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Elders’ new Rockingham wool handling hub on track for July opening

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Adam PoulsenCountryman
Elders' new Rockingham wool handling hub is being built at the former Jandakot Wool Washing scouring plant.
Camera IconElders' new Rockingham wool handling hub is being built at the former Jandakot Wool Washing scouring plant. Credit: Supplied/Elders

Elders’ new Rockingham wool handing hub is nearing practical completion, with the groundbreaking facility on track to open on July 1.

The Rockingham hub is part of a $25 million project which also includes a new hub in Melbourne which is set to open early next year.

The Melbourne hub will be the world’s first automated wool-handling business using driverless, robot forklifts, with Elders considering rolling out the technology at the Rockingham site at a later date.

In the meantime, the Rockingham hub will use six electric Linde forklifts that can run all day after an overnight charge.

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The facility itself will be largely solar-powered in line with Elders’ target of achieving 100 per cent renewable electricity at all of its Australian sites by 2025.

Elders WA operations manager Ryan Fletcher told Countryman the business would be “cost effective and eco-friendly”.

“We’re going to be traditionally running with a brand new core line and electronic forklifts; it’s all going to be run by solar and energy efficient,” he said.

“But I think down the track we’ll be assessing how we’re going and the autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs) are definitely on the cards.

“The core line we’ve had made is actually designed so that if we go to AGVs, it’s ready for it.”

The Rockingham facility will be the main storage point for wool bales sold at Fremantle, with trucks bringing in bales from regional WA.

It will be at the former Jandakot Wool Washing scouring plant, which closed in 2009 after 70 years and is now being rented to Elders.

Mr Fletcher said solar panels had already been installed and the next step was to fit out the facility and install the new core line.

He estimated the facility would be able to store 15 to 17,000 wool bales.

“Our warehouse space, which will be for storage, core line and show floor, is 11,000sqm,” Mr Fletcher said.

“The office space and cafeteria, toilets and the rest is 800sqm and our hardstand and lean-to is 5000sqm: that’s where we’ll be unloading wool as it’s waiting to be processed and brought in.”

Mr Fletcher said Elders was also striving to “remove separation in the wool industry” between staff, growers and buyers with the hub.

“I think it’s going to be fantastic for the growers. We’ve actually got a dedicated viewing room, which is a glass-panelled room where they can come in and look at their results, talk with their district wool manager and watch the coring in front of them,” he said.

“They can meet the buyers, watch the forklifts driving around from a safe distance and feel part of it.

“I don’t think it’s been done before. I think there’s been a bit of a separation with the clients and the actual work that goes on with their wool.

“I think the district wool managers will be more proud to bring them to a place where they can do that.”

TVs will also be set up throughout the facility to stream live auctions.

Mr Fletcher said the project should reach practical completion this month.

“We’ve got the general layout all coming along nice and smooth at the moment,” he said.

“It’s all starting to happen and it’s getting quite exciting.”

The Victorian facility at Ravenhall, about 26km west of Melbourne, will be able to store 60,000 wool bales and be supported by a network of receival centres around the State.

Bales will be stacked 10 high in a 35,000sqm warehouse and moved using a fleet of 22 laser-guided electric AGVs which will operate 24 hours a day before recharging for 90 minutes.

Elders wool handling commercial manager Brodie Easton told media this month the AGVs “far outperform the standard forklift” in terms of safety and sustainability.

“The motto is ‘no client will be worse off’: your experience will only improve with this new wool handling capability,” he said.

Mr Easton said the project would “revolutionise” wool handling.

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