Komatsu’s key role in constructing Sydney’s complex underground motorway interchange

Low emissions Tier 4 Final engines on Komatsu equipment on Sydney’s Rozelle Interchange project contribute to significantly cleaner air quality underground.

Fifty-eight pieces of Komatsu equipment – including dump trucks, excavators and wheel loaders – are currently working as deep as 65 metres beneath the inner Sydney suburbs of Rozelle and Lilyfield on an underground interchange that will serve Sydney’s commuters for decades to come.

The Rozelle Interchange is the final stage of the 33 kilometre WestConnex project, linking Sydney’s western and inner southern suburbs with the heart of the city.

The $3.9 billion Rozelle Interchange is being constructed by the John Holland and CPB Contractors Joint Venture, and being managed by Transport for NSW.

It includes 22.4 kilometres of tunnels, including roadways, ventilation, access tunnels and cross passages – that are being excavated through Sydney sandstone within a one by two kilometre surface area from Blackwattle Bay to the Iron Cove Bridge.

Roadways make up approximately 15 kilometres of the tunnels and underground works, with the remainder consisting of service tunnels, cross passages, emergency access tunnels, underground substations, and HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems.

Komatsu equipment is playing a key role in the project, with the company supplying a total of 58 units to the joint venture. These consist of:

  • Thirty HM300-5 30 tonne capacity articulated dump trucks, powered by low-emission Tier 4 Final engines
  • Six 14 tonne PC138US-11 excavators, also with Tier 4 Final engines
  • Eight 24 tonne PC228US-11 excavators – four with short booms for tunnelling applications – with Tier 4 Final engines
  • Two 30 tonne PC290LC-11 excavators, with Tier 4 Final engines
  • Three WA320-8 wheel loaders with quick connect fittings for attachments, with Tier 4 Final engines
  • Three WA470-7 wheel loaders with 4.65 cubic metre buckets, used for underground applications
  • Six WA480-6 wheel loaders with 5 cubic metre buckets, used for shed loading applications.

These machines will be responsible for removing a total of 2.65 million cubic metres of material from the site over its three-year construction period from late 2019 to 2023.

In addition, Komatsu’s support includes a “pop up” workshop and parts store on site at Rozelle, including three qualified Komatsu diesel technicians on call 24 hours a day, plus an additional support HM300-2 that can be used if required.

Delivery of the machines began in September 2019, with the last machines delivered in August 2020.

As well as the Komatsu equipment on site, the project has up to 22 road headers (carrying out the primary tunnel excavation), shotcrete rigs, rock bolters and face drills, as well as various other items.

John Bostock, Project Plant Manager for the Rozelle Interchange Project, said there were a number of reasons why Komatsu was chosen as the primary earthmoving equipment supplier for the project.

“To start with, their service, support and equipment package was pretty good,” he said. “Another factor was the ability of Komatsu’s people to negotiate with us, and be flexible during our early discussions, with short lines of communication.”

“And certainly the learnings they’d applied from working on other Sydney tunnelling projects was an advantage,” said Bostock.

Other Sydney road tunnelling projects where Komatsu equipment has been extensively used included the WestConnex 1b project (Homebush to Haberfield), WestConnex 3A (Haberfield to St Peters) and NorthConnex (Wahroonga to West Pennant Hills).

“The performance of the equipment since we started here in September last year has proven to be pretty good; there were a couple of accumulator issues, which they replaced, but overall reliability and availability have been very good, in line with what we expected.”

Caring for the plant

Bostock and his plant management team recognise that skilled and careful operators are critical to successful equipment operations, so the project team has put additional effort into ensuring that operators look after their equipment – and are recognised for doing so.

“Tunnelling is a very harsh environment, and here we’ve been running a 24-hour-per-day operation,” he said.

“So if you add up the number of plant items on site, it’s around 130-140, plus forklifts, underground vehicles, and so on, it is a challenge to get really good operators.

“For example, we need to be able to crew up to 22 road headers working three different shifts.

“And for us, it’s important to find people who want to look after the gear. One of the campaigns we are driving really hard is that all of our operators keep the equipment respectable, ensure the cabins are clean and report any damage.”

“That’s important, because when they report damage – even if it’s just a scratch or a dent – it gives us the information we need as a team to stop that happening again.”

One of the ways Bostock’s team aims to achieve this is through a “Take Pride in your Plant” campaign, with posters throughout the site reminding operators of the importance of caring for their equipment and working safely.

“We want the cabins to be pleasant places in which to work, that are not filled up with dried mud and dust, so we ask the operators to clean their cabins at the end of their shift,” he said.

“And with COVID-19, in the pre-starts we communicate the importance of wiping down their cabins, steering wheels and controls, as an additional measure to sanitise the machines.”

“We also tell operators that if they scratch a machine, it must be reported,” he said. “We want to know about it, no matter how minor.”

“So we have an incident, it gets reported, and we know how it happened, which means we can take steps to minimise incidental or minor damage – and that can really add up.”

To encourage this, Bostock’s team has implemented a plant award, graded following a random inspection of four pieces of equipment per team.

Nearly 60 Komatsu machines are working on the Rozelle Interchange project, which includes 22.4 km of tunnels, incorporating roadways, ventilation, access tunnels and cross passages, being excavated through Sydney sandstone – all within a 1 km by 2 km surface area.

“We mark against various criteria, including safety, cleanliness, if the machines are in good order, and so on.”

“These are all initiatives to keep the plant nice and clean, and it’s recognition for the teams and individuals who make the extra effort. The reward is a monthly barbecue for the winning site team and a trophy to keep at reception – at least until the next inspection.”

“For us, the benefits are safety, cost control, fleet efficiency, and taking pride in their work and their fleet. And we are seeing some great results,” he said.

KOMTRAX and tracking technology

KOMTRAX, Komatsu’s remote machine monitoring technology, has proven to be an essential part of managing the Komatsu fleet at Rozelle, with an in-tunnel WIFI system connecting each machine to a surface transmitter, and from there to the company’s remote monitoring satellites.

Bostock has also been applying feedback from KOMTRAX to ensure that machines are being operated to their optimum.

“We’ve been in touch with Komatsu’s service fleet manager Glen Marshall, and talked to him about some operational anomalies,” he said.

“There are many features of the KOMTRAX system; an important one for us is how it allows us to intervene in eliminating poor operating habits, or indicate that a machine’s being operated incorrectly or unsafely.”

“We need to have all these things flagged as soon as possible, so we can properly maintain our fleet, and keep our people safe.”

“And by having all of this information available to us quickly, we can talk to operators about any incorrect operating procedures,” he said.

“This added technology from Komatsu is a good tool in helping us reach our goals of the safe and correct operation of equipment at all times, and ensuring maintenance is kept up.”

The project’s tunnel WIFI also includes a tracking system giving the location of each piece of equipment, vehicle and person, so the project team always knows the location of each machine and person in relation to each other.

Bostock is also using this tracking system to optimise the utilisation of equipment on site – particularly the trucks; a complex process across the three tunnelling sites.

“We have quite an advantage here in that all three tunnel access points are located on the one site, which allows us to maximise the utilisation of our fleet across the tunnels,” he said.

“The rule of thumb is that you need two trucks per road header, so if you have 22 road headers in operation at any one time, you’d need 44 trucks. But we know our utilisation factor is about 60 per cent, which means we actually only need 28 trucks on site full time.”

“So we’re running it here like an Uber operation, with the trucks all on call and using our tracking technology to put them where they are needed, when they are needed.”

“That’s quite a complex task underground. We have an intricate system of tunnels to manage,” he said.

Tier 4 Final engines emissions technology

The bulk of the Komatsu equipment on site – all but 11 of the total 60 machines – are fitted with ultra-low emission Komatsu Tier 4 Final engines, which contributes to significantly cleaner air quality underground.

“The Tier 4 technology certainly helps,” said Bostock.

“We carry out emissions testing on all our underground equipment every month, using state of the art emission testing equipment to check for compliance and safety. In the past, with Tier 1, 2 or 3 engines, we needed to add catalytic converters in order to meet the requirements for underground use.”

“But what we are finding with these Tier 4 engines, the emissions are much lower, conditions are much cleaner.”

“In fact, the emissions levels are significantly better than putting a catalytic converter on a Tier 3 machine,” he said.

Dean Gaedtke, Komatsu’s Executive General Manager – Construction, said the company was extremely proud to be associated with such a large and iconic infrastructure construction project.

“The Rozelle Interchange will be recognised as a technically challenging project that showcases the best of Australia’s construction capabilities, and we are delighted to be a part of it,” he said.

“And it’s an extremely rare occurrence to have nearly 60 items of Komatsu equipment working around the clock in a relatively confined space right in the heart of a major metropolis.”

“Over the past few years, Komatsu has worked very hard to develop our capabilities and expertise in underground road tunnelling applications, having successfully supplied, serviced and supported well over 200 Komatsu machines across five major Sydney tunnelling projects.”

“Our success in supplying these projects with significant equipment fleets is testament to our supply, service and support capabilities, along with our technical expertise in ensuring the equipment we supply is totally fit for purpose, and able to deliver the reliability, productivity, performance and environmental requirements of project management,” said Gaedtke.


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