Technology 

Tightrope act 500 metres underground

Taken apart, packaged, lowered down and reassembled deep below the earth – a roll-off skip loader with HydroDrive from MAN is put into service at the Bernburg salt mine. It’s a real adventure for the fitters.

A roll-off skip loader with HydroDrive from MAN at the Bernburg salt mine

The iron door clicks into place and the lift quickly descends down, one hundred, two hundred, three hundred metres below the surface. Upon arrival at a depth of 500 metres, the world has changed entirely: Neon light illuminates a labyrinth of passages and tunnels with sparkling walls, and the bracing scent of salt hangs in the air. A truck with a yellow tipper body emerges from one tunnel, carrying explosives. Just a short while ago, this vehicle was put into service at the salt mine in the East German town of Bernburg an der Saale, performing its duty every day. Yet before commencing its fieldwork underground, it had to be dismantled and lowered down the mine piece by piece.

The fitters lower the truck chassis down the mine

Successful on the third try

“Getting the truck down here was a real adventure,” says Uwe Müller, Works Manager at Gress + Zapp, an MAN service partner. “Just disassembling the vehicle took us a week and occupied three of my fitters every day.” The men wrapped each component carefully and stowed the parts in boxes. “Letting down the individual components on a hook was relatively straightforward,” says Müller, “but the real challenge was the driver’s cabin, the truck body and especially the chassis.
It’s more than eight metres long, with just a few centimetres of clearance in the transport shaft. We had to keep trying to find the right angle, to prevent it from snagging and tilting. It took us three attempts to get it right. We were all relieved to get the chassis down to the bottom in one piece.”

Salt mine mission

Once down the mine, it took them another two weeks to reassemble the truck and prime it for its first mission.“It’s much more cost-effective for us to convert MAN dumpers than to commission and purchase special mining equipment,” says Volker Grzeschuchna, the Head of M+E Underground Technology at the European Salt Company (Esco). He supervises the technology and controls the vehicle fleet, the workshops and the trucks. These are specially equipped for working in the mine. The driver’s cabins have been fitted with a filtered ventilation system and automated fire extinguishers. In addition, the three-axle roll-off skip loaders carrying spare parts and explosives for mining operations have a HydroDrive system from MAN, providing them with additional traction on the front axle when needed. This is important for subsurface deployment, where the ground is sometimes uneven or even turns into a surface as slippery as a frozen lake in areas where treated with water. Moreover, the HydroDrive truck is lower-slung than a conventional all-wheel drive vehicle, which is an advantage in these narrow subterranean galleries. Grzeschuchna is pleased. Business is going well and further purchases are in the pipeline. “The MAN skip loader is doing a great job in the test phase. We aim to order more of these vehicles before the end of the year.” These will also have to embark on a journey to the earth’s interior.

The video shows the spectacular journey of the skip loader to its subterranean destination:

Images and video © Jörg Gläscher

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