Operator Profile: Wills Bros paves the way

By: Chris McCullough

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  • Earthmovers & Exacavators

Wills Bros is progressing well on new Northern Ireland dual carriageway.


A Cat 374 Excavator and Cat 745 articulated truck get to work on the A6 project


Costing around £220 million (A$387.25 million) to complete, the new A6 dual carriageway between Dungiven and Drumahoe in Northern Ireland is a hive of activity with construction machinery and contractors.

The project is operating under a joint venture between Spanish contractor Sacyr and its Portuguese sister company Somague, and Dublin-based Wills Bros Civil Engineering.

Under construction are 22 miles (35km) of new dual carriageway that snakes its way alongside the original single carriage road and aims to significantly improve the transport corridor in the north west of Northern Ireland.

Under the direction of Northern Ireland’s Department for Infrastructure, this new A6 construction is one of the country’s largest infrastructure projects and was originally given a four-year timeframe to be completed.

Four new compact grade separated junctions are being added along with 22 new structures.

Three new roundabouts will facilitate a bypass around Dungiven, connecting the scheme to the existing road network at either end.


Darren McLean is the plant and construction manager with Wills Bros



Darren McLean is the plant and construction manager with Wills Bros and is leading the team on this particular part of the A6 dualling program.

He is well known in the local road construction industry and has been involved ever since leaving school at 16.

"We have round 180 people working on this section of the new A6 dual carriageway, including sub-contractors," McLean says.

"Overall, the project is going well and we are on schedule. The poor weather has held us up a little bit as there has been a lot of water to contend with on site. We have around three million cubic metres of material to shift here.

"It’s a mixed site of ground conditions. At the Dungiven end the ground is more rock-based. As you move up to Claudy it becomes more bog land and the closer to Drumahoe the land changes to a sand and gravel mixed profile.

"This makes our operations very challenging, but we always get the job done. In some sections we are carrying out vertical draining to dry out the wetter areas and then in other sections we have to blast the rock out of the way. This is beneficial for us as we can crush the rock onsite and use it for hardcore filling allowing us to be more self-sustainable and saves some funds."

As a young boy leaving school at 16, McLean was catapulted into working life on sites under the direction of his father George who is from Ballygawley. McLean is originally from Surrey in England as his dad moved around a lot with his own career in construction.

"That really was the school of life for me, following dad and working on the sites,"
McLean says. 

"I can remember driving the rollers and other equipment working all over the place.

"That early education put me on a good path to where I am now as plant and construction manager for Wills Bros who are a really good company to work for."

Speaking about plant there are a number of machines working on McLean’s section of the A6, including 31 excavators, nine dozers, 48 dump trucks, four graders, two rollers and a vertical draining machine from Wills Bros.

"We spent £4 million [A$7 million] on plant last year," McLean explains.

"And that included a number of new dump trucks from Cat, Komatsu and Volvo.

"Wills Bros prefer to buy Cat excavators, use Komatsu for dozers, and then a mix of brands for the dump trucks. On site we have new Volvo A25s, Cat 745s and Komatsu HM400 trucks in action."


One of the new aspects of this latest model machine is the bonded rear quarter
glass that eliminates the structural pillar


CAT 745

Offering a 41-tonne payload capacity, the Cat 745 articulated truck features a world-class cab design, completely re-engineered from the inside-out using global operator feedback to advance comfort and ease of operation.

Its powertrain is driven by the Cat C18 Acert engine, rated at 504hp (376kW), which meets US EPA Tier 4 Final/EU Stage IV emissions standards. A new economy mode feature results in an average of five per cent fuel consumption improvement in applications where a truck is not required to operate at full productivity.

Cat’s CX38B high density power shift transmission enhances the new truck’s overall
performance and productivity, while permanent six-wheel drive enables the truck to navigate even the most challenging terrain.

Automatic retarding control manages machine retarding through a combination of engine, brake, gear selection and service brake application without operator intervention.

Hill assist facilitates efficient stopping and starting on grades, while the waiting brake system, quickly engaged by a push-button on the control lever, temporarily applies the service brake during pauses in the work cycle.

The new external ‘spinal’ ROPS structure boasts bonded rear quarter glass that eliminates the structural pillar to give the operator a dramatic improvement in visibility from the cab.

Upon cab entry, the new ‘wake up’ feature initiates machine displays as soon as the door is opened, while the lighter, stronger cab door offers shut assist for improved sealing against dust infiltration.

Inside the cab, a combined transmission and hoist lever gives operators efficient single-lever control over truck speed and body hoisting functions to minimise operator effort and automate repetitive operations.

At the flick of a switch, operators can choose between manual or fully automatic assisted hoisting control, which automatically applies the waiting brake, sets the transmission in neutral and hoists the body to maximum angle at high RPM.


Cat 374F excavator and Komatsu’s HM400-5 dump truck



Komatsu’s HM400-5 dump trucks are powered by Komatsu SAA6D140E-7 engines that are EU Stage IV emissions certified with 480hp (358kW).

The HM400-5 has a maximum payload of 40 tonnes and a body capacity (heaped) of 24 cubic metres. The loading height is only 3,164mm, which enables easy and quick loading.

The two single-staged body lift cylinders provide a 70 degree dump angle.

Selectable working modes allow the operator to choose between Economy and Power modes to tailor machine performance to the application or to work conditions.

The electrically powered tilt function, also standard on the HM400-5, tilts the cab rearward for easy access to the transmission.

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