This paper examines advances in large scale mining technology and the context in which these advances take place. The mining industry is typified as generally having low margins and high capital costs which combine to maintain the pressure on miners to move high volumes of low value material more efficiently in order to remain viable.
The paper challenges the notion that productivity simply equates to bigger machines. It advocates the necessity of examining all of the components of productivity. Better availability, better utilisation, better performance, and finally size, are all factors that drive unit productivity and efficiency. The paper argues that the total productivity of a mining site depends not only on the productivities of the component parts but also on how these activities are coordinated and stresses the need for a holistic approach.
Although there is a general trend towards larger equipment, the application of other technologies can significantly increase productivity of existing draglines and mining fleets. Cost benefit analyses to justify the purchase of larger equipment also need to take account of the increased potential for and likely cost of lost production due to unscheduled downtime.
There are many recent technological advances that have resulted in improved efficiency. This paper addresses these under the headings of Draglines, Haul Trucks and Other Large Surface Mining Equipment, followed by separate sections on technologies which are applicable across these sectors.
One of the biggest recent advances in dragline technology is the development of the Universal Dig Dump and similar systems. By improving operator control and increasing bucket capacities, significant productivity improvements may be achieved.
The increasing use of diesel-electric drive systems in larger capacity haul trucks and developments in tyre technology as well as developments in trolley assist and autonomous trucks have all made, or have the potential to make, significant improvements in haul truck productivity.
The main trend identified under other mining fleet and ancillary equipment is for larger more sophisticated machines with the development also of large rubber tyred loaders performing some of the functions previously undertaken by diggers where frequent moves between mining areas are required.
The advent of cheaper, more powerful and robust computer hardware, cheaper and more sophisticated computer software and more accurate global positioning systems have facilitated major advances in computer and GPS based machine monitoring, guidance and control systems which have the potential to add value across all areas of surface mining.
Advanced training simulators, also found in the aviation industry, are beginning to gain a foothold in mining. Difficult and potentially hazardous situations can be simulated for a variety of equipment types without danger to operators or loss of production. This increases operator efficiency and safety and hence increases overall productivity.
The paper includes a risk assessment to identify possible occurrences that could hinder or prevent the achievement of particular objectives in relation to large surface mining trucks and identifies solutions to avoid or mitigate these risks.
The paper concludes that the identified trends of the past few years are likely to continue and are expected to include increased computer and GPS based monitoring, guidance & control of equipment, improved design of equipment and greater utilisation of equipment information. These advances will allow for better productivity from existing equipment and will become integrated into new machines.