VIDEO: Hyundai HL740-9 loader

By: Cameron Officer, Photography by: Cameron Officer

When the working day is spent shovelling coal and ash, you need reliable, resilient equipment... and a great air conditioning system in the cab. That’s why Fonterra’s Waitoa milk factory is pleased to see its new Hyundai HL740-9 arrive.

Despite the rapid expansion of dairy conversions in the South Island and other regions, the Waikato remains the king of calcium. To remind yourself of the fact, just head along State Highway 27 in the direction of Matamata. Come to the big round-a-bout at Tatuanui, 28km north of town, and regardless of whether you turn left or right, you'll stumble across a milk factory within a matter of metres.

I flick the indicator left on this occasion and head to Waitoa — a modern Fonterra plant, but a site that also boasts a proud production history stretching back to 1902.

Today the plant is capable of producing 3.5-million litres per day during peak season and, with an annual milk powder output of 97,000 tonnes, Waitoa is firmly established as one of the dairy cooperative's major milk powder producers.

While it might be one seamless part of a giant global dairy system, Waitoa is also rather unique in the Fonterra family in that it is coal-fired (only Hautapu and Te Awamutu are similarly powered). And where there's coal, there needs to be the might to move it — thousands of tonnes of it.

That's where Kev McNeill and his Hyundai HL740-9 wheel loader come in. It's a bit of yin and yang when you think about it — McNeill dealing with the black stuff out back, while the other 499 Waitoa staff focus on the white stuff inside. But there's nothing philosophical about the Hyundai's role in all this — it just comes down to hard work and reliability.

McNeill clearly takes a lot of pride in his machine too. When I arrive on site, the HL740-9's yellow body panels are fairly sparkling against the inky backdrop of the coal bunker (despite the name, the bunker is actually a concreted outdoor area where the coal is delivered and pushed into storage through a grate system).

So is this clean machine the result of some elbow grease with a high-pressure hose?

"Well yeah, I gave it a wash when I heard Deals on Wheels was on its way," laughs McNeill. "But to be honest, I've only had it for three weeks so it hasn't had a chance to get filthy."

The HL740-9, at 12 tonnes — the second-smallest loader in Hyundai's comprehensive six-model dash 9 line up — replaces a smaller machine that was eight years old. Aside from the thorough technical update, the arrival of the dash 9 heralds, the other big change that has occurred at Waitoa is Fonterra's move away from ownership of plant to a lease arrangement through Porter Group.

Porter Group's Waikato territory manager Mike Goodall explains, "We're now running a complete turn-key package for Fonterra, which essentially means the company doesn't touch the machine from a service point of view. Aside from consumables, such as tyres and diesel, Porters is running a full-service and maintenance lease programme for them, both here and at the Te Awamutu factory where another dash 9 is on fleet."

Rather than estimating service costs, Fonterra now operates with a set monthly fee, mitigating any surprises. As Goodall suggests, this has great benefits from a sales point of view too, as with lease stock turning over regularly, the likelihood of a regularly-maintained loader quickly finding a second-life posting with another company once the lease period has expired is a strong one.

"Also, thanks to Hyundai's Hi-Mate proprietary remote management system, we can now keep an eye on the machine's vitals and swing into gear should we be needed," continues Goodall. "It's such an incredible tracking tool and it means our service guys know of any issues immediately.

"For example, say Kev is running around the coal bunker and all of a sudden the machine starts losing oil pressure. Aside from an audible alarm sounding within the cab, the Hi-Mate system will also send a text message to a designated mobile phone and an email to the product support team at Porters, who can assign a technician straight away, depending on the issue."

But as Goodall explains, the Hi-Mate system isn't just a retroactive monitoring tool — it also logs hours operated, weights of loads deployed, fuel levels remaining and it can even geo-fence the vehicle it is assigned to, meaning that if a machine is moved out of a designated geographic zone, an alert notification can be sent to an assigned mobile phone or email address.

Aside from the advanced technology the HL740-9 arrives with, there are endless real-world practicalities that the new machine helps resolve too — and top of McNeill's list is comfort.

"It's such a comfortable machine to be in. You work with what you've got, but it's not until something comes along that ticks a whole lot more boxes that you see what you were missing out on," he says.

"The last machine had no air conditioning and working with coal and ash like I do, most of the job is pretty dusty. That means keeping the door closed most of the time which, in the middle of a summer like we've just had, wasn't much fun. Now I have the A/C on and the door closed and it's fantastic."

The dash 9 also has a reversing camera and great visibility which, as McNeill is quick to point out, is a huge bonus in such a confined yard (the loader is co-opted into rubbish duties during quieter moments in the coal bunker, but generally its working life is spent covering a relatively narrow strip of turf within the larger Waitoa site).

What's more, McNeill is quick to mention the fuel efficiencies he has already noticed in the three weeks he's been driving the Hyundai. He suggests that fuel usage looks about the same as his previous machine, but with the HL740-9 being around three tonnes heavier and operating a bigger bucket, the gains are clear to see.

McNeill needs the loader to shovel a lot of coal. During peak season trucks arrive all day with the factory's fuel — sometimes up to 14 truckloads a day, rotating between up to three trucks that shuttle back and forth from Fonterra's own coal mine at Maramarua (Kopuku: an open cut mine operated by Glencoal, a subsidiary of the dairy giant).

All that coal generates ash too, so at the other end of the cycle the HL740-9 is expected to load up truck and trailer units to take the dusty waste away. McNeill reckons about 10 truckloads of coal produces one truckload of ash.

All those airborne particles mean the gear needs to be resilient and well designed — something McNeill says has impressed him about the new Hyundai already.

"This machine has an automatic greaser. I used to have to do all that manually," he says. "Also, the radiator fan is reversible, which means it will self-clean. You can even programme it to do this at regular intervals. That's great for the life of the gear."

Adds Goodall, "The Hi-Mate system has the service schedule logged already, so our tech team knows when the 500- and 1000-hour services are due. We've also just placed a bunch of dash 9s with a couple of the big fertiliser producers, which says a lot about the resilience and reliability of the machinery.

"The ground-up revamp that occurred when Hyundai moved from the dash 7s to the dash 9s has been incredibly well received," he concludes.

So next time you head to the supermarket for a container of milk, remember the hard-working wheel loaders helping in the process of getting the good stuff from field to fridge.

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