January 11, 2016

Big Iron

Nestled on the westernmost edge of the Mesabi Iron Range sits Grand Rapids, Minnesota. A town of over 10,000 founded on timber harvesting and iron-ore mining, Grand Rapids maintains its frontier feel regardless of the growing amount of tourism. It's here that the Mississippi River is narrow enough to throw a stone across, the wilderness feels as expansive as in a Jack London novel, and there's an unmistakable sense of self-reliance among the locals.

One such resident is the industrious Tom Hammerlund Sr., founder and owner of Hammerlund Construction, a general contractor that runs up to 544 employees strong. Respectfully referred to as Senior, he got his start in construction at the age of 18 in Santa Barbara, California. It was only three years before Senior was head of his own pipe crew, and within a decade he decided to bring his talents back to Minnesota. After running a dairy operation for 10 years Senior got back to playing in the dirt, and he's been at it for the last 30.

The Magic of Magnetation

From the late 1800s up through the 1970s, iron-ore mining relied heavily on blasting and drilling to attain high-grade, useable material. This process created a considerable amount of what was considered waste product — red rocks, called jig, and a powdery mix of dirt and hematite, referred to as tailings. The jig can be seen scattered across the landscape in massive piles, while the tailings were mixed into slurry and pumped into pits.

"Hammerlund does large dirt projects, municipal sewer and water, and large and small concrete projects, and we're heavily into mining for a Grand Rapids company called Magnetation," says Senior. "They reclaim the low-grade iron ore — called hematite — that was a byproduct of the original mining process, and they recycle it." It's an operation called "smart mineral recovery," and given the amount of material at hand, "smart" is an understatement.

With so much of the hard work out of the way, now it's just a matter of collecting the material that's already been mined and processing it for quality. Featuring proprietary technology, processes, and work ethic, Magnetation has developed a means of separating the hematite from the tailings, which eventually goes on to be used in everyday products.

Moving at Mag-Speed with Deere Equipment

Perhaps most impressive is the pace of the project. "The site and entrance-road earthwork started in December of 2013, we began pouring concrete for the building at the end of March, and the plant should be running by this December," says Senior. "It's quite the fast turnaround, but they have a phrase at Magnetation — they call it 'Mag Speed.' They're very quick to build and get production going." And who better to keep pace with the heavy lifting than Hammerlund Construction.

While its sister company, Champion Steel, erects the building and installs equipment, Hammerlund Construction is hard at work creating a stockpile for the plant's winter feed — 3.5-million yards of tailings to be processed while the snow falls. And overseeing this 6,000-plus-acre expanse of a project is Hammerlund's Site Superintendent Jody Neary. Starting off at Hammerlund as an operator, he's now responsible for cracking the whip to keep projects on track.

"We were working 12-hour days, six days a week for awhile before Magnetation told us to slow down. In just four short months these workhorses moved over 1.8-million yards of tailings.

"If the job requires, we can run John Deere articulated dump trucks and excavators double shifts, usually without any trouble — they're pretty maintenance free. The productivity of the Deere equipment helps us meet and exceed the goals expected of us from our customers. And with the tight schedule of this project, we greatly depend on their reliability, durability, and longevity."

These are crucial characteristics for a plant projected to run 24 hours a day, seven days a week — with enough material on-site to stay busy for the next 80 years.

Team Chemistry

Moving 3.5-million yards of material — at Mag Speed, no less — requires some coordination, and there's no doubt Neary has ironed out the details. "Our 400D Articulated Dump Trucks paired up with our 850D LC Excavators offer tremendous cycle times. The 850D LC is capable of loading one of these trucks in just over a minute, and in good conditions these ADTs can move up to 1,200 yards an hour."

So after being filled with two quick scoops of the excavators' 8.5-yard buckets, the ADTs run 1.7 miles one way, drop their load, and are back, ready for more in about 11 minutes.

And traversing this jobsite is a joyride thanks to the 400D's efficiency enhancing features. Rain or shine, its controlled-traction differentials and transfer case diff lock provide a traction boost for climbing the steep hills in and out of the pits. Its excellent payload-to-weight ratio means more fuel dollars are spent moving material, not the machine. And with its central oscillation joint, high-suspension travel on all axles, and balanced weight distribution, it has the agility and ability to navigate the toughest terrain.

The Canary of the Iron Mine

While dangerous gases aren't much of a concern with an open pit, there are plenty of other potential problems that can bring productivity to a halt. Luckily, with JDLink™, your dealer has access to the detailed performance data of your machines, allowing you to avoid costly maintenance issues and providing the ability to handle them swiftly should they occur.

"JDLink is really nice for maintenance purposes or troubleshooting," says Neary. "Our local Nortrax dealer already knows of our problem before we can call them, and they're on it trying to get it resolved. One time they called to let us know about an operator over-revving a machine — that's something I'd never be able to know, but they saw the problem and we were able to fix it. It helps us be more productive and have less downtime on the machines by addressing problems faster."

Parts and Expertise Always Within Reach

Just like the John Deere equipment you purchase, our relationship with you is built to last. And it all starts with your local dealer. "I've been with John Deere since I started the company," says Senior. "What I like about Deere equipment is the reliability — they continue to run well, and I like the service my Nortrax dealer gives me — our sales rep, Bob Cook, keeps us up and running all the time."

Neary agrees: "Our local Nortrax dealer is excellent at getting us the parts we need. Whether it's an overnight shipment or readily available on the shelf, their field technicians are Johnny-on-the-spot when we call. Or if they can't get here, they're quick to give us the information we need to address the problem ourselves." From getting you the right machines for the job, to keeping you productive and profitable, Deere is here to help you go big with your big iron.