Dec '08/Jan '09

Supply side economics

The latest products help mining companies keep an eye on their bottom lines

By E. Moore

Scheduled maintenance helps to minimize the impact of downtime and increases productivity.

Against the backdrop of worldwide financial uncertainty, mining companies will undoubtedly be scrutinizing their bottom lines with eagle-eyed diligence. But even in tough times, business must go on; worn-out machinery must be replaced and systems updated. Mining suppliers know that only those new and updated products that offer the best return on the dollar will be hot commodities. And if their offerings do not come with the assurance of reduced operating costs or enhanced productivity, they had better fly the flag of proven value.

Reducing operating costs

Machinery has needs of its own, and foremost among them is fuel. “With the price of fuel today, if you can reduce consumption even by just a few percentage points, it can represent significant savings,” said Kirk Yoresen, marketing manager at ESCO Corp. “And that saving is ongoing, whenever the machine is being operated.”

According to Yoresen, ESCO’s EverSharp cast lip system, newly introduced for surface mining, is one such product. An increased nose angle reduces wear on the rear of the adapter, and an improved lip assembly profile allows more efficient bucket curl and filling. The lip and shroud bottoms have been moved up to reduce drag and improve penetration.

Yoresen explained that by moving the back end of the bucket to reduce drag, penetration is more effective, reducing fuel consumption per load. “If you move that back end up out of the way without sacrificing the volume that is going into the bucket, it will pass through the material much more easily,” said Yoresen. “If the bucket loads in a pass and it does it in, say, 30 seconds versus another loading system that takes 35 seconds, that’s a difference of five seconds per pass. If the machine’s working 24 hours a day, which many of them are, you multiply that times a day’s operation — that’s a lot more passes in which they’re getting a full bucketload of ore.”

Fuel economy is also a leading attribute of Komatsu’s PC88MR-8, a mid-sized (8.4-tonne) hydraulic excavator introduced this past October. Featuring the exact same cab as larger models, its instrument package has an auto-idle feature, and an “eco” gauge signals whether or not the machine is operating at maximum fuel efficiency. The excavator’s fuel economy is said to be further enhanced by the ability to match hydraulic power to the job at hand, with five different working modes.

Minimizing downtime

When is equipment at its least productive? When it is in the shop for repairs. Because minimizing equipment downtime is a key goal for mine operators, reliability becomes essential.

Sandvik’s new DE740 drill claims to offer this reliability within the context of established value. The DE740 represents the addition of a mid-size model to Sandvik’s range. Compact in size, especially given its 1,630-metre depth rating, the drill fits into a relatively small six-by-four or six-by-six truck, thanks to a hydraulically telescoping upper section.

But according to John Slattery, Sandvik’s global technical services manager, surface exploration drills, it’s the drill’s brand that best represents its mark of quality. “The most important feature of the drill would be the proven reliability of our drills,” he said. “Less downtime equals more productivity for our customers.” The new drill still awaits its first Canadian customer, though Slattery said that the company has sold a number of them to operations in Australia, Chile and Africa.

At some point, maintenance will inevitably bring a machine down, whether it is for ten minutes or ten days. However, a piece of equipment is equally unproductive if it has to be used to train new operators. A necessary expense? Not always.

Immersive Technologies sells heavy equipment simulators that enable workers to be trained without using machinery that can be productively deployed in the field. The Advanced Equipment Simulator is designed to create an environment as close as possible to an actual machine at work on a mine site. It can be used for pre-employment and contract staff assessment, as well as to train future operators in the areas of machine operation, productivity and safety, or to provide refresher testing.

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