BY THOMAS C MOUNTAIN
Eritrea needs training for its drivers, operators, and technicians. A good example of this is in its new mining ore transport industry.
Today Eritrea is running upwards of 200 trucks delivering zinc [and copper] ore concentrate from the Bisha mine in Gash Barka to the ore loading terminal at the port of Massawa. These are brand new trucks made by a joint German (Man Trucks) and Chinese (Sinotruk) partnership and are modern, including something no other truck in Eritrea has, an engine brake.
Engine brakes automatically shut off diesel fuel to the engine when it is running downhill under loads, effectively eliminating the power stroke without interfering in the compression stroke, in effect turning the engine into a large compressor with the resistance being used to slow down the truck, as in Engine Automatic Brake. When the driver takes his foot off the accelerator pedal the engine brake, when turned on, automatically shuts off the fuel, turning the engine into a compressor/brake. When the driver steps back on the accelerator pedal, the engine brake automatically shuts off, restoring fuel to the engine and allowing the power stroke to resume and powering the truck.
In most countries, any large truck carrying heavy loads down steep inclines are required to have an engine brake, and every one of the new Sinotruk’s has one.
The problem is none of the drivers in Eritrea has ever seen one before, all the heavy trucks in service today in our country date back from before engine brakes were widely introduced back in the 1980s.
When a large truck carrying a heavy load, 30 tons or more as in the ore concentrate from Bisha, go down a long steep incline like the road from Asmara to Massawa, the only way the drivers, without an engine brake, can maintain safe operating speeds is by downshifting the transmission to use the engine to hold the truck back. If the driver misses a shift and the transmission goes into neutral disconnecting the engine from the drive train the truck can “runaway”.
Conventional air brakes, what was the only braking system in older trucks, overheat and fail if the driver has to rely on them to control vehicle speeds.
This is why engine brakes were introduced, for with them the driver merely had to take his foot off the accelerator pedal and the engine brake would take over turning the engine into an air compressor (noted for it loud bop-bop-bop sound) and the truck would immediately start to slow down and would continue to do so until it comes to a complete stop, or the driver steps back on the pedal, restoring the fuel supply and normal driving operation.
I can’t tell you how many times I have driven uphill from Massawa to Asmara these past years since copper/zinc mining started in Bisha and smelt the burnt asbestos brake pads on trucks passing me coming from Bisha with a full load.
>> ALSO READ : Outer Asmara Ring Road Project
I also wondered why these new trucks did not have engine brakes, with its distinctive, loud (some urban areas require them to be turned off in their jurisdiction due to their loud annoying nature) blatting roar.
After years of smelling burnt out brakes and passing crashed runaway trucks on the Massawa – Asmara road, I finally stuck my head inside one of the new Sinotruk cabins and low and behold there was the engine brake button on the dashboard, bearing the white letters of EAB, engine automatic brake.
I turned to the driver and managed to ask him in my broken Tigrinya what this button, EAB, was for? His answer? Gidef, gidef, don’t touch that, it causes the engine to make a loud noise and stop.
How many trucks have been destroyed going down the Asmara-Massawa road, how many lives lost when a driver missed a shift and the truck “ran-away”, eventually crashing? And all of this could have been prevented if the drivers had used the engine brakes their trucks were equipped with?
I asked the Sinotruk dealer in Eritrea if I could see their driver manual for their trucks and was handed a glossy booklet…entirely in Chinese. That’s right, no English translations for the drivers manual so no driver in Eritrea, even those few who could read English, could learn how to use the EAB, engine automatic brake.
So gidef, gidef, don’t touch the EAB, remains the rule of the road today in Eritrea’s mining transport industry. With the new Dubarwa-Embadurho copper mine and Danakali potash mine starting up this year in Eritrea another 400 or more trucks will be added to our government run fleet, with potash being transported from Colluli in the Danakil to Massawa by the same rotainer system, and trucks, for all three mines.
All that needs to be done is take a short training video off the internet showing visually how the engine brake works and translating the words and graphics into Tigrinya and our drivers would join the rest of the modern transport industry and start to use something so vital to road safety and vehicle efficiency, the engine brake.
This is an example of why Eritrea needs training for its drivers, operators, and technicians, for we are spending tens of millions of dollars on modern trucks and Caterpillar equipment where the operator cab looks more like a computer bay than a bulldozer cabin. All to often lack of training is effectively preventing efficient use of these badly needed machines. We could start by asking the Sinotruk to translate their driver’s manuals into English, at the least. Better yet, make an instructional video on how to use the engine brake in Tigrinya and require all the drivers to watch it.
Stay tuned for Part 2, where we look at how a modern preventative maintenance program in Eritrea’s mines would prevent tens, even hundreds of millions of dollars in lost production time by using a state of the art, and very simple, oil analysis program to prevent equipment failure in the field.
Thomas C. Mountain worked in the heavy equipment field in the USA for twenty years, and was a Heavy Equipment Instructor and Foreman for one of the largest mining, construction, and energy companies in the country. See thomascmountain on Facebook and on Twitter or best reach him at thomascmountain a g mail dot com