Mining & Tunnelling Equipment: Digging deep

With mining and tunnelling activity likely to grow at a steady pace, the equipment manufacturers are sprucing up their stock with new features and technologies

Mining, Tunnelling, Mining equipment, CASE India, Puneet Vidyarthi, E Moses Ebenezer, Kobelco India, Metals and minerals, Coal mining, Bengaluru, Chennai, North East, Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir

The global mining equipment market is estimated to reach $112.3 billion by 2025, growing at 5.40%. The tunnel boring equipment market is projected to reach $8,385.6 million by 2025, indicating a CAGR of 6.4%. In short, both the markets are projected to witness a moderate to high growth in the coming years.

The growth in demand for metals and minerals, fast-changing emission compliances, and the fast development and adoption of electric and autonomous mining are the major reasons behind the growth in sales of mining equipment. Rapid infrastructure development coupled by the need for cross-border trade across continents are drivers behind the growth in tunnelling equipment.

Demand drivers

In India, since the year 2014, infrastructure development has been taken up as a priority area by the government. A range of big ticket projects such as Bharat Mala Pariyojana under which the government has been constructing 34,800 kilometres of new roads with an outlay of Rs 10 lakh crore. In its second term, the Modi government plans to spend Rs 100 trillion (Rs 1 crore crore) on infrastructure creation covering railways, roads, ports, and other major infrastructure connectivity initiatives.

Some of the important railway projects that expected to boost tunnelling activity include metro projects in Bengaluru and Chennai (phase 2), Look East initiative under which all major North Eastern cities will be connected with the rest of India via a new broad gauge rail network, the Katra-Banihal railway line for Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, and so on.

The Ministry of Steel plans to expand its steel production capacity to 300 million tonnes by 2030-31 from 134.6 million tonnes in 2017-2018. With the new provisions under the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act of 1957 the limits on foreign direct investment in mining and ore exploration have been extended by hundred percent through automatic route.

The private sector too is abuzz with mining activity and plans. JSW Steel plans to supply 1.5 lakh tonnes of TMT Rebars to India’s metro rail projects. The TMT bars manufacturer Kamdhenu recently expanded its production capacity by establishing a 60,000 tonne structural steel plant at Dadri, Uttar Pradesh. While the recent outbreak of novel coronavirus has put a halt on all projects, big and small, considering the upcoming push by the government as well as the industry, the sectors’ outlook appears optimistic in the mid-term.

The business considerations

Even as the markets expand, there is a corresponding need for the equipment to evolve to meet new requirements. The mining and tunnelling are considered tough applications due to the raw natural formations and landscape in which the activities are carried out. As such, the equipment are designed to be highly robust and durable to negotiate the natural elements without being unduly impacted. Durability has to be of a very high order both in terms of structural strength and the reliability of the main components. Heavy duty Filtration systems are required to prevent the damage from the ambient dust and heat.

The other important aspect of such operations is that the equipment usage is higher and sustained over longer hours as compared to similar equipment working in other applications. “To address this, the main components like the engine, the hydraulic pump, travel and swing devices, etc., have to be fit for heavy duty and the cooling systems have to be more effective. Also, the maintenance schedule may have to be reviewed and scaled up to match with the increased demand on the critical components,” observes E Moses Ebenezer, VP and national head - sales & marketing, Kobelco Construction Equipment India.

E Moses Ebenezer.

“In view of the heightened concern for the environment as well as the health and well-being of the site manpower as well of the people living close by,” he adds, “the carbon footprint of the equipment has to be minimal. This is even more critical for equipment working in Tunnelling where higher emissions could have a more serious effect due to the confined space.”

Puneet Vidyarthi.

Factoring in the rough and tough usage and environmental requirements, the mining and tunnelling manufacturers look at bringing in robust machines which ensure the onsite safety and productivity. For instance, Puneet Vidyarthi, brand leader, CASE Construction Equipment India claims that CASE India’s range of earthmoving equipment meets these aspects. “Our CHEX Excavator comes with a boom and arm plate with 30% increased thickness and a superstructure which strengthens the stressed areas to increase the overall durability with a strong undercarriage system.”

Stating that operator safety has been the primary focus for his company, Ebenezer says that the international-design cabin fitted on KOBELCO’s equipment is safe and complies with the relevant safety standards. “The cabin design,” he says, “takes care of the operators’ comfort, being air-conditioned with climate control. The seat is ergonomically designed for proper support and comfort and is having multiple adjustments for customisation, and the control levers are designed for easy operation and low fatigue.” The wide view from the cabin facilitates safe working, lights enable safe operation at night, and travel and swing alarms take care of safety of people in the immediate vicinity, he informs.

CASE India informs that its equipment such as crawler dozers, backhoe loaders, skid steers, and excavators are equipped with a closed HVAC cabin with rollover protective structure (ROPS) and falling object protection system (FOPS) for safety. ROPS and FOPS are designed to protect equipment operators from injuries caused due to machinery overturns or rollovers or from objects which that may fall on the operator from above. The cabin includes an ergonomically designed seat which provides a better lever position to assure the safety of the operators. Visibility of the site and surroundings is important to ensure the safety of the operator as well as the people on the site, says Vidyarthi.

Fuel efficiency is another factor which makes the machine stay on site for long hours, a specific requirement considering location of mining sites. “Our excavators, dozers and graders come with a fuel-efficient FPT engine which provides outstanding performance, fast response times and best-in-class fuel economy. To handle the shock caused by uneven surface of the mining and tunneling sites, CASE India’s grader range comes with added accumulators which act as a shock absorber so that the shock doesn’t get transmitted to the structure or operator hence increasing operator safety,” Vidyarthi says. The company’s equipment range, he adds, is also equipped with the ROPs and FOPs which ensures safety of machine as well as operator. To handle the tough terrain conditions, CASE India’s motor grader are equipped with hydraulic pitch control feature which helps operator to control moldboard pitch adjustment from cabin itself while the 2050 M dozer is equipped with hydrostatic transmission to provide best in class draw bar pull capacity and lower maintenance and operating cost best suited for these conditions.

Technology advancements

As infrastructure companies look at meeting their growth targets, the infrastructure equipment vendors are investing in research and innovation in the equipment they manufacture. Mining usually entails large scale operations compared to other job sites, and this calls for large-sized equipment. Larger equipment also facilitates safer operations with less number of equipment and manpower to carry out the same jobs. For instance, excavators of the 45+ tonnes capacity have become the entry-level size for basic jobs like over burden (OB) removal at mines. The actual mining activities are carried out with even larger equipment starting from around 80 tonnes and going to much larger sizes depending on the desired scale of operations. Similarly, the matching dump trucks and other equipment have been scaling up in their capacities.

Considerable work is going on to integrate the latest technological innovations for a safer and more efficient operations. However, for the mining equipment industry, especially in India, it may take some time for these products to be adopted en mass. Ebenezer explains: “For example, remote operation without an operator is under trials. IoT is already existent on these machines as the various Mechatro controllers communicate with each other as well as with an external server which facilitate regular communication and analysis of various key performance parameters like fuel consumption, machine usage, mode of operation, service management, etc.”

Technology has been progressively adopted in mining to improve overall efficiency through geo-mapping, use of digital techniques, use of drones, available software to manage site operations for optimal use of the resources and achievement of output targets. Extensive research is going on in the domain of AI and IoT and these powerful tools are expected to bring in major changes in the design and operation of mining equipment.

Over the years, mining equipment has become more advanced and versatile. The focus of every manufacturer has become to offer a product which ensures cost effectiveness and improves efficiency for the operators as well as customers. Companies, therefore, can be seen developing and upgrading machines and technologies as per changing needs and priorities of their customers. Driverless or remotely-operated equipment are becoming a reality too. On the performance scale, the new evaluation criteria are higher output per unit of fuel consumed, reduced cost of production per hour, etc. Consequently, more productive machines with greater reliability during sustained operations are being preferred.

Vidyarthi shares an example of CASE India’s Eagle-Eye-Telematics solution. Equipped with ‘Geo-fencing’ feature, it keeps a track of the machines’ working area and alerts if it moves out of the prescribed geographical area. It also alerts about fuel box usage and other important aspects including maintenance.

Going forward, the new digital technologies such as IoT and artificial intelligence will be used in these equipment to speed up work as well as drastically improve machine cost efficiency, productivity and reliability through advanced features such as predictive maintenance.

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