Tag Archives: R&D

FLSmidth’s digital R&D bearing fruit at the right time

As miners look for more digital solutions to ensure they can cope with the challenges that come with operating through exceptional circumstances like COVID-19, FLSmidth is leveraging decades of research and development to help them make this transition.

Terence Osborn, FLSmidth’s Director of Product and Account Management for sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, highlights that R&D is the lifeblood of the company’s new technologies. So much so, that it has some 80 projects underway to improve its mining-related offerings.

“The power of digital technology is certainly a key element of these efforts,” Osborn says. “Together with our Blue Box digital concept, based on our ECS/ControlCenter™, which is a cybersecure interface between our equipment and cloud data storage, we use our SiteConnect™ mobile app to monitor the performance of equipment and process plants in real time. The ECS/ControlCenter V8 process control platform sits at the heart of our digital vision, a key component in our growing portfolio of digital solutions and services that we call ENABLR.”

An example of this applied capability is an FLSmidth REFLUX® Classifier modular plant operating on a South Africa mine. Using SiteConnect, operations managers can have real-time access to over a hundred operational parameters on the plant. Data analytics linked to the cloud data can also generate time-based trends for instant viewing on the app.

“We have also developed SmartCyclone™ technology for our hydrocyclones,” Osborn noted. “This innovation uses sensors to detect wear and roping, a condition that reduces separation efficiency. By sending an alert when certain operating parameters are breached, the system ensures optimal efficiency is maintained, even as slurry conditions in the circuit vary.”

He highlights that the company’s machine-level solutions are offered as part of plant and process packages. At both plant and process level, there is also FLSmidth’s advanced ECS/ProcessExpert® solutions, which facilitate not just monitoring and control, but advanced optimisation enabled by state-of-the-art artificial intelligence technologies.

“It is important to remember that control systems need to be flexible, so that they adapt to customers’ needs and to their existing systems,” Osborn says. “With FLSmidth’s depth of expertise in software engineering and machine control, we can ensure that our machine-level systems connect with all market leading control systems – to seamlessly deliver the data that mines need for effective decision making.”

The company’s R&D pushes the boundaries of performance in a range of mineral processing fields. These include advancing its lamella plate technology in mineral separation applications, adapting its vertical roller mill for dry grinding in mining, and extending wear life of pumps with new polymers.

Metso Outotec to flex minerals processing muscles following merger

The first public showing from executives of the new Metso Outotec has highlighted just how big the new group will be within the mineral processing ecosystem.

Circa-15,000 employees, some 5,000 service representatives, around €4.2 billion ($4.7 billion) of sales in 2019…the stats are impressive.

The minerals sector dominates within this, representing 61% of 2019 sales.

It will cover everything from comminution through to tailings management, meaning the company will be able to touch most parts of the process not involving ‘mining’ itself.

Coming just a day after the merger was completed, Pekka Vauramo, President and CEO, and Eeva Sipilä, CFO and Deputy CEO, understandably did not go into too much detail on the webcast about what the year-long merger approval process had shown the executive team in terms of their initial cost synergy estimates. Investors will have to wait until August for more detail on that.

Last year when announcing the deal, the companies said they expected to achieve run-rate annual pre-tax cost synergies of at least €100 million and run-rate annual revenue synergies of at least €150 million.

Vauramo explained on the webcast that it was the services, minerals and consumables business areas where there was most overlap between the two entities.

But it appears there will be more than just cost advantages to the tie-up.

Vauramo said: “We are complementing each other’s offerings and activities so well that we have many cross-selling opportunities if we speak about what Outotec can do for Metso’s part and what Metso can do for Outotec’s part.”

Sipilä added to this, saying there were complementary areas within the services sector ripe for these type of synergies.

With such a huge offering, it is hard to pick out areas of focus for Metso Outotec, but sustainability has been front and centre for both Metso and Outotec in the recent past. Unsurprisingly, it will be important for the combined group.

On climate change, Vauramo said: “We are really on the spot with that one to develop more efficient processes, with higher recoveries, better quality, less water consumption or full recirculation of water.”

By taking a more “holistic look” at the whole processing flowsheet, the company will be able to ensure less energy is used throughout the entire process, leading to lower emissions. Any water that is consumed will be recycled where possible, according to Vauramo.

This also implies tailings management will be a cornerstone for Metso Outotec, leveraging both companies’ expertise in filtration technology, alongside Outotec’s paste backfill capability, and other developments the two have made within the dry stacked tailings arena.

“Our expertise is in that process,” Vauramo said of tailings management. “That is where we want to be, and we want to further innovate that process.”

Digitalisation developments within the services area (which represents 56% of group sales) will also accelerate within the larger group.

Vauramo, referencing Metso’s experience during the last three-and-a-bit months, thinks remote monitoring opportunities will grow.

“The COVID virus has shown that the need for remote monitoring is really increasing,” he said. “It has shown many business cases for future remote monitoring needs.

“We have learnt that mines can operate at least temporarily – some over a longer period of time – with a reduced presence at site. But, for service reasons, we do need to know how the equipment performs.”

A third remote performance centre (previously called Metso Performance Center) was recently added to this digital offering through the redevelopment of a former Outotec premise in Espoo, Finland. This European location comes on top of the centres already opened in South America (Santiago, Chile) and Asia (Changsha, China).

It is the R&D part of the new entity that will help the company continue to innovate on this front and others; this is an area Vauramo believes the company can continue to lead on.

“Our R&D investments annually are €100 million,” he said. “That is more than anyone else in the industry.”

The company has 30 R&D centres, more than 8,000 patents and produces around 15 new innovations or products a year from this “mostly decentralised” platform.

Asked whether he expected this type of spending to continue into the future, he said: “€100 million makes just short of 2.5% of our combined sales. I would say we are in the right range (with that figure). Whether it should be 3%, or whether we continue with this approximately 2.5% of sales remains to be seen; it depends on our strategy and the opportunities we see.

“What I would say is that we will not hesitate to increase it (the spend) if we have the right opportunities.”

Epiroc posts Q1 results as it braces for future COVID-19 impacts

“We expect that the demand both for equipment and in the aftermarket will be lower and that the effects of the pandemic will have a significant negative impact on revenues and profit in Q2 (June quarter).” That is the headline quote from Epiroc CEO, Helena Hedblom, in the mining OEM’s March quarter results.

While the prospects for the current quarter look far from rosy, the results for the March quarter were reasonably strong: revenues dipped only 7% (SEK9.134 billion ($903 million)) year-on-year, profits rose 3% to SEK1.4 billion and operating cash flow jumped 225% to SEK1.5 billion.

Despite Epiroc’s China business being hit in February, and its manufacturing facilities for consumables in India, South Africa, and Canada (Quebec) being temporarily closed from the end of March, there were limited COVID-19-related effects on its March quarter results, the company stated.

As the impacts of the pandemic continue to grow with restrictions from various governments and authorities, the impact has started to be felt more acutely by Epiroc. Hedblom told analysts after the results release that the commissioning of new equipment was becoming harder with such restrictions in place, as was the transportation of its products. On the latter, the company commented that its costs had risen.

Fortunately, the company is in the middle of a wide-ranging revamp to its supply chain that is seeing key parts and service personnel redeployed to hubs near its major customers. Although this program is not yet complete, the availability of local inventory has somewhat dampened the impact of the COVID-19-related restrictions to date.

Similarly, the company has managed to navigate a supply shortage of certain components in Europe, Hedblom said. Speaking to IM after the analyst call, she said the manufacturing teams were utilising existing component stockpiles to complete outstanding tasks.

Just how many future tasks the manufacturing team has all depends on how long mine stoppages in the likes of South Africa, Canada, Peru and India continue. While South Africa miners are set for a phased ramp up of operations and those miners in Quebec have been given the go ahead to reopen, there are many mines that remain on care and maintenances.

Hedblom said these dynamics were very different to financial downturns where specific commodities and companies with lower margins were hit due to cashflow issues.

“It is evenly split between different commodities,” she said referring to the shutdowns. “There are plenty of gold mines in there, for instance, and that is despite the gold price holding up well.”

During this time – and factoring in potential future supply chain issues – Epiroc is prioritising its aftermarket customers to keep existing mines operating.

One would estimate the percentage of revenue associated with aftermarket sales would, therefore, grow beyond the 72% registered in the March quarter (which itself is an 8% rise from the December quarter) based on the assumption mining companies would defer new equipment purchases until restrictions had been lifted and global economies had stabilised.

This would also mirror the March quarter results where Epiroc recognised a 12% organic increase in service orders, compared with the previous year, at the same time as orders for equipment, rock drilling tools and attachments decreased.

Yet, this all depends on how long existing mine stoppages are enforced.

Epiroc said: “Mining is deemed essential in many countries, which means that most mines continue to operate, but in some cases mines have temporarily stopped operations or operate at reduced capacity due to restrictions from governments and authorities.

“As a consequence, Epiroc estimates that revenues from the aftermarket will be negatively impacted in Q2. The magnitude of the impact will depend on how the restrictions will develop during the quarter.”

While the company is up front in its assessment that revenues and profits will be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in the June quarter, the new CEO said the company would continue to invest in R&D throughout this period.

“We have consolidated in admin and marketing, in addition to manufacturing (see the latest announcement on its North Bay facility), but I am protecting R&D,” Hedblom told IM. In late November, Hedblom said the company was currently investing 2-3% of revenue in R&D.

Previous R&D investments have led to the development of many innovative products from Epiroc – mainly geared towards automation, digitalisation and electrification – and Hedblom said some “very exciting products” would be launched later this year, regardless of COVID-19 restrictions.

Some of these new products will likely help miners continue operating in environments such as those being experienced now, with Hedblom seeing the automation trend the company recognised, pre-COVID-19, picking up where it left off, post-COVID-19.

“The more people you can remove from the mine site and the more you can control the environment in which they work (remote operations, for instance), the better,” she said.

Metso completes mill lining hat-trick with Discharge End Megaliner

Metso has once again flexed its R&D muscles, launching a new and innovative product that, it says, can speed up and improve the safety of one of the trickiest and riskiest processes mill personnel carry out.

The Discharge End Megaliner builds on the Metso Megaliner™ concept the company introduced in 2012. Designed to reduce downtime by minimising the number of parts and people inside the mill during a relining process, the Megaliner has so far been installed in over 30 mills around the world.

A Megaliner element integrates multiple lifter and plate rows and has a minimum number of attachment points. Covering an area several times larger than conventional liners, these liners are light weight in relation to their size and, with threaded bushings, enable safer and faster relining processes to be conducted.

The initial 2012 Megaliner launch saw these lightweight liner parts developed for the mill shell. In 2015, Metso expanded the lining concept to the feed end of grinding mills. The company is now ready to tackle the tricky mill discharge end to complete the hat-trick.

Anssi Poutanen, Vice President of Metso’s Mill Lining product line, said the mill shell was the obvious starting point in the Megaliner evolution.

“The shell represents the largest number of components to install so the potential for time savings for customers was large, hence why the Megaliner started there,” he told IM. “We have since extended to the feed end of the mill and now to the discharge end.”

The new product, which has been in the development pipeline for some time, according to Poutanen, is by no means just a bolt on to the existing Megaliner range.

“Even though the discharge section of the mill lining process is not as big from a volume perspective, the need for long bolts and a complex fixing arrangement in conventional installations makes it one of the most time-consuming and risky processes to carry out,” he said. “The Discharge End Megaliner is a highly valued addition to our Megaliner range as many of our customers struggle with the process.”

The conventional process Poutanen references here is worth spelling out.

With grate discharge mills – typically SAG, AG and ball mills – the conventional relining process at the discharge end usually involves removing the dischargers and grates, replacing with new lined versions and hammering in large, long bolts through the layers to secure the liner components.

“Even if modern recoilless hammers are used, it is still a challenge,” Poutanen said. “When the bolts become loose, they are hazardous and can potentially injure personnel.” In this process, personnel are also inside the mill – one of the most dangerous sections of the whole process plant.

On top of the large, long bolts, nuts are also required to fix the panels in place with conventional lining processes, adding up to multiple individual pieces and attachment points that must be fixed securely from inside the mill, Poutanen explained.

The Discharge End Megaliner, meanwhile, sees dischargers, grates and segments preassembled into one large unit. These are equipped with threaded bushings that are secured with “short bolts” from – very importantly – outside of the mill, he said.

This makes for an up to 50% faster lining installation using up to 70% fewer parts than the conventional process, according to Metso.

Poutanen says the new Discharge End Megaliner can be applied to any type of grate discharge mill – there is no prerequisite for Megaliner liners in the shell and feed end, for example – as long as there is a wide enough trunnion opening to remove and replace the liners, and a liner handler of sufficient capacity.

Metso is targeting the large end of the grinding mill market with this new development. The larger the mill, the greater the throughput, which has a direct impact on the costs associated with potential downtime caused by the relining process, Poutanen explained.

This has already been tested out at Boliden’s Aitik mine, in Gällivare, Sweden, which is currently undergoing an expansion to 45 Mt/y throughput.

The base metal mine already has Megaliner mill liners on the shell and feed end of both of its primary AG mills and has tested the new Discharge End Megaliner over nine months at one of these 38 ft (11.6 m) mills.

The Aitik trial has proven around 70% fewer parts are required compared with the conventional process. Relining has also been carried out much quicker and safer, according to Poutanen.

Similar to LHD operators being removed from the cab in order to remotely operate loaders in potentially unstable areas of underground mines, the ability to carry out the relining process from outside of the mill ‘danger zone’ could be considered an initial stage towards a fully automated relining process.

Poutanen agreed: “I think at some point, we will see a higher degree of automation. It is unlikely to be binary; it will be a gradual process.”

He said the combination of the Megaliner and Metso’s camera-based liner positioning system – which is offered to all Megaliner customers as an “add on” to the liner handling equipment – could help make the process more autonomous.

In order to be able to develop this kind of fully autonomous package, a close collaboration with customers and liner handler suppliers is required, he said. “I think we are still a few years away from having the process move to fully autonomous mode.”

ICMM looks to align mining industry on cleaner, safer vehicles

When the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) launched its Innovation for Cleaner, Safer Vehicles (ICSV) program just over a year ago, some industry participants may not have realised how much progress could be made so quickly by taking a collaborative approach.

The ICMM has proven influential across the mining industry since its foundation in 2002 in areas such as corporate and social governance, environmental responsibility, and stakeholder relations, yet it has rarely, until this point, engaged directly as an industry group with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and service providers.

Close to 12 months after being established, it’s clear to see the program and the council itself has been successful in bridging a divide.

It has been able to corral a significant portion of the mining and mining OEM market players into a major industry discussion on core focus areas set to dominate the sector for the next two decades.

Now 27 of the world’s leading mining companies and 16 of the best-known truck and mining equipment suppliers are collaborating in a non-competitive space “to accelerate the development of a new generation of mining vehicles that will make vehicles cleaner and safer,” the ICMM says.

The ICSV program was created to address three of the most critical safety, health and environment performance issues in the ICMM’s mission towards zero harm and decarbonisation. Achieving this goal would involve the industry introducing and adopting the next generation of equipment to respond to the challenges.

More specifically, the program aims to:

  • Introduce greenhouse gas emission-free surface mining vehicles by 2040;
  • Minimise the operational impact of diesel exhaust by 2025; and
  • Make collision avoidance technology (capable of eliminating vehicle related collisions) available to mining companies by 2025.

In all three, it seeks to address the industry’s innovation challenge of ‘who motivates who’ or the chicken and egg analogy, according to Sarah Bell, Director, Health, Safety and Product Stewardship for the ICMM.

“You can imagine a mining company saying, ‘we can’t adopt technology that doesn’t yet exist’ or an OEM saying, ‘we can’t invest in development because we’re getting mixed market signals’. This is, of course, why this program has been set up in the way it has,” she told IM. “Bringing both the mining company and OEMs together, they have been able to work through these normal innovation challenges and align on defining the direction of travel and critical complexity to be solved for each of the ambitions set.”

High-level participation

The list of companies the ICMM has been able to involve in this program is impressive.

It is being guided by a CEO advisory group of six; three from the mining community – Andrew Mackenzie (CEO, BHP), Mark Cutifani (CEO, Anglo American) and Nick Holland (CEO, Gold Fields) – and three from the mining equipment supply side – Denise Johnson (Group President of Resource Industries at Caterpillar), Max Moriyama (President of the Mining Business Division at Komatsu) and Henrik Ager (President of Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology).

On the mining company front, ICMM membership makes up around 30% of the total metal market share, with some 46% in copper, 27% in gold and 42% in iron ore. Participating OEMs and third-party technology providers, meanwhile, include the three majors above, plus Cummins, Epiroc, Wabtec Corporation (formerly GE), Hexagon Mining, Hitachi Construction Machinery, Liebherr, MacLean Engineering, MTU, Modular Mining Systems, PBE Group, Nerospec, Future Digital Communication and Miller Technology.

Bell says the high-level participation builds the “widespread confidence” needed to accelerate investment in these three key areas”, while the ICMM’s focus on the leadership side of the technology integration equation and change management has proven “absolutely key”.

She clarified: “This collaboration operates under anti-competition and anti-trust rules. Our role is to convene the parties, motivate action and promote solutions.”

The program offers a “safe space for the OEMs and members to work openly in a non-competitive environment”, she added, explaining that the aim is not to come up with “preferred technologies”, but define the “functional and operational pathways required to meet the ambitions set”.

Vehicle interaction (VI)

Some of the ambitions look easier to achieve than others.

For instance, collision avoidance and proximity detection technology has made huge strides in the last decade, with the ICMM arguing its 2025 target is like a “sprint”, compared with the “10,000 m race” that is minimising DPM underground by 2025 and the longer-term aim to introduce GHG-free surface mining vehicles by 2040.

“There are regulations that require implementation of collision avoidance and proximity detection technology by the end of 2020 in South Africa,” Bell said. This will undoubtedly provide a catalyst for further developments to speed up.

The ICSV program is also leveraging the work of the Earth Moving Equipment Safety Round Table (EMESRT) in its development of fundamental functional/performance requirements for operators and technology providers.

These requirements were updated and released by EMESRT in September and are known as ‘PR5A’.

Credit: Hexagon Mining

Bell delved into some detail about these requirements:

“The EMERST requirements are designed around a nine-level system that seeks to eliminate material unwanted scenarios such as – equipment to person, equipment to equipment, equipment to environment and loss of control,” she said.

“The fundamental change with this newly released set of functional requirements by EMESRT is that the mining industry users have defined the functional needs for levels 7-9 (operator awareness, advisory controls, and intervention controls). That stronger level of collaboration hasn’t necessarily been there.”

EMESRT and its guidelines have been given an expanded global platform through the ICMM’s ICSV, with the program, this year, providing the convening environment for users and technology providers to help finalise these updated requirements, according to Bell.

With all of this already in place, one could be forgiven for thinking the majority of the hard work involved with achieving the 2025 goal is done, but the working group focused on VI knows that while OEMs continue to retrofit third-party vehicle collision and avoidance systems to their machines the job is not complete.

“Let’s think about the seatbelt analogy: you don’t give buyers of vehicles a choice as to whether they want a seatbelt in their car; it just comes with the car,” Bell said.

“At the moment, by design, vehicles don’t always have this collision and avoidance systems built in, therefore there is a big opportunity for collaboration between OEMs and third-party technology providers.”

Underground DPM goals

“The DPM working group have recognised that, in the case of the DPM ambition, ‘the future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed’,” Bell said.

“Bringing together the OEMs and the mining companies this year through the ICSV program has enabled the group to explore the variety of existing solutions out there today,” she added.

These existing solutions include higher-tier engines, battery-electric equipment, tethered electric machinery, fuel cell-equipped machines for narrow vein mining and solutions to remove DPMs and other emissions from the environment like Johnson Matthey’s CRT system.

And, there are numerous examples from North America – Newmont Goldcorp at Borden, and Glencore and Vale in Sudbury – South America – Codelco at El Teniente Underground – and Europe – Agnico Eagle Mines at Kittilä (Finland, pictured) – to draw from.

Bell also mentioned some examples from Australia where regulatory changes have seen miners apply existing technology and carry out changes in their work plans and maintenance practices to minimise DPM emissions.

Haulage and loading flexibility, battery charging and mine design have all come under the spotlight since these new generation of ‘green’ machines have emerged, so achieving the 2025 goal the ICSV stated is by no means a foregone conclusion.

“There remains more work to do in achieving diesel-free vehicles underground,” Bell said.

The interested parties are aware of this and the program’s DPM maturity framework is helping miners and OEMs plot a course to reaching the target, she explained.

“The DPM maturity framework promotes existing solutions available today that would enable a mining operation to reduce their DPM emissions to a level that would meet the ambition level (shown as Level 4 – transition to zero),” she said.

These frameworks are useful for starting a “change conversation”, Bell said, explaining that mining companies can assess within their organisations where they currently sit on the five-level chart and discuss internally how to move up the levels to meet their goals.

These same frameworks look beyond minimising “the operational impact” of DPM emissions underground, with Bell explaining that Level 5 of the maturity framework involves “non-DPM emitting vehicles”.

GHG-free surface mining vehicles

Even further in the distance is the longer-term target of introducing greenhouse gas emission-free surface mining vehicles by 2040.

This ambition, more than any other, is less clearly defined in terms of technological solutions across the industry.

While battery-electric solutions look like having the goods to reach DPM-free status underground with expected developments in battery technology and charging, the jury is still out on if they can create a GHG-free large-scale open-pit mining environment.

The world’s largest battery-electric haul truck – eMining’s 63-t payload eDumper (pictured) – may have proven its worth at a Ciments Vigier-owned quarry in Switzerland, but the world’s largest open-pit mines require a solution on another scale altogether.

As Bell said: “There is a lot of work to do to develop batteries at scale for surface fleet that suit the different operating conditions.

“That’s a key point because that lends itself to the fact that we don’t want one solution; we will need multiple solutions. We don’t want to stifle innovation; we want to encourage it.”

ICMM member Anglo American has hinted that hydrogen power could be one solution, and the miner is looking to show this next year with the development of its hydrogen-powered 300-t payload haul truck.

There has also been in the last 18-24 months a mini renaissance of trolley assist projects that, ABB’s Gunnar Hammarström told IM recently, could, in the future, work in tandem with battery-powered solutions to provide a GHG-free solution.

The ability for industry to pilot and validate technology options like this “within the boundaries of anti-competition” is crucial for its later adoption in the industry, Bell said.

She said a key enabler of industry decarbonisation is access to cost competitive clean electricity, which would indicate that regions like South America and the Nordic countries could be of interest in the short and medium term for deploying pilot projects.

It is this goal where the industry R&D spend could potentially ramp up; something the ICMM and the ICSV is aware of.

“For the OEMs and mining companies to effectively minimise capital expenditure, optimise R&D expenditure and reduce the change management required by the industry, there needs to be a careful balance of encouraging innovation of solutions, whilst managing the number of plausible outcomes,” Bell said.

In terms of encouraging the development of these outcomes, carbon pricing mechanisms could provide some positive industry momentum. Vale recently acknowledged that it would apply an internal carbon tax/price of $50/t when analysing its future projects, so one would expect other companies to be factoring in such charges to their future mine developments.

Industry-wide GHG emission caps could also provide a catalyst. In countries such as Chile – where up to 80% of emissions can come from haul trucks, according to ICMM Senior Programme Officer, Verónica Martinez – carbon emission reduction legislation could really have an impact on technology developments.

Forward motion

While 2019 was a year when the three working groups – made up of close to 50 representatives in each work stream – outlined known barriers or opportunities that might either slow down or accelerate technology developments, 2020 will be the year that regional workshops convened to “encourage first adopters and fast followers” to move these three ambitions forward take place, Bell said.

A knowledge hub containing the previously spoken of maturity frameworks (delivered for all three groups) will allow the wider industry outside of the ICMM membership to gain a better understanding of how the miner-OEM-service provider collaboration is working.

Bell said the ICMM already has a number of members testing these group frameworks on an informal self-assessment basis to understand “how they are being received at an asset level and feedback insights to the group in an effort to understand how we may portray an industry representative picture of where we are today”.

Such strategies bode well for achieving these goals into the future and, potentially, changing the dynamic that has existed between end users and suppliers in the mining sector for decades.

Bell said: “The feedback that we got from OEMs is that mining companies had completely different objectives, but they have now greater confidence that we are aligned on the direction of travel towards the ambitions set.”

Sandvik launches Power Carbide to highlight rock tool capabilities

Sandvik has chosen to gather its range of rock tools with cemented carbide into a new group called Power Carbide.

The range comes with a combination of strength, hardness, toughness and wear resistance. All of these properties significantly enhance both drilling performance and cost effectiveness, Sandvik said.

Sandvik was the first company to produce rock tools with cemented carbide, which is one of the most successful composite engineering materials ever produced, it said.

Marie Lundbäck, R&D Manager Hard Materials, Rock Tools, Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology, said the introduction of PowerCarbide enables the company to showcase the importance of carbide grades in drilling operations. “Our key strengths in this area lie in our innovations in advanced material compositions and production processes,” she said.

Sandvik’s leading position in the cemented carbide tool market is down to a focus on R&D, continuous investments and close customer collaboration, according to the company. Sandvik also controls its entire production chain – from its own tungsten mine to the production of drill bits – which is unique in the market, it said.

Lundbäck said: “As we have the most comprehensive range of advanced carbide tools, we can offer our customers tailored solutions to meet their specific drilling needs. At the same time, we are able to contribute to a more sustainable future through our unique global carbide recycling system.”

The Sandvik PowerCarbide family currently consists of the grades DP55, DP65, GC80, SH70, XT49, XT70 and XT90. New grades will be launched and added to the family as Sandvik continues to develop the range, it said.

Vauramo looks to build on Metso’s mineral processing R&D culture

Pekka Vauramo might have only been away from the mining industry for just over a decade, but the new Metso CEO is acutely aware that the digitalisation and automation trend he saw the beginnings of during his time at Sandvik now plays a major role in planning the mines of the future.

Fortunately for Vauramo, a mining engineer by profession, he has come into this executive role at a very good time – Metso’s October-December quarter results showed an operating profit of €93 million ($105 million), or 10.4% of sales, and a 38% rise in orders received (in constant currencies) on the back of strong mining equipment demand.

IM met with Vauramo in London just after the financial results were published and asked him for his initial impressions of Metso, three months after joining from Finnair.

IM: As a group, what are the core commodities Metso focuses on?

PV: From a crushing viewpoint, it really doesn’t matter if it is iron ore, gold, copper, or nickel. Many of our customers are investing in copper right now – electric cars and battery metals are driving this. There are also ongoing investments in iron ore.

IM: What were your goals for Metso when you were appointed to the CEO role last year?

PV: The overall objective for Metso should be to grow the business. Metso has been standing still on its feet for quite some time. We have been profitable over the years and the focus has been on delivering black numbers even in difficult days; there is always value in this.

But, when looking at long-term R&D, which really lays the groundwork for organic growth, we have to increase our investments.

Metso reorganised itself during Nico’s (Delvaux, former CEO) time a year ago. The current organisation is, therefore, fairly young and, in the short term, we need to continue making sure we know what our responsibilities are within Metso and ensure we don’t lose sight of our customers. Several of our businesses have common customers and we need to be able to deliver one Metso experience.

My approach coming into the role was to validate where we are with the current way of working. My conclusion is that right now, no bigger changes are needed. We will, obviously, finetune as we go. Also, when we look at the latest results, we have no reason to change!

IM: Speaking of change, how would you say the mining equipment market has evolved since you were last at Sandvik?*

PV: Technology plays a certain role – the industry talks more about automation and we do see more automation. I was involved very early on with automation in the Sandvik days, introducing the automated underground loaders, and can still remember when we carried out the first trials. It is becoming, maybe, not the norm yet, but every new mine has the option to automate.

Then, of course, with the automation capabilities, the question is: where are the people operating or overseeing these machines? Do they have to be on the mine site, or can some of them be elsewhere? Next, it is about how much data can be obtained from the equipment and what value can be gained from the data.

Also, consolidation has happened in the business. Some of the mining companies are no longer around and bigger ones have got bigger. This junior activity in mining has been an interesting and exciting part of the business – it is still there, perhaps not to the same extent, but there are also some new names.

We see also China investing in Africa on a bigger scale. They had their first investments in Zambia when I was with Sandvik and now it owns many more mines there. Chinese companies are also in South America; it has become a much more international field.

IM: I have seen a few interviews talking about Metso’s R&D spend and how the 1% of turnover investment figure is inadequate. What do you see as an adequate % of turnover to invest? How quickly can Metso reach this level of investment?

PV: I think Metso needs to double that. But this takes some time; it is not just about money, it is about the capability and the R&D culture within the company. We have that culture, but we need to expand it. We are ramping it up – we have added more than €10 million ($11.3 million) in R&D last year and are planning to add another €10 million this year.

Also, besides the traditional R&D, we will continue to invest in digitalisation. We currently put more than €10 million into that and I’m quite sure we need to put more money into in it, too.
Currently R&D and digitalisation are in slightly different ‘boxes’, but as long as they are delivering something that helps customers to do better business, then it is all considered product development.

IM: Do you think mining companies are fully realising the potential value these digital solutions can have within their operations?

PV: Every company is doing something by itself, but where I see the industry is partially holding back is that some of the customers think this data is something they own – and rightly so.

However, I think companies like Metso could, let’s say, put some algorithms on top of the data and add value by comparing data from other places and share the relevant results with those participating without telling the secrets of others.

If I look at what other manufacturers have done over the years, it is evident that the industry is moving in this direction. From the end users’ viewpoint, it can be somewhat complicated because companies make different choices on technology and all these technologies need to be interfaced somehow into similar formats. Currently, this might be an issue as there are not really strong enough standards in the industry – yet that would help people streamline things and concentrate on the data.

IM: Will Metso’s future focus be on organic growth from R&D, as opposed to the M&A activity?

PV: There is value in both strategies, but the R&D activity is something that companies need to do continuously. In a business that is cyclical – mining being the most cyclical business we are in – those companies that invest organically in R&D during the downturn are the ones that tend to benefit most when the upturn starts. The ones that have their offering in good shape are the ones that win when it gets busy. That is also where Metso should be.

Acquisitions do play a role, but there are no easy answers there. We made several small acquisitions last year and we will continue with this. New acquisitions can be related either to the service side of the business or technology.

IM: How has climate change and sustainability impacted the way Metso develops minerals processing technology?

PV: There has been a tremendous movement since the latest climate report was published last year. Now, everyone is rightly concerned about emissions. The mining equipment we talk about is primarily electrically driven. Energy efficiency is one of our focus areas. If we broaden the topic out to water, for example, we know some of the deposits are in difficult places where major parts of the investment go into desalinating and pumping the water to the mine site. So, becoming also more water efficient is something that will be critical for mining companies.

There are always moments that stop the industry to think about what can be done to prevent accidents from happening. Our deepest sympathies go out to the ones that lost their relatives or closest ones in the Feijão dam collapse. It will change how mining is conducted and there may be some technological developments which we, as a company, can take forward.

IM: Lastly, what parallels can you draw between the mining and airline industries?

PV: They are somewhat distant industries, but both are fairly specialised; mining is something people very seldom go into just like that. You can acquaint yourself with many other jobs or businesses by just walking around in that environment, but you don’t end up doing that in a mine or an aircraft. Yes, you travel in an aircraft, but there’s much more behind the cabin you don’t know about.

In these type of businesses, people need special training and need to be selected – not everyone can work in a mine and not everyone is qualified to fly an aircraft. Both are people businesses at the end of the day: even though the operations may be automated – aircrafts might fly with the autopilot and mines might be run by an autopilot – sometimes highly-skilled human intervention is needed.

A big part of the airline business is service. It’s a very fast cycle service business, which provides a good opportunity to learn about how service works. It’s a daily routine with people spending anything from half an hour to half a day on an aircraft. When the flight is over you get quick feedback. If you look at the mining business, some of the projects take two years to sell, two years to deliver and one year to start up. It’s a long, long cycle. But, you either like the service or you don’t like it.

IM: Do you have anything else to add?

PV: Just to say, on the results, I am very grateful to our customers for, first of all, trusting us with their business. I am also very proud of our people in all the countries we are in – and in many departments such as sales and service – who have done a great job over the past year.

*Vauramo previously held several leading positions such as President, Underground Hard Rock Mining Division, President, TORO Loaders Division and President, Drills Division, at Sandvik AB from 1995-2007

Dillinger to put steel under the microscope in new research pact

Dillinger has agreed to continue a partnership with two Germany-based research institutes as it looks to enhance the modelling of microstructures and properties of special steels through microstructure-based material design.

The heavy plate producer has, once again, committed €1 million ($1.14 million) of funding for a three-year programme with the University of Saarland and the Material Engineering Center Saarland. This follows the end of a previous three-year pact that started in 2015.

Dillinger said: “The three participating departments at the University of Saarland are working to develop innovative analysis techniques, simulation methods and material models aimed at continuously advancing this insight into the internal structures. They are integrating these methods and models with each other as well as with Dillinger’s application-oriented research activities.”

Simulations are used to link process phases with the product in order to model the microstructure and, thus, the desired product properties, Dillinger said.

“The simulation can be achieved much faster in plate production than with real laboratory tests and, most importantly, can be exactly reproduced accordingly,” the company added.

Already, the findings of previous research, together with knowledge collected over many years and new insights gained through modelling and simulation, have resulted in previously “unimaginable leaps in development that enable Dillinger to respond to increasing customer requirements more precisely, flexibly and innovatively than ever before,” the company said.

This research could lead to a totally different way of developing new steels, according to Dillinger.

“Dillinger will, in the future, be able to precisely define the way a special steel microstructure needs to look to remain optimally prepared for applications under Arctic operating conditions, for instance.”

And, in turn, this could influence the production of heavy plate steel to be used in the mining sector, according to Dillinger’s research and development department.

“The development of wear-resistant steels with higher hardness leads to an improvement in abrasion resistance (development of DILLIDUR 550 or DILLIDUR 600) and longer tool life in the mining sector,” the department told IM.

“With increasing hardness, the toughness of the steel decreases, which makes it more wear-resistant but also very sensitive to collisions with stones, for example. This is why Dillinger develops steels that not only have a high hardness but also a good toughness.

“Compared to Dillinger’s competitors, Dillinger can offer these properties for plate thicknesses of up to 150 mm (development of DILLIDUR 400 to 150 mm and DILLIDUR 550 to 100 mm), which makes it possible to produce tools and construction machinery with sufficient reserves and, thus, long service lives even under extremely abrasive operating conditions.”

Dillinger produced 2 Mt of heavy plate and 2.5 Mt of crude steel last year.