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Westech serves global energy economy from shop in Mills

Jul 10, 2014 - By Randy Tucker, Staff Writer

CASPER -- One of the prevalent political catch phrases of the day is "global economy." We hear and read about this concept often but it rarely appears on our doorstep.

If you were to drive south from Mills along the picturesque road that parallels the North Platte River you probably wouldn't take special notice of the large metal shop buildings just to the east of the road as it crosses the river. But if you did, then you would find a prime example of the global economy in action in Wyoming.

Westech is a world leader in the design of truck bodies and truck-mounted water tanks for the mining industry. With 229 workers, Westech and its subsidiary, WOTCO, are one of the largest employers in Natrona County and an integral part of the local economy.

The companies began in 1938 as WOTCO, working with the Casper oil industry. In 1969 WOTCO began manufacturing truck bodies for the mining industry. In the mid-1980s, Westech began to design custom or mine-specific bodies. In 2007 Westech became a member of the Brisbane, Australia-based Austin Engineering Group.

Austin Engineering has additional manufacturing facilities in Indonesia, South America and at home down under in Australia.

Any child familiar with Tonka trucks would be fascinated by the sheer magnitude of scale present in WOTCO's165,000 square foot production facility.

"We do all the engineering on these truck bodies right here," said Richard Peters, Westech North American sales manager.

The company takes special pride in the durability, engineering and design of its truck bodies.

"When a mine orders a Westech engineered and designed body, it is manufactured to the same standards worldwide as in Casper," said Rick Reynolds, Westech chief engineer.

With Westech bodies operating on six continents, the location, climate and type of material being mined are all key components of a truck body design. Temperature extremes of 140 above zero to nearly 60 below zero Fahrenheit can cause severe problems if bodies aren't constructed of the correct steel.

"We choose the steel directly from the mills that will give our customers the best product," Reynolds said. "We design bodies specific to the mine they're going into. Bodies are specific to the density of the product."

Moving overburden or oil sands in the extreme cold of Northern Canada presents different stresses on material compared to hauling a similar product from an open pit in the hot desert of the Australian Outback, but Westech designs quality, durable truck bodies for both locales and many others in between.

The major original equipment manufacturers producing heavy mine haul trucks are Caterpillar, Komatsu, Liebherr and Hitachi. All build huge chassis for the mining industry.

Westech has designed truck bodies for all the OEM companies. It attributes its success to the development of its own mine-specific designs which are manufactured throughout the world in Austin Engineering Group facilities.

One of Westech's large truck bodies, designed to hold 400 tons of material, set a world record in June 2011 at the North Antelope Rochelle mine near Gillette. The Liebherr T282C haul truck moved 447.3 tons, representing 615 cubic yards of material in one load. The Guinness Book of World Records recognized this as the largest payload by volume ever recorded.

To put it in perspective, one payload from this world record Westech truck body can fill more than four rail cars.

Westech's patent-pending design the flow control body reduces dust each time the payload is dumped. Not only does this create a cleaner, safer work environment, but it reduces the cost of dust abatement as well, saving the customer money.

With even the smaller bodies -- and "small" is a relative term in the oversized world of open-pit mining -- transportation is a major issue.

A 240-ton class body is 26 feet wide, 40 feet long and 13 feet high before it's placed on the trailer to be moved.

Planning and permitting is an ongoing process. Each state has its own rules and regulations involving moving oversized loads.

"Laws are different anywhere you go," Peters said.

In spite of the difficulties involved in traveling around low overhangs, through narrow gaps in roadways and around bridges, the movement of one of these huge beds can be very quick.

The bodies can be transported intact but often are shipped in segments, with final welds taking place at the customer location. The bodies arrive in two-third and one-third sections. Welding angles, tightening structures and support mechanisms are part of the preparation, transportation and final assembly process.

Westech also designs water tanks, live cable reels, cable handlers, and oilfield-specific cable reels, both truck- and trailer-mounted.

Westech has designed large drag lines buckets that can move 160 cubic yards or more of material at a time for a major OEM. To put a drag line of that size into perspective it would take roughly 22,000 heaping shovels of dirt with a garden shovel to equal one pull on the bucket.

Westech continues to be a leader in the world in truck bodies in the midst of fluctuating world markets.

"In times like this, we are always looking at developing new products, enhancing our current products, and new strategies for the mining industry," Peters said.

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