The unit you’re watching at work there is the HMS200 Remote Controlled Mini Loader. This low profile, compact machine scurries beneath conveyor belts with the ease of a cockroach scooting in under your fridge.
While cockroaches presumably spend their sub-fridge time breeding and wallowing in their own filth, the HMS200 has a more loftier purpose for its low-lying life. It gets into similarly hard-to-reach places but, once there, takes care of all the jobs that are difficult or dangerous for humans.
We spoke to HMS Group’s Chief Operating Officer, Bryce Parker, at the Diesel Dirt and Turf Expo where they were showing off the mini loader’s capabilities. The machine we got to check out at the expo is now on its way to a copper concentrator plant in Chile.
Bryce explained HMS is all about diversifying their services and partnering with other companies to bring, not just machines, but solutions to the industry, globally and at home in Australia.
“We’re a fairly diverse group of companies, originally set up to be a one stop shop for the mining industry. Late last year we became the Australasian retailer for Hetronic. We now service the full Australasian region for these remote control units and provide maintenance and training. And we’re partnering with Toro Australia to create these remote control mini loaders.”
Having the whole system come from the one (local) company gives you a stacked deck of benefits. Both the machine and the RC system are covered for technical support, full operational training, repairs and maintenance. And you only have to deal with one company for the lot.
While HMS Group have traditionally been mining-focussed, they’ve included both an underground version and an above ground option which is oriented more towards construction.
“The above ground mini loader is designed to clean underneath conveyor belts in quarries, power stations, pretty much anywhere with restricted height and confined spaces.”
What inspired the creation of these machines?
The concept of being a “one stop shop” for the mining industry came from the fact that HMS Group was founded by miners who wanted to give back to and improve their industry. This same ethos drove the development of the remote controlled mini loaders.
“Our managing director, Jamie Howard, has been in mining all his life. He came from a family of miners and worked in longwalls for around 20 years. If they had a problem, spillage from a conveyor belt, they had to stop the whole system, get a group of guys in with long handled shovels to get it out. So you end up with injuries, lost time, and all the associated costs.”
And, when it comes to mining, the cost of stalled equipment can be monumental. According to Bryce, you’re looking at anywhere between $100,000 and $180,000 an hour to stop a conveyor belt underground. Whereas, with their RC machines, you can get in and do the job while the conveyor keeps running.
“You’ve got no-one in there risking their backs and no loss in efficiency. It’s a win-win situation.”
What are the RC mini loaders like to operate?
Bryce was happy to confirm the mini loaders are just like a bigger, better, more high-tech version of the RCs you played with as a kid.
“You pick it up, wear the controls around your waist and it really is just like a game.”
A vast improvement on the old method of shutting everything down and getting down and dirty with awkward, back-breaking work. And one of the machine’s hidden advantages is, it doesn’t usurp anyone’s job. You still need a human to control it, you’re just making that human’s job less painful, less dangerous and more enjoyable, all while improving efficiency and saving money.
“Any industry that’s conveying—whether it’s copper, coal, iron, or anything else—you can do all your maintenance activities in tandem with operation, instead of having to shut anything down.”
And the machines do more than just clean. They have an arsenal of attachments allowing you to do all sorts of tasks in all sorts of awkward, confined spaces.