A rapidly growing and ambitious United Arab Emirates (UAE) limestone producer has significantly lowered its loading and hauling fleet's cost per tonne, improving profitability after switching to Cat machines four years ago. Guy Woodford reports
Feeling that its loading and hauling fleet was not delivering enough fuel efficiency and productivity, Power International's managing director Nikunj Bathwal entered discussions with Al-Bahar, Caterpillar's longstanding UAE dealer, in 2020 to see if he could improve on his existing premium manufacturer brand line-up at Al Tawyeen, his company's high-grade, low-silica limestone quarry in Fujairah.
"We came to the UAE in 2016 and began operating in Fujairah in 2018. After arriving here, we were approached by a competitor of Caterpillar, offering to help us create a complete loading and hauling fleet. We quickly realised that we needed reliable machines, and the second most important thing was getting support to ensure their availability, so we agreed to take up this machine manufacturer's offer," explains Bathwal. "After a period, we were not getting timely support to address any fleet running issues. Identifying the root cause of any problems was also not done properly, so we switched to Al-Bahar and Caterpillar."
Before Power International confirmed its switch to Cat machines, Al-Bahar conducted a comparative study of a Cat 349 crawler excavator against Al Tawyeen's existing comparable competitor excavator. "That was in 2019. The Cat 349 performed phenomenally well on fuel consumption, machine availability and cycle time, and we were convinced to go with Al-Bahar and the Cat brand," says Bathwal. "We have found that their customer involvement is much better."
During Aggregate Business's visit to Al Tawyeen in October this year, the size of Power International's post-2019 investment in high-quality Cat machines was evident. On show were four Cat 772G off-highway trucks, eight Cat crawler excavators (1x Cat 395, three Cat 374, two Cat 349, one Cat 352, and one Cat 345GC), three Cat 980 wheeled loaders, and four Cat 216 B3 skid-steer loaders, used for site clean-up work.
Giving an example of Al Tawyeen's Cat machines' cycle-time reductions, Bathwal says: "The Cat 980s are 20-22% better in their cycle times than the similar sized competitor machine. That helped us pitch our case to senior management for more Cat machines. We have three Cat 980s now and are looking at adding a Cat 988 into our fleet."
Before speaking to Bathwal and touring the quarry, Aggregates Business spoke to Biswajit Paul, Al Tawyeen's deputy general manager (operations). "VisionLink can assess our fleet's productivity, idle time, and running costs. We are getting up to 20% more productivity and are using approximately 10% less fuel across our Cat loading and hauling fleet. We have a 15% lower loading cost per tonne."
Paul says that he and Bathwal get regular machine-fleet operation reports via VisionLink and Al-Bahar, with Power International and Al-Bahar working closely together to identify any trends and, if necessary, address any issues.
"Our communication with Al-Bahar is very good," continues Paul. "Their team makes site assessments and helps train our Cat machine operators. The Cat machines are reliable with fewer breakdowns. The fleet servicing we get from Al-Bahar is very good, as is their preventative maintenance and parts replacement. Having a parts inventory on-site helps. This allows for quick change-ups."
Bathwal adds: "VisionLink is a wonderful tool. It is easy to access and gives key information about our Cat machines' performance. Analysing machine idling time and upcoming servicing requirements are my two biggest things. Machine availability has increased by 40-45% since we switched to Caterpillar. Our effective daily working hours have gone from an average of 12 to 13 to almost 18 to 19 hours. That's a huge difference."
Through Al-Bahar, Power International has Cat Customer Value Agreements (CVAs) for all Al Tawyeen's Cat machines. A Cat CVA is a hassle-free ownership plan with the customer's convenience in mind. Genuine Cat Parts are delivered when you need them, right to your door, with instructions for hassle-free maintenance. Customers get the security of an Equipment Protection Plan (EPP) and expert support against unexpected repair costs - giving peace of mind by controlling machine health through your smartphone. It can be included in a customer's monthly machine payment, offering one easy plan to leverage Cat value beyond the machine, maximising investment and lowering ownership costs.
"Al-Bahar is a very important stakeholder in our operation," stresses Bathwal. "If we do not work hand in hand with them, we will not succeed. We have to understand each other's pain points. We are working to establish a central monitoring station on-site so we can monitor all our machines 24/7. It would also be set up to allow Al-Bahar to monitor our machines from its base in Sharjah and for Caterpillar people to monitor from the United States. What we are looking to do involves a lot more customisation. It will give us an even clearer understanding of what is happening with our fleet."
An example of the strong relationship between Power International, Al-Bahar and Caterpillar was Al Tawyeen hosting over five days in June last year an Al-Bahar comparison study of Cat 333 and Cat 336 crawler excavators' productivity and efficiency against other top manufacturers' machines. Alaa Huneiti, Al-Bahar's quarry segment manager, says the Cat models were more productive and efficient, partly thanks to their faster cycle time and less fuel consumption.
Power International runs two Sandvik crushing and screening plant lines (jaw-cone-screen) at Al Tawyeen. A third crushing and screening plant line from the same manufacturer is set to be installed and operational by Q4 2024. It will increase Al Tawyeen's annual production capacity from 7.2 million to 13-14 million tonnes. The third plant line's location at the top of the quarry site will reduce the material-hauling distance from the quarry face to the crusher to 700 metres, significantly less than the 1.8km from the quarry face to the two existing plant lines.
"We are actively quarrying eight to nine per cent of our lease-granted area. Accessing the top [quarry] bench will give us access to another 14 to 15 per cent of our total leased area. Reducing the hauling distance is better for the environment, improving our sustainability and making us more efficient," explains Bathwal.
Additionally, a large quick and hydrated lime factory, under construction near the quarry site office during Aggregates Business's visit, is due to begin operating in March 2024.
"Value addition is the focal point for our business," continues Power International's MD. "We sell our quarried limestone for $10-12 per tonne, but its usage versatility means with just one [industrial] value addition, it increases in value significantly. If you can add three or four more value additions, it becomes even more valuable."
At its Al Tawyeen facilities, Power International produces products from manufactured sand up to 120mm-sized limestone aggregates. Nearly 70% of its annual production is for export customers in India, Bangladesh, and neighbouring Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, including Qatar and Kuwait. Al Tawyeen is five years into a 50-year quarrying licence, with a quarriable reserve of 480 million tonnes.
Employing around 130 people of various nationalities, Al Tawyeen operates six days a week, with staff working two ten-hour daily shifts. Six to eight blasts monthly gain new limestone material from the quarry face. Production generates around 15% of waste, with some sold for cement production and some used for on-site haul-road maintenance.
"We have ramped up production three times since we started at Al Tawyeen in 2018," says Bathwal. "In 2018, we were at AED 25-30 million (US$6.8mn – $8.16mn) turnover. Today, we're at around AED 250 million ($68.06mn). The total turnover of Bathwal Corporation, which Power International is part of, is around AED 1 billion ($272.26mn)."
As well as its Fujairah-based quarry business, Power International has branches in India and Mozambique. The company is headquartered in Kolkata, with a second site in India in Odisha, an eastern Indian state on the Bay of Bengal.
Due to their hugely positive impact at Al Tawyeen, Power International has invested in a Cat 966 wheeled loader and Cat excavators for its steel-making facility in India.
As Bathwal notes, limestone is the world's most abundant mineral and a key player in the global construction industry. In addition to its wide range of applications as a construction and decoration material, it is also considered the key raw material in cement manufacturing. Other than construction, lime is an essential raw material used in various industries, including iron and steel, agriculture, paper, glass, and pharmaceuticals.
"There are more than 100 industrial uses for limestone. For example, limestone is in the paint on our office walls, calcium tablets, and cosmetics. This is why we have invested in our new factory," emphasises Bathwal.
Power International's Al Tawyeen operation is one of nearly 25 limestone quarries in Fujairah, a highly mountainous and coastal Emirate. Al Tawyeen is around 55 kilometres from Mina Saqr Port in the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah and 88 kilometres from Fujairah Port. The latter is a deep port and the largest on the UAE's eastern seaboard. It is also the world's second-largest bunkering hub.
Regarding the shipping aspect of Power International's export business, Bathwal says: "When we started our UAE operations, the Power International Group had never chartered a vessel itself. It didn't need to with the steel side of its operations. With our business here, we learned a whole new dynamic. Shipping is a large part of limestone quarrying. You must make your shipping cost competitive, including how much you can pass on to the customer. Power International now has a dedicated shipping division. It is extremely critical to our success.
"We work very closely with the government of Fujairah and Mina Saqr ports. They are very progressive and helpful in relieving our pain points. We need to know if there are any logistical changes as we are bidding for tenders and need to factor those in. During the coronavirus pandemic, we hired vessels for more than $40,000-42,000 daily compared to the usual $15,000-16,000 daily rate."
Bathwal says new UAE regulations, set to come into force in February 2024, reducing the maximum weight of on-highway truck payloads from 100 tonnes to 65 tonnes, will change Al Tawyeen's limestone product transportation capability. "It's quite a drop. We currently load about 70 tonnes of limestone onto every one of our trucks for transport to ports and other end users. That will now have to come down, meaning we need to do more truck runs, increasing our costs. However, looking at the long-term bigger picture, it will help maintain the UAE's highway infrastructure."
Ensuring effective dust suppression and limiting groundwater use are other key challenges for Fujairah limestone quarry operators like Power International, with authorities regularly paying unannounced visits to operator sites to assess dust and other emission levels.
"The UAE is catching up with India on dust suppression and wider emissions reduction. The Indian government is doing superb work on this with the steel, mining and other industries. Our online monitoring system measures the particulate matter in our dust, so we and any visiting authority can see exactly what is happening [at Al Tawyeen]," says Bathwal.
He adds: "On groundwater, I think we are heading to a point that we will have to buy our water from the municipality [authorities] rather than using groundwater from the quarry site. The authorities are very receptive to us looking to recycle as much of our production water as possible. That's a good thing."