Collective Hopes. The Gurovo Beton quarry 130km (81mi) south of Moscow has survived tough economic conditions before. But as Brian O'Sullivan reports, new investment is set to help it survive the current downturn and benefit from Russia's building program.

The Ministry for Industry established the Gurovo Beton quarry in the Tula region south of Moscow in 1951 and employed workers using only hammers and chisels to extract and crush limestone for use in asphalt and cement production. (Beton means 'Cement' in Russian.)
The 1960s and 1970s were periods of boom for the quarry but the late 1990s saw severe recession in Russia, with limestone output falling to very low levels. "We never actually closed," says general director Nikolay Nikolaevich Polnikov, "but a lack of investment meant that we faced real problems."

In 2006 Heidelberg Cement acquired a majority stake in the company. Heidelberg is a global market leader in aggregates and a prominent player in the fields of cement, concrete and other downstream activities, making it one of the world's largest manufacturers of building materials. The company employs 68,000 people in over 50 countries. Having this corporate muscle behind it has been a revolution at Gurovo Beton, and the 123 hectare, 330 employee quarry has not looked back since.

The whole quarry is being modernized. In addition to a new Austrian crusher, a Chinese cement plant has been built, new conveyors installed and offices upgraded. But key to its long term success is a comprehensive modernization of the quarry's mobile machinery. A new fleet of Volvo equipment has arrived, comprising wheel loaders (L90E, L110F, L150F, three L220F and L220E), an EC210Blc excavator, a giant EC700Blc excavator - and three A40E articulated haulers.

These new machines are not replacing older machines like-for-like, they are fundamentally changing the way the quarry works. One of the biggest problems the quarry faces is how to remove the extremely thick overburden (waste) covering the limestone, which ranges from 40 to over 50m (131 to over 164ft) thick. In the past the quarry has used an ancient high voltage electric powered excavator, which cut away at a face 11m (36ft) high. "The old 6,000kV power line is inconvenient," says assistant director Victor Oskarovich Albertin. "It goes out of service in a storm and takes a day to move it from one bench to another."

The electric excavators will be replaced over the next year by Volvo's 70 tonne excavator, fitted with a 5m3 (6.54yd³) bucket and cutting at a smaller 8m (26ft) high face. The smaller EC210Blc is fitted with a hydraulic hammer for breaking up the daily blasted rocks that are too big to go into the crusher.

The EC700Blc feeds either one of the dozen 30 and 45 tonne Belorussian-made Belaz rigid haulers - or the 39 tonne A40E Volvo articulated haulers. The Volvos are proving efficient at removing the overburden, as their underbody heaters are better able to dislodge the wet and sticky red/black clay, and avoid 'carry-back'. "The Volvos have better operating capabilities in the slippery conditions of spring and winter, meaning that we can maintain production," says Alexander Sergeevich Bobkov, who is responsible for the equipment. "The Belazs get stuck easily, so we decide where we use each type of machine based on the haul road surface."

Despite being oil rich, fuel is not cheap in Russia. "Diesel is more expensive than gasoline here - we pay more than in the US for our fuel," continues Alexander Bobkov. "It was an important factor when choosing the Volvo machines, which have a reputation for being very fuel efficient." Fuel efficiency is just one area where Heidelberg is trying to drive down costs. Were it not for the quality of the limestone, removing such a large amount of overburden would be hard to justify on cost grounds alone.

The new Volvos are proving reliable, and are covered by a 'blue' customer support agreement, meaning that the quarry need only carry out routine daily maintenance. The machines are also efficient - helping the quarry to produce more than it currently needs. While the quarry's main product today is aggregates between 5-20mm (0.2-0.8in), (which is used for concrete production) the over-production will cease when the new cement plant comes fully on line, its 1.85 million tonnes a year capacity demanding much of the quarry's output.

In these new, more straightened times, this move appears farsighted. Concentrating on increasing productivity and driving down costs, with a modern fleet of mobile equipment and the latest in crushing and cement production, Heidelberg and Gurovo Beton are ready to capitalize on Russia's infrastructure expansion plans. With 54 million cubic meters (71 million yd³) of limestone in reserve Gurovo Beton has many years of efficient production to look forward to. With the latest technology and machinery at its disposal, it's come a long way since hammers and chisels did the work.