A Caterpillar D8R Series II bulldozer was granted a respite from its decade-long duties clearing snow off the runways in Antarctica to undertake a well-earned holiday and makeover in the Canterbury sun. HUGH DE LACY explains.
THE D8R BULLDOZER, TAKEN to the ice new by the United States Antarctic Program (USAP) in 2004, has just completed a ground-up makeover at Gough Group’s Christchurch headquarters.
The machine was flown up to Christchurch in November on a Boeing C17 Globemaster, and headed back to Antarctica by resupply vessel from Lyttelton in mid-January.
Its total rebuild further cemented the service relationship between Gough Group and the USAP which has been operating since 1957.
Among other roles, the D8R bulldozer’s job in Antarctica is establishing and maintaining the Williams Field and Pegasus runways at McMurdo Station to keep them open for the vital supply flights from Christchurch that continue for much of the year.
It had done 13,000 hours’ work in its decade on the planet’s driest continent, dozing with an unusually wide blade designed primarily for shifting bulk materials such as stacks of coal or woodchip around in the warmer parts of the world.
Weighing around 38,000 kilograms, the D8R is fitted with a 305hp 3406E engine and travels on unusually wide, low-ground-pressure tracks.
The standard cab gives it a height of 3.5 metres, and it’s 4.95 metres wide and 6.5 metres long.
The makeover was carried out by three of Gough’s Christchurch divisions, with the workshop performing the disassembly and inspection, the replacement of the cab, hydraulic hoses, the undercarriage group and the wiring harnesses, the rebuild of track frames/cannons, reassembly, testing and run-up, and painting.
The Component Rebuild Centre stripped and rebuilt the engine and transmission, and the Engineering Group re-bored all of the ripper linkage and track frame mounts, and made repairs to the blade.
John Gillman, Gough national parts manager, told Contractor that the most obvious wear on the machine was to the hydraulic hoses which had been subjected to more than a decade of successive freezing and thawing.
“Anything rubber deteriorates in the cold from the constant temperature recycling, and this can present a major issue in such a pristine environment as Antarctica,” Gillman says.
“The machine’s kept outside and at the season start-up they have to thaw it when they want to use it, using specialised heaters.
“Once thawed the machine is equipped with fluid compartment heaters for daily use.”
The machine was “generally in good condition for its age, hours and operating environment, and had been well maintained by [USAP’s] site technicians”.
For operator comfort, and as part of the cab refurbishment, a Webasto diesel-fired heater was fitted. To reduce unnecessary idling time, the heater works without the engine running – something now quite common in machinery working in extreme cold, though it was the first one the Gough Group had fitted in Christchurch.
Also fitted during the overhaul were a heavy-duty capacitor, on-board battery tender, special batteries, battery heaters and a high-output alternator – all accessories to help cold weather starting in one of the world’s most challenging environments.
“Gough were extremely pleased to be engaged with the US National Science Foundation’s USAP in the rebuild of the Caterpillar D8R,” Gillman says.
“We’re pleased that we have been able to meet their requirements and turn the machine around in the timeframe of three months.”
Gough Group also has an ongoing relationship with the New Zealand Antarctic programme, having recently supplied a Caterpillar 312DL excavator which is used in general service at Scott Base.
A Caterpillar 924K wheel-loader was also supplied to the Kiwis on the ice recently.
Gough’s lower South Island regional manager, Dean Heney, says the refurbishment of the USAP’s D8 gave the company the chance to showcase its technical skills, especially at the Component Rebuild Centre, “which is designed to cope with this highly technical work”.
The centre’s manager, Gavin Hoyland, says the most satisfying part of the process was hooking the engine up to the dyno “to really test it”.
“McMurdo Station is a long way away, and the last thing you want is an untested engine failing in that environment – it’s not like one of our technicians can jump into the ute and drive out to fix it.”