Insight on mining

2013 Jan 08

Behind the scenes at MINExpo 2012, a group of top executives representing the mining sector at Atlas Copco took time out for a roundtable discussion with M&C on the issues facing the industry and also shared their own visions for the future.

It was an impressive event, to say the least. A record number of suppliers and visitors from around the world all gathered in one place for three intensive days of interaction. As Greg Boyce, Chairman of the U.S. National Mining Association, said “it was the largest single assembly of mining equipment in history and the sheer scale of this showcase is a testament to the state-of-the-art technologies being used right across the industry.”

But although advanced technology has enabled the industry to modernize beyond recognition, it remains a tough business, strongly influenced by the ups and downs of the global economy and one where the struggle to maintain profitability is a constant challenge.

New climate, new priorities
As the buzz of the Las Vegas show was in full swing, M&C took the opportunity to sit down with a group of senior mining executives from Atlas Copco to get their views on the industry’s prerequisites, requirements and  future direction.

The discussion focused mainly on opportunities, technology and growth in relation to the recent boom period that is unparalleled in mining history. However, as the global demand for minerals and metals is now showing signs of slowing, largely as a result of reduced demand from China, other priorities are fast coming into play.

Bob Fassl, Senior Executive Vice President at Atlas Copco and President of the business area Mining and Rock Excavation Technique, put the current climate into perspective. “These are uncertain times for most mining companies and suppliers,” he declared. “The consensus right now is to be more prudent and that means both mining companies and suppliers will need to cut spending and work on efficiencies.”

Atlas Copco is well equipped, he said, to help companies adjust by offering long term solutions that provide greater efficiency and mechanical availability. But although today’s situation will no doubt spark cost cutting drives, all executives agreed that it will also stimulate increased interest in automation and mechanization.

Fassl said: “I expect the demand for mined products to remain and that the current slow-down will correct itself in time, just as it has always done in the past. We will continue to offer cost effective solutions and provide products that benefit downstream returns.”

Mining companies are increasingly looking for equipment that will go deeper, drill faster and produce ore more efficiently. Lower cost per drillmeter or excavated tonne is the name of the game. Good examples of this are the new Minetruck MT85 and Pit Viper 311, both of which generated great interest at MINExpo (see pages 12–15).

Focus on technology
David Shellhammer, President of Underground Rock Excavation, pointed out that Atlas Copco is introducing new products such as the Minetruck MT85, the largest articulated underground mine truck in the world because “mines need to move more material with less effort. In addition, we are working on mechanical excavation projects that will reduce the number of machines needed to perform the same job.”

Shellhammer also cites another important factor that is driving the focus on new technology – the need for skilled operators. “I see the lack of skilled labor as the biggest challenge facing our industry along with equipment safety,” he said. “Mines are going deeper, which results in the need for better roof stability and also brings attention to the hotter conditions. We take this into consideration when engineering products and we are working closely with our mining customers to accomplish this.”

Andreas Malmberg, President of the most recently formed division, Mining and Rock Excavation Service, agreed with Shellhammer’s assessment and pointed out that a close relationship between mining companies and suppliers is key.

“With a division now totally focused on service we are able to expand our product offering to meet our customers’ expectations,” he said, referring to the development of new products such as Rig Scan (M&C 2/2012) as well as expanding audit programs and preventive maintenance packages that will sustain a higher level of production for all equipment.

Malmberg continued: “We have more than 30 000 Atlas Copco rigs in operation around the world and we can provide customers with everything from parts support to training programs as well as remote monitoring services. The point is, we are in a position globally to provide what they need. Products such as these allow better planning and forecasting. It’s not about being reactive, it’s about better planning. Our customers want to make money on their machines, which means every machine must be in good working order.”

Training is an investment
Operator training is a major issue for the mining industry and especially for medium and small sized companies. As a result, it is high on the Atlas Copco agenda, too. As Victor Tapia, President of Geotechnical Drilling and Exploration, points out:  “Training is an investment in a company’s future. Ninety percent of our customers in geotechnical drilling and exploration are small businesses and supporting new equipment training is critical for their success.”

Although Tapia’s organization is focused on exploration, he notes increased demands for ground engineering products. Along with innovations that make drilling more efficient and safer, his division is developing exploration rigs that can go deeper and reduce time in the hole.

Taking the topic a step further, Johan Halling, President of Rock Drilling Tools, applies it to the area of consumables. “Someone who doesn’t know consumable products may think all tools are alike but we are making constant improvements that focus on penetration rates and life cycle costs,” he said. And he confirmed that the demand for rock drilling tools remains buoyant, despite the general slow-down. “In fact, we are seeing an increase in demand, especially from the mining companies of Africa and South America,” he continued. “We have 12 factories around the globe producing rock drilling tools and even though these are tough economic times in some areas, the demand for these products will continue to be strong.”

Working hand in hand
In terms of size, the largest piece of innovatio-n on display at MinExpo was the new Pit Viper 311 rotary blasthole drill rig, produced by Atlas Copco Drilling Solutions. Peter Salditt, President of the division, pointed out that the cab design, control-s and monitoring equipment “puts more power into the operator’s hands”.

Salditt reflects: “We are making great strides in technological advancement. Rigs are more efficient and safer while providing greater productivity. The Pit Viper 311 development is another milestone in the successful range of Pit Viper drills, and the continuous improvements are a testimony to the success of working hand in hand
with our customers to help meet their objectives.”

Epiroc operated under the trademark “Atlas Copco” prior to January 1, 2018.