Dec '11/Jan '12

Vale hauling in a new direction

Rail-Veyor transportation system to be tested at Copper Cliff demonstration plant

By P. Diekmeyer

The Rail-Veyor hauling system can turn tight corners, climb steep grades, and even operate fully inverted. 

Vale is pouring $3.4 billion worth of investments into its Sudbury operations, and Alex Henderson, Vale’s Atlantic region general manager of mines and mill technology, is expecting big changes. “Imagine a mine with no shaft or head frame, no loading pockets, no underground crushers, no conveyors and no diesel haulage trucks,” he says. “New technology is making a lot of this possible.”

One of those technologies is a hybrid light-rail/conveyor hauling system created by Rail-Veyor Technologies, which Vale will be testing in its Copper Cliff Mine 114 Orebody Demonstration Plant. The company is investing $49 million in the system, which will include 760 metres of track, a surface dump loop and a control room. Installation is expected to be completed and testing started by the first quarter of 2012. Once installed, the system is anticipated to help develop the mine at a fairly aggressive 12-metre-per-week pace, due in part to the fact that the Rail-Veyor system requires smaller development headings.

“It’s a safe, lean, green, mining machine,” says Henderson, with a chuckle. One of the system’s early boosters, Henderson was introduced to Rail-Veyor by the company’s business development staff, who had come to visit him at his office. He was immediately impressed with the technology and soon jumped on a plane to South Africa to check out a similar system that was already operating there.

An imaginative approach

The Rail-Veyor system combines the benefits of several major competitive technologies. It consists of a series of interconnected two-wheel cars that run on light rail tracks. The system is powered by several stationary, variable-frequency drive stations that are positioned at intervals along the track. Sensors identify the cars as they approach the drive stations, which then power up horizontal tires that turn against drive plates that run along the sides.

To save energy, the drive station shuts down as the last cart passes through. Individual carts are connected in a way that allows them to navigate curves and to dump cargo when their destination is reached. Gaps between the carts are sealed with flexible flaps, which prevent leakage as well as form a chute to ease product discharges.

The system’s track and drive systems were designed so that the cars can be operated regardless of whether they are inverted or upright. That means that the cars can be unloaded by travelling around a “roller-coaster” type loop over the final dumping area where they are emptied as they move into an upside-down position.

Rail-Veyor’s technology combines the benefits of rail and conveyor haulage systems: it currently runs at speeds of up to six metres per second and can complete complex turns in a tight 30-metre radius. Most importantly, for the current Vale testing facility, which will be Rail-Veyor’s first underground installation outside of Africa, carts can ascend or descend track at a 20 per cent angle, which keeps down the length required.

The Rail-Veyor system is powered by electricity, which is especially important in underground mining operations where diesel engine emissions put higher demands on the ventilation system. “The Rail-Veyor technology is part of a series of initiatives at the demonstration plant that could reduce energy requirements by at least 50 per cent per tonne of ore over current practices,” says Henderson.

Home-grown success

Mike Romaniuk, Rail-Veyor’s president and CEO,  and a group of Sudbury-based partners bought the technology from its initial developers in 2010, improved it, and sought out a test client. They did not have far to look, because Vale sites are located just a short distance from Rail-Veyor’s head office. “I tried retirement for about four weeks but found that is was not for me,” says the past vice-president of Xstrata Nickel’s Sudbury operations. “I’d much rather be active, and starting a new business is a good way to do that.”

But Romaniuk is doing much more than just keep active: he has set an ambitious agenda for the company. If all goes well, he hopes they can use the site to showcase the technology to other clients around the world. Because the Rail-Veyor is scalable and can economically move materials over distances ranging from a few hundred metres to hundreds of kilometres, the range of potential clients is vast, particularly among surface mining facilities.

“It’s a major opportunity,” says Romaniuk. “Although the Vale installation is underground, 16 billion tonnes of the world’s mineable reserves are in surface sites, compared to just 850 million tonnes underground.”

If demand for his products increases, Romaniuk is sure that supply issues will not be a problem. Track for the system is widely available commercially, and two key components, the cars and drive stations, are manufactured in Sudbury by Bristol Machine and B&D Manufacturing.

Despite the Rail-Veyor system’s early promise, Henderson is not jumping the gun on any major extension of the technology. Once the initial installation gets up and running and the bugs are worked out, prefeasibility studies will be conducted to assess the degree to which similar solutions can be applied at other Vale sites.

A video displaying the Rail-Veyor system in action is available on the company’s Website at:

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