Equipment and Technology
Innovations reshape industry trends
A far cry from the days of sifting with a gold pan, today’s mining equipment sector is increasingly technologically driven as companies strive to increase efficiency, lower costs and boost operational safety. As the industry advances, trends toward automation and digitization allow operators to maximize their productivity and safety while heightened environmental awareness drives efficiencies to lower carbon emissions.
Within the Nevada mining community, the demand for more modern equipment has skyrocketed over the past few years. As Cashman Equipment president Mike Pack noted: “Technology is making a huge difference. About five years ago, our machines would sell themselves and they would sometimes be accompanied with technology. Today, we use technology to sell the machines. If technology is not incorporated, it does not matter how good the equipment is.”
Automation and digitization take hold
The US mining industry did not embrace the shift towards automation with the same force as its counterparts in other countries such as Australia or certain parts of South America. While Nevada still lags behind other mining jurisdictions in the adoption of digitized solutions, renewed interest in the safety and efficiency potential of automated tools has spurred growth for equipment providers in the region.
After decades of operations, Nevada-based Caterpillar dealer Cashman Equipment has seen a shift in demand, with its autonomous and semi-autonomous solutions now serving as the company’s most sought after equipment. The company’s president attributes the rise in popularity to a variety of factors: “The vehicles never go off the road, they never get tired or crash, the fuel efficiency is phenomenal, and the availability of the trucks normally increases by 4-5% since they do not have the same stops as drivers. Today, America is seeing the results of these autonomous solutions and how they can lower operating costs.”
In addition to vehicles, automation is redefining drilling operations by allowing companies to increase production while simultaneously lowering operating costs. KGHM’s Robinson mine invested in Epiroc’s Pit Viper 271 blast hole drill rig, part of the Swedish manufacturing company’s broader line of automated drills designed to operate in extreme conditions. The Robinson mine saw a 34% increase in production capacity as well as heightened safety as the drill can be operated at nearly all hours of the day from a remote command center. Epiroc is also currently collaborating with Nevada Gold Mines to test how to best employ autonomous equipment within an existing mine environment.
The future of digitally focused innovation within Nevada’s mining industry will center around the strategic use of data. As many mines in the state have a wealth of information about their geographical holdings, global commercial manager of Hexagon, Lance McGinn, poses the query: “Most Nevada operations are already sitting on mountains of data, which raises the question – are we leveraging this information to its fullest extent?”
"We are seeing an increase in interest for automated equipment, particularly amongst our senior clients. We like to consider ourselves the leader in this arena, especially with automated rod handling tools. Major Drilling has offered this type of machinery for nearly 20 years."
Kelly Johnson, Senior Vice President of Operations, Major Drilling
The mining software company is working on its comprehensive Power of One program that uses a cloud platform to integrate applications dealing with all aspects of the mine life, from claims and surveying to drill and blast operations, fleet management, and collision avoidance. McGinn sees digitization as the answer to many of the industry’s current problems, stating: “Mines these days face enormous challenges, including volatile commodity prices and increasing pressures to be safer and more sustainable, with greater scrutiny from the authorities and stakeholders. Digital transformation is well accepted as an answer to these challenges.”
Sharing the vision of a data-driven mining landscape, Komatsu is investing in its Mining Technology Solutions team to speed up its technological advancements. Notably, the company’s Modular Mining subsidiary includes a product line specialized in optimizing mine safety and efficiency through tracking data on equipment and operational productivity. Within the portfolio is Intellimine Synergy, an open-technology platform meant to serve as a single source of real-time information that can assist in optimizing decisions.
“We are starting to again see more requests for site visits, but I expect this demand to never return to pre-pandemic levels due to digitization and virtual technologies available to us today.”
Cameron Barton, President, CGS Mining
Lowering emissions for a greener future
As global attention increasingly shifts to environmental and sustainability concerns, many mining companies looking to minimize their carbon footprint are turning towards equipment that produce lower emissions. Equipment providers, in turn, are offering increasingly robust electronic and battery-powered product upgrades to essential mining machinery.
A recent study by the management consulting firm McKinsey & Company found that emissions from mining operations and related power consumption reach between 1.9 and 5.1 gigaton of carbon dioxide equivalent of greenhouse gases annually. While the bulk is generated from underground operations at coal mines, general power consumption from the extraction and refinery of metals is also a contributor.
As industry stakeholders and multinational coalitions increasingly pressure mining executives to respond, Nevada operators are taking stock. The Robinson mine purchased several electric drive trucks from Komatsu, as well as a 2650CX hybrid shovel which incorporates switched-reluctance technology that reduces fuel consumption and overall emissions, as part of its strategy for improving its environmental impact.
Other equipment companies operating in Nevada are working to expand their electric-powered product lines. Sandvik provides a variety of electric and battery-electric vehicles to the region, particularly drill rigs and bolters, underground loaders, and mechanical cutting equipment including bolter miners, continuous miners, and roadheaders for hard rock. Cashman Equipment hopes to offer products for the electrification of underground mines within the next few years.
Finally, CGS Mining provides environmental efficiencies of a different kind — in providing more effective solutions for precious metals recovery. Its heater skid, for example, incorporates energy saving technologies in order to run on less. “Our teams’ extensive experience and knowledge has led us to produce equipment that uses less carbon, consumes less acid and cyanide, and decreases energy requirements,” explained president Cameron Barton.
Image courtesy of Epiroc