Equipment manufacturers play a leading role in developing the technologies the industry will need in the future.
Image Courtesy of Geotec
The mining sector is not adapting to the digitalization era as fast as some industry insiders tend to think. For instance, while Komatsu introduced its first autonomous truck fleet in Chile at Codelco’s Gabriela Mistral division in 2008, more than a decade later autonomous truck operations are far from being the norm – even in big mining. Meanwhile, in underground mining, the industry in Peru is still mechanizing many previously manual processes. When operators go for lunch, machines just stop working.
“The mining industry has historically been a bit of a dinosaur in terms of using technologies to transform the business,” explained Suresh Vadnagra, president of MMG-controlled Minera Las Bambas. “We need to become much more rapid in adopting technologies. In the future, mining operations are going to be run in a very different way,” he said.
In this context, the main original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and technology developers have a lot to bring to the table, but mining companies need to dance to the same beat. For example, automation and digital features will be of no use if the mines do not have the right connectivity infrastructure in place.
“I cannot think of any element that should not be connected,” said Franco Bulnes, country manager of Eaton. “The mines are already digitalizing many previously manual processes to reduce personnel and to handle all the data from the cloud. According to some estimations, by 2030 there will be 250 billion pieces of equipment online,” he added.
The Digital Mine
Presenting at PDAC in March 2019, Anglo American Quellaveco’s CEO, Tom McCulley, declared that he wanted Quellaveco to become a global point of reference in terms of mining technology. To achieve that, the company is being supported by a number of technology providers, including Siemens.
According to Gabriel Lelek, country lead for Digital Factory and Process Industries and Drives at Siemens, digitalization can take efficiency one step further than automation using SCADA. He provided a concrete example in mining: “Working together with the mining client and the mill manufacturer, we defined key performance indicators and analyzed cloud data for eight months. This allowed us to increase the mill speed without compromising any aspect in the process. With the savings achieved, the client could buy another mill to increase production.”
The trend towards having digital mines is certainly in motion, but it will still take some time to reach full speed. Marcos Wieland, general manager of Sitech, the technology integrator branch of local holding company Ferreycorp, sees enormous room for growth in underground mining in particular, in areas such as ventilation on demand (VOD). Sitech represents different technology providers in areas like fatigue detection, vehicle weighing and fleet management. The issue, Wieland says, is still connectivity, considering the penetration rate of fiber optic is low in underground mining: “Our vision for the future is that all the equipment can go in and out of the mine, with all the information flowing smoothly. Today, this is still only a utopia scenario.”
For Wieland, gathering data for the sake of it is not what the digital transformation should mean: “To know what happened in the past is not bad, but it is not enough. You need to know what is going on right now, and for that you need connectivity, real-time data acquisition and transformation of this data in live information.”
To be able to do that, Sitech has created an industrial cloud, and in the future Wieland expects Sitech to make most of its sales from the provision of services rather than the sale of technology solutions: “The data are like streams that flow into a river, and the different rivers flow into the ocean. All the data needs to end up somewhere, so our vision is to integrate and handle all this information to have a better visibility of what is going on in an organization.”
Paradigm Shifts, Beyond Automation
Local mining companies like Hochschild and Buenaventura have recently incorporated chief innovation officers to their teams to oversee this digital transition. “In urban areas we see the Internet of Things (IoT) and autonomous machines, and these concepts must be adopted by mining,” said Víctor Gobitz, CEO of Buenaventura.
Ángel Tobar, general manager for the Andean region at Epiroc, a global OEM, explained that connectivity offers great opportunity for remote operations as well as for data acquisition and mine digitalization; however, he added that the transformation of mining is not exclusively based on these aspects, as the industry continues to rethink its current methods for extracting ore.
In this respect, continuous mining is shaping up as the way forward in the years to come, provided the technology continues to improve its performance: “The advantages of continuous mining versus discontinuous operations [drilling and blasting] are obvious, both in extraction and transportation,” affirmed Tobar. “So far the technology available has been used for soft rock, like coal or potash, but we are already transferring that to semi-hard or hard-rock applications.” Indeed, Epiroc’s Mobile Miner equipment is already working in mines in South Africa, Australia and the United States.
The same goes for Wirtgen’s surface miners, which are now offered locally by IPESA, a Peruvian distributor. Giorgio Mosoni, chief strategy officer at IPESA, outlined the advantages of this piece of equipment: “The surface miners can extract the different ore layers very accurately, foregoing the need for blasting and preventing the mix of ore with waste rock that happens in the shovels. The hardness of the rock is not an obstacle for these machines. The challenge is to design mines in a way that we can fully extract value from this equipment.”
One key element in the mining equipment segment is the transition from internal combustion engines to electric and battery-powered equipment, with a view of reducing ventilation needs and increasing general efficiency. While just a couple of years ago there was a certain degree of skepticism about the performance of batteries, today it is widely accepted that battery-powered equipment will end up prevailing; the only question is when that will happen.
James Valenzuela, CEO of Resemin, a local manufacturer specialized in underground equipment for narrow-vein mining, related that the company should launch its first battery-powered jumbo this year: “This technology still presents some challenges, such as the price; these machines, just because of the battery, will cost between US$150,000 and US$170,000 more than the standard diesel-hydraulic machines. Battery prices are going down, from US$1,000 per kilowatt hour (kWh) to US$600/kWh, but they need to further decrease.”
Epiroc has already been testing its battery-powered scooptram ST7 with several clients in Peru’s underground mining space. Tobar acknowledged the capex for this technology is higher, but argued the total cost of operation is actually lower than with diesel equipment: “When doing a new mine design, you reduce drastically your ventilation needs; also, maintenance costs for an electric engine are lower. Moreover, in a country like Peru, you achieve great savings in terms of all the logistics and transportation of diesel all the way to the mine.”
Adapting to the Local Market
For multinational companies, it is essential to understand the dynamics of the local market and maintain close contact with headquarters so that the different models incorporate feedback from the final users.
Franklin Pease, general manager of Normet, a Finnish OEM mostly known for its shotcrete spraying machines, explained that the company is adapting to key developments in the Peruvian underground mining segment: “The trend is to move toward mechanization. Peru has made great progress in drilling with computerized equipment, also in scaling, and now we are going to see the mechanized charging of explosives, both for ANFO and emulsion.”
Pease said that currently explosives charging is the “weakest link” in the whole mining chain, since it is predominantly done manually. “If all the process is mechanized, but you charge the explosives manually, you increase the risk of having deviation. Mechanized charging is an area where we see great opportunity.”
Normet has around 20 models of its Charmec equipment for this task, adapting to different tunnel conditions and volumes required.
Also in this segment, and through collaboration with its local distributor Metal Técnica, Putzmeister has been modifying its mixers and shotcrete spraying vehicles to meet the needs of Peru’s underground segment. José Midzuaray, general manager of Metal Técnica, explained: “Some mines are very narrow, some have very sharp turns or steep inclinations and some present strong dust and humidity conditions that damage electronic components […] Our mixers now include a hydrostatic speed regulation system for inclinations of up to 30%. We are introducing models for narrower veins, and we offer dual machines that can be diesel or electricity-powered.”
Meanwhile, new safety regulations for underground processes in Peru impose the mechanization of certain jobs at height, such as rock scaling. Valenzuela of Resemin says that the company sold 12 scalers for narrow-vein mines just last year. Adding to the jumbos, scalers and bolters, Resemin now offers the full gamut of utility vehicles, with explosive chargers, vehicles to move personnel around, scissor lifts and platform trucks.
Pease of Normet noted that this mechanization trend demands from OEMs much more than just a wide portfolio of machines: “The challenge for us is that we need to train people for the new mechanized processes, on top of having the right stock of machines, spares and all the associated logistics.” In order to better respond to the more diverse demand coming from the market, Normet has increased its production capacity in Santiago, Chile, where it now assembles a wider product mix. “Latin America now requires more competitive lead times,” Pease concluded.
Construction and Ancillary Equipment
While the construction equipment market saw no growth in 2017 and 2018, there was at least no shrinkage despite the delay of several important infrastructure projects, largely thanks to the resilience of mining projects. Giorgio Mosoni of IPESA, a Peruvian company in charge of the distribution of Wirtgen Group and John Deere equipment, said: “2018 was a similar year to 2017, with a total market of 1,200 machines sold annually.”
In recent years, IPESA has managed to grow awareness about the John Deere brand thanks to the creation of a sister company called CGM Rental, dedicated to construction equipment renting. IPESA has been driving equipment connectivity through the use of the JD Link system, which already monitors in real-time the health of over 40% of the 1,750 John Deere construction machines active in Peru. According to Mosoni, this model supports better customer service and complements the company’s expanding physical network: IPESA is starting the construction of a new service hub in Arequipa, while in Lima it is investing US$15 million in a new logistics center.
In the trucks segment, the main players in Peru are Volvo, Scania and Mercedes-Benz, the latter being served through local distributor Divemotor. Beyond trucks, these brands also cover mining and construction activities with other vehicles such as buses for personnel transportation, and Volvo also has its own line of ‘yellow’ construction equipment including both the Volvo and the SDLG brands.
Jörgen Sjöstedt, managing director of Volvo Peru, outlined connectivity, automation and electro-mobility as some of the key industry trends the Swedish brand is working on. For instance, Volvo has carried out pilot tests with autonomous FMX truck models in Sweden, and the brand is already selling electric trucks in Europe. “We are putting the pieces together to determine when it makes sense to launch electric trucks in mining. Until then, we continue to improve the performance of our engines with a strong push for the Euro 5 fuel standard this year in Peru. Meanwhile, on the construction equipment side, we are going fully electric from 2020 in the compact excavators,” Sjöstedt affirmed.
Lower emissions are particularly important in underground mining, considering ventilation systems can amount to 40% of total energy consumption in this segment. Scania, another Swedish brand, is also incorporating the Euro 5 standard across all its vehicles this year, even though Peruvian regulations only demand Euro 4. “This is part of our commitment to sustainability and to adapt to the conditions of underground mining,” said José Antonio Mannucci, managing director of Scania.
The company has adapted its Heavy Tipper model, launched in 2017, so it can be used in underground mining activities. Juan Carlos Pon, sales manager of Scania, gave more details: “We have modified the driver cabins to be able to work in 3-meter tunnels without compromising the load capacity, which is 25% higher than standard dump trucks of the same category. The new Heavy Tipper can take up to 44 mt, and we want to launch a new version with even bigger capacity later this year. Additionally, this truck has a high-pressure engine that is 8% more efficient than the previous version.”
In terms of connectivity, Mannucci explained the different applications of new technologies in trucks: “Beyond the geo-localization of the vehicle, we can measure operation cycles, driver performance and many other parameters. Also, we have launched a new concept of flexible maintenance, to make the most of each truck. Finally, connectivity is a key tool for safety monitoring and training.”
Compressed Air Solutions
Mining processes require compressed air solutions across a wide variety of applications and international brands like Atlas Copco and Sullair are well established in the country.
Sullair air compressors, a brand recently acquired by Hitachi of Japan, are sold and serviced by Sullair del Pacífico in Peru. The company’s main novelty for the Peruvian mining market is the ES-8 dual air compressor used in mining shovels. Richard Rodríguez, general manager of Sullair del Pacífico, explained how this new model allows for continuous operation: “With the ES-8 you have a primary unit and a backup unit, and that prevents the shovel from having to shut down during maintenance.”
Rodríguez said that air compressors cost a fraction of the price of large mining shovels or other critical equipment, yet they are essential to keep the operations running. “Air compressors can have a heavy impact on the performance of other machines that produce tens of millions of dollars; this is why the dual system makes total sense.”
Rodríguez explained that, at a product level, the company will progressively incorporate connectivity and IoT tools thanks to Hitachi’s technologies. At the Peruvian level, service is a key component, considering Sullair has an installed fleet of 7,000 machines. In this respect, the company has recently opened a service shop in Arequipa.
Meanwhile, Atlas Copco has consolidated its new structure in Peru following the Epiroc spinout. Vicente Trenado, its general manager, gave some examples of mining-related applications where Atlas Copco’s compressed air solutions are used: “The Boomer machines have compressors on their chassis; many conveyor belts are operated pneumatically with compressed air and you see more compressors in the concentrators, be it in flotation cells or in separation and classification equipment.”
Trenado commented that Atlas Copco has been in Peru for 69 years and has installed equipment in most of the large mining operations like Southern, Cerro Verde and Las Bambas, and now also Quellaveco and Mina Justa. In such large, energy-intensive operations, efficiency becomes a key driver, said Trenado: “Industrial processes rely so much on compressed air that in some countries this is already seen as the fourth utility, after water, power and gas. While compressors use significant amounts of power, Atlas Copco’s units can reduce that consumption by up to 35%, realizing hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings.”
One of Atlas Copco’s latest innovations is the GA 160 VSD+ unit, a smaller compressor that allows for lower energy consumption and a smaller footprint. This, said Trenado, can be combined with the SMARTLINK connectivity system, therefore allowing for real-time, condition-based maintenance rather than standard preventative maintenance.
Mineral Processing and Handling
For Fernando Samanez, VP Sales Mining Equipment at Metso, a mineral processing specialist, the market finally recovered in 2018 “after three difficult years.” One of the latest milestones for the company has been the contract to provide Quellaveco with two SAG mills (40x25 feet) and two large ball mills (48x44.5 feet, similar to the ones being installed in Toromocho’s expansion project). Also in Toromocho, Metso is installing its 300 cubic m flotation cells, for a total of 14 cells in this copper mine. Metso has actually developed a design for a 660 cubic m flotation cell, although this is still not working at a commercial level.
While there is an effort by plant OEMs to standardize equipment sizes and types, this is still difficult to achieve in big mining, said Samanez: “For large-scale, the equipment is still tailor-made. Engines vary a lot depending on altitude, for instance. The equipment adapts to the tonnage of each mine, with ad-hoc structural design. Standardization is more suitable for brownfield projects, since it helps the client reduce lead times to just four or five months,” he explained.
At a Latin American level, a focus on tailor-made engineering has helped TecProMin grow in the market. TecProMin combines its in-house capability to design systems such as reagent preparation plants (including milk of lime preparation plants) and ore sampling systems, with the representation of different brands for items such as ball mills, vertical mills, thickeners, agitators, filters and water treatment solutions, among others. “Our focus has been on meeting the clients’ needs and not on the mere sale of equipment,” said Francisco Kaiser, general manager of TecProMin.
Through its presence in Chile, where TecProMin was founded 35 years ago, the company’s systems handle the sampling of 81% of this country’s copper exports, according to Kaiser; in Peru, where it was established 12 years ago, those are already working in Impala and Perubar. Elsewhere in the mining process, TecProMin has designed milk of lime plants for Escondida, Quellaveco and the Toromocho expansion, with the incorporation of Eirich or Cemtec mills.
On the water treatment side, TecProMin works together with BQE Water of Canada, and looks at approaching water treatment as a profitable endeavor: “BQE Water has solutions to extract undesired metals and non-metals from the process prior to neutralization; if there is enough concentration, this could generate a marketable product and provide income that will pay for the subsequent water treatment process. Water treatment has always been seen as an expense, yet this approach could be a game changer,” assured Kaiser.
In a context where miners are looking for more continuous processes, conveyor belts are an interesting area for growth in Peru. On top of the global OEMs like FLSmidth or Thyssenkrupp, which was recently awarded a 4.7-km belt at Quellaveco, miners have other options for material handling such as DIMISA, a Mexican company with manufacturing facilities in Monterrey.
While the Mexican and U.S. markets were the natural markets initially, DIMISA soon expanded southwards into mining projects in Central America, and seven years ago it opened an office in Lima to supervise its first project in the country. “Back then we installed several conveyor belts at Toquepala, and more recently we also participated in Toquepala’s expansion with a total of 34 systems, mostly conveyors but also six apron feeders. We also provided Fluor with 30 feeders for the Cerro Verde expansion,” related José Luis Herrera G., general manager of DIMISA Perú.
DIMISA has traditionally served many clients in the cement industry, yet Herrera said mining projects require much larger equipment: “In mining we see 72 inch or 96 inch wide conveyors. In cement or steel plants, the larger conveyors are 42 inches or 54 inches wide.”
Considering the sheer size of mining facilities, there is significant opportunity for companies that provide the necessary components and support to ensure all infrastructure works smoothly. Martin Engineering, for instance, offers a line of conveyor products that focuses on reducing product leak, pollution levels and safety risks for operators. For Javier Schmal, managing director Latin America at Martin, the safety aspects around conveyors are trickier than they sound: “The more we avoid human contact with the equipment, the better. A significant percentage of deaths in mining happen on conveyor belts, although this fact is not widely known. If you reduce maintenance needs, not only productivity increases, but also you eliminate a lot of risk.”
On top of its conveyor solutions, Martin also offers air cannons to assure the right product flow, as well as industrial vibration solutions. Martin works with a wide range of mines in Peru, from large copper operations to medium sized precious metal or polymetallic mines, therefore adapting to the different ores is key, said Schmal: “Sometimes you need different solutions within the same mine. We have different types of urethanes, steels and coatings to provide the best alternative, and our R&D department in the United States works together with the engineering departments of each of Martin’s subsidiaries. For instance, at Mina Justa, we have developed a special type of coating to solve some corrosion issues related to the mine’s process.”
Finally, Industrial Yale Perú (YALEPERU) is a local player specialized in wear solutions that started 10 years ago. Its first activities coincided with the mining boom and, as larger providers focused on big mining clients, YALEPERU grew rapidly in the small and medium-sized mining segment.
YALEPERU combines fabrication capabilities using rubber, polyurethane and ceramics and, more recently, it has expanded to provide metal-mechanic fabrication as well. Today, the company has already entered the big mining segment, with ISO 9001 and OHSAS 18001 certifications, and its range of products covers mill liners and other wear items for SAG mill trommels, crushers, flotation cells and screens, among others. Nilo Martínez Vargas, general manager of YALEPERU, elaborated on the company’s recent investment in metal-mechanic capacity: “We can now fabricate rubber and polyurethane-lined spools and metallic components. We have acquired an autoclave with the latest technology for vulcanization to obtain the best rubber, ceramic and metal adherence, and we also have a machine for centrifugal polyurethane spool lining.”
The company is also aiming at increasing its range of action toward the larger equipment, said Martínez Vargas, who explained that soon YALEPERU will be able to offer large hybrid (rubber/metal) liners for the large mills.•