A giant industry requires the largest equipment. We speak to Matthew Thomas, CEO of Schlam, and take a look at the latest products and services in the Australian mining sector.
A HERCULEAN SERVICE
Without a doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted economies and lives around the world. In the Australian mining space, the effects of such a unique period are wide-ranging.
“Schlam has proactively managed the potential impacts of COVID-19 since January 2020,” begins Matthew Thomas, CEO of the company. “We developed a series of prevention, preparation and response measures focused on doing our part to slow the spread of the virus and ensure the health of our people while still maintaining business continuity.
“The mining industry itself was quick to respond with a range of measures to keep people safe while maintaining business as usual. Our organisation rigorously conducted risk assessments and implemented appropriate measures from a business perspective.”
According to Thomas, demand for commodities in Australia grew during the COVID-19 pandemic period, and in line with this, demand for Schlam’s products and services also experienced a significant increase. In response, Schlam worked to increase staffing across every one of its business areas to meet the scale of its customers’ requirements and provide new and secure employment opportunities for Australians.
“Our company has a proud history of managing and navigating adversity throughout its 25 years in the industry, and we have emerged from this episode stronger than before,” Thomas says. “Courtesy of a workforce of over 350 talented people positioned throughout the Australian resources sector, as well as a healthy balance sheet, we not only weathered the storm, but also grew in size and reach during an unprecedented time.
“While we are proud of how we have managed these challenges, we have still encountered supply chain stresses for raw materials and also strong competition for skilled labour.
Despite this, the business also increased its headcount in the People Solutions division during this difficult period.”
PAYLOAD, PEOPLE AND ENGINEERING
Schlam is an established and successful Australian mining products and services company that safely and sustainably partners with clients to provide high-quality outcomes through outstanding people, equipment, technology, and innovation.
The company first began operations in 1996, and today has two principal areas: People Solutions, its services division, and Payload Solutions, the company products division.
“We’re rapidly growing People Solutions; this side of the business is where Schlam first made a name for itself, starting in the southwest of Western Australia (WA) and then growing into the Pilbara,” Thomas tells us. “People Solutions provides skilled tradespeople to perform maintenance on heavy mobile mining equipment such as dump trucks, excavators, drill rigs and many more forms of heavy equipment and vehicles.
“We also perform large-scale maintenance projects such as shutdowns and off-site repairs of mobile mining equipment. We made a concerted effort to grow People Solutions at the start of the pandemic, and as a result, the team has grown five-fold in 18 months. It has increased its list of clientele to include companies such as Rio Tinto, Fortescue Metals Group (FMG), BHP, CITIC Pacific Mining and more tier one miners.”
The other side of the company, Payload Solutions, designs and custom engineers the world-leading Hercules open-cut dump truck body, Bullant underground dump body, and Barracuda buckets.
“We recently reached the milestone of manufacturing and delivering our 1,500th Australian-made Hercules dump body,” Thomas elaborates. “The design of the Hercules has evolved over that time. The body’s weight has reduced, allowing us to increase capacity and ensure our clients are maximising the payload potential of their haul fleet. Schlam has options for Hercules bodies up to 10 tonnes lighter than competitors with comparable floor thicknesses.
“The benefits of a lightweight dump body are significant but quite simple. Decreased body weight means an increased payload potential, enabling a mine site to either haul the same amount of material using fewer truck hours or haul more material with the same number of truck hours. Either way, the operating cost per tonne is reduced.
“It is important to note that lightweight does not mean light duty. Our lightweight bodies have a long history of performing in high impact and high abrasion environments for over 50,000 operating hours.”
A HERCULEAN MILESTONE
The 1,500th Hercules in question was delivered to a client in the Hunter Valley in New South Wales (NSW). Now in its 14th incarnation, the Schlam Hercules has become the dump body of choice for many of the most significant tier one operators, OEM (original equipment manufacturer) truck builders and mining contractors in Australia.
For Thomas, it was a team effort to reach this milestone.
“Our Payload Solutions division is filled with some of the most dedicated and hardworking individuals I’ve ever met. When they work together, anything is possible,” he tells us proudly.
The first Hercules was manufactured in Australia in 2003, and it took 17 years to reach the 1,000th milestone. It took the company just 22 months to reach the 1,500 mark.
Thanks to the long-term national supply contracts with BHP, FMG, Glencore, Northern Star, Newmont, and other significant mining companies, the Hercules is set to continue along this upward trajectory.
“We are creating efficiencies in our manufacturing processes through robotics, automation, and lean thinking to support this growth while maintaining quality,” Thomas says.
“We’re also growing our sales and aftersales teams, ensuring that customer service is exceptional at every step of their experience with Schlam. We pride ourselves on following our products into the field and believe this has been a critical element in our growth. I thank the whole team – no matter where they work in the company – for helping us reach this milestone, and I look forward to many more to come.”
“Our Payload Solutions division is filled with some of the most dedicated and hardworking individuals I’ve ever met. When they work together, anything is possible”Matthew Thomas, CEO, Schlam
THE CORE OF THE COMPANY
At heart, Schlam is a people-centric company.
With a focus on both its employees and its customers, Schlam aims to provide the best service and results possible to clients across Australia’s mining industry.
“Our focus on customer services and after-sales support is the main ingredient in our recipe for success,” Thomas explains. “Schlam could not have reached the milestone of manufacturing and delivering 1,500 Australian-made Hercules dump bodies without our customers’ input. We collaborate with clients to solve their specific payload challenges and if those improvements are seen to have a positive impact in a broad range of conditions, then they are adopted in future generations of the Hercules.
“Another major ingredient of our success so far is our engineering mindset and focus on innovation. A great example is the new Hercules EXO. In the recent past, mining companies wanted dump bodies that lasted as long as their truck. This made them heavy and limited their payload potential. We changed the status quo by offering a product that drastically increased payload and reduced the requirement for on-site wear mitigation events.
“With the launch of the Hercules EXO body, we’ve changed the script again.”
According to Thomas, prior to the Hercules EXO, customers had two choices: a lightweight body which maximises payload but doesn’t last as long, or a heavier body that lasts longer, but comes with the issue of a payload reduction.
“The Hercules EXO combines both benefits with an ultralight body still utilising a 25mm floor to maximise body wear life,” he continues. “Combining these features means that a miner can potentially have a 25-tonne body that only needs replacing every six years rather than a 30-tonne body that needs replacing every three years.
“Since mining companies are all too aware of their carbon footprint, having a dump truck body that uses 25 tonnes of steel in six years – as opposed to 60 tonnes – has a massive ESG (environmental, social, and governance) benefit.”
WORKING WITH MACKELLAR
Schlam is aware of the importance of ESG, both when it comes to long-term aims and immediate efforts, and this is an aspect of company activities that echoes throughout each of its operations with its many national clients, such as Mackellar Group (Mackellar).
A recent example of Schlam and Mackellar’s collaboration is at Dawson Mine, an open-cut metallurgical coal mine operation made up of three operating pits – North, Central and South.
Dawson Mine commenced operations in 1961 and is one of the oldest coal mining operations in Central Queensland. Dawson was the first mine in Australia to export coal to Japan in 1961 and to introduce draglines into its operation in 1963.
A key feature of Dawson Mine is the development of Cultural Heritage Agreements for Dawson North and South. These agreements have established a cooperative framework to help minimise impacts for areas covered by Native Title or Cultural Heritage guidelines at Dawson North, Central and South developments. At Dawson North and Central, Schlam created a Cultural Heritage Investigation and Management Agreement in consultation with the Gangulu People, who are the Traditional Owners of the development area and custodial owners of the cultural heritage in the area.
Long-time clients of Schlam, Mackellar has been a mine contractor with their current fleet for the last two years. The company has also worked at the mine on other occasions over the past two decades.
Mackellar was presented with the challenge of delivering a genuine 240 metric tonne truck solution to enable four-pass loading with hydraulic excavators (36 cubic metres) or potentially to suit two-pass loading with a P&H 4100 XPC rope shovel (64 cubic metres).
Mackellar calculated that the best course of action was to use nine Liebherr T 264 mining trucks. The T 264 is part of the 240-tonne size class, matching ultra-class hydraulic excavators, electric shovels, and wheel loaders.
The brand-new fleet was fitted with Hercules dump bodies to make the most of the T 264’s payload potential.
“We chose to use the Hercules as it provided a lighter weight solution, which maximises payload and truck efficiency,” said Dave White, General Manager of Mackellar.
“With Mackellar being in the market of offering dry hire as well as mining contracting services, the Hercules body allows us to deliver more value to our clients by holding additional payload or by providing production at a lower cost. The Schlam Hercules body has been an excellent solution to our fleet across all truck models.”
“We changed the status quo by offering a product that drastically increased payload and reduced the requirement for on-site wear mitigation events. With the launch of the Hercules EXO body, we’ve changed the script again”Matthew Thomas, CEO, Schlam
In recent news, Schlam has entered into a new contract with BHP that will see the company continue to supply Hercules dump bodies to BHP West Australia Iron Ore (WAIO) sites and BHP Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA) sites in Queensland and NSW with its world-class trays, a contract that is estimated to generate revenue in excess of AUD$110 million.
“Our engineering team was challenged by their counterparts at BHP to push the limits of the Hercules design to lower its already reduced weight and increase payload further. This is what resulted in the development of the Hercules EXO,” Thomas informs us. “On top of the BHP contract, we recently finalised a deal that will see Schlam provide FMG with products and services.
“Schlam’s Payload Solutions division will supply FMG with dump bodies and mining buckets, whilst People Solutions will continue to provide skilled on-site mechanical and fabrication services for a minimum of three years. The agreement solidifies our relationship with FMG and is expected to reach over AUD$90 million in value for Schlam. Like BHP, FMG will be one of the first operators to receive the Hercules EXO.”
Contracts with BHP, FMG and other major mine operators are providing Schlam with a substantial baseline of work for the coming three to five years. For Thomas, this gives Schlam the confidence to push ahead with national and international expansion plans.
“The agreements will also underpin our journey to introduce the latest robotic technology to transform our manufacturing processes and develop a state-of-the-art advanced manufacturing facility in WA,” he details. “We recently moved into our new corporate headquarters in Welshpool, WA. The move to a larger corporate office is reflective of the company’s strategic shift to rapidly grow our People Solutions division and the ongoing growth in the Payload Solutions side of the business. That, along with the contracts mentioned earlier with BHP and FMG, has necessitated the need for more office space to accommodate our growth.
“Schlam has grown rapidly over the last 18 months that I’ve been here in terms of both revenue and headcount. While this growth is quite extraordinary, creating a new home for our employees to thrive is a real privilege and something that I am very proud of.”
Moving ahead into the future, Schlam has a very clear growth strategy up to 2025 with a number of key priorities to achieve its goals.
“We know the battles we must win, the targets to hit and how we need to get there,” Thomas says. “That’s my focus over the coming year, to ensure that as a group, we continue to achieve the goals we have set and do so in a safe and sustainable manner.
“Great people, working in a great business, well supported with a family-first focus – get that right and the rest takes care of itself.”