A Cat 980 Block Handler is the new star of the AGF marble quarry show

A next-generation Cat 980BH (Block Handler) is the new star of the show at one of António Galego & Filhos Mármores’s (AGF) two Portuguese Estremoz marble quarries just two kilometres from each other in Bencatel, around 14km south-west of Vila Viçosa in southern Portugal.
Loading, Hauling & Excavation / January 9, 2023
By Guy Woodford
The next-generation Cat 980BH (Block Handler) is the new star at an AGF Estremoz marble quarry in southern Portugal
The next-generation Cat 980BH (Block Handler) is the new star at an AGF Estremoz marble quarry in southern Portugal

The state-of-the-art machine removes unwanted waste material in combination with two Cat 730C articulated dump trucks (ADTs), spreads waste material for haul road maintenance, and creates gravel material ‘beds’ to allow primary marble blocks to fall softly after being diamond-wire-saw cut and excavator-nudged away from the quarry face. The Cat 980BH also removes secondary marble blocks up and out of the quarry to the company’s processing plant, where further cutting and polishing work is done. Additionally, the versatile machine is used to lift raw marble blocks from the yard onto on-highway trucks for export to Indian and Chinese customers.

Fitted with a powerful Cat C13 313kW EU Stage V emissions standard engine, the 30-tonne class Cat 980BH can be fitted with a Performance Series bucket, said by Caterpillar to offer improved material retention while reducing dig times. The robust next-generation 980BH is built for premium efficiency and productivity, with its easy-to-use technologies a standard offering.

CAT 980BH front
The Cat 980BH is a 30-tonne class machine fitted with a powerful Cat C13 313kW EU Stage V emissions standard engine

“We can move a 30-tonne marble block easily with the 980BH as it has got even greater lifting capacity than our 980MBH. Our operators tell me that the 980BH operates smoothly, with all four of its tyres always remaining on the ground,” says Marco Galego, co-general manager of AGF with António Galego, his father and co-founder of the third-generation family-owned business.

Since 1996, AGF has purchased 20 Caterpillar machines, with a Cat 980G wheeled loader and Cat 325B crawler excavator, the first two bought models. As well as the 980BH and 980MBH, AGF has a 980KBH in its current machine fleet.

“We are longtime Caterpillar customers,” continues Marco. “We traded in our Cat 980G in 2009 for the next-generation Cat wheeled loader after it had worked 18,000 hours on the same tyres. We trade all our wheeled loaders in after 18,000 hours, and they are always in great resale condition.”

“Our Cat 345D [large hydraulic] crawler excavator, bought in 2009 along with a Cat 330D, was my favourite machine - the best Cat machine ever!” says Marco. “It never had a problem, was very powerful and worked really well.” 

When asked to describe Cat machines in a word, António says: “Strong,” adding that the servicing of all AGF’s Cat machines has been very good, helped by a strong relationship he and Marco have built up with Caterpillar’s longstanding Portuguese dealer, STET. 

Marco explains that he and his father have used Product Link and VisionLink since 2014 to better assess their Cat machine fleet’s performance, with the pair estimating it has halved the fleet’s running cost. They use the technology to identify points in the production cycle where they can reduce machine fuel consumption. They also proactively handle fleet maintenance by getting fault code information sent to their smartphones. Fault code monitoring is essential to machine condition monitoring and repair, significantly increasing fleet uptime.

Marco and António stress that due to increasing energy and fuel prices, Cat Product Link and VisionLink have become even more invaluable to AGF. The father-and-son team are looking into expanding the company's data and fleet monitoring capability by investing in a state-of-the-art Cat Productivity solution. 

A €9mn-a-year-turnover business, AGF extracts around 150,000t of marble a year across its two Vila Viçosa quarry sites (Tex - where the Cat 980BH is deployed - and MSB), with 30,000t resulting in the final product for sale, leaving an 80% waste ratio. Site operating hours are Monday-Friday 8am-5pm and Saturday 9am-1pm. Tex and MSB are running at capacity, with a further increase in production infeasible.

Antonio & Marco
 António (left) and Marco Galego at AGF HQ

Marco and António decide which marble blocks are selected for final sale, with the process drawing on their vast industry experience. “No two marble blocks are the same. The way the veins move throughout the block, their brightness, and the background behind them. All this goes into setting the price for what is a unique product,” explains António.
“We have a lot of repeat business and customer relationships going back a long time,” says Marco, who lists the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, India, the US, China and North Africa as among key export markets for AGF’s premium marble products. 

“Domestic customers are mainly wholesalers who sell to export customers. We are getting big orders connected to The Line-Neom project, a new city being built in [Tabuk Province, northwestern] Saudi Arabia. It will be five times bigger than New York,” stresses Marco, highlighting the US$5trn, 170km-long city megaproject. “India is another big market for us. Its population is growing fast, and even if just a small percentage of the larger population can afford to buy marble blocks, that’s a lot of people.”

Marble quarry workers
Marble quarry production at AGF's Tex site

While AGF’s trading remains strong, the number of marble quarry sites in the Portuguese Estremoz marble region has reduced from 120 to around 25 following a market consolidation process that began in 2015. Some of the reduction in marble quarry firms is also linked to tightening health and safety regulations.

Despite a difficult global economic climate, Marco and António say the size of the world’s wealthy marble block client market is growing, which, along with reduced regional competition, is good for AGF’s long-term future. Marco says that AGF has another 50 years of marble reserves to extract, with the business’s Cat’s 980BH and other Cat loading and hauling machines sure to play a key part in the company’s continued success.

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