Eyes for the Legs

Menzi Muck

The Menzi Muck’s speed and operational angles are without par within various terrain and limited access areas. Images: Hicks Mining

Leica Geosystems tools are proving to be the perfect complement for the specialist land clearing tasks of a Victorian terrain management company.

Menzi Muck walking excavators are a sight to behold when seen in operation on steep and inhospitable terrain.
Often referred to as spiders because of their extendable and articulated arms, their ingenious high-tech chassis make them widely used in sectors such as construction, specialist civil engineering, forestry, gardening and landscaping, municipal technology, drilling technology, and more.

One company that has been making the most of the machine has been Vertx Civil, a subsidiary of Hicks Mining Australia, which focuses on supplying consulting and specialised labour.

As Managing Director Nathan Hicks explains, Vertx Civil is based in north east Victoria within the Kiewa Valley near Albury-Wodonga. “We are a small company specialising in mining, quarrying, and civil projects that require a specialist approach or change of day-to-day conventional methods,” Nathan said.

“These are usually projects that are restrained by geology, limited access, steep terrain, emergency situations and surrounding infrastructure. We offer skilled support personnel and equipment that ensure the project is completed to high standards and overcome the limiting constraints.

“This may be ground support (above and below ground), landslip remediation, bush firefighting and hazard reduction, infrastructure installation, pile installation and limited access excavation/underground development.”

With 19 years’ experience in the mining and civil industries home and abroad, and with knowledge of methods of specialised work used in many different countries, Nathan realised there was a lack of machines within the local region that could undertake work in inaccessible areas without disturbing the surrounding habitat or infrastructure.

So when Vertx was formed, the first item procured was a Menzi Muck M5x, which could handle a range of applications.

Clients have been lining up to use the machine, including the likes of AGL, Alpine Resorts Victoria, and Whelans Group Investments, which is currently working to repair two landslips in Victoria’s high country on behalf of Major Road Projects Victoria.

“Our client base is constantly growing, and it has been booked out since January this year,” Nathan said.

Leica Geosystems spider

The spider uses Leica Geosystems navigational tools to obtain full coverage when slewing around or transversing steep terrain.

“It’s a one-machine-that-does-all. Yes, it lacks the bulk digging capacity that a conventional excavator would.

“However, its speed and operational angles are untouchable within various terrain and limited access areas. It also includes the rototill R4 hitch, which again changes the dynamics of excavation angles.

“The spider has an incredible hydraulic flow for its size, that provides drilling capacity in areas that other conventional excavators with a similar attachment would not reach or have the capacity to drive.”

Nathan acknowledged that the Menzi Muck did not come cheap.

“These machines come at a significant cost within a seven-figure number. Understandably, the hourly rate of this machine, in particular, would be significantly increased from what one would pay in comparison to a 20t excavator equivalent,” he said.

“However, this cost is offset by access speed and how it moves within hills, creeks, over fences and positioning over road edges.

“This is not limited to building and maintaining access roads or damaging vegetation, rivers, and streams. In some cases, we simply drive along a sealed road, step over a barrier and mulch or clean out drainage infrastructure immediately.

“Once the clients witness the machine in operation in person, they will see how safely the excavator works over various terrains, guaranteeing mobility and stability.

“We commonly conduct demonstrations and documentation for interested parties, and 99 percent of the time, they walk away with confidence in what we do and how the machine will perform safely.”

And Vertx will soon add a tree felling head option within the company, focusing on emergency works and hazardous tree removal.

“As we are based in the Victorian Alpine region, bushfires are common, and we are looking for ways to reduce fuel loads by maintaining vegetation and fighting fires when the inevitable happens. The Menzi is quick to respond, being registered and on rubber tyres,” Nathan said.

The operations of the spider are amplified by various support equipment and attachments, including compressors, rock drills, piling core barrels, auger hitches, and mulching attachments.

But undoubtedly some of the main valueadding components have been the range of surveying and geo-navigational solutions offered by C.R. Kennedy.

The C.R. Kennedy connection

Nathan said the majority of mines within Australia and throughout the world use Leica Geosystems, which offeres machine control solutions comprising software, hardware, and cloud services to enable efficient, productive, and sustainable heavy construction operations.

The Leica iXE3 MC1 platform allows for full 3D GPS and antimony of tilt rotators, as well as full functionality using a Robotic Total Station.

“Hicks Mining first procured a Leica MS60 multistation from C.R. Kennedy in 2022, which was heavily utilised in the business not just for mining applications but civil surveys, setouts and designs,” Nathan said.

“Following this, we procured a Leica GS18 for rapid on-ground feature survey pickups, asbuilt staking and setouts. This can also be set as an onsite base when required.

“In addition to the mentioned platforms, we know first-hand that clients today want to know where we dig and how much. It's becoming more common to have drones flying overhead and 3D model creation for all types of projects, not just large applications but small works are becoming common.

Leica Geosystems spider

The machine helps reduce fuel loads by maintaining vegetation and fighting fires when the inevitable happens.

“Due to the company's business focus and where we operate, we need systems that provide solutions when the going gets tough. This may be in a steep gully, on the side of a steep hill, or in an underground environment.

“Satellites and GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) are not always available, so we then rely on the MS60 for accurate location.”

Nathan said that depending on the size and tolerance requirements, operating the spider under GNSS (RTK correction) is a simple and straightforward system.

“We receive the various design data and/ or boundary line work containing the limiting work areas and sensitive receptors,” he said.

“Some clients may produce data from two or more departments, such as environmental, not just from designers or engineers. We compile this in a project package within a Leica MC1 software device located within the spider and we are ready to work.

“Or alternatively, we may build an infield design based on grabbing points with the bucket to create a drain or pad.

“The spider can be pretty crossed up in some situations, so having this option helps ensure it will be right the first time. The MC1 platform reads all the functions of the spider, including the tilt rotator and telescopic boom.

“If GNSS cannot be obtained due to steep terrain or underground environments, we have optioned the MS60 to guide the spider.

“The MC1 solution allows for two total stations or multistations to be connected at once. This provides full coverage when slewing around or transversing steep terrain, ensuring you are always locked.

“We commonly achieve 10mm accuracy at the bucket with this system.” Nathan said it was becoming more of a requirement to have guided equipment rather than a cost saving.

“Clients are requesting it from contractors, and if you're not up with it, then prepare to miss out on the opportunity,” he said.

“This is the first spider excavator within Australia to have 3D guidance and one of very few within the world (and a first for the Leica MC1 platform).

“It is setting the level for ensuring that regardless of the terrain or area you are working in, you can ensure that you're marking the right spot, whether it’s within work zone boundaries that can't be set out due to terrain or the size of the area; or where surveyors cannot gain access during work, such as hills where ropes may be required.”

Nathan was also full of praise for C.R. Kennedy’s after-sales service and maintenance, which he feels was exceptional.

“As the first spider equipped with the Leica MC1, C.R. Kennedy went above and beyond to make it work,” he said.

“The install quality was excellent, with the crew going out of their way to make it look neat and tidy. We recommend C.R. Kennedy to anyone wanting an equipment guidance package or surveying equipment, for that matter.

“We need to be confident in what we survey and build to in any application. Confidence requires trust, and we believe that we have that covered with C.R. Kennedy and their key organisational personnel. Support has always been second to none.”

As seen in Earthmoving Equipment Magazine