3500 horsepower mountain goat

In conjunction with a truck builder, Cummins Engine Company in UK has developed the only engine capable of running at high altitude as smoothly as it does at sea level. The engine incorporates an oil filtration system that cleans the engine oil so efficiently that it can be used four times longer than in a conventional filter system.

DATE 2023-11-28 AUTHOR Peter Rose

Next time you are wheeling a barrow-load of compost around your garden, imagine how it would feel to do the same thing at 4,500 metres (15,000 feet) above sea level. At that altitude, the air is so thin that, without extra oxygen, your engine – in other words your cardio-vascular system – could seize up. In fact, the effort would probably kill you.

So, an engine capable of working as efficiently at extreme altitude as it does at sea level would have to be quite extraordinary. Yet, that is just what the engineers at Cummins Engine Company in Daventry, UK, have developed in conjunction with  partners, truck builder Komatsu. And not just any old engine either. This particular beast was created by incorporating Komatsu’s engine power cylinder technology with Cummins QSK60, 16 cylinder engine. The result is an 18 cylinder, 78-litre motor that generates a massive 3,500 HP (2,610 kW). In everyday terms, that’s roughly equivalent to the output of 40 or more family saloon car engines.

Mind you, the power unit needs every one of those litres because its job is to provide traction and power for a new breed of “Ultra-Class”, Komatsu haul trucks that weigh over 200 tonnes and have a payload in excess of 320 tonnes. What’s more, the trucks in question spend most of their lives operating in the rarefied atmosphere of ore mines located 3,000 to 4,200 metres up in the mountains of Chile and Indonesia.

Efficient at high altitude

According to Robin Bremmer, Cummins Chief Engineer, who oversaw the engine’s development in conjunction with Komatsu, “The QSK78 is the only engine currently available capable of running at high altitude just as smoothly and powerfully as it does at ground level. The secret,” he said, “is in the imaginative engineering and the universal application of smart electronics.”

The QSK78, like its QSK60 predecessor, is also designed to provide maximum output with the longest possible service intervals and lowest consumables costs. The economics of operating today’s mines require engines to provide 98 % uptime in order to achieve 92 % overall truck utilization. When you consider that each truck costs in excess of $3 million, it’s easy to understand why the mine operators hate to see them standing idle.

To achieve these levels of utilization, Cummins have leaned heavily on other companies who are as specialized in their own fields as Cummins are in theirs. For instance, the QSK78 engine incorporates an Alfa Laval EliminatorTM oil filtration system that cleans and recycles the engine oil, allowing it to be used for 2,000 hours compared to the 500 hours that would be the maximum possible using conventional oil filter system.

12 years without service

The Eliminator module incorporates an automatic, self-cleaning filter combined with a high-speed centrifugal separator that bolts directly onto the engine block. The filter element is designed to last the lifetime of the engine which, in this case, is 12 years and requires no servicing at all during operation. The centrifuge needs to be cleaned at each of the 2,000-hour service intervals.

The Eliminator works hand in glove with CentinelTM, a Cummins developed oil-management system that protects the engine by automatically replenishing used oil with new oil. To reduce the impact on the environment, used oil is blended with the fuel and burnt as a useful and recycled energy source.

According to Robin Bremmer, the Centinel system enables oil change intervals to be extended up to 4,000 hours, while the Eliminator filter system is so efficient at removing foreign particles and engine soot and impurities that, with the proper monitoring and analysis, the oil could be recycled almost indefinitely.

Boosted production in Indonesia and Chile

At the mine in Freeport, Indonesia, these levels of efficiency have greatly improved the overall operational efficiency of the ore hauling operation.

Before they introduced Cummins QSK60-powered engines – fitted with Eliminator and with the Centinel oil-management systems - to the site, the operators were employing several dozen Komatsu trucks powered by a competitor’s engine. To obtain 5,000 continuous hours of production for each of these trucks, they had to maintain a large stock of replacement engines on site, using them to replace or rebuild broken-down engines. Since they switched to the Cummins engines, however, they have been able to operate with a single engine per truck.

At the Chuquicamata Mine in Chile, Komatsu are operating their truck with the new QSK78 engine. Thanks to the extra speed and power available, they squeeze an additional full payload out of each truck every day. More to the point, they do all of this and achieve in excess of 15,000 hours continuous operation from each engine before any scheduled overhaul work is completed.

Since the trucks operate 24 hours per day, seven days a week, this represents a massive boost to production. But, along with better efficiency has come a positive effect on the environment. The Cummins engines provide best-in-class fuel consumption, a vitally important factor given the 1,200 gallon fuel capacity of each truck. They also generate lower emissions and use less oil and other consumables than the equivalent, competitive engines. So, overall, the environmental impact is considerably reduced.