Techgormet 2012: Russian mining innovation

9 January 2013
  Paul Moore attended the recent Tehgormet conference, held from 15-16 November at St Petersburg’s historic State Mining University, where key Russian and international mining  groups and technology providers gathered to discuss technology application in the country.

  The organisers stated that the object of this, the third Tehgormet meeting, was to create  “a unique event in the metals and  Mining sector in order to invite Russian and international key experts to exchange knowledge and expertise and to discuss advanced developments and progress in the industry.” A key aim was to assist the Russian mining groups to actively implement innovations and provide wide publicity of advanced development that is occurring in the country. The conference has over 200 attendees from more than ten countries, not just Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Uzbekistan but also the UK, Australia, Germany, the US, Canada all represented at the event.

  The event opened with some comments in the opening address about things that need to change in the Russian mining industry. As an example, the international finance community doesn’t fully understand Russia’s A/B/C reserves system which does not assist private mining groups in getting finance for projects.  Russian mining efficiency itself is improving, but needs to continue to increase. The oil and gas industry has progressed faster in terms of technology than mining in Russia but it was argued that this division is artificial – in that both industries are effectively miners of natural resources. Russia’s mining groups need to be able to understand better the general trends in mining and mining technology, and it was argued that the state needs to get involved in terms of guiding the direction of the domestic mining industry on this basis. Mining operations also need to have a better strategy for how to work with new mining equipment, technology and approaches. It was also pointed out that the main decision makers in the Russian mining industry are often not the mining engineers themselves, often being just one person with more of a finance sector focus. It was argued that the decision makers need counsel and advisors who are experienced engineers, especially if it is a large company with a large workforce. Management decisions need to be more clear cut and understandable to workers, such as decisions to cut wages due to economic conditions. Mining workers also need to be more incentivised such as bonuses for higher productivity. Civil servants tend to be the ones getting awards and funding related to mining, above and beyond the workers at the minesite itself – when the opposite should be the case.

  The first plenary session speaker was Clement Trubetskoy, Chairman of the Organising Committee, and Chairman of the Mining Science Problems Council at the Russian Academy of Science. He pointed out that the industry in Russia, as elsewhere, is going deeper as well as there being more activity in Russia’s Far North. Despite new technology, mining costs continue to increase faster than commodity prices, and the introduction of advanced equipment still has to be balanced with mineral prices – the target has to be increasing basic efficiency across the whole operation. Skolkovo funding is finally coming to mining this year in the form of support for the automated mine projects at SUEK and elsewhere, and this was cited as a positive trend that the country needs to build on. Russia needs to be part of the push towards high tech mining, rather than just a follower lagging behind. This includes development of robotised equipment to achieving faster wireless data transfer and implementing radar-based anti collision systems, and using digital 3D models in mine haul road design and development. The goal is increased safety and productivity and efficiency – and in the Russian context particularly, to make it easier to keep mining in harsh  conditions.

  Alexander Perepelitsyn, Head of the Mining Department of the Federal Service for Environmental, Technological and Nuclear Supervision referred to a new law from July 2011 aimed at increasing industrial worker safety. Up to the year 2020, extra state investment has been allocated to the mining industry for this – to standardise the mining industry and reduce the use of obsolete equipment as well as removing administration barriers. He argued that while Russia has largely completed its transition to a market economy but labour safety is still not good enough with too much reliance on very dated standards. He stated that Russia has to improve the investment climate as well as improving safety, part of which should be differentiating between different types of mines with different safety issues – such as between coal mines and other mine types, and to be less bureaucratic. From January 2013 the industry will be working within the new structure.

  Leonid Vaisberg, Chairman of the Board and Head of Research, NPK Mechanobr Technica, reviewed come of the progress made in the Russian mineral processing arena. Most mines used to use a four stage Symons crushing process, but a few pioneering sites took the decision to put in SAG mills, and they were pioneers at the time, such as the 7 m diameter mill that was installed at Sibirksy. There were three SAG mills installed in five years and since then, development in this area has been dramatic, but Vaisberg argues that it is still not enough. The industry needs to do more, as there is already a supply/demand imbalance for copper, and grades of ore are decreasing, so efficiency has to increase further. Some 40 large projects have recently started up in Russia, with the biggest processing projects involving copper and iron ore. These projects are totally different from those in the 1980s; with SAG mills being used in half of the processing plans. SAG and screening to ball mills and pebble crushers form the main route. Mills are also now much larger, up to 13 m diameter SAG mills and ball mills of up to 9 m. Additionally cones from Metso and Sandvik are coming into their own, as well as Uralmsh cones in Russia. HPGR technology is now also widely used, making it possible to achieve a 3 mm product size, when previously 15 mm was the maximum that could be achieved.

Mining studies reviewed

  Sergey Yacyuchenya, Technical Director at leading surface and underground coal mining group SUEK, highlighted a programme of production improvement at their Tugnuisky operation in the south central Siberian region of Buryatia, which has included the commissioning of two Bucyrus 495HD electric rope shovels, one of which achieved a production record of 2.5 Mm3 of overburden. According to the company, these have achieved record production rates of overburden using double-sided truck loading of BELAZ AC drive 7530 series 220 t trucks. The mine is to date one of the only sites in Russia using Bucyrus (now Caterpillar) shovels. Tugunskiy mine was one of the first SUEK mines and its location near the Eastern seaports makes it well positioned for reaching the Asian market. For 2012, the mine expects to have achieved production of 12 Mt. This increase has been achieved by the company setting strategic and tactical goals. An automated dispatch system is now used, for example. Output has also been upped by increasing bench heights, increasing truck and shovel capacities, and concentrating equipment in high production areas. Bench angles were upped from 16° to 28° in addition to their height.

  The mine also utilises electric IZ-Kartex rope shovels, with interseam material also mined using Komatsu backhoe PC2000 excavators and the lower seams stripped using draglines; as well as dozer use in some areas. The hydraulic excavator backhoe digging means less movement and reduction of cycle times by about three seconds. The size of blasted rock has been increased to reduce number of the number of blasts. The mine has also reduced the distance from the stripping area to the truck dump, with the dump areas themselves better designed and engineered. SUEK has developed its own explosives plant, making a significant saving.

  At Navoi MMC's Muruntau gold mine in Uzbekistan, Vasily Shelepov of the UkrNIIproekt Institute, told delegates about an innovative steeply inclined conveyor system installed in 2011, the KHK-270, which lifts ore 270 m out of the open pit at an average angle of 40° with a 3,500 t/h capacity and wsa developed by Ukrainian mining technology group NKMZ. This features a sandwich conveyor type design. The system is taking material from the in-pit sizer, which can handle blocks of up to 2 m and is loaded by a fleet of 16 190 t trucks. The use of the steeply inclined conveyor will allow Navoi to increase the depth of the Muruntau mine by up to 1,000 m. It has also increase the productivity of the trucks by 30% due to a decrease of the transportation distance and decreasing height of ore transport. The overall capacity of the system is 16 Mt/y. At the stockpile area ex-pit, the system allows for continuous mining flow, with non-stop loading of railcars or stockpiling.

  ABB developed an automation system for Alrosa back in the 1960s to control drives and instrumentation at its processing facilities. Going forward, the two companies are still working together to achieve full automation at Alrosa mining complexes; and utilising ABB’s full range of in-house expertise that has been brought together in the form of ABB drive technology together with the Ventyx/Mincom and Tropos offerings that are now part of ABB.

  Polymetal spoke about metal reconciliation from prospecting thought to production – allowing for better planning at the exploration stage over future mining plans. The group has worked with Snowden’s Reconciler on this project to allow better visualisation of ore and metal flows through the mine life. It has also used the ISAAC telemetry system on its mobile fleet.

  Russian coal competes with Australian and Indonesian coal in the export market and competition is high. This and its relative lack of profitability relative to gas has meant there has been a lack of development of new reserves. Russian coal also has high transportation costs – some 40% of the total. The industry needs to review coal production methods, support innovation efforts and trends to increase productivity. SDS as a coal mining company is working towards these aims through again, implementation of smart mine technology , both underground and at surface. In its underground operations, for example, the company is applying more advanced miner positioning technology, and better ventilation control. In surface mining, SDS was the first to employ satellite navigation for its fleet using GLONASS and is participating in the autonomous truck project with VIST. Elsewhere there is a focus on areas such as reducing waste production, and finding new markets for waste. The group uses some of its waste for the production of porous cement and lightweight bricks; with coal fines being used to make fuel pellets that can be used in boilers.

Manufacturer reviews

  From 2008 to the present, IZ-Kartex has adopted a new production and product development strategy, consisting of four main shovel groups – 12 m3, 18-20 m3, 32-35 m3; and 50 m3. As part of this new fleet of machines, Kartex has also been working with Immersive Technologies on simulators to train operators to work with the new, more advanced machines. The 12 m3 model was launched to replace the 10m3 model, and has had a large number of orders, especially for railcar loading; this machine is also being converted to AC-drive. The fifth unit of the 18-20 m3 model has been delivered to the Kuzbass region where the machines have been maintaining low cost production with high availability. The EKG-20 is being developed in this size class, which will up capacity from 18 m3 to 22 m3, and will also get an AC drive, based on a design from Siemens and Russia’s OJSC Power Machines.

  The most powerful shovel built to date has been the 32R, which completed tests in the Kuzbass in March 2012. “This model in particular proved to our ourselves and to our major mining clients that we are able to design and deliver high tech machines”, said the company. This level of evolution is important, given that large Caterpillar and Joy Global shovels, as well as Taiyuan and Uralmash models, are all competing in the Russian market. The company estimates its market share from 2008 to 2011 at 11%, compared to Joy (35%), Caterpillar (30%), Taiyuan (22%) and Uralmash (2%).

  Finally, IZ-Kartex is now finalising the EKG-50 design, and said testing will start in 2014 with availability in 2016, as well as development of an EKG-40 machine, which can load 250-300 t trucks effectively. The EKG-50 has the ability to load 320-360 t trucks. The group said that this size of machine was chosen as it is a gap in available size classes from Caterpillar and Joy Global. “We had realised that we were lagging behind the other OEMs and as such have been successful in completely updating the range. And the IZ-Kartex design has unique aspects – the designs offer the best attributes of both rope and crowd systems on its shovels on one platform.” The new range was developed by the in-house engineering department with the use of 3D software design tools and the company is also working with St Petersburg Mining University on new technology. The group says it will continue to expand its product line but also introduce smart systems.

  As with other automation areas, Kartex sees three main modes of operation for shovels – normal/conventional operation, remotely controlled and ultimately “robotised” or fully automated shovels as part of a completely automated pit. This will require more precise monitoring and control of shovel movements. In the near future, however, the shovel will be able to identify the truck type and its exact position.

  Fellow shovel manufacturer and dragline supplier, Uralmash, reminded delegates that it began to introduce information systems on its 25/90 walking draglines over 20 years ago; which in the 1990s developed into a system that could allow operators to react to problems and monitor bucket loads. In shovels, Uralmash has also launched 12 m3 shovels – the 12A model (versus Kartex’s 12R), as well as an 18m3 shovel. Both are installed with AC drives with machines operating at KRU and Kovdor as well as other sites. They are also equipped like the draglines with information systems; with data delivered to the operator via a high brightness, 15 in monitor; this includes working parameters of the main and auxiliary drives, calculation of idle time, and video monitoring from safety cameras.

Case study – VIST Group

  VIST’s “Quarry” or “Karier” dispatch system is the most used in Russia, with more than 30 of the largest mines in the country using it, as well as numerous smaller operations. The group also has mining customers in Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Mongolia. In an interview with IM, President of VIST Dmitri Vladimirov said the company also has plans to expand further, firstly in Africa but also Southeast Asia and South America – the next systems to be used outside Russia will be in Morocco and South Africa; while new offices are opening in Kazakhstan and Mongolia. Currently BELAZ trucks are the most common equipment on which VIST systems are used, so VIST sees export growth markets where BELAZ is active as prospective areas for growth – and conversely VIST technology will help increase awareness of BELAZ outside its traditional markets. The company has also worked with Caterpillar and Komatsu truck fleets. Within Russia itself, VIST continues to grow and sign new contracts.

  While there are similarities to systems from Wenco, Modular Mining and others in terms of the basic dispatch technology and capability; there are differences in functionality. VIST covers the entire mine fleet – not just trucks and shovels but also all the ancillary fleets including water trucks, graders, dozers and other vehicles – including mine locomotives and ore cars through a special rail focussed module. Rail is very common in the Russian mining industry and cars are often loaded directly by mine shovels. VIST systems also monitor fuel consumption in the mine, right through from fuel delivery to the mine and its storage, through to in pit transfer to and consumption by the mining main and support fleets. The other key point is that most Russian mines use mixed truck fleets, with BELAZ together with Caterpillar/Komatsu or Unit Rig trucks. The automation systems offered by Caterpillar and Komatsu are respectively only for use on their own machines – VIST is looking to offer its system across different truck models and OEMs.

  The new smart mine technology from VIST, referred to as “Intelligent Mine” is a high profile and new project. The company has actually been working on mine robotisation since the 1990s, when automation of rail locos was worked on. Over 15 years have passed and Vladimirov told IM: “Now manless production in mines is a very clear trend with proven projects in Chile and Australia. So VIST decided to develop its own flagship project within Russia; and set up an entirely new company, VIST Mining Technology, to work towards that goal.” VIST Mining Technology is a 100% affiliate of the VIST Group company, created to develop the Intelligent Mine project. The main aim of the project is the development of the first technology for unmanned open-pit mining in Russia and CIS countries. The use of the Intelligent Mine system and its separate modules is predicted to provide an increase of mine fleet productivity of 15-20%

  As stated previously, this company has Skolkovo funding and special R&D status. The strategic goal of the Skolkovo Innovation Centre, located near Moscow, is to concentrate international intellectual capital, thereby stimulating the development of break-through projects and technologies. In the course of implementation of the project, companies that are engaged in innovative development are identified and after a selection process, some of these become project participants of the centre and “are provided with all assistance necessary for development.” Skolkovo has five main industry clusters –Nuclear, Energy/Power, Biomedicine, Space, and IT. There is no specific mining cluster, but the VIST project is included within the IT cluster. Skolkovo consists of new companies that get government funding via the Skolkovo fund but also from private investors, so are effectively public-private partnerships (PPPs). So in addition to Skolkovo funding, VIST Mining Technology will also source private financing, and is working with BELAZ on the robotic truck project. In terms of mining partners, VIST is working with SUEK and SDS on potential field testing of the automated trucks, while Alrosa is also interested in the Intelligent Mine project.

  Key elements of Intelligent Mine include having similar systems and software throughout. From a technology point of view, VIST is able to use the Russian GLONASS-based high precision GPS system for accurate positioning, which has unrivalled coverage in Far North regions and can offer precision to 5 cm, together with radar and LiDAR for object detection and awareness, video camera coverage, and RFID tags for identification of individual pieces of equipment, to deliver a highly comprehensive automated solution. RFID also allows for better recognition of fixed equipment by automated vehicles, such as crushing stations or fixed loading points. An example would be a truck loaded from a hopper – an RFID tag on the hopper would avoid any problems due to loss of satellite signal. Other examples would include power transmission masts that are on or close to haul roads.

  The long term goal of Intelligent Mine is to automate all equipment in working mine areas. The current focus is the automation of the dump truck. In fact, remote control is not really easier than full automation due to high speed data transfer in real time needs plus the control of five or six cameras. Automation actually involves less data transfer. When a truck arrives in the loading zone, its operation is taken over by a worker in the Operation Centre; who also controls the next truck that is approaching the loading zone. A similar system is used when the truck approaches rail tracks; distinctive for Russia, where rail haulage directly from the pit area is common.

  The 130 t BELAZ 75131/75137 truck has already been tested for remote control operation; and this month, testing with full automation was due to begin. At the regular BELAZ customer event, the new automated truck will be showcased; following on from a demonstration of remote control operation at a previous event. IM