Smart Numbers, Smart Machines
There are plenty of impressive statistics associated with the massive City Rail Link works in Central Auckland, but one of the most eyebrow-raising stats Cat excavator fleet owner Christian Balemi of CB Earthmoving has seen recently on the job was an absolutely tiny figure—in a very positive way.
While the City Rail Link (CRL) project in Central Auckland might be the largest transport infrastructure programme of work New Zealand has ever seen, the multistage, multi-location project certainly throws up its fair share of cramped and confined spaces.
Just ask Christian Balemi of CB Earthmoving. While Christian’s company has certainly expanded over the last five years— now incorporating seven staff working across client sites scattered throughout the North Island—a degree of downsizing has had to happen in order for him and his team to fulfil the job at hand on the CRL.
“We have two Cat 306 CRs, a Cat 308 CR, and a Cat 313 excavator in at the Aotea Station works in the CBD, as well as our little Cat 301.7CR mini digger—all are full mining spec machines,” says Christian. “There we are working on the main tunnel dig-out back to the station, so we’re working our way down from the surface to 15 metres underground.” When completed in 2024, Aotea Station will serve the highest density of businesses and households of any railway station in New Zealand. It lies at the heart of the 3.45km twin-tunnel underground rail link between a revitalised Britomart Station at the bottom of Auckland’s Queen Street and an all-new underground station ‘up the hill’, serving Karangahape Road. The CRL also incorporates an expanded Mount Eden Station, which, together with Puhinui Station to the south, will act as a transport link with Auckland Airport.
But before the CRL revolutionises public transport in New Zealand’s biggest city (it is projected to at least double current rail capacity), there’s plenty of work still to be done. And for Christian, a lot of that work is underground or in enclosed spaces at least. Yet, for CB Earthmoving, this isn’t their first (sub-surface) rodeo.
“Last winter, we did some pretty intensive tunnel upgrade work with Kiwi Rail on the Auckland-to-Whangarei line. It meant we got to use our six and eight tonners doing similar sort of work to what we’re doing in central Auckland,” he says.
Christian and members of his team will be engaged by the wider Link Alliance at Aotea Station for 18 to 24 months in total as the tunnels housing the new twin line take shape.
In the Cat 306 CR and 308 CR pairing, Christian knows he has the right tools for the job at his disposal for the long haul—and he has the data to prove it.
“Because we work in an enclosed environment here, we have strict emissions protocols and restrictions we need to operate within to ensure everyone working down here can do so safely. Basically, if your machine emits a lot of carbon monoxide, then it’s not going to pass muster.
“I was genuinely impressed when our 306 CR recorded 0.03g/litre CO2 and the 308 CR came in at 0.5g/litre CO2. So was the bloke doing the test; he wanted to double-check because he hasn’t seen scores that low before!” laughs Christian.
Even CB Earthmoving’s 13-tonne Cat 313 scored well—0.12g/litre CO2—in the CRL project’s standard emissions test regime.
To put these figures into perspective, the approved cut-off CO2 figure for machines working sub-surface on the CRL is 15.6g/litre.
“I think it’s just another brilliant thing about these machines,” Christian enthuses. “They have a solid reputation anyway, but it just shows the excellent level of technology that’s in them these days, even the smaller six- and eight-tonners.
“It’s impressive that Cat builds this sort of stuff into all their excavators. You don’t really think about things like the CO2 rating much day-to-day until it becomes crucial to your ability to work in a particular environment, that is. It’s good to know we are covered.”
So, how has Caterpillar managed to engineer such low emissions from these latest next-generation power units?
“By designing the most fuel-efficient engines the brand has ever built,” says Terra Cat BCP industry manager, Bevan Dale.
“Big improvements were achieved with the new next-generation Cat excavators because the Caterpillar design and engineering teams were working with a fresh sheet of paper. The Cat 306 CR and 308 CR are, like the remainder of the next-generation range, new from the ground up. A lot of development work went in to not only ensuring the Euro V compliant engines had plenty of power but also burnt less fuel and emitted less CO2.”
Christian’s Cat 306 CR boasts a 20% overall improvement in fuel efficiency over the previous mini excavator model in its weight class, which means lower operating costs. Features such as auto-idle, auto engine shutdown, and efficient hydraulics with a variable displacement pump not only all work to save on diesel but also mean the engine isn’t required to run as hard as it might have on an older machine. Therefore, it emits less carbon monoxide.
“In my opinion, I think this sort of technology is going to become a much bigger focus for machinery manufacturers, simply because firmer emissions regulations in general—as well as health and safety related requirements across worksites — have become a non-negotiable bottom line. It’s the way the world is going, and the industry will need to measure up.
“Caterpillar is ahead of the curve here and it’s great to see this technology being proven in a real-world scenario, and in New Zealand conditions at that,” says Bevan.
Plenty of power
In addition to a more efficient powerplant, Christian’s Cat mini excavators have also given him more horsepower—up 25% over the previous models in their weight classes. Another stat that Christian can’t do without down here on the CRL is the impressive 67% increase in lift capacity his Cat 306 CR gives him over the outgoing Cat 305.5 E2CR.
“A big part of what we’re doing in the tunnel structure is lifting all the beams in. We couldn’t do this with a smaller machine because we need that lifting ability,” he explains.“The Cat diggers basically give us the most power possible within the smallest frame. We literally couldn’t get anything bigger down there than the eight tonner.”
It all adds up to a machine package that Christian has been a fan of for a long time.
“My entire fleet of nine machines are all Cat, and I wouldn’t go with anything else. Why not? Because they’re Cats; they’re the best you can get,” he says.
And he’s equally effusive about the after-sales support he gets from national distributor, Terra Cat.
“Terra Cat are top-notch operators. They’re good at just checking in anyway, but when you do need something like a new part, it’s never a problem and you’re never chasing them. They’ll get you what you need as fast as they possibly can. I don’t think you can be in business as long as they have and not be doing something right, that’s for sure.”
For Christian, the simple art of doing stuff right is all part of the plan—it’s central to the successful growth his business has experienced in recent times. And it adds a certain peace of mind to his day-to-day operations that his machines (or rather the trusted manufacturer that builds them) are getting everything right underneath the sheet metal too.