Officially announced on the 17th September 2012, the expedition will see a human first, as legendary explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes and his team cross the Antarctic in the middle of winter at temperatures reaching as low as -70 degrees. The team will be relying on two Caterpillar’s supplied D6N track type tractors that have been substantially re-engineered by Finning UK, to pull accommodation and science cabooses across some of the coldest and harshest terrain in the world.
It was also an honour to meet Finning engineer Spencer Smirl, who hails from Dawson Creek, British Columbia, Canada, and at 28 years of age will be the youngest member of the expedition team in his role as lead engineer. Spencer was selected with a number of other engineers, after a call was sent out to the global Finning network for volunteers to go out to the North of Sweden on field trials, with a D6N that only had a small number of modifications on it. The trials involved a number of team building exercises, games and problem solving tasks, which had been set up by the team selection board which included Robert Thomas and Steve Hall. The guys were tested to the limit with most only getting three hours sleep a night, and also having to perform mundane but essential tasks like cooking, cleaning and keeping the house in order, along with the other 15 members of the camp. All the contenders then went through psychometric testing to see if they would be capable of withstanding the inevitable pressures they are going to face. To cut a long story short, Spencer came out on top and was selected for the role of lead engineer.
Spencer was then involved in the selection of the second Finning field engineer. Following another selection process, Richmond Dykes from Finning Ireland was selected from a group of nine contenders. We will talk more about Richmond in part two. In the meantime, Spencer was keen to show us some of the modifications that have taken place on the D6N’s.
There are at least a dozen modifications to these Cat dozers that are totally unique, and that you would never see on any other conventional D6N. The most striking and noticeable addition, is the hydraulically actuated arm which is mounted on top of the blade, which has been named the crevasse boom, which has been designed to increase the overall length of the machine, as well as giving the operators some crane ability when used in conjunction with the blade.
But more importantly, when fitted with its forward ski attachment, it enables the operator to manipulate the machines traction and can also act as a guide to forthcoming snow and ice softness, also include on top of the blade is this acrow attachment, for fixing a radar mast that extends 12 metres in front of the blade. Most of the time, Sir Ranulph Fiennes and members of his team will be pulling a sledge with the crevasse detection unit on it, in front of the lead D6N. But if for any reason they are not able to do so, or are resting the ground penetrating radar will be fitted to the mast on the lead dozer, and Spencer will then be able to access to forthcoming ground conditions from a monitor screen within the cab.
Also of interest, in the centre of the blade is the addition of a retrieval point, it was felt necessary to fit this as there are not many points on a dozer blade to attach to in terms of recovery. This tow point is rated at 55 tonnes, which is over twice the weight of the machine itself.
All hydraulic hoses have been insulated, with the hydraulic ram cylinders, like these that actuate the crevasse boom, also receiving special custom made insulation wraps.
In part two we will continue our look around the features of these unique dozers.