BULGARIA: Volvo articulated haulers are the trucks of choice at the largest lignite mine in South Eastern Europe

by Oliver Halls

The Stara Zagora Province is a particularly coal-rich region in central Bulgaria. Since the early 1950s, the state-owned Maritsa Iztok coal-mining company has extracted lignite (or brown coal) from the area. Today, it is the largest energy complex in South Eastern Europe, producing in excess of 23 million tonnes of coal a year.

 

Most of that coal is then sold to three thermal power plants located nearby. One is owned by the Bulgarian state; the other two by US-based ContourGlobal and AES, which generate around 30% of Bulgaria’s electricity output.

 

To keep the coal supply flowing – and Bulgaria running – much of the mining groundworks are carried out by Globus, a subcontractor based in Stara Zagora city, about 50km from the mine. Globus uses its 60-strong fleet of excavators and wheel loaders – from various manufacturers – to remove the overburden, which ranges in thickness between 10 and 15 meters, to reveal the raw lignite below.

 

“Until recently, we used on-road trucks to ferry the lignite away from the mining site to the processing plant,” says Stoyan Rusev, general manager of Globus. “However, the gruelling nature of the work required the trucks to operate long hours and in harsh conditions, resulting in excessive maintenance and repair costs, as well as operational issues due to downtime.”

 

The trucks’ high total cost of ownership led Globus to investigate purchasing a fleet of premium articulated haulers for the task.

 

FRONT RUNNERS

After testing various models from different manufacturers, Globus found that Volvo CE came out on top. Volvo CE has been involved in the Bulgarian market since 2001, and has been in partnership with independent dealer Sigma Bulgaria since 2007. Since then, the brand has begun building up a solid presence in the country. “When it comes to articulated haulers, Volvo CE is the best brand; the competition doesn’t even come close in terms of productivity, durability and fuel efficiency,” says Rusev.

 

Since October 2015, Globus has imported four used A40F and bought five new A40G articulated haulers from Sigma, as well as an L35G compact wheel loader. The machines are now in around-the-clock operation on site, with the target of shifting 3 million cubic meters of overburden a year.

 

Being operational 24 hours a day puts an enormous strain on the machines, which posed a challenge for Sigma when it came to servicing them. “The haulers need to be maintained every 500 hours of operation, and when they’re working virtually all day, every day, each machine needs to be serviced every 21 days,” explains Haris Bailas, general manager at Sigma Bulgaria. “When you’ve got nine machines, that means a machine needs to be serviced roughly every two days. To arrange for an engineer to travel to and from the site every few days just wasn’t practical, so we had to find another solution.”

 

FULL ON

To provide the best possible service, Sigma built a €30,000 on-site service warehouse and hired a full-time maintenance engineer to ensure downtime is kept to an absolute minimum. “The warehouse contains all required spare parts and the engineer is based close to the Globus site, so he can be on site quickly when needed,” continues Bailas. “He doesn’t get much time off, but he’s a bit of a workaholic, so he doesn’t mind!”

 

“We are already receiving positive feedback from customers and companies cooperating with Globus about our presence there,” concludes Nicolas Broisin, business manager for Volvo CE in Bulgaria. “The reliability and productivity of our machines is being noticed, as is our willingness to go to great lengths for our customers. Working on this project is going to be a really good step forward for all involved.”