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.