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District Council of Ceduna - When reliability counts

Supplier: Caterpillar of Australia
01 June, 2008

Recently the Council changed over a backhoe loader for the latest E-Series Caterpillar model. Council's General Manager of Operations, Grant Drummond, said he undertook both an extensive documentation and performance evaluation before selecting Caterpillar from the tender short list.

Managing a region featuring some 1700 kilometres of roads means equipment availability and performance is critical to the District Council of Ceduna. It also means a careful evaluation process is undertaken when the time comes for fleet equipment changeover.

"We've got to get machines that are working for us at the end of the day and are productive and reliable as well," he said.

"For us to get in a replacement or dry hire machine, you are talking about Port Augusta being the closest available, so you've got transport costs and delays," Grant said.

"I spent a fair bit of time on evaluating machines.  We obviously don't want to get a machine all the way over here and find it is not going to do the job we want or be supported the way it should be."

Once the tender results were short listed, Cavpower, Caterpillar's dealer in South Australia, invited Grant to Adelaide to trial their backhoes himself. It is a role he is perfectly capable of, with many thousands of hours experience as a plant operator under his belt.

There was a range of issues to study. "We are obviously looking at OH&S issues such as access and egress, while cabin clutter and visibility is also very important," Grant said.

Balance and on-road performance were also factors in selection, as was ride control. "I asked for ride control in the tender as we'd had an OH&S issue with an operator knocking his head on a front window while roading a machine," Grant said.

But of course machine performance weighed heavily.

"It's strength and ability to provide traction when loading, for example, or having the weight and balance right to support backhoe digging, as well as the speed and smoothness of operations that are important," Grant said adding, "we don't want to be spilling materials when loading trucks, for example."

Running a spreadsheet of comparable attributes helped Grant ensure his decision could be thoroughly justified to Council.

"The spreadsheet is about trying to compare apples with apples," he said.

"Dollars always count but it is not the first thing I assess a machine for," Grant explained. "If it is well out of budget then they need to be quoting a machine I can afford, but it is the machine's performance that will cost you money over its lifetime."

The required balance of performance, features and price were reached with the Cat 432 E-Series.

The E-Series features pilot style joystick control for loader and backhoe function that requires low effort and reduces operator fatigue as well as greatly improving rearward visibility.

The excavator style joystick controls were initially greeted with mild scepticism. "I was a bit dubious of the Cat backhoe loader when I was first operating the machines with joystick control," he said.

"For someone who hadn't spent a lot of time on a machine recently I thought it would be interesting, but I was amazed by how quickly you can get into the ease of operation," he said.

"One of the things that sold me was just how fast it would operate. Everything was in the right place and the changeover action (from boom lift to slewing) with the joystick control was very, very smooth.

"If you are digging and loading a truck you can flow one action into another and you can really pick up the cycle times - I found this very easy with the Cat."

"We need to be able to do a decent work day as our arrangements allow us to run a 10 hour day, so it was important to get all those factors right in a machine," Grant said.

"I thought the way the Cat backhoe loader had ride control set up with the auto function, or being able to select it or de-select it was a good option."

Since the acquisition, Grant has confirmed his decision on a project on which he'd also driven the Council's traded machine.

"There was a bit of age difference of course, but we maintain our machines very well and to me it was more obviously a configuration thing - I think Caterpillar has got the balance of the machine just right."

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