Metso is expanding its rubber mill lining production capacity globally by investing in new presses to meet the growing demand in the global mining market. After completing the investment in 2015, Metso’s global rubber mill linings production capacity at the existing wear part manufacturing plants will increase by 30 per cent. The investment, totaling approximately Cdn$12.7 million, will be completed in two phases. The first set of presses is scheduled to be in operation by the end of 2013. It includes the installation of presses in Chile, Sweden, Canada, Mexico and Peru. Decisions for the second phase will be done based on the demand outlook in early 2013 and implemented in 2014-2015. Metso currently has wear part manufacturing units on six continents. "This investment is in line with our strategic plans to strengthen our offerings in services business and expand the mill linings availability to meet the growing demand,” says João Ney Colagrossi, president of the services business line, Metso’s Mining and Construction segment. With this investment, Metso is committed to ensure the availability and quality of its wear parts to mining customers globally, helping them to keep their installed base up and running at all times. The growing population of large grinding mills and the high utilization rates of the existing mills are driving the demand for large, high-quality grinding wear parts. Using large sized liner assemblies reduces the number of pieces to be handled and shortens the duration of the maintenance shutdown. “Metso has developed mill lining solutions, which combine rubber and a variety of steel elements to optimize the weight, wear life and ease of installation of liner systems. With our state-of-the-art technology, we are able to help our customers to maximize the productivity of their operations utilizing the best selection of materials for each application”, Gouveia adds. www.metso.com/miningandconstruction
Johnson Controls Global WorkPlace Solutions (GWS) has been awarded the contract to provide maintenance and improvement services to buildings at Shell’s Albian Sands mining operation in northern Alberta. The new agreement builds on a long-standing relationship between the two companies that began in 2009. It is significant because it will be the first time that Johnson Controls GWS will provide facilities management services to a mining operation in the area. Johnson Controls GWS will provide maintenance and improvements to Shell buildings and trailer complexes, which occupy more than 600,000 square feet. Johnson Controls GWS vice-president of the oil & gas market Paul Morgan, said: “The partnership between Johnson Controls and Shell is a good example of a mutually beneficial business relationship developing over time. We currently manage a range of facilities for Shell, including fuel retail sites, offices, data centers and laboratories, however, this new agreement will see us provide direct support to Shell’s mining operations for the first time. We have a strong team who are well prepared to take on the challenges associated with managing the risk and safety concerns around these sites. As with all Shell facilities, the focus will remain on health and safety, the environment and security.” Johnson Controls also manages and maintains 11,000 of Shell’s fuel retail sites in 24 countries in EMEA, the Americas and Asia-Pacific, as well as a variety of real estate in the U.S., Brazil and the Netherlands, where it manages the company’s Hague headquarters. www.johnsoncontrols.com
Osisko Mining Corp. has reported that the Canadian Malartic mill in Quebec returned to full operational status this month (on May 19, 2012). This follows the earlier reported May 9 fire and completion of temporary repairs to the damaged No. 4 cyclone set. Sunday throughput production totaled 41,000 tonnes, and Monday's throughput was 39,000 tonnes. The mill resumed partial operation on May 16, with the grinding circuit utilizing three of the four cyclone sets and two of the three ball mills, as well as the semi-autogenous grinding (SAG) unit. Completion of temporary repairs to the fourth cyclone circuit and the completion of scheduled maintenance on the primary and secondary crushers allowed for the resumption of full production on May 19. Production rates are still at ramp-up levels but have now returned to the pre-fire range. During the past week modifications to the XL2000 cone crusher bowl and liners have been effected under recommendations and supervision from the supplier FLSmidth. Their representatives are currently on site monitoring and adjusting the crusher circuit while trials of the modifications are conducted. Current throughputs during this work are expected to range between 35,000 tpd and 40,000 tpd. Pending successful completion of this work, Osisko expects to see the circuit stabilize in the 40,000 tpd - 45,000 tpd range as the Company awaits the arrival and installation of the second FLSmidth XL2000 cone crusher. The second XL2000 (number 2 of 2 cone crushers comprising the secondary crusher) is currently expected to be installed and operational by July. This should allow the circuit to subsequently increase throughput to 50,000 tpd - 55,000 tpd. Further optimization to the circuit, including the installation in August of the previously announced second pebble crusher, is expected to lead to increased daily throughput by September. Sean Roosen, president of Osisko, commenting on the return to operations noted: "We are very proud of the speedy effort our team has made in getting the mill up and returned to operation after the fire. We greatly appreciate the outstanding efforts of our employees, contractors and suppliers. The location of the Canadian Malartic Mine has allowed us to respond quickly to the challenges of the past ten days, and really gave us rapid access to the necessary expertise and support infrastructure." Luc Lessard, senior vice-president of Osisko, noted: "We are continuing to ramp up production, make modifications to improve throughput and stabilize the circuit. During the unplanned stoppage, we accelerated the regular maintenance of key operating units, which should improve our near term performance as we gain better plant availability." Equipment and building damage from the fire is estimated between $6 million and $8 million. The company is working with its insurance underwriters and adjusters and expects the costs of the physical damages to be fully covered subject to a $250,000 deductible. Permanent repairs of the damage will continue over the next three to four months, with the eventual replacement of the number 4 cyclone set with a new cyclone cluster currently being manufactured by the supplier. Repairs to the damaged overhead crane and the mill roof will also be completed during this period. Minimal impact on production during these final repairs is anticipated. Osisko Mining operates the Canadian Malartic gold mine in Malartic, Que., and is pursuing exploration on a number of properties, including the Hammond Reef Gold Project in Northern Ontario. www.osisko.com
Two fatalities in just one year — related to the same piece of equipment — led to important improvements in worker protection. Arguably, these did not go far enough, but one solution may help provide an extra boost of safety. Mining, as anyone who works within it knows only too well, can be a dangerous industry. It is not just underground and at the coal face where serious (and even fatal) accidents can occur. There is one piece of equipment in particular that has led to serious accidents: the inclined conveyor. But a solution from Renold Couplings promises to alleviate the risk, and Rio Tinto is just one company that has taken advantage of the innovation to protect its workers. The mining industry would find it hard to function without the inclined conveyor to transport coal. However, in the event of a loss of power, their design means that they can run backwards, out of control, if in a loaded condition. For that reason, for many years, these systems have been fitted with backstop sprag clutches. These work by allowing a shaft to rotate in one direction as the sprags slip. But if the shaft tries to turn the other way — as it will do if the conveyor begins to run backwards — the sprags immediately stand up and lock. These same safety components are also fitted to theme park rides to prevent cars from running downhill in the event of a power failure. Although this effectively solves the problem it was designed to, another associated problem can also occur, for which it is not only no help but is also actually the direct cause. If a blockage occurs between the lower belt and the return end shaft, the conveyor will stall. The backstop sprag clutch then comes into operation to prevent the belt from running backwards — but as a result, tension builds in the upper belt, because the slack in the lower belt can’t feed back through the drive. The natural reaction of the operator is to remove whatever is causing the obstruction to get the conveyor back in operation as quickly as possible. But if the tension in the upper belt isn’t released first, the sudden release that occurs when the blockage is removed will cause it to pull the lower belt rapidly around the return roller with huge force. This force can be so powerful that it has been known to cause the load on the top belt to explode in all directions, and has even pulled the worker removing the blockage into the conveyor. One answer, developed by Renold, is the tension release and torque limiting safety holdback sprag clutch, which has been designed to enable the extreme tension in the upper belt to be released in a controlled way through controlled friction slippage of the sprag clutch element of the backstop. With the tension released in this controlled manner, maintenance work can be carried out to remove the blockage and get the conveyor up and running again, quickly and safely. This is an edited article provided by Renold Couplings. For more information, visit www.renold.com.
Over the past three years, Barrick Gold Corp. has been on a maintenance improvement journey, taking important steps to improve its maintenance function. Here’s why and how. Barrick is the world’s largest gold mining company by production and reserves. It’s a Canadian company with its head office in Toronto, but Barrick is truly a global company with 26 operating mines and numerous development projects and exploration activities worldwide. Its vision is to be the world’s best gold company by finding, acquiring, developing and producing quality reserves in a safe, profitable and socially responsible manner. The Maintenance Challenge It should not surprise you to learn that the mining industry is capital intensive. Indeed, Barrick has billions of dollars invested in plants, equipment and infrastructure. One large haul truck may cost more than $2.5 million, and Barrick has hundreds of them. A single large tire can cost $60,000. We are currently investing about $7 billion to build two large new mines: Pueblo Viejo in the Dominican Republic and Pascua-Lama on the border of Chile and Argentina. All of this plant and equipment requires on-going maintenance for peak performance and maximum life, so maintenance is one of the largest costs in our business. The mining environment is rugged and it’s tough on equipment. Blasting and digging generates a lot of dust. Operating conditions include temperatures ranging from –40°C in the mountains of South America to as high as 50°C at some of our Australian sites. Some operations are at high altitude — up to 5,500 metres above sea level at our South American operations. In all of these conditions, our equipment works hard. These conditions can affect reliability and performance. In every sense of the word, our maintenance challenge is significant! Good maintenance makes good business sense because it improves safety and equipment reliability, and that improves production uptime. Planned and regular preventive maintenance ensures safe and smooth running of equipment and processes. Lack of proper maintenance can result in bad outcomes in terms of safety, production and cost. When we experienced a number of mobile-equipment fires, we initiated a major review of our maintenance function and found areas for improvement. Our analysis showed a high level of unplanned maintenance, so we recognized we could reduce our costs with better planning and scheduling. We saw the need to improve training and career opportunities for our maintenance staff to improve their effectiveness and encourage retention. Barrick, like many other mining companies, has often grown by acquisition. The result was a variety of approaches and practices at various sites. We realized we needed a common set of standards and systems across the company, as well as a standard set of key performance indicators to evaluate and manage performance. We needed to focus on reliability and develop a true strategic asset management approach. Starting the Journey So we set out on a maintenance journey. The first step was recognizing these issues and acknowledging the value of the maintenance function. We mapped out the existing maintenance situation at our sites, documenting lists of people and structures. We brought together the maintenance leaders from each region for a global meeting to start the conversation about how to improve the maintenance function. It was an opportunity to understand their issues and challenges — and to offer support to help drive improvement. Involving everyone up front was critical for gaining momentum for this program. At the same time, we presented the case to the senior leadership team. Several key points gained their support. Poor maintenance was creating safety issues, such as equipment fires. Poor maintenance was causing breakdowns that interfere with production. Our current spend on maintenance was high because of the percentage of unplanned work. With improved practices, we could actually reduce the overall annual maintenance costs over time. The leaders saw the value and made maintenance improvement a priority for the company. We developed an asset management policy in consultation with our regional maintenance leadership team. It states our fundamental principles about management of our assets from design to disposal. The policy conveys our belief that all equipment failures are preventable. It also commits the organization to develop clear policies and standards and to provide leadership for implementing the asset management strategy across the organization. It’s signed by our senior executives. This one-page document became our mandate. We distributed it widely, and it’s posted at Barrick sites and regional offices worldwide. Working with the regional teams, we developed our maintenance management system in late 2009. It sets out the company’s minimum standards for maintenance across the organization. It’s a very useful guide that helps maintenance leaders put the right plans and structures in place to achieve good results. It sets standards for nine key areas, including leadership, structure, strategic planning, performance measurement and others. The system also recognizes the interdependence with other functional areas, such as production and supply chain. To help everyone work in a standardized way, we needed to implement standardized business processes. We worked closely with our supply chain colleagues to define and enhance our business processes. Then, we needed a single computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) platform — which at Barrick is the Oracle eAM. Tools and Training Fundamental to a good business process is the fact that everyone must know and understand their job responsibilities. We reviewed our organizational structure to align the roles and responsibilities across corporate, business regions and sites. Our maintenance management system outlines the recommended organizational structures to support maintenance. We identified gaps and filled those positions. As we proceeded, we recognized we had a shortage of mechanical and electrical engineers. But just adding more people was not enough. We also needed to make sure their roles were clearly defined and that we had a support structure of training and career development to help them succeed. We prepared information and tools to help them do their jobs. We developed a set of maintenance standards that cover most of the key topics. These are intended to answer the question, “What does the organization expect from us?” We also developed a series of guidance notes on how to implement important tasks. These are intended to answer the question, “How do I do that?” We organized all these standards, templates, reference materials, and tools into a Maintenance Knowledge Centre on our company’s intranet site. We included a global contact list, which makes it easy for them to contact each other to discuss common problems and share information. We intend to build on this sense of community through collaborative forums in the future. The centre includes a set of computer-based training modules on a range of topics, including basic mining, diesel engines, financial analysis, project management and more. We worked closely with some of our OEMs to ensure the training relates specifically to the equipment we use. The modules follow the curriculum for our in-house graduate engineering training program. Each module has a questionnaire that must be completed by the graduate program participants. We track the traffic to see which documents and tools people use. This information helps us enhance the site. All employees, not just maintenance staff, have access to the site and the modules so they can increase their knowledge of maintenance and engineering. Marketing Our Maintenance To promote maintenance across the organization, we worked with the our communications department to produce professional materials and to announce our progress through features stories on the intranet and in the corporate global newsletter. These efforts helped us gain and sustain momentum for the program. The publicity has raised the profile of the maintenance function within Barrick and has helped our maintenance employees feel recognized and appreciated. We Are Now Here Members of the global maintenance team have now visited every Barrick site to conduct a site review. During these visits, we assess the site’s activities against the requirements set out in the maintenance management system. We discuss the results with the site managers and develop plans to address any gaps. We don’t approach this like an audit; we approach it like a coaching session. We are there to help the site improve. We monitor the results and document the improvement actions. We have just commenced our second round of site reviews, and we will track the progress since the first review. The results so far have been encouraging as sites show considerable commitment and improvement. In addition, we recently surveyed maintenance leaders across the organization, and we will use their feedback to further improve. We’ve come a long way on our maintenance improvement journey. We have a lot of the key foundation elements in place — policy, systems, standards, site reviews, training and other processes. All of our business regions and sites have plans in place to drive maintenance improvement. The challenge now is to keep the momentum going. It takes time and hard work to implement change in any large organization. We want maintenance improvement to become part of Barrick’s culture. This will ensure work will continue and be independent of individuals. We are pleased at the progress we have made so far and still have some distance to travel — but we know we’re headed in the right direction and we’re determined to get there. Our success will be rewarding for everyone in the maintenance function, and it will create significant value for our company. Robert Cronin is the senior manager of maintenance at Barrick Gold Corp. in Toronto. For more information, visit www.barrick.com.
For many modern open-pit mines, shovels are one of the most critical components in the production process. These multi-million-dollar machines are the first to handle the material before transporting and processing begins. Because of this, the shovel must be closely monitored to avoid any unnecessary downtime and to ensure it is in peak operating condition. Any unnecessary downtime can cost a mine thousands of dollars per hour in lost production time. One of the common causes of shovel downtime for many mines is worn or missing shovel teeth or adaptors. Operating with worn teeth reduces the performance of the shovel, resulting in increased energy usage, slower operation and an increased likelihood of missing teeth or adaptors. Replacing the worn teeth must be carefully planned as an unplanned change-out can result in up to two hours of unexpected downtime. When factoring in the opportunity cost of lost production, a 2009 case study of an American copper mine determined that the total cost of an unplanned change-out is US$41,368 — compared to US$3,000 for a planned change-out. In hard-rock mining, such as iron or copper ore mining, it is not uncommon for the shovel teeth to go missing in normal operation. During the digging cycle, the extreme forces can cause the teeth to break off completely and become mixed with the loaded material. Big problems occur when a load with a shovel tooth accidentally makes its way to the crusher. Because the shovel teeth are made of a very durable metal, when a tooth enters the crusher, it jams the crusher and can disable it for hours or even days at a time. If the mine has no other primary crushers or has little or no stockpile of crushed ore to feed the next stages of production at the time, the mine production could be put to a complete halt, which can result in millions of dollars in lost production time for every occurrence. To address issues with worn or missing shovel teeth or adaptors, a Canadian company, Motion Metrics International Corp., has developed two innovative tooth monitoring solutions: ToothMetrics and WearMetrics. The ToothMetrics system constantly monitors the shovel teeth with advanced image processing techniques and artificial intelligence algorithms, and alerts the shovel operator when a shovel tooth or adaptor is missing. Once detected, the tooth or adaptor can be located and prevented from reaching the crusher. The WearMetrics system automatically monitors the shovel tooth-wear and provides the status of each shovel tooth by displaying the remaining length of the tooth expressed as a percentage of the original length. This assists the mine engineers in planning teeth replacements, and helps avoid any unplanned change-outs. Both solutions share the same rugged embedded CPU platform and hardware components, reducing the total cost of ownership for any mine. The system works by installing a rugged camera mounted on the boom of an electric rope shovel or on the stick of a hydraulic face shovel. The high-sensitivity, monochrome camera provides a clear view of the shovel teeth directly to the embedded CPU, which is installed in the shovel operator’s cab. Due to intense shock and vibration experienced by the shovel during operation, Motion Metrics has designed shock-absorbing camera brackets specifically for each different type of shovel, including P&H and Bucyrus/CAT electric rope shovels, as well as Komatsu, Liebherr, Terex/CAT, Hitachi and other makes of hydraulic shovels. The open-pit mining environment is also subject to a number of environmental conditions such as dirt, dust and varying lighting conditions, a key challenge for any mining system to deliver consistent results. To counter lighting variations, a heavy-duty, high-intensity LED light is installed alongside the camera to illuminate the shovel teeth during night operations. Advanced artificial intelligence algorithms continuously monitor the incoming video to exclude images when the view of the teeth is blocked by dirt, dust or shadows and select only optimal images for tooth analysis. Building on this successful shovel-monitoring platform, Motion Metrics has added the optional safety and collision avoidance components: ViewMetrics and RadarMetrics. Due to the sheer size and vast blind spots of mining shovels, the frequent and swift swinging action of the shovel is a common concern for open-pit shovel operations as there is always a risk of collision with other equipment or personnel working in close proximity. The ViewMetrics addition provides the shovel operator with three additional wide-angle surveillance views around the shovel blind spots in the left, right, and rear of the shovel for greater visibility. RadarMetrics enhances the operator’s awareness even more by providing intelligent proximity sensing and active feedback to the operator. This addition seamlessly combines a strategically placed array of heavy-duty pulsed radar sensors with the three surveillance views from ViewMetrics to provide visual and audible alerts to the operator when an object enters the shovel’s swing radius. Optional warning lights can also be installed around the shovel to extend the warning to any nearby equipment or personnel, providing an extra level of safety. This unique patent-pending approach, according to Motion Metrics, is the “only collision avoidance system for mining shovels [that] takes into account the swing radius of the shovel when alerting the shovel operator.” This additional level of intelligence helps eliminate unnecessary alarms that would otherwise be distracting to the operator. As real estate in the operator’s cab is limited, the company has managed to integrate all five of the shovel monitoring solutions mentioned above into a single embedded CPU platform and a 12-inch touchscreen display installed in the cab. The operator-oriented interface displays the shovel bucket camera view from the ToothMetrics and WearMetrics systems, along with the three surveillance views from the ViewMetrics systems. As an object enters the shovel’s swing radius, RadarMetrics displays a graphical bird’s-eye view of the shovel to indicate the direction and proximity of the object, and also makes an audible alarm to grab the shovel operator’s attention. Motion Metrics is also a provider of payload monitoring systems for large hydraulic mining shovels, such as the Terex/CAT RH340/400 and the Komatsu PC8000. Many mines only have weighing systems on their haul trucks, but this makes it difficult for the shovel operator to know when a truck is being overloaded, since the weight will not be known before the load is in the truck. Furthermore, many truck scales require the truck to be in motion before the weighing system is able to provide an accurate measurement. To prevent voiding the manufacturer’s warranty, overloaded trucks must dump their load immediately, resulting in a significant loss of productivity, as the same load will need to be reworked and loaded a second time. On the other hand, underloaded trucks requires the truck to make more trips, thereby increasing the mine’s haulage cost per ton. One of the key features of the LoadMetrics system is to provide the bucket-by-bucket payload information directly to the shovel operator, allowing the operator to determine whether dumping the current load will overload or underload the haul truck. The system also provides helpful warnings to the operator when the shovel is reaching its cylinder extension or retraction limits. Repeated over-extending or retracting of the shovel’s hydraulic cylinders can cause the cylinders to burst, thus requiring premature replacements. As a crucial element in open-pit mining operations, shovels should be closely monitored to maximize productivity and minimize downtime. The cost of any unnecessary downtime can easily cost the mine thousands or millions of dollars in lost production time. To address many of these challenges, Motion Metrics has developed a unique collection of shovel monitoring solutions. Their proven systems have been installed in various combinations in over 150 mining shovels and in over 30 mines around the world since 2003. Enoch Chow is the marketing manager with Motion Metrics International Corp. For more information, visit www.motionmetrics.com.
Many industries are finding that not only are there marketing benefits to shrinking their environmental footprint, but cost-saving benefits as well. And while certain industries are able to make a seamless switch to green, other industries — such as mining — find it a little more difficult. However, when international mining giant Vale first hired Sudbury, Ont.-based engineering, automation and software development firm Bestech to help design a ventilation-on-demand system for its Coleman mine, the original goal wasn’t to save energy; it was merely to find a way to move air around more efficiently. Mining ventilation systems are one of the most costly components of the mining process — both money-wise and production-wise. With the amount of contaminants and fumes that are created by the mining process, proper ventilation is required to ensure all of a mine’s people, and equipment, are able to work. With the mind-boggling number of shafts in an average mine, a lot of ventilation is required to keep the air moving. Traditionally, to ensure a mine was properly ventilated, one had to over-ventilate. Fans on the surface would push fresh air down, and auxiliary fans underground were required to push air through the drifts. “Because mine circuits are so complex, you’re often looking at between 100 to 200 auxiliary fans running 24/7 at 100-percent capacity,” says Marc Boudreau, president and CEO of Bestech. “As a result, it’s not unheard of for ventilation costs alone to range between $3 million and $6 million annually.” This type of ventilation system also limits productivity because one can only mine in areas where you have proper airflow and air quality. If one wanted to expand activity to another area of the mine that wasn’t ventilated, they’d have to first reconfigure their ventilation plan. Enter ventilation-on-demand The purpose of a ventilation-on-demand system is to only ventilate those areas that are in use — thus, drastically reducing energy usage. While the concept has been around for approximately 25 years, Bestech was one of the first to establish a system that is using state-of-the-art technology and robust enough to work in a harsh mining environment. The company has been working on ventilation control strategies since 2000, and is currently on its third version of its software — NRG1-ECO. “Back in 2000, we were focused solely on developing scheduling tools — turning the fans up and down according to a predetermined schedule,” Boudreau says. “What we were doing was unique at the time because we were using web applications — and that was cutting-edge software back then. We were really pushing the envelope of real-time systems over the web.” Through the decade, the software evolved, and in 2009, Bestech started planning its third version, with a focus on increasing functionality through even more advanced technology. While Vale was one of the first companies to help dictate the direction of the new software, it was just one of Bestech’s many partners in the project. That’s because the goal of this project was different: it wasn’t to merely reduce a mine’s ventilation energy usage, but to optimize mining processes, people and equipment and increase productivity. “At the end of the day, production rules,” Boudreau says. “Mining operating costs range from $200 to $400 million per year, so what is $1 to $3 million in energy savings? It’s a start, and in reality provides a two to three-year ROI. The bigger benefit is increasing overall productivity, which can yield tens of millions in increased revenues.” The advanced nature of the product, as well as the potential environmental angle, qualified the project for federal R&D dollars and simultaneously captured the attention of other government research groups and non-profit foundations. To qualify for funding for one of these foundations, Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC), Bestech was required to establish an industry consortium. The consortium, which continues to provide support to Bestech, consists of research partners (such as MIRARCO, which is a research company affiliated with Laurentian University), funding partners (such as the Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation as well as clients like Vale and Xstrata) and technology partners (such as RFID vendors, which help ensure the program is easily integrated). It proves to be a valuable resource for the company, offering plenty of sound advice, ideas and suggestions (along with funding) to make sure the project is something that can truly move the mining industry forward. The future of mining One of the ways NRG1-ECO exceeds previous versions of the software is through its ventilation-on-demand accuracy and open technology. For example, thanks to the use of RFID tags — which are placed on each employee and each piece of equipment in the mine — the program can gather enough information to know when people or equipment are in a specific mining zone, and alter the ventilation accordingly. This has proven to be a useful feature in reducing blast gas clearing time — an area that Bestech is continually developing. When removing ore, mines must undergo a repetitive daily process: first miners head into an area to drill, then they blast, then recondition the area, and then they send machines in to pick up the ore. The problem is that, after a blast, the air becomes contaminated and there’s a time lapse of lost productivity — ranging from between 15 and 60 minutes — as miners wait to enter the zone to recondition the area and collect the ore. Through the use of RFID tags and sensors measuring air quality, Bestech is working on reducing that amount of downtime by developing ways to more efficiently remove the contaminated air out of the mine, so miners can get through the necessary corridors and collect the ore quicker. The company has also gone to great lengths to ensure its technology is open, allowing it to accommodate the varying needs of different mines current networks and communication protocols, both today and down the road. This design has been a definite benefit for Vale and other companies who have already signed up for their installation. “Every mine is different — each one has unique requirements, operates in a slightly different environment and requires a customized, tailored installation for their respective operation. Bestech tries to understand what their client requires, and utilize the right technique to get them what they want,” says Cheryl Allen, chief ventilation engineer for Vale. This flexibility has allowed Vale to roll the technology out in stages — it currently has a portion of its Coleman mine “tagged” (with RFID tags). While the system is functional, and the company has already proven the potential for approximately 30 to 40-percent energy savings, the goal is to expand the system to other parts of the facility. There are many infrastructure changes the company may wish to change some day as well, such as implementing a wireless communication infrastructure, and they’re certain that if and when those changes are made, Bestech will be able to tweak the existing framework accordingly. While the software is capable of working with other technology that might not be implemented quite yet, it’s also capable of working with less-advanced technology that already exists. This is a huge benefit for companies that don’t want to overhaul their entire communications infrastructure. One example is if they have copper wire-based communications systems (or “leaky-feeder systems”), rather than more advanced fibre-optic systems. Understandably, it takes a lot of communication infrastructure to transmit data from 8,000 feet below ground to computer systems on the surface. While many newer mines are currently equipped with fibre-optic systems — allowing them to transport more information at a faster pace — most older mines rely on copper technology. Replacing this technology can prove extremely costly, which is why it was important to ensure that NRG1-ECO could accommodate the older system and deliver the same results. Accommodating varying brands of PLCs was also a necessity. Each Intelligent Zone Controller — the device which control a mine’s fans — is equipped with a PLC. “Every client uses a different PLC manufacturer,” Boudreau says. “We wanted to make it so that it doesn’t matter what PLC manufacturer you use.” Buying in While advanced technology is definitely a huge component of the NRG1-ECO system, it’s probably the easiest piece of the puzzle to implement. The most difficult part of the process so far has been winning that buy-in from company employees and, to some extent, the industry as a whole. “Not everyone is okay to have an RFID tag attached to them. That’s a social obstacle we have to deal with,” Boudreau says. “If you don’t get buy-in from people, your system won’t work.” So far, the company has been trying to overcome this through education and awareness — by sitting people down, highlighting the safety benefits and explaining the details of the system. In reality, the monitoring process can’t determine if someone is taking a longer-than-average break. It monitors the mine by zones, which can be roughly a kilometre long, and can only detect whether an employee is in the zone or not. It can’t determine what that person is doing — or whether they’re even moving — thus avoiding a “Big Brother” type of monitoring. “I don’t think it will ever go in that direction,” Boudreau says. “The cost of putting in infrastructure to follow employees and equipment is expensive.” Bestech knows its technology is capable of increasing mining productivity in several other ways, hence, it continues to research and develop its NRG1-ECO platform and inventory of mine efficiency and productivity products so that it can reduce the high cost associated with overhauling existing legacy systems, which have and always will be an obstacle in moving the entire industry forward. That being said, the new technology is gradually gaining interest in the mining community. The company currently has eight new projects at various stages, including Goldcorp and mining companies in the Northwest Territories and Manitoba. It has also received interest from foreign mining companies in Peru and Mexico. “This technology will definitely bring significant changes to the future of mine design and the notion of moving air around,” says Glenn Lyle, R&D program director for the Centre for Excellence and Mining Innovation, a consortium member. Vanessa Chris is a freelance writer based in Toronto.
Ontario will target hazards affecting clean air in underground mines across the province. In October and November, a mining safety blitz will check ventilation systems and diesel equipment to ensure mine workers have an adequate supply of clean air. The blitz will focus on: maintenance of ventilation systems and diesel equipment; and workplace air sampling by employers. Protecting mine workers is part of the government's continued commitment to prevent workplace injuries and illness through its Safe at Work Ontario strategy. Ventilation hazards pose a serious concern in underground mines, many of which operate diesel equipment. The air in poorly ventilated mines can contain toxins, which can cause occupational disease and even death. Between 2005 and 2009, 176 workers died and another 36 workers developed occupational diseases related to respiratory illnesses in the mining sector, according to claim information from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. Inspectors will target underground mines that use diesel equipment. This includes: Mines with large fleets of diesel equipment operating in the underground environment Recently reopened or new mines operating diesel equipment Mines where previous ventilation concerns were observed, and Mines with a poor health and safety compliance history. Since 2008, Ontario safety inspectors have made more than 266,000 field visits and conducted 34 inspection blitzes. Inspectors have issued more than 425,000 compliance orders since 2008. www.labour.gov.on.ca
Work output in a potash mine is dependent on machines with high mobility and production efficiency. As the world’s demand increases for potash that is used primarily as an agriculture fertilizer, Saskatchewan’s PotashCorp has stepped up production at the company’s Rocanville, Sask., mining facility with a continuous bore mining machine that extracts some 1,200 tons of potash ore per hour. Propelling the massive four-rotor mining machine, weighing in at 250 tons, are two Eaton Hydrokraft 250-cc motors that are the heart of the hydraulic system on the X CEL 44 Series miner built by Prairie Machine & Parts Manufacturing Ltd. in Saskatoon. PotashCorp has relied on Regina’s HyPOWER Systems Inc., an Eaton distributor, to provide hydraulics muscle and hydraulics commonality for its mining machinery. When the need for an additional miner became evident, PotashCorp asked HyPOWER to redesign hydraulic circuitry for the machine and to work with Prairie Machine on fit, functionality and integration requirements. Delving into the project, HyPOWER technical sales representative Ken Pagan and mechanical engineering technologist Cal Ganshorn called on Eaton’s Lyle Meyer, Hydrokraft product manager, for a two-speed hydraulic motor recommendation. “We explained to Lyle that the motors would need to increase tram speed over PotashCorp’s current miners that move at a snail’s pace through the mine,” Ganshorn says, “plus fit into a tight envelope on the miner. “In addition, the motors would need to default to maximum displacement, in the event that hydraulic system pilot pressure was lost.” Meyer proposed Eaton’s compact Hydrokraft two-speed motor for the application, after confirming with Eaton’s Wehrheim, Germany, manufacturing facility that a customized version would default to maximum displacement, not minimum displacement, as does the standard version, when pilot pressure is lost. Ganshorn specified the custom Hydrokraft motors into his hydraulic system design proposal that also included Eaton DG4S4 valves, V Series vane pumps and a Series 2 piston pump that would operate auxiliary functions. PotashCorp liked the design proposal and gave HyPOWER its endorsement to design the miner’s hydraulic system around the custom Hydrokraft motor. Following assembly and testing, the miner was completely disassembled in order to be transported down the mine shaft. Simultaneous with these projects was the task of carving out rock 3,200 feet below the Saskatchewan prairie in order to build a shop in which to reassemble the 38-foot-long by 22-foot-wide miner piece by piece. Overall, the multimillion-dollar investment is already paying off for PotashCorp. The machine has been up and running since November 2009 and is significantly faster than the elder PotashCorp miners. “Our hydraulic system design with the Eaton Hydrokraft motors has enabled the new X CEL miner to increase tram speed by 40 percent,” Ganshorn notes. The increased tram speed saves two hours of tram time and more, says PotashCorp’s Cecil Huber, general maintenance foreman underground. “The time savings frees up the operator to help with setup sooner and allows us to move the electrical set that much sooner as well,” he says. “Eaton’s Hydrokraft motors give us twice the drive torque to the tracks, which results in better control. Tram pressures are lower, resulting in lower operating temperatures in the hydraulic system.” PotashCorp plans to add five more X CEL miners equipped with Eaton products to its Rocanville machinery lineup. This is an edited article provided by Eaton’s Hydraulic Group. For more information, visit www.eaton.com.
Compressed air can comprise up to 20 percent of the costs of underground mining, according to the Ontario Mining Association (OMA), and 20 to 40 percent of energy costs at mines can be attributed to compressed air systems. Given that up to 70 percent of that air is wasted through leaks, the problem of leaks in compressed air lines is one of the most costly and inefficient draws on the bottom line. The numbers are staggering. The OMA’s compressed air leak management program report, “Implementing a Sustainable Compressed Air Leak Program,” demonstrates just how costly leaks can be: a single 1/2-inch-diameter leak, assuming energy costs of $0.10/kWh, can total to $12,820 throughout the course of a year for a one-shift operation and as much as $47,850 for a three-shift operation. Even the tiniest of leaks can add up: a single 1/16-inch-diameter leak can cost up to $200 over a year for a one-shift operation and up to $750 for a three-shift operation. In a typical mining operation, leaks in compressed air lines can number into the hundreds, resulting in wasted energy costs upwards of $100,000 a year. The costs alone should be enough to consider a leak management program, but leaks also create other problems. Fluctuating system pressure can lead to inconsistent performance of the tools and equipment that operate on compressed air. Operation time may need to be increased to make up for the lower pressure, which can increase maintenance costs and reduce the service life of compressors due to excess load. Problem Areas Leaks can occur at any point in a compressed air system and are blamed on a number of factors. Through regular mining activities, compressed air piping is exposed to vibration, impact and harsh materials, all of which could lead to leaks. Compressed air lines in the mining industry are typically joined using grooved mechanical piping due to the joining method’s ease of installation and maintenance, strength and ability to quickly adapt to changing mine geography. If the joints of a grooved system aren’t properly assembled, however, the gasket contained within the coupling housings can be a leak source. During its study, the OMA determined that pipe couplings are the most common source of leaks; approximately 60 to 80 percent of the air loss can be attributed to couplings. Fortunately, the solution isn’t as drastic as replacing grooved piping systems, which mines rely upon to decrease installation and maintenance downtime and reduce total installed costs. The two primary causes of couplings as a leak source, pinched gaskets and incompatible gasket material, are easily fixed. During coupling installation, a gasket can pinch, creating a leak path, if it’s not properly lubricated. Lubricating a gasket takes only a few seconds, but this step is often skipped to save time. If coupling gaskets are not pre-lubricated, personnel should take the time to lubricate the gaskets prior to installation, and managers should educate pipe installers as to the importance of doing so and the economic ramifications that result from leaks. Mine maintenance personnel will try just about anything to save time, so adding a step to the pipe installation process may not be a welcomed idea. Installation-ready couplings, an alternative to traditional couplings, require fewer installation steps and decrease installation time compared to traditional couplings; they also reduce the chances of pinching a gasket upon assembly. Installation-ready couplings do not require disassembly prior to installation. The pre-assembled coupling is simply “stabbed” onto the pipe ends, and the bolts are tightened, like typical couplings, until the housing bolt pads meet metal-to-metal. Installation-ready couplings are offered in flexible and rigid styles in sizes up to 8 inches/200 millimeters. The benefit of installation-ready couplings is twofold. First, they can reduce pinched gaskets during installation because the coupling is kept assembled and installed as a single unit, rather than piece-by-piece. Second, they can be installed in as little as half the time it would take to install traditional pipe couplings. As a result, installation-ready couplings meet owners’ goal to reduce costs and miners’ goal to save time. Another cause of leaks at pipe couplings is gasket deterioration, which can occur when the gasket material is incompatible with, and not approved for the piping service. For example, when grade “E,” or EPDM, gaskets are used on compressed air lines, oil vapors present in the system can degrade the compound, eventually leading to a leak. EPDM is a commonly specified gasket grade, and is suitable for water services, but using this grade on air services can be problematic. Oil separating filters are generally not used on compressed air systems, so the lines may carry oil vapors. As a result, grade “T,” or nitrile, gaskets should be used. This gasket grade is designed to stand up to air with oil vapors and will not degrade with exposure over time. Nitrile gaskets should not be used on water services, however, so mines will need to use two types of gaskets: EPDM for water services and nitrile for air services. Replacing EPDM gaskets with nitrile gaskets on compressed air lines is not a quick maintenance procedure, but the cost savings that can be achieved through this method is significant. The OMA suggests conducting gasket replacement during maintenance to repair existing gasket leaks, and during installation of new compressed air systems. Study Outcome Three mines participated in the OMA’s air leak management project as pilot sites. The mines saw almost immediate results in energy savings. In fact, two of the mines saved about $100,000 in annual operating costs just by fixing major air leaks. The project report, which includes lessons learned and best practices, is a must-read for every mine. Fixing leaks attributed to gaskets within pipe couplings will not solve all challenges involving compressed air systems. After all, leaks can occur at multiple points along the line, and a big-picture leak management program is necessary to ensure long-term commitment to locating and repairing leaks. Such a plan, according to the OMA, should include recognition of the role of people and leadership, uses of equipment and instrumentation, and the development of new procedures and processes. Nevertheless, proper selection and installation of pipe couplings play a major role in reducing downtime associated with leaks. Repairing leaks can reduce air loss to less than 10 percent of the mine’s compressed air output, resulting in immediate and significant cost savings. Marc Carrière is the global mining market manager with Victaulic, a producer of mechanical pipe joining systems. For more information, visit www.victaulic.com.