Rham’s independence reaps rewards in the consolidation of the underground mobile fleet sector

Posted by Paul Moore on November 24, 2022

In a rapidly consolidating industry for primary underground cargo and transportation machinery, Olifantsfontein, based in South Africa Ram The equipment remains one of the few smaller, innovative and agile players, which has allowed it to remain at the forefront of development and customization in areas such as battery electric power.

The company had already built South Africa’s first battery loader, the 6t 20HD, in 2019, and completed the country’s first battery electric underground truck, the 32t DT32, in 2022. It has also now moved on to building fireproof battery magazines for the coal market and was recently asked to electrify a bolter for use in a coal mine. It also offers a battery electric Land Cruiser for both the aboveground and underground markets. One of its battery-powered machines has also recently been adapted for autonomous operation, which is thought to be a world first: an ultra-low-profile 25HDB, which has been integrated with RCT’s market-leading ControlMaster® automation technology and is working in a platinum mine.

Chief Executive Kevin Reynders stressed that the market for battery-electric equipment is also fast-moving and evolving, and that its ability to build essentially every machine on a custom basis means it can quickly capitalize on this evolution. “It’s important to realize that this market is changing rapidly due to the evolution of battery watt-hour density. When we first started building battery electric chargers, batteries were around 60-99Wh [Watt hours], and now the lithium iron phosphate batteries that we are using are 169 Wh/kg, and by early 2023 it is expected that 200 Wh/kg of lithium iron phosphate – LiFePO4 will be available. Automatically this gives us a 69% power increase for the same battery weight. It also means we can install more battery packs in the machine and get better capacity and better shift production time. And we are very honest with our customers – we tell them this is what we can deliver now, but this is what we can potentially deliver in a year.” While 200+ Wh Nickel Manganese Cobalt (NMC) batteries are already available, these are not as safe as LiFePO4, as they are not stable under thermal runaway conditions.

It is the way Ram The machines are designed to make them relatively easy to adapt from diesel to battery operation due to their use of hydrostatic transmissions, another major differentiator in the market. “We have a number of customers who have bought diesel cars from us and have told us when those units come in for midlife repairs – they want them to be battery retrofitted – and we are able to do that.” Indeed the first ever Ram the 20HD battery was a retrofit.

Today, Sandvik, Epiroc e Ram all have battery power equipment in the hard rock South African market – Reynders estimates the number of machines ordered or delivered is now in the double digits – this includes the Sandvik LH518B charger at AngloGold Ashanti’s South Deep and the Scooptram ST14 battery set and Epiroc’s Minetruck MT42 for black rock. Ram has ten battery machines in operation – 7t (25HDB), 7.5t 30HDBF (explosion proof unit) and 10t (30HDX) LHD battery plus the aforementioned DT32 underground battery truck (32t payload) – with more units in construction. These are all in or intended for platinum, gold and chrome mining operations and the replacement of diesel machines. It has also started delivering its Electric Cruisers as well.

Rham 30HDBF explosion proof for the underground coal market

The battery used to date in the coal market is old-fashioned lead-acid machines used on some shiploaders and shuttle cars. However, RamThe fireproof LHD from is the first carbon-fired with a LiFePO4 battery. Three fireproofs Ram LHDs, known as 30HDBFs, have been built which the coal mining customer is now testing. Magazines can carry 7-8 t depending on the density of the material.

Reynders said I AM: “The potential market for coal is huge. LHD diesels dominate the South African coal market today. But the miners want to eliminate underground heat and diesel particulate emissions. We are also trying to apply our LiFePO4 battery solution to shuttle cars so they can lose the restriction of having a cable. We are also evaluating the possibility of converting two locomotives to lithium battery operation in a platinum mine.”

Reynders also says the South African market is becoming much more mature. While some still want to wait until others test and try the battery-operated machines, overall the majority want to start using the machines as soon as they are available, so demand is very high. He believes that with testing ramping up in 2023, by 2024 demand for new battery-powered machines in South Africa will start to grow very rapidly and customers who have tried one or two machines will be looking to replace the wholesale fleet.

So how would that be Ram sum up its single market advantage? “First of all we are small, so it is easy for us to make decisions. And that’s one of the reasons why customers come to us. Big OEMs can’t change things quickly the same way we can. If the customer wishes to try a particular configuration or retrofit, we will work with them to do it where others won’t. All of our frames and many of our included components are made locally which has also protected us from some of the supply issues affecting other OEMs. We offer much faster delivery times, plus our machines are more cost-competitive.”

Rham Electric Cruiser, a converted Toyota Land Cruiser with Huber Automotive battery powertrain

Recently Ram has also built an export market in India, working with a local dealer and selling diesel loaders, trucks and bolters for underground venues and column operations. Furthermore, its machines are known for their performance: a Ram Bolter recently set a bolting record per section per turn in South Africa with 374 bolts.

Ram it is also active in bringing battery electric light vehicle options to the Southern African market. In 2021 it started a partnership with the German Huber Automotive AG which resulted in the introduction of the Electric Cruiser – which in Africa is now based on Ram by carrying out conversions of the Toyota Land Cruiser 70 series using the proven lithium-ion battery electric drive from Huber. After a countrywide roadshow with the first unit, it was sold for surface use and now another unit has also been sold for underground use. Two more are also on order, bringing the total to four. There is also a customer looking to convert a number of his Land Cruisers to battery Ram.

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