Blue Sky Mining – Prime Mover

Drivetrain Australia, the local distributor for Canadian-manufactured Kovatera underground mining service vehicles, will receive its first Kovatera, the battery-electric version of the diesel-powered KT 200, in Australia this year.
Drivetrain believes the industry is not yet satisfied with the battery-electric vehicle offering available on the local market and there is an opportunity to trial the high quality Canadian-built machines in Australian conditions.
“The KT Bev range of vehicles are fit-for-purpose underground hard-rock-mining-ready vehicle vastly superior to the electrified on-highway vehicles available locally to the customer,” says Mark Griffith – General Manager Sales & Business Development at Drivetrain Australia.
The vehicles will come to Australia standard with up to 88kWh battery and a range of between 50-90 kilometres between charges, depending on operating conditions.
“The Cummins diesel powered Kovatera KT 200 already has a well-established presence in the market, and we expect the electric powered range to build a strong following also,” Mark says.
Unlike other vehicles in the segment that are essentially modified versions of 4×4 cab/chassis utes, the Kovatera KT 200 is purpose-designed and built from the ground up for underground mining applications.
“They have an industrial strength driveline which includes enclosed wet brake agricultural-style axles and a power-shift torque converter transmission coupled to the Cummins engine,” Mark says.
The other big difference, Mark explains, is the chassis and body panels with the former constructed from beefy T-bar steel rails and the latter made from steel sheet that’s twice as thick as regular automotive panels.
Furthermore, the cab structure is suitably strong to enable it to pass roll-over protection (ROPS) and falling object protection (FOPS) tests without any additional internal or external bars.
A big benefit of the T-bar chassis is that it is self-cleaning with no boxed sections to trap mud and moisture and cause corrosion.
“The average automotive-style underground vehicle lasts between two and a half to a maximum of four years, depending on the type of mine, whereas the Kovatera will survive for eight to nine years or 10,000 working hours under similar conditions,” Mark says. “They last three times longer and carry twice as much – up to 2.7 tonnes – and the other big benefit is superior availability due to the lower maintenance requirements.”
Suspension is heavy-duty parabolic leaf at the rear and coil springs with heavy-duty shock absorbers at the front.
According to Mark, machine availability is typically close to the mid 90 per cent mark which he says is unheard of with other ute-based vehicles.
Both the diesel and electric versions feature Dana driveline components, with the electric versions sporting the Dana TM4 driveline consisting of a battery-powered electric motor feeding into Dana axles.
Drivetrain Australia has been the local agent for Dana Spicer off-highway products for over 15 years and Mark says that taking on the Kovatera distribution has been a dual benefit for the company because it has enabled the use of Dana components which have made the vehicle more suitable for Australian conditions.
“The diesel-powered version didn’t have Dana axles initially but after we took on the distributorship we were able to ensure it was equipped with Dana axles which improved the vehicle for Australian conditions and also increased our market presence,” Mark says.
In terms of projected sales of the Kovatera electric vehicles, Mark says the company has competitors in the same space with electric vehicles, but he cites as a distinct advantage the fact that Drivetrain Australia has been selling the diesel version for some years.
“In some ways I think we’re ahead of others because we have an established market with our diesel version here and since the proven platform is common to both vehicles, we can concentrate on highlighting the merits of the electric drivetrain,” Mark says – adding that the company has to date sold around 20 diesel-powered Kovateras and counting, and that there are a number of companies looking at the electric version and how it will fit into their operations.
“There are a few people out there going through their paces and learning what it takes to make a vehicle operate effectively in Australian mining conditions,” Mark says.
“It’s not a simple process but it’s something we’ve done and are experienced at doing. I think one of the key benefits of the partnership between Kovatera and Drivetrain is that we have the engineering capability. We have a comprehensive understanding of mining conditions and we have the network and maintenance capabilities to support whatever we put into the market.”
When the diesel version was introduced to the local market Drivetrain, not unlike the electric unit, spent a considerable amount of time ‘Australianising’ it.
“Now we have a really effective product and we expect the same with the electric version,” he says.
The company teamed up with the University of Adelaide to do a testing program on the floor strength which involved impacting the floor with a variety of rods at different angles and degrees of sharpness and analysing the effects.
“With the existing floor we had mild penetration so we decided to develop a heavier gauge floor which was subsequently tested to the same degree and proved impenetrable,” Mark says.
“This enabled us to significantly improve this important safety aspect of our underground utility vehicles.” In addition, Mark explains, Drivetrain provides a five-year warranty on the chassis because in his words they are “pretty indestructible.”
“We recommend a midlife overhaul at five years where the various driveline components are replaced which enables the vehicle to provide another five years of effective service, by which time we recommend the vehicle is replaced with a new unit,” Mark says.
Safety is of utmost importance in underground mining applications.
Each of the batteries is individually enclosed and has a forced cooling system and safety systems so the instant there is any sort of failure the electric system is isolated to mitigate the risk of fire or explosion.
All of the electronics, what’s more, are mine duty spec which Mark notes is also important. Another safety feature of the electric Kovatera is the regenerative braking. It enables the vehicle to hold a steady speed on steep downgrades with minimal service brake application.
The combination of Dana electric drivetrain componentry and axles in the robust Kovatera underground mining vehicle gives Drivetrain Australia the ideal vehicle — a vehicle to take its customers forward into the electric age that is slowly permeating every type of application.

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