals and maximize the reliability.
The WA500-6 features full hydraulic wet multi-disc brake system that according to sales literature mean lower maintenance costs and higher reliability.
“That’s because the wet disc brakes are fully sealed,” Cowling explains. “It means contaminants are kept out, reducing wear and maintenance. The brakes on these machines require no adjustments for wear, meaning even lower maintenance. There is also a new parking brake that is also an adjustment-free, wet multi-disc for high reliability and long life.
“As an added safety measure and to further improve reliability the braking system comprises of two independent hydraulic circuits which, provides hydraulic backup should one of the circuits fail,” Cowling adds. “The fully hydraulic brake system mean there is no air system to bleed, or the condensation of water in the system that can lead to contamination, corrosion, or freezing.”
The WA500-6 boasts the widest tread in its class while the long wheelbase provides improved machine stability in both longitudinal and lateral directions. This gives the added benefit of a greater articulation angle that is extended to 40 degrees, meaning the operator can work efficiently even in the tightest job sites.
Testament to Komatsu’s paint quality is best judged when looking at the 10-year old WA500-6 with 32,000 hours on it parked next to the new machine. “Spray some foaming machine wash over it and with a quick broom that old machine will come up looking pretty sharp once the iron ore dust has been scrubbed off,” Cowling says. “Sure there will be a few bumps and scratches but for the most part it will still look an extremely presentable machine.”
“Komatsu take a lot of pride in the quality and finish of their machines,” Cowling explains. “They use a Cathion electrode position paint which is applied as a primer paint. Then powder coating is applied as topcoat to the exterior sheet metal parts. This process results in a beautiful rust-free machine, even in the most severe environments, and you can see how the paint has stood the test of time here with these two machines side by side.”
The equipment management monitoring system (EMMS) is mounted in front of the operator for easy viewing, which allows the easy viewing at a glance of all gauges and warning lights.
The operator can tilt and telescope the two-spoke steering wheel that allows the operator to easily view the instrument panel, to provide the most comfortable working position.
The cab area is the largest in its class providing maximum space for the operator. It is mounted with Komatsu’s unique ROPS/FOPS viscous mounts. To assist with operator ergonomics the engine, hydraulically driven fan, and hydraulic pumps are all mounted with rubber cushions. Meantime the cab sealing has improved to provide a quiet, low-vibration, pressurized dustproof comfortable operating environment.
Visibility on the WA500-6 is premium with wide pillar-less flat glass that provides excellent front visibility. The wiper arm swipes a large area to provide great visibility even on the heaviest rainy days. Meantime the air-conditioner unit is now mounted up front to allow increased seat slide adjustment for the tallest operators.
According to Tony Poke a machine can have all the latest features but if the back up support is not there to keep the loader operational then his production suffers. “We’re very fortunate that Komatsu provide great back-up support,” Poke explains. “Komatsu’s Komlimentary maintenance package really goes along way cementing the their commitment to back-up service.”
“You’d better come back in 2027 to see how this latest WA500-6 lived up to the reputation the old machine set,” Cowling said with a smile as we left Port Latta.