Breaking with the past

    Worn-out trucks and machines from the Soviet era will soon be nothing but a memory in the Ukrainian manganese mine. The old is being replaced by the new. Mining company OGOK has decided to meet the future together with Volvo.

    Dawn. Fresh new snow is drifting across the road. The first shift of the day has just started. Driver Valeriy Glusjko revs up his engine and turns into the mining area.

    “I’m just beginning to find out how good it is. Compared with our old trucks the Volvo FMX is an absolute joy to operate,” he says.

    Valeriy Glusjko is lucky. He is one of the drivers given the honour of tearing off the plastic protective cover from the driver’s seat and taking one of the four brand-new Volvo FMX trucks out on its first trip.

    “You have to see the old trucks to truly understand,” he answers with a smile when asked what exactly the difference is between his new and his old truck.

    Until 2006, when the company purchased its first Volvos, only 30 percent of its trucks could be used as the rest were idle, undergoing repairs.

    “This truck just continues working without stopping, and it’s way more comfortable,” says Valeriy Glusjko.

    The manganese mine in Ordzhonikidze is the largest in Ukraine. This year, OGOK is celebrating 130 years of mining at this site. Operations, which started at the end of the 19th century, got a major shot in the arm during the Soviet era when the mine supplied manganese to the Soviet empire’s steel industry.

    After the fall of the Soviet Union and the Ukrainian declaration of independence in 1991, not a whole lot happened in Ordzhonikidze. Operations continued to plod along the well-worn plan economy path, but the technology was becoming increasingly obsolete with every day that passed.

    “In 2006 it was time for us to build a new mining waste deposit and we were faced with transporting 5 million cubic metres of earth. That was when we decided to buy in our first Volvo trucks,” relates OGOK’s board chairman Sergey Shuvaev.

    The decision to buy Volvos was taken after thorough research into the Ukrainian truck market. The company’s engineers tested many truck makes. It was while they were on a study visit to a clay pit in the Donetsk region that they finally chose the Volvo FM.

    “The environment there was very similar to ours. Those trucks worked in extremely tough conditions. We were allowed to borrow a truck and put it through its paces here in Ordzhonikidze. The Volvo performed superbly with regard to reliability, efficiency and comfort,” explains Sergey Shuvaev.

    So just why should OGOK invest in new technology when many other companies in Ukraine and other former Soviet satellite states used far simpler and cheaper technology?

    “We decided to take a risk when we purchased the high-tech Volvos. We can see today that this was the right decision.”

    Today 14 Volvo FMs and four Volvo FMXs replace 80 Belarus-built Belaz trucks.

    The road is lined with 30-year-old tractors, trailers and trucks that were once used in the mining operation. There is a sharp contrast between the drifting white snow and the rust-brown relics.

    On the horizon it is possible to catch a glimpse of the massive excavator whose cutting wheels systematically bite their way through the earth. 60 metres lower down is the manganese vein.

    “It’s a bit like a cake. After several layers you get to the good bit – the manganese,” says mine manager Igor Chernyaev with a broad smile.

    The two excavators are 50 metres tall and weigh 3,000 tonnes apiece. At the very front is a 16-metre-high wheel that strips away the mining face. One excavator stands on an upper layer and the other is at a lower level about 20 metres below. The two machines work in tandem to dig down to the manganese vein.

    “Here at the bottom of the opencast mine we are blasting our way down to the last bit of the manganese layer. After that we dig up the rubble with our excavators and transport it using the trucks,” explains Igor Chernyaev.

    The Schevschenko opencast mine is the largest in Ukraine. One million tonnes of manganese ore is mined from here every year. The bottom of the opencast mine looks like an alien planet. The huge machines appear to have come from outer space and landed in a landscape dotted with deep pits and tall mounds of waste.

    “With the right maintenance and repairs, these old machines still function well,” says Igor Chernyaev and points to the excavator that is in the process of loading manganese into Valeriy Glusjko’s Volvo FMX.

    The excavator, which is as large as an apartment building, is more than 20 years old and was in use back in the Soviet era. The bucket can carry ten tonnes. An audible signal tells Valeriy Glusjko that his truck is fully loaded with 22 tonnes of manganese ore.

    The gradient out of the opencast mine is steep and today the surface has frozen solid.

    “Before this I used to drive the Volvo FM 6x4. This truck is a 6x6, and you can tell the difference. The power is put down through all the axles and the truck feels much more sure-footed,” explains Valeriy Glusjko.

    Valeriy Glusjko manoeuvres his truck safely up the slope. Thousands of trips have made the surface very uneven. Axles and frames are subjected to immense stress.

    “In an eight-hour shift I drive about 25 to 30 round trips between the mine and the offloading site. This truck is much more comfortable than the one I used to drive. This means I don’t get tired on the job,” says Valeriy Glusjko.

    Work goes on at the opencast mine round the clock. The manganese ore is transported to an offloading site. There Valeriy Glusjko tips the ore out of his truck for transport by train to a factory where the raw material is processed.

    All the manganese produced in Ordzhonikidze is used in steel production in Ukraine. Every year, three million tonnes of manganese ore are extracted from seven opencast mines covering a total area of 5000 hectares. The financial crisis hit the country hard and steel production in particular suffered, dropping by 48 percent in November 2008.

    For six months, the 5,500 employees at the Ordzhonikidze manganese mine saw production come to a complete standstill. Despite this, the company has decided to continue modernising its operation.

    “We’d come to a point where we were forced to alter our entire philosophy regarding the company’s technical processes. In order for the new Volvo trucks to be able to work efficiently, we’ve built new roads and invested in driver training,” explains board chairman Sergey Shuvaev.

    The first Volvo truck became operational in 2006 and it has already covered 300,000 kilometres in the tough mining environment.

    OGOK attaches considerable importance to a well-functioning maintenance and service operation for its Volvo trucks.
    “In order to get the maximum efficiency out of our trucks, they have to work round the clock. Whenever a truck stands still, we’re losing money,” says Sergey Shuvaev.

    Ukraine is a large country, and the distances between Volvo Trucks’ seven service stations can be vast. The nearest service station for OGOK is in the city of Dnepropetrovsk, 180 kilometres from the mine. If OGOK has a problem with one of its trucks, Volvo sends a mechanic to the site. Sergey Shuvaev feels that the service organisation works well.

    “We’re very satisfied. Volvo has also taught us how to carry out minor repairs to our trucks as the warranty period comes to an end.”

    The technical revolution has just started at OGOK. Sergey Shuvaev explains that a massive process of change is under way.

    “The company’s entire technical philosophy is undergoing a sea change. Our Volvo trucks marked an important turning-point in the company’s history.”

    TV: Mining with the FMX

    Words: Per Grehn Photos: Sören Håkanlind

    Drivers world, Business, Mining