Bucyrus steps up equipment training

The company said that to ensure its range of shovels, draglines and rotary drills perform safely and productively to the highest degree, the South Milwaukee Technical Training Group is introducing several new training products and services in 2009. A series of computer-based training modules are currently under development for the 495 model shovel. The modules contain a series of fully narrated lessons that contain periodic knowledge checks and examinations. Bucyrus is also implementing a learning management system to efficiently deliver the modules to customers via the internet. Already on the market is the value-added simulation training (VAST) for electric mining shovels which will train operators in the efficient operation of Bucyrus’s shovels through a PC-based simulator. Bucyrus said VAST is designed to reduce training costs, increase productivity, and improve training effectiveness. Plans are also underway for structured classes to be offered regionally in the United States and Canada, as well as at the South Milwaukee Technical Training Center. Bucyrus anticipates the technical training centre will be ready to offer the classes during the third quarter of the year, consisting of two general training rooms and one electrical training room. “The electrical room will be outfitted with a variety of simulators that can be used for training purposes as well as for diagnosing and troubleshooting problems on both AC and DC machines,” the company said. Bucyrus said it will also work to improve customer training support in-the-field over the year, to expand resources in operator, mechanical and electrical training, including additional instructors and standardised, electronic training presentations.

One dead, one left hanging in Sydney scaffolding collapse

The worker fell approximately 20 metres in the incident, which according to Australian Associated Press, also left another man hanging in his safety harness. The collapse happened at approximately 2.00pm (AEST) yesterday at the rear of a sporting club on Marine Parade, Maroubra, AAP said. According to a Sydney Morning Herald report, the suspended man was pulled to safety by emergency services workers.A spokesperson for WorkCover told the paper an officer would inspect the site and prepare a report after police completed their investigations.

The quarrying quandary

It’s been a busy few years for the nation’s quarry operators as they have worked hard to satisfy generally strong demand from the civil construction, commercial building and residential building sectors.Ron Kerr, chief executive of Victoria’s Construction Materials Processors Association, said the current downturn had followed seven or eight years of sustained growth.“The tonnages have been accelerating every year along with demand and clearly that wasn’t sustainable,” Kerr said. “Sometimes, reality has to set in.”Kerr said regional Victoria had been quiet for a few years already and some members continued to struggle. In the Melbourne metropolitan market there were clear indications of a slowdown.“There are more people pricing jobs than there were in the past – that must be an indication of a contraction,” he said.Kerr said one reason for the increased competition for contracts was that the major quarrying companies were now quoting on smaller jobs than before.Cement Concretes and Aggregates Australia chief executive Ken Slattery said the big companies were already tightening their belts.“Certainly a few of the majors have stopped spending capital at this point and have stopped recruitment,” Slattery told Contractor. “The industry has actually coped with the very high level of demand quite well and we are really not looking forward to a downturn at all.“The real concern a lot of the major companies are having is their access to finance. A couple of the big players in Australia have recently been the subject of acquisitions … and their parent companies are very heavily geared, so they are not all comfortable with the prospect of seeing the order book turn down.”CMPA’s Kerr said some businesses at the smaller end of the scale might take a more positive approach to a slump in orders.“In a family business you will invest in a plant upgrade – it is a time to carry out works that you cannot otherwise do when you’re flat out supplying a market,” he said. “ A family company will tend to look at it and say ‘well, we have to keep these people employed so we’ll put some money into a new conveyor system or screen, do some overburden stripping or rehabilitation work, and use the available capital and labour.”Quarrying companies, like those in the broader civil construction sector, are hoping that ongoing federal, state and local infrastructure work will help insulate them from the worst of the downturn.CCAA Queensland executive officer Ken Gluch said a lot of projects, particularly in the state’s booming southeast, were well underway and couldn’t be stopped.“While housing is down a bit, and the mines are going through some hard times, I suspect that the government infrastructure program will soften some of the impacts,” Gluch said. “Hopefully it shouldn’t be too bad a year for the industry.”CCAA’s Slattery said infrastructure work had masked over the continuing decline in the housing sector. “Our concern is there’s not an enormous amount of stuff sitting in the infrastructure pipeline beyond the work that’s currently being done,” he said.Slattery said the commercial building sector was still doing fairly well, resulting in steady demand for concrete aggregates, but he had concerns for the sector in the longer term because of the problems developers were now facing in financing new projects. He said there were apartment, mid and high-rise commercial, and smaller shopping centre developments that had been planned for some time but couldn’t proceed because finance was not available.While the downturn is causing some concern in the industry, other trends are more welcome. The loosening of the labour market, for example, will make it easier to find and retain skilled workers. Slattery said the softening in the mining sector would help slow the talent drain. “But it hasn’t been a killer problem for us around the country generally,” he said. “In WA it’s always been a problem, because you train up drivers and as soon as they are competent then they’re gone.”Slattery said the recent easing of fuel prices had also helped, especially in the Sydney market where average haul distances were 100-150 kilometres.Kerr also welcomed the end of the fuel price spike, and said the federal government’s 10% investment allowance was more good news. Kerr said he advised his members to help themselves through the tough times by keeping a tight rein on credit. “Credit is one of those issues that gets swept aside and people, particularly in family businesses, begin to think they are banks and they extend terms out,” he said.

Upgraded building standards for bushfire areas in final stage

Standards Australia said the revised measures specify improvements aimed at better equipping buildings to withstand bushfires, providing occupants with more protection. Committee members at Standards Australia are set to vote this week on the final standard, with an approved document expected to be ready for consideration by the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) on March 5, 2009, for adoption in the Building Code of Australia. “The revised standard is a significant improvement on current requirements. It covers assessment of the risk of bushfire attack and outlines construction requirements for buildings in designated bushfire-prone areas,” Standards Australia chief executive officer John Tucker said. The body said the improvements on the existing standard include:the inclusion of requirements for six construction safety levels (up from three) ranging from low to extreme;
two options for determining the level of bushfire attack in a particular area;
refinement of test methods for construction materials used in bushfire-prone areas, based on AS 1503.8;
improved ember protection measures such as optional window shutters for designated areas; and
provisions for non-exposed facades and attached structures such as garages.
“While the standard sets out the technical means of how to arrive at an appropriate level of bushfire attack and the subsequent construction requirements, it is a matter for governments to regulate when and where a particular attack level is applied and the associated cost-benefit balance,” Tucker said. Standards Australia said it expects the outcomes from the Victorian government’s Royal Commission into the February bushfires will help the committee to improve subsequent editions of the standard.

Track expands in tough climate

The company said the latest two acquisitions were JCB hydraulic excavators.“We hear a lot of doom and gloom in the industry at the moment, but there is still work out there,” Track Rentals managing director Ron Arnold said.“It is a matter of being focused on the opportunities that are out there and for us that means having the equipment that our customers are looking for when they want it,” Arnold said.He said Tracks’ JCB JS220 hydraulic excavator had been on hire almost daily.The company has also received positive customer feedback on its JCB JZ140 excavator.“A key to our success is the reliability of our machines,” Arnold said.“We have a very young fleet.”He said Track had won contracts to supply equipment to several major infrastructure projects including Leighton’s Ballina Bypass, Abigroup’s Kooragang Island and the Brisbane Airport Link project.

Finding the funds for gear

There is a credit crunch on. Lending is getting tight. That is what has been shouted from the headlines of the mainstream press for the past month or so. Interestingly, while those papers have been painting a bleak picture for the mining supply sector, the reality is quite different. Funding is available and mining industry suppliers seem well-placed to get it.There will be more of an emphasis on proving a business case then there has been in recent times. That is really a return to the way things were.Being able to show the company has good, experienced leadership and a plan to get through the tough times also will be a benefit. For some businesses this could be tough. A raft of new companies formed to ride the mining industry wave have never experienced really hard times.Commonwealth Bank executive general manager local business banking Symon Brewis-Weston said there was capital available for small to medium-sized businesses.“Credit is tight if you look at the top end of town,” he said. “But certainly not on our lending base [small business]. Our lending volumes and application amounts haven’t fallen at all. “There are funds available for mining contractors and manufacturers.”Indeed, the Commonwealth wants to grow its volume of lending to that sector and other small business areas. “I haven’t seen any sign that the other majors are starting to pull back either,” Brewis-Weston said.“Banks would rather lend to small business than write a big cheque to a big company.”Brewis-Weston said the Commonwealth was keen to grow its equipment finance business.“Of course, very specialised equipment may require the business to put up more equity because of the difficulty we would have in selling it,” he said.Small Business Development Corporation managing director Stephen Moir said banks were seeking greater collateral.“Banks have always demanded high collateral from small business but now it’s up to 95 or 100 per cent,” Moir said.“When evaluating a loan application, banks will also be looking for a good track record of repayments on past loans, regular banking habits, good profitability in the business and up-to-date accounts.“Good projects will get financed, so presenting well-planned business concepts, clearly costed, with realistic financial projections on how the borrower intends to repay the loan will show the application in the best light and will likely get a favourable response.“The best thing to do is to get the right advice before you show up to the bank.”GE Commercial Finance managing director equipment finance Kerri Thompson said money was there for those who could make a sound case.“We’d be looking to help those companies that are looking to invest in their productivity,” she said. “It makes them more viable in the long term.“The volume is going to come back. When it does you want to be in a position to take advantage of it.”However, there are still tight times to navigate. The speed of the downturn has many businesses reeling. Those companies with sound plans in place will find it much easier to get finance.“If revenues are dropping, how is the company dealing with that?” Thompson asked.“If the company can show a great leadership team that can react to the changing environment, then that will help.”“We’re looking for teams that are capable of operating in a changing market.”These people may not have gotten it right the first time they encountered tough times, but it is good if they can show that they learned from their mistakes.They also need to show that they have looked at different ways the market may react.“Scenario A might be what you forecast your market will do,” Thompson said. “But tell me what Scenario B might look like. What might your reaction to that be? Then Scenario C, where revenue really drops off significantly. What would you do then?“It’s having that plan.”Having good systems in place also is important. Keeping a weather eye on the market is essential. What is the market doing? How will it impact on the business? “Having people who can do that sort of analysis helps,” Thompson said.“Your most important system is your cash flow management system.”Brewis-Weston agreed. “The primary thing is the serviceability of the cash flow to be able to pay for the equipment,” he said. “Understanding the sources of your cash flow is important. It’s always preferable to have more than one debtor.”GE executive director mining financial services Richard Byrne said he had noticed that most of GE’s mining industry clients had pretty good systems in place.“I think a lot of our customers have been through these times before and know they have to be competitive.”The cyclical nature of the mining industry has helped make the sector better prepared to handle sharp downturns.“You usually get great stories from the mining industry because those guys have been through these sort of downturns before,” Thompson said. “In some cases they are really honest with you. We’re looking for that honesty and the reality of what they can do and what the constraints will be on them. Having that detail around the plan is really important.”Constraints, for example, could be the cost of laying off staff. The plan may call for a percentage of staff to be removed if turnover falls, but how much will that cost the business in terms of redundancies.Another side of that honesty is being upfront with a lender whenever there is a problem. This can prevent problems later on.“If there is a problem they have to be able to talk to us,” Byrne said. “That can help us restructure their repayments around foreseeable incidents.”Thompson said GE had restructured company’s repayments in the past – the most recent examples being during the floods in Queensland in early 2008.“We structured payment holidays in some cases,” she said. Another option for mining suppliers is to make use of the equipment they already own to raise further funds.Thompson said they could opt to sell that gear and lease it back. “That’s for those not making expansion moves but just freeing up some capital.”This story was originally published in Australia’s Mining Monthly magazine.

Deere goes one smaller with CT315

The loader has a 320mm-wide track and a narrow overall machine width of just over 1.5m.”We’ve designed the new CT315 to be super compact,” said Gregg Zupancic, product marketing manager for skid steers and compact track loaders, John Deere Construction & Forestry. “It’s made for work in tight places, and the true radial lift system uses a linkage that keeps the lift arms close to the machine when the bucket is near the ground, making it great for digging, prying and overall compactness,” Zupancic said.John Deere said that while the CT315 is compact, it is a production machine, with a powerful 680kg rated operating capacity. The company said the machine’s cushioned bucket and lift cylinders provide smooth deceleration at the end of the boom-lower position and also cushion the bucket when curling and dumping a load.”The cushioning helps operators keep more material in the bucket and reduces noise,” Zupancic said. “It also makes cycles easier, adding up to less fatigue at the end of a shift.”The machine’s powerplant is a 2.4-litre Deere PowerTech 4024T 4-cylinder engine. The CT315 also takes a wide variety of John Deere Worksite Pro attachments, further enhancing jobsite productivity. John Deere says the loader requires oil changes after 500 hours and utilises an attachment design that never needs greasing.

Boom cuts 31 staff, 18 cranes from Melbourne operations

Boom said the move is in line with its current business strategy of driving operational improvements and further develop customer relationships in the contracted maintenance and project-based sectors. The restructure will see one crane deployed to Boom’s Western Australian operations, while the remaining 17 cranes will be sold and are expected by Boom to bring in proceeds of more than $3 million. The remaining Melbourne cranes and personnel will be become part of Boom’s Tower Crane Division in Laverton, about 15km south west of the Melbourne CBD. Boom said the redundancy costs associated with the restructure would be approximately $1.1 million. However, on an annualised basis, the move is expected to move the business unit from an annualised earnings-before-interest-and-tax loss of $1.6 million to a profit of $600,000.

CHAIN MAIL: I don’t like Mondays

Quite why we needed an investigation to work that out, I’m not sure. But it wasn’t entirely a news flash about stating the obvious. The investigation – which looked at 325 major truck crashes in 2007 – did generate some other, more useful, statistics. For instance, the report found Mondays were the worst day of the week for major truck crashes, with 20.6% of accidents. The worst time of the year was between February and May. The investigation’s initial finding – that driver fatigue and inappropriate speed for the conditions accounted for 47.7% of serious truck accidents – seems to be related to its secondary finding that in three out of four cases, no other vehicles were involved.While the report also revealed some black spots, it also generated some positive news.The report found that New South Wales’ continued investment in road infrastructure appears to have led to fewer serious truck crashes. But it wasn’t so good for roads in other parts of the country, with one in six serious truck crashes occurring on Australia’s National Highway 1 and Queensland’s Bruce Highway recording the most incidents.The NTI is using the investigation results to call on governments for more fatigue and speed management initiatives.However, the troubling aspect of this whole issue is that industry needs to produce reports and statistics to back up information that, by and large, is common knowledge to everyone in the industry. Governments may well need reports such as these to back up approvals for investment in measures to reduce accidents, but it is a pity many of these measures appear to be held up because of a lack of official information that is common knowledge to all in the industry.The NTI has also said the recently implemented fatigue laws will have little effect because they are being implemented differently across the states. “NTI is yet to be convinced that the new heavy vehicle driver fatigue laws will make any difference, particularly given the confusion arising with differing implementation by state transport agencies,” NTI industry affairs and customer relations manager Owen Driscoll said.“The shortage and inaccessibility of truck rest areas remains an opportunity for governments to assist the trucking industry in managing fatigue.”The report continues a series of research studies by the insurer into Australian heavy vehicles involved in serious accidents since 1998.The previous report, released in 2007, also found fatigue and inappropriate speed to be the major accident causes.

Tax breaks a boon if approved … quickly

While the package as a whole is yet to pass through the Senate, industry groups have responded positively to the proposal. “As far as our industry is concerned, it would be a tremendous boost,” Construction and Mining Equipment Industry Group executive officer John Reid told CIN. “On a straight-line depreciation schedule, a $200,000 machine that has an effective life of 10 years gives you $20,000 per year. “If, on top of that, you can claim another $60,000 in that first year, that is a victory as far as the purchaser is concerned,” Reid said. “One of the things we see as being a major drawback for the small contractor who is purchasing new equipment, is the ability to get finance,” he said. “A lot of the major finance companies that used to be in that area have pulled out of it.” If a small contractor is able to claim such an increased deduction in the first year, then it gives him a much stronger case to take to the bank, finance company or whoever it might be, Reid said. CCF backs tax breaks, but … The Civil Contractors Federation has also backed the proposed tax break, saying its members would benefit from the initiative, which is restricted to businesses turning over less than $2 million per year. “As an initiative, it will provide assistance,” CCF national chief executive Chris White told CIN. “But obviously they’re looking at the whole of all industries instead of just picking out one. “Our industry is a bit different because there’s a high capital cost, and therefore a lot of our [member] organisations would be outside the limits they have put on, but it will certainly be of benefit to our smaller members,” he said. White urged the government to expedite the process of rolling out the economic stimulus package as a whole. “The strong message that’s right around our industry, is in relation to getting the work to tender,” White told CIN. “We’ve got the federal government allocating funds to various road programs. They pass it over to the states and what we’re not seeing is the works going to tender,” he said. White said the main problem was an unacceptable delay between when governments commit to the funds, and when the funds are made available and the tender stage is reached. “What we’re saying is funds from the stimulus package need to hit the ground rapidly,” White said. Who can get it According to Perth-based business finance specialist Ledge Finance, the 30% deduction can be claimed for assets acquired, ordered or construction started between December 13, 2008 and June 30, 2009 – provided the assets are installed and ready for use by June 30, 2010. Qualifying assets acquired, ordered or construction commenced between July 1 and December 31 this year will attract a 10% deduction – in addition to allowable depreciation – provided they are installed and ready for use by December 31, 2010. But Peter Bergshoeff, Ledge’s general manager, sale and distribution, told CIN that while the deduction was a good thing, it was early days yet, given the stimulus package is still yet to pass through Parliament. “A lot of the people out there who have deferred investment decisions and this may make it attractive for them to go ahead now, given – if the legislation goes through – they’ll get it back pretty quickly,” Bergshoeff said. Perhaps the most significant restriction on businesses seeking to access the deduction is that companies must have a turnover of $2 million a year or less. According to Ledge, the federal Treasury advises that assets eligible for the allowance are new tangible depreciating assets and new expenditure on existing assets used for carrying on a business for which a deduction is available under the core provisions of division 40 (capital allowances) of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997. This excludes land and trading stock from the definition of depreciating assets, and will not qualify for the deduction. In an example given by Ledge, a larger business which purchases and takes possession of a $60,000 backhoe by June 30 this year can claim an extra tax deduction of $18,000. When lodging its 2008-09 income tax return, the business will be able to claim this deduction in addition to the usual depreciation deduction for the asset. If the business had delayed this investment until after June 30, 2009 – for example, until September 1, 2009 – and had it installed, ready for use before the end of December 2010, the 10% rate would apply. It would be able to claim a deduction of $6000.

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