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Caterpillar loaders and haulers are Carrara quarries’ staples

First publishedin Aggregates Business Europe
March April 2017
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Caterpillar marble
Famous for their premium quality white marble dating back more than 2,000 years, the Carrara quarries in northern Tuscany, Italy, remain a major production hub within the European quarrying sector. Cat wheeled loaders, excavators and articulated dump trucks are being used by many present-day Carrara quarry businesses to optimise their operational productivity and efficiency. Guy Woodford paid some of them a visit.

Carrara’s marble quarries are in the blood of Erich Lucchetti. Erich is CEO and president of the Bruno Lucchetti Group, named after his father who founded it. The group includes the Fantiscritti Marmi, Guglielmo Vennai, Escavazione Maggiore, and Escavazioni Tagliata Alta white marble quarrying businesses, and two other companies, Frugoli and F.L Industriale, which handle marble cutting and logistics.

The Bruno Lucchetti Group is, says Erich, able to satisfy all block or cut marble requests from anywhere in the world. And the current group boss takes great pride in the Lucchetti family’s origins linked to marble quarrying in Carrara more than 200 years ago. However, as Erich acknowledges, marble was being extracted long before the Lucchetti’s cut away their very first marble block.  

“In our quarries we still find many pieces from Roman times,” notes Erich. “Back then the marble blocks were slid down the mountains on wooden racks.”

The four Bruno Lucchetti Group quarrying businesses operate one or more marble quarries in Carrara, extracting Bianco Carrara C, Bianco Carrara C/D, Bianco Carrara D and Bardiglio Nuvolato white marble blocks. The group, which also makes diverse and high quality bespoke marble and granite products in-house, has a longstanding relationship with Caterpillar. It is one of the manufacturer’s biggest Carrara quarries’ customers.

“Our relationship with Caterpillar started 30 years ago,” explains Erich. “I’d just graduated and was at the start of my career in the family business. I remember the first Cat machine I bought – a 966 wheeled loader.

“We now have a near 100% Cat fleet, with more than 30 equipment models. I’m a very good and loyal customer! We’ve still got a 988F wheeled loader working well in our quarries, even though it’s 15 years old.”

Among the key models in Bruno Lucchetti’s extensive Cat model fleet are 988H wheeled loaders in block handler (BH) arrangement and 374F L crawler excavators. A Cat 740B articulated dump truck is also used to move production scrap from one quarry site to another. The 58.3tonne operating weight 988H BH is fitted with a Cat C18 ACERT 373kW engine and is designed to withstand the demanding and harsh environment of block handling applications. Caterpillar’s block handling package includes a purpose built linkage, larger lift and tilt cylinders, additional counterweight and a high rimpull powertrain. The model is said by Caterpillar to deliver sustainable productivity, serviceability, reliability and versatility. The more recently introduced Cat 988K is said to offer up to 20% lower fuel consumption than the 988H.

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Erich Lucchetti, CEO and president
Erich Lucchetti, CEO and president of the Bruno Lucchetti Group. The group has had a 30-year business relationship with Caterpillar
Two of the Bruno Lucchetti Group’s quarrying companies also have three 988K BH models across their machine fleets.

Or why he favours Cat equipment, Erich says: “Firstly, because I’ve always had a great relationship with them [Caterpillar’s Italian dealer, CGT]. I’m an old style person in that when I think something is good, I don’t go shopping around. It’s also down to the aftermarket service that Caterpillar provides. I’ve always been happy with Caterpillar, even though I’ve had many other offers from competitor manufacturers.

“I especially think that the Cat block handlers are perfect for our market. They have the strength and capability to do a lot of work in one production cycle. My quarry site workers also say ‘Once you drive one of them, you won’t change to another.’ It’s a machine you feel safe and comfortable driving. Our quarries work nine hours a day, Monday to Friday, and a half day on Saturday. The loaders, especially, are always working.

“The K-Series block handlers are a little shorter than the H-Series, which makes it easier for our operators to drive uphill. The K-Series models also offer better visibility. They are really the top machines of their type. Caterpillar’s hydraulic technology is extremely important and there’s been major improvements on that, both on the block handlers and the excavators. They are much more powerful machines in terms of the weight they can support.

“We also have 75 to 80 tonne Cat excavators. I think there can be some improvements still on these and I know Caterpillar are working on that. The hydraulics of the machines are very powerful but we need more weight on them.” During Aggregates Business Europe’s (ABE) recent trip, we learnt that Caterpillar OEM Solutions will be fitting the undercarriages of the higher operating weight 390F excavators on the 374F models for the Carrara quarries’ customers.

Of CGT’s ability to service and maintain Bruno Lucchetti Group’s Cat machine fleet, Erich says: “They are absolutely always available to deal with any issues. For us, to have a machine that’s not working is a serious problem. Our equipment has to run throughout the whole year.”

Erich is also a keen user of Cat Connect Technology & Services and how it can optimise a quarry fleet’s efficiency. “Cat Connect is important to us. We use it to reduce overloads and to have feedback when a machine is not working properly. This technology saves time and costs as it reduces the number of times you have to do certain tasks.” Bruno Lucchetti Group’s CEO and president is also interested in drones and their linked software platforms. “I can see how good this could be for controlling what our people are doing on-site and for making sure that things are done properly.”

While the equipment used by companies such as the Bruno Lucchetti Group for removing the marble has changed over the long history of quarrying in Carrara, the process of extracting the huge blocks out of the mountainside has remained pretty constant.

Special sawing equipment cuts into the rock and then a series of holes are drilled vertically and horizontally through the rock after which special diamond tipped wires are passed through these holes to cut in a circular sawing motion front to back.

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A Cat 374D L excavator
A Cat 374D L excavator helping prise out a large marble block at a Carrara quarry
It can take between two days and a week to cut through the rock and then wedges are inserted to prise it from the face. It is then manoeuvred into position for cutting into manageable blocks, again using high-speed wire saws. Near 200tonne blocks extracted from the face are cut into smaller, more manageable blocks with an average weight of 30tonnes. After this the blocks are moved around the quarry using equipment from Caterpillar or other leading OEMs.

Around 800,000tonnes of white marble is extracted from Carrara’s 90 quarries, based over three great extraction areas, every year. Exports of Carrara marble are worth hundreds of millions of euros every year, with the most expensive Carrara-extracted Calacatta (or Calacata) marble worth around €6-7,000/tonne – compared to the average value of €3-4,000/tonne. China, the Middle East and the United States have long been keen export markets for Carrara quarry businesses.

Calacata Crestola is another Carrara quarrying group using Caterpillar machine models, including two 988K BH and a 374F L crawler excavator – the latter due to be fitted with a 390F L undercarriage in May or June 2017.

“They are amazing machines with incredible performance,” says Marco Borghini, sales and marketing director for Calacata Borghini Progress, part of the Calacata Crestola Group.

Paolo-Pietro Bonucelli, one of Calacata Crestola’s Cat excavator operators, was busy working a quarry face during ABE magazine’s visit. Of the Cat 374F L crawler excavator, he says: “The cab is very comfortable and the excavator arms are strong. The 24 hour assistance you get from Caterpillar is very important. I’ve spent 38 years working with Cat machine models, starting with a 988 wheeled loader in another quarry back in 1978.”

Over at F.B Cave’s Carrara quarry, Niki Venturini is operating a Cat 735C articulated dump truck (ADT) with APECS (Cat’s Advanced Productivity Electronic Control Strategy). “I’m very satisfied with its performance. The engine and transmission are particularly good. The truck performs better than previous models as it has more traction resulting in better contact with the ground.”

The 22m³, 32.7tonne capacity Cat 735C ADT is powered by a 329kW Cat C15 ACERT engine and is said to offer proven reliability, durability, high productivity, superior operator comfort and lower operating costs. Among updated and improved features is the model’s new powertrain and new ease of operation features such as Automatic Retarder Control (ARC).

During ABE’s tour around a number of Carrara quarry businesses, Giorgio Banfi, Cat CGT product manager, large machine business, says that Caterpillar’s Equipment Protection Plans (EPP) are very popular among Carrara customers.

The latest EPPs are the only service plan designed specifically for buyers of new Cat machines, providing the highest level of repair cost protection available. Backed by the worldwide resources of Cat Financial Insurance Services, EPPs are said to enhance and sustain customers’ entire ownership experience with comprehensive coverage and peace of mind.

Three levels of coverage are offered: Powertrain, Powertrain+Hydraulic or the most comprehensive, Premier. Each are said by Caterpillar to add valuable years and hours of operation to a Standard Warranty period, keeping major repair costs from harming customers’ bottom lines.

Yellow iron was nowhere to be seen in the Carrara quarries when its businesses of the day were providing high quality white marble for the sculptures of Michaelangelo (15th/16th Century) and Bernini (17th Century). But in the ultra-competitive modern marketplace, the likes of Fantiscritti Marmi, Calacata Crestola and F.B Cave believe that investment in Cat equipment and Cat Connect solutions give them a competitive edge.

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