More news on Vale’s Komatsu MC51 hard rock cutting machine…a photo of the machine in the flesh has been shared on Vale Canada’s employee news hub, valenews.ca, including some updated information to that covered in the in-depth November exclusive published by IM, which featured an interview with Vale’s Luke Mahony, Head of Geology, Mine Engineering, Geotechnical and Technology & Innovation for the Global Base Metals Business; and Andy Charsley, Project Lead and Principal Mining Engineer, Technology & Innovation.
Vale, in 2021, is due to embark on a major hard-rock cutting project at its Garson mine, in Sudbury, Canada.
Part of the mechanical cutting demonstration within the CMIC (Canada Mining Innovation Council) Continuous Underground Mining project, it will see the company test out a Komatsu hard-rock cutting machine equipped with Komatsu DynaCut Technology at the mine.
With an aim to access the McConnell orebody, as well as provide a primary case study for CMIC members to learn from, all eyes will be on this Sudbury mine in the June quarter of 2021.
Vale plans to demonstrate the ability to cut rock in excess of 250 MPa; cut at a commercial rate of more than 3.5 m/shift; quantify the cost per metre of operation and start to look at the potential comparison with conventional drill and blast development; assess the health, safety and environmental suitability of the mechanical rock excavation (MRE) process; and gain insight into the potential of an optimised MRE process.
Another Komatsu unit has already been assembled and (by now) is most likely operating at the Cadia underground mine in New South Wales, Australia, operated by Newcrest Mining. Vale will be watching developments here, where a three-month “pre-trial” cutting hard rock will take place.
Vale has laid out a testing plan for its own machine, with the unit set to cut around 400 m for the trial period.
IM had to find out more about this.
Fortunately Vale’s Luke Mahony, Head of Geology, Mine Engineering, Geotechnical and Technology & Innovation for the Global Base Metals Business; and Andy Charsley, Project Lead and Principal Mining Engineer, Technology & Innovation, were happy to talk.
IM: Why do you think industry collaboration is key in the underground hard-rock cutting space, in particular? Why has it been harder to develop and apply this technology in mining compared with other solutions such as automation, electrification and digitalisation?
LM: There are many various OEMs entering the market with hard-rock cutting equipment. All of them approach the problem a little bit differently, so it is difficult for one company to trial all of the options. At the same time, we are trying to leverage these new technologies and processes across the industry for a mechanical cutting type of future. For me, this is essential if we are to get the safety, cost and productivity benefits we need to make some of these new underground mines viable.
Comparing it to automation and electrification shows it is a ‘revolutionary’ concept as opposed to an ‘evolutionary’ one. Automation and electrification are more evolutionary concepts – automating an existing scoop or truck or electrifying it – whereas hard-rock cutting is more revolutionary and transformational in the sector, so industry collaboration is even more important.
IM: Since the project was presented at CMIC’s ReThinkMining Webinar, in June, have you had a lot more partnership interest in the project?
LM: We have seen a few other industry members ask questions and connect regarding this project. Some mining companies, while interested, are a little unsure of how they can get on-board with a project like this. What we have done is to utilise the CMIC consortium to make it the foundation of this collaboration, ensuring it is as easy and efficient as possible to join. Also, we want to cover the key concerns that mining companies have when it comes to collaboration, which CMIC is well aware of and can address.
CMIC is well connected with underground professionals and like-minded companies, and is able to pull in interest and facilitate the collaboration framework.
IM: What has happened to the MRE project timeline since June? Are you still on for receiving the machine in early 2021 to start testing later in the year?
AC: The machine has been assembled and we will mobilise it to Canada in early 2021. All of the underground cutting, in Canada, is scheduled to start in April 2021.
Komatsu have assembled two units – the first unit has come off the assembly line and is about to start trials at Cadia any day now. The second machine has just completed final assembly and will undergo Factory Acceptance Testing in the next few months, while we monitor the initial performance of the first machine. The second machine will come to Canada early next year and, if there are any modifications required, we can carry them out, prior to it going underground.
IM: How has the machine changed from the prototype that was initially deployed at Cadia and shown at MINExpo 2016?
AC: In 2016 and 2018, Komatsu implemented a proof of concept and, after that proof of concept, there was interest from miners to build a full commercial unit – which has happened now.
The prototype was ultimately to test the enabling cutting technology, whereby this element was retrofitted to a medium-sized roadheader for manoeuvrability. What Komatsu has done now is fully embed it into a system more like a continuous miner, which has the cutting arm, ground handling shovel & collector and the rest of the body to put it into a full production, continuous operation. It is now going to be part of the production process, as opposed to just testing the cutting aspect.
IM: Considering the end goal of this project is to evaluate the type and number of applications for which hard-rock cutting is suitable across industry (not just at Garson and the McConnell orebody), why did you select the Komatsu HRCM?
LM: It’s really about the Komatsu DynaCut Technology, which, for us, is an extremely low energy process for cutting the hard rock compared with, say, a TBM.
At the same time, what attracts us is the ability to integrate it with existing infrastructure within our current process at the mine – bolters, trucks, LHDs, etc. It is not about fully redesigning the mine to implement this technology.
This trial is that first step to really prove and understand the Komatsu DynaCut Technology in terms of dealing with cutting our relative hard rock in Sudbury. In that regard, the Komatsu technology provided the best technical opportunities for the conditions at hand.
IM: When the machine gets going in Australia, what hardness of rock will it be cutting in the hard-rock stage? How does this compare with Garson?
LM: Cadia is a rock ranging around 200 MPa, whereas in Sudbury we would be looking around 250 MPa. That’s when you talk about Uniaxial Compressive Strength (UCS) of the rock.
When you start looking at this undercutting technology, there are a few other aspects you need to consider. This includes rock toughness – the ability to resist a crack when a tensile force is applied, sort of like a jackhammer – and brittleness – how much energy that rock can absorb before it breaks.
Ultimately, we are working with Komatsu to understand how we should adapt an undercutting technology for our mines, and what the key parameters to consider are. At this stage, UCS seems to be the benchmark in the industry, but I think there will be a lot more considerations to come out of this project.
IM: What are the reasons for applying the technology at Garson? Were other areas in Sudbury considered?
AC: The priority for us was to have a shallow, low stress ground environment to start off with. At the same time, these are significant machines that would have to be disassembled if you were going down a shaft, which would be complicated. We have ramp access at Garson which makes things easier.
The other point is that Garson is an operating mine so we have got the facilities that can support the project; everything from removing the rock to ground support, service installation and surface infrastructure.
IM: How widespread do you think hard-rock cutting could be across the underground industry? Could it eventually become a mainstream method to compete with drill and blast?
LM: This is the ultimate question. I would like to say yes, it will become mainstream. It is our intention to really develop and prove that it can not only compete with drill and blast, but ultimately improve on it. This will see, in the future, an application for both mechanised hard-rock cutting and drill and blast.
You are going to need to look at fundamental KPIs such as safety, productivity and the cost associated with that productivity.
The focus now is to mature the cutting technology and start to develop the production or the process that goes with underground development beyond just cutting rock.
When developing around sensitive areas where you require low disturbance, hard-rock cutting will be important, as it will be in highly seismic ground. Then, if the unit cost of operating these machines gets low enough, you can start to assess orebodies that were previously not viable. At the same time, it is an electrified process so enables the industry to accelerate some of the decarbonisation plans for underground mining.
IM: Anything else to add on the subject?
LM: I think it’s fair to say, there will be no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution when it comes to hard-rock cutting. Different OEMs are going to develop and mature solutions and there will be applications for each of them, but we have got a long way to go to really understand that as an industry.
The ultimate goal is to get that industry collaboration between OEMs and industry going to ensure solutions are developed that show a way forward for the sector.
This Q&A will feature in the annual continuous cutting and rapid development focus, soon to be published in the IM November-December 2020 issue. Photo courtesy of Komatsu Mining
During an enlightening Capital Markets Day, in Stockholm, Sweden, Epiroc backed up its credentials as a leader in the mine automation, digitalisation and electrification spaces, outlining its progress to date and its medium- and long-term plans to capture more market share.
A few weeks after putting on the investor showcase – but before Helena Hedblom was announced as the incoming President and CEO – IM spoke with President and CEO, Per Lindberg, and Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications, Mattias Olsson, to get some detail behind the presentation slides.
IM: Automation featured very widely in the capital markets day (CMD) presentations earlier this month: In general, how would you characterise the mining industry appetite for this new technology? Where is the average customer on your automation scale?
PL: First of all, the appetite is very large; most customers are looking at automation in one way or another.
It is hard to do a mathematical average when it comes to where the industry currently is, but the average miner is probably down on the left-hand side of that scale (pictured below) – somewhere in between tele-remote and single machine automation.
IM: Over the next five years, where do you see most potential growth for autonomous solutions in terms of underground or open-pit mining? What market dynamics are accelerating this uptake?
PL: Most likely it will happen in both surface and underground. The potential for productivity and safety improvements is probably greater in underground, though.
This trend is clearly driven by productivity, cost efficiency and safety. Those would be the key drivers for automation. It is about taking people out of the line of fire, as well as having close to 24/7 production.
IM: Following the 34% stake acquisition of ASI Mining last year, would you say the project Epiroc and ASI are working on at Ferrexpo’s Yeristovo mine is representative of how you envisage doing business together in the future?
PL: That is the reason that we initially acquired the 34% stake in ASI Mining; we wanted to go in that direction. In that respect, I think the Ferrexpo example is representative of how we will cooperate with ASI.
Of course, ASI can also offer a standalone solution without Epiroc being present on the automation side, so we are also promoting their offering too.
IM: How does Epiroc, as an OEM, balance its machine building and maintenance service offering? Does the ability to keep machines working longer through sophisticated monitoring systems and better manufacturing somewhat inhibit your ability to sell new machinery?
PL: To a certain extent, we are probably cannibalising our new machine sales with increased service intensity and improved servicing products. That is most likely the consequence. On the other hand, we also feel that it is only right to offer this type of aftercare and servicing.
Yet, you cannot continue to prolong the life of a piece of equipment forever. It needs to be replaced at some point.
Overall, the servicing offering works well for us and, we think, it is good for our customers in terms of increasing the life of their equipment.
IM: Factoring this in, what percentage of revenue is your aftermarket business likely to represent in the next 10 years (from 65% today)?
PL: It’s difficult to say if it is going to be higher, or not, but it is likely that the volume of service will increase. That is based on what we are talking about – the intensified servicing we are offering, the products we have developed and the fact that we are increasing the market share within our own fleet.
Whether it continues to be 65% of the overall business depends on activity in the rest of the group.
IM: Along these lines, how long does the company anticipate its new battery-electric loading fleets lasting compared with, say, the diesel-powered fleets you were selling 10 years ago?
PL: The wear and tear of the actual machine will be the same – that is not going to change because of the drivetrain.
But, having an electric drivetrain is different from diesel; we have to see what the long-term maintenance needs are compared with diesel. The life of the drivetrain also depends very much on the utilisation of the machine.
IM: Of the recent innovations the company has launched (or is about to launch) – 6th Sense, a semi-automated explosives delivery system (with Orica), Scooptram Automation Total, Powerbit, etc – which has the strongest business case in mining?
PL: I think 6th Sense is really a packaging of all of our different offerings within automation. In that regard, it is has the highest potential. Which components of 6th Sense have the highest potential? We’ll have to wait and see.
The semi-automated explosives delivery system with Orica is a very specific innovation, but we very much believe in automating this mining process because of the safety and productivity benefits it brings. But we are only just starting this development compared with 6th Sense, which has already launched.
Powerbit is, again, very specific, but…allows us to deliver a complete offering both in terms of machine and consumables that will enable higher productivity and automation. That should have a high potential in the market.
IM: What does the Epiroc mining roadmap look like for the next 10-30 years? I imagine wider adoption of hard-rock cutting, automation, electrification and digitalisation are in there, but what other technology evolutions are being planned for?
PL: We have to continue to work with all of those three – automation, electrification and digitalisation – as they will deliver significant benefits for the industry. That is where we need to focus over that 10-year timeframe.
These three also have the potential to further integrate the value chain in mining within the future digitalisation space. We need to both continue to work with these technologies and our customers to ensure we have greater market penetration in all these areas.
IM: And, hard-rock cutting? Is this as important as these three?
PL: For specific applications, mechanical cutting and the Mobile Miners have their relevance and work well. But we believe for the foreseeable future, the majority of hard-rock excavation will be carried out by drilling and blasting in the mining and tunnelling sectors.
IM: During the CMD there was mention of “cost per measure” contracts under the digitalisation heading. Could you go into some detail about how the company is offering these and if they are tied in with financing agreements for your equipment?
PL: In terms of cost per measure, one example would be cost per metre contracts in consumables and rock drilling tools.
MO: We also provide finance for equipment and it could be that the equipment is financed and we have a cost per metre contract in place. Those two are not connected or tied, though.
It could be that there is more of this ‘pay-for-performance’ type of contract in the future – where you charge per tonne of ore excavated, for example – but, if it does come, I don’t think it will happen quickly.
IM: Similarly Epiroc talked about “new business models” in 2020 for underground equipment at the CMD. What might these new business models be? What is the need for them?
PL: It could be revenue streams into software, to information management, to advanced service agreements, to Batteries as a Service for battery vehicles.
The reasons for establishing these models is the continuous development of software, new updates for machines, etc that require different models.
When it comes to Batteries as a Service, it is a different model again looking to transfer the energy cost of the battery from capex to opex in order to facilitate the timely decisions for customers and reduce the cost of operation for our customers.
These new models are all based on development of technologies.
Element Six, as a company, was set up to harness the unique properties of synthetic diamond (polycrystalline diamond or PCD) and tungsten carbide to deliver supermaterials that improve the efficiency, performance and reliability of industrial tools and technology, including in mining.
IM recently met with Element Six (E6) Global Sales Director, Mining, Road & WP, Markus Bening, to better understand what this means for the mining industry and what progress has been made.
It is worth remembering that the company while focussing on advanced materials also has a unique position in the industry, with diamond mining major De Beers Group the 100% owner of the technologies part of the business, and De Beers Group, itself, part of global mining company Anglo American. Some of the industry’s leading hard rock cutting technologies are already being used by these operators, at Anglo’s Twickenham platinum mine, for example. E6 also has all the required raw material sourcing and manufacturing capability such as advanced high pressure/high temperature presses in house to allow it to supply PCD solutions in the quality, consistency and quantity that will be needed to the mining global market.
In mining one of the most interesting markets is hard rock cutting, where the potential for Element Six materials is enormous in rock tools. In relevant ASTM tests such as B611-13, PCD performs up to 500 or 650 times better than tungsten carbide. Of course it has a significant price premium but its performance far, far outweighs this price gap. Bening stated: “PCD is a supermaterial so has a higher price but massive advantages in performance that come with it.”
Due to confidentiality agreements, Bening would not specify which OEMs are trialling PCD in the hard rock cutting space but confirmed that E6 is working on PCD prototype testing and trials with several leading players and has achieved impressive results.
Taking a hard rock cutting unit, E6 can supply the PCD material on its own, the whole component, the pick or the disc cutter, whatever the customer wants, but primarily E6 is a materials expert.
Bening told IM: “Today there is a lot of advanced testing and fine tuning using our PCD in the cutting tools of the latest hard rock cutting mining machines. In the next five to ten years I see continuous hard rock cutting going commercial throughout the mining industry and E6’s PCD technology will undoubtedly form an important part of that.”
As previously published by IM, major developers of continuous hard rock cutting machines for mining include Epiroc (Mobile Miner), Sandvik (MX650), Caterpillar (Rock Header/Rock Straight) and Komatsu (DynaCut).
And hard rock cutting is not the only mining focus. PCD also has potential in down the hole (DTH) drilling where Percussive Diamond Inserts are used on the bits, and again advanced trials are ongoing with the main global manufacturers of drill bits, with a lot of success so far. PCD means a lot of energy savings in bit use, and bits keeping their shape much longer meaning no regrinding is needed.
Northam Platinum is reported to have signed a deal with Master Drilling to trial the Mobile Tunnel Borer (MTB) technology the JSE-listed equipment company has been working on.
According to Mining Weekly Online, the MTB will be tested at the mining company’s Eland mine, in South Africa, as part of a “R93-million ($6.6 million) shared risk-and-reward contract” with Master Drilling.
Just last month, Master Drilling hinted such an announcement would soon be forthcoming, remarking in its 2018 financial results that the one MTB unit it had constructed was being shipped to South Africa to take part in a pilot project. It has since confirmed that the MTB will head to Eland.
Mining Weekly Online said much of the tunnel boring equipment arrived in Durban last week and is expected to become operational at the mine, near Brits, in June.
The MTB to be used by Northam was previously cutting soft rock in a quarry just outside of Rome, Italy. IM visited the quarry last year.
The unit IM saw was made up of four track-mounted units containing various parts – the cutter head and bolting section is up front, followed by the transformer and 300 m capacity water and electrical reels on the third unit, and a 14 m³ capacity storage bunker and discharge system on the fourth unit.
The full-face cutter head had 17” disc cutters, which are conventional from a tunnel boring perspective but are made up of five separate segments. This cutter head, like the majority of the 240-300 t MTB, was designed to be broken down for transport.
The equipment, which unlike other TBMs is designed to go around corners, was developed by Italy-based Seli Technologies, which Master Drilling, through a joint venture with Ghella SpA, recently acquired.
The MTB comes with 5.5 m diameter cutter head or 4.5 m diameter cutter head. The former is for declines, portals, haulages, inclines, ramps, ring roads, etc, with the latter allowing for excavation of drives and contact tunnels.
Master Drilling is aiming for an advance rate of 6-9 m/d in 200-250 MPa rock, but is not discounting the possibility of a higher rate should the additional mucking transport systems behind the 23 m (4.5 m diameter MTB) or 31 m (5.5 diameter MTB) machines be able to keep up.
At Eland, the equipment has reportedly been contracted for six months to see if it can operate effectively. The targeted advance of more than 100 m/mth in mine, which is only 200 m below surface, is roughly three times the conventional capability, Mining Weekly Online said.
There is also potential for a similar machine being deployed at the company’s Booysendal operation, according to the publication.