7495 dipper at Alpha Coal
7495 dipper at Alpha Coal

Partnering to Increase Rope Shovel Productivity

See how a new dipper design helped Alpha Coal West increase the producitivty of their operation

By Caterpillar | Posted August 18, 2022

In Wyoming’s Powder River Basin — the largest coal mining area in the United States — big machines do big work. But one mining company, Alpha Coal West, knew there was a way to get more from their machines — in particular a Cat® 7495 Electric Rope Shovel loading Cat 797 Trucks at the company’s Belle Ayr mine.

“We came up with an idea about taking a 7495 to the next step and creating a better ultra-class shovel that would pass match with the 797,” said Alpha Coal West General Manager Ken Ferguson.

Ferguson’s team took the idea to Caterpillar. The goal was to create a three-pass dipper that would more efficiently load the 400-ton truck. Alpha Coal West worked with Cat dealer Wyoming Machinery and Caterpillar’s Global Mining team to find the solution.

The Caterpillar design team accepted the challenge and went to work, developing new ideas for the dipper and a Ground Engaging Tools system. Concepts were validated by Alpha Coal with the help of Wyoming Machinery.

It wasn’t always an easy process. “The test had its ups and downs,” said Kent Bowker, a Wyoming Machinery Product Support Sales Representative. At one point, Alpha Coal had decided to go with a competitive product. “But Caterpillar came back to the design table with all the data and addressed all the issues,” he said.

This new solution has enabled Alpha Coal to load more coal in less time, significantly improving productivity. But there is always room for improvement. Alpha helped Caterpillar further refine the system on the redesigned dipper to reduce wear on the teeth.

“We’ve had a vast improvement there, also,” said Terry Lien, Alpha Coal West’s lead field maintenance technician. “I bet we’ve cut our time in half replacing teeth and adapters because of the time we spent developing and going through the process.”

Alpha Coal West is always looking for ways to work more efficiently and productively, especially in times when commodity prices are low. They now count Caterpillar and their Cat dealer as partners in that effort.

“We brought (Caterpillar) a specific set of needs — with our material, with our productivity, the speed we expect to load this dipper. All of those things were listened to,” said Ferguson. “The Cat dealer has been our voice; has helped bring the necessary parties together to help design and build this project. One thing that Caterpillar absolutely never ceases to amaze me with is they’re constantly seeking to build a better product.”


Cat Electric Rope Shovels help you load more material — more efficiently and more cost-effectively.

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Electric Rope Shovels
Electric Rope Shovels