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Find out why almost 100 GTHE machines are toiling in the desert heat

I must admit that when I set out for the Aly Aaref site, I didn’t know a great deal about what was going on. At that stage, I didn’t even know the official name of the project.

I had only been provided with a set of directions, a telephone number, and the promise that close to 100 Komatsu machines were working day and night at a project on the road to Ras Al Khaimah. My contact seemed to have been deliberately vague about the entire affair. “See for yourself,” I’d been told.

It was the sketchy nature of these details that had initially appealed to me. Naturally, my first point of call after hearing about the prospective site visit was an internet search engine, but I couldn’t find any mention of a project at this location. Consulting a map didn’t help either. Exit 122 of Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Road appeared to offer little more than a roundabout and a couple of dead-end trails.

In hindsight, it seems like a rather foolish decision to travel all that way with so little to go on, but I’m certainly glad I did.

Upon arrival, I called the aforementioned mobile number. The phone was answered by Nabil Abdi, product support engineer at UAE-headquartered equipment dealer Galadari Trucks & Heavy Equipment (GTHE). After passing a security gate, I was directed to an unassuming wooden building that’s acting as the development’s command centre.

“This project is being orchestrated by the Government of Ras Al Khaimah,” Abdi told me.

“It’s my job to service and maintain the machines that our client has purchased from us. I provide support with service and maintenance activities. Essentially, I am contracted to follow the machines,” he added.

At first, this sounded like a simple enough task, but when I learned more about the particulars, the sheer magnitude of the Aly Aaref project began to sink in.

“The equipment is levelling the desert so that the client can build a small city,” explained Abdi. “The majority of machines that GTHE has provided for this project are being used for levelling applications. The Government of Ras Al Khaimah has purchased a variety of units from us. We’ve supplied dozers, wheel loaders, excavators, motor graders, dump trucks, and rollers.”

The GTHE units are operating on a section of the site known as Block 15. Once the project is running at optimum capacity – all machines are expected to arrive during the final quarter of 2014 – Abdi and his colleagues will have provided almost 100 units for the government-run project.

Taken in isolation, this represents a significant undertaking, but when you learn that GTHE is not the only dealer to have supplied equipment for Aly Aaref, the full extent of the project really hits home.

The Komatsu and Bomag machines are working at Block 15, but on the other side of the city-sized plot, a Caterpillar fleet provided by Al-Bahar has been toiling away for some time. In addition, Hyundai dump trucks supplied by Juma Al Majid Establishment (JAME) and MAN dump trucks from Darwish Bin Ahmed & Sons are helping to transport the excavated sand to where it’s needed.

The Government of Ras Al Khaimah and its affiliate companies not only own these machines, but they have also employed the operators. Abdi and his GTHE colleagues are working at Aly Aaref in a support capacity. As part of the service contract, they are there to ensure that the Komatsu and Bomag machines live up to the customer’s expectations.

To this end, GTHE has had to establish a slick operation. Abdi began by pointing out the onsite training centre that is used to ensure that the government-contracted operators know how to get the most out of the machines. Next door is a dedicated workshop complete with oil tanks, lubricants, and air compressors. This station is used to fulfil the fleet’s major servicing requirements; it negates the need for units to be transported off site for such tasks.

For lighter, every-day maintenance requirements, Abdi and his colleagues run a small cohort of Ford F-150 and F-350 pickup trucks. Between them, these hardy 4x4 vehicles are capable of reaching any corner of the desert project, no matter how remote.

GTHE has done everything in its power to ensure that the Aly Aaref operation remains self-sufficient. I was given the distinct impression that the machines the dealer has supplied do not leave the site unless it is absolutely necessary. On this project, uptime is everything.

At our next stop, just around the corner from the site office, we saw a battalion of Komatsu bulldozers. A mixture of 155A and 275A models were working together to level a large expanse of desert near to the highway.

“These are all Komatsu dozers,” said Abdi. “We have around 10 units working here at present. These machines work 20 hours per day. In around four days, this entire area will be level.”

At this point, Abdi revealed that his experience with the Aly Aaref project extends beyond his time with GTHE. Before joining Galadari, he spent seven years with Al-Bahar and had even helped to support the Caterpillar contingent working on the other side of the site. With hands-on experience of both, Abdi’s appreciation of the brands’ relative advantages and disadvantages was balanced and informed.

“Komatsu and Caterpillar are like car manufacturers,” he said. “In many ways, driving a Toyota is the same as driving a Honda. On the road, they perform similarly, but there are pros and cons to each. If you compare a Komatsu machine with the equivalent Caterpillar unit, both in terms of size and productivity, the models will be similar. However, what I would say is that Komatsu units are cheaper; they offer better value for money.”

After leaving the dozers to their work, we drove over to the current focal point of activity at Block 15. At ground level, a team of Komatsu excavators and wheel loaders were gradually eating away at a sandy cliff face. At the top of this cliff, dozers aided the wheel loaders by nudging sand over the edge. The excavators, meanwhile, worked without air support. In the event of a top-down sand-slide, the crawlers simply wouldn’t be nimble enough to escape.

Working with the earthmovers at this section of the cliff face was a team of Hyundai HD370S dump trucks. Whilst GTHE did not supply these six-wheeled, rigid-framed tippers, the dealer is certainly supporting them. The Hyundai units are speedy and strong, but they lack the ability to operate effectively on loose, desert sand. As such, Abdi and his colleagues have provided a selection of Komatsu GD705 motor graders and Bomag BW 211 D-40 rollers to create makeshift paths for the South Korean trucks.

“This arrangement forms part of the customer’s strategy,” Abdi explained. “In addition to Komatsu dump trucks, the government is using Hyundai units. These trucks are faster and more flexible than articulated dump trucks, but they require flat, compact surfaces in order to operate effectively. Graders and rollers are required to clear the way.”

Indeed, the Government of Ras Al Khaimah has employed a variety of strategies to ensure that things run as efficiently as possible. This is a huge project for which huge numbers of machines have been enlisted. Consequently, cost of operation is a huge priority, as Abdi explained.

“A customer with one or two machines probably won’t check too carefully on operational costs,” he said. “However, a customer running a project of this size must keep a close eye on operational costs. Efficiency savings might not add up to a great deal for a single machine, but they do when you’re talking about a fleet containing more than 100 units.

“This is a major part of my role,” Abdi continued. “If a machine breaks down, it could cause the customer to question the reliability of the brand. For this reason, my colleagues and I must work constantly to maximise the uptime of our products and to help realise the full potential of the machines that we have supplied. Even if a unit encounters a minor problem, the GTHE service team must prove that can deal with the issue both swiftly and effectively.

“Fortunately, we have received no complaints from the government,” he said. “Everything is working as it should.”
For the final section of the site visit, we drove over to a more remote location where a Komatsu PC400 hydraulic excavator was working in tandem with one of the manufacturer’s hefty HM400 articulated dump trucks. The work being carried out by these machines was much the same as that taking place at our previous stop. The difference was that there weren’t any graders or rollers in sight; this is a truck that has no difficulty driving on loose sand.

It was at this point that we were joined by Omar Qsrawi, GTHE’s account service manager for the Aly Aaref project. When I visited, only one HM400 was present at the site, but as Qsrawi explained, the cavalry was already on its way.

“Within three to four days, six of these trucks will be in operation here,” he revealed. “They will form part of the 96 machines that the Government of Ras Al Khaimah has ordered from GTHE. Our aim is to have this site working at full capacity within a matter of months.

“This section of the project began in April 2014,” Qsrawi continued. “The landscape is already completely different to how it was when we started. We photograph the area every month. At the end of the project, we will be able to show what our vehicles have achieved.”

Assuming that Qsrawi’s projections are accurate, the articulated dump trucks will play a major role in completing the first phase of the project. They could even contribute to completion ahead of schedule.

“The HM400 units will be working 20 hours daily,” he said. “Each unit will make upwards of 85 trips during every working day. Yesterday, this particular unit made a total of 105 journeys. In order to maximise efficiency, trucks of this size should not travel more than 1.5km in either direction during a single trip. This truck, for example, only needs to travel 450m to reach its destination.

“We’ll soon have six of these units achieving the same levels of productivity, day in, day out. This is scheduled as a three-year project, but we believe that the Komatsu machines will enable work at this section of the site to be completed six months early,” Qsrawi revealed.

Like Abdi, Qsrawi also has experience working on projects of this magnitude. Indeed, he believes that the track record of the GTHE team, coupled with Komatsu’s proprietary KOMTRAX equipment management system, influenced the government’s decision to approach his employer for support on this large-scale undertaking.

“I have been employed by GTHE for five years, so I am used to working on large projects like this,” said Qsrawi. “Moreover, Komatsu has a strong reputation in this market, not only because of the efficiency and productivity of its equipment, but also because of its fleet management system. KOMTRAX allows me to monitor equipment remotely from my office. I can access operational statistics concerning fuel consumption and working hours at the touch of a button.

“The site manager also has access to this information. We can both see exactly where the units are and what they are doing. For example, I might contact an operator to ask why his machine was idle at a time when there was no scheduled break or reported error code. On many occasions, operators have been surprised by the level of detail in which we are able to monitor their activities,” Qsrawi added.

Raising the prospect of an early finish on a project of this magnitude – and only three months after work started – might seem like a bold move. However, Qsrawi clearly has the utmost confidence in the machinery that has been supplied by GTHE, and after witnessing the level of activity already underway at Block 15, I for one am inclined to believe his claims.

Article Context: 
James Morgan
Story Relations: 
RAK Properties nets $14.1mn profit for half year
RAK Government buys 96 machines from GTHE in 2014
Media Embed: 
Published Date: 
Saturday, August 9, 2014 - 13:30
Parent Source id: 
Modified Date: 
Saturday, August 9, 2014 - 13:30
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