Engineering, Construction & Consultancies

Adapting to supply chain disruptions to make mining more efficient

The global supply chain was deeply affected by the Covid pandemic. Images of excavators and dredgers trying to liberate the Ever Given container ship in the Suez Canal, March 2021, sum up the kind of challenges that service providers have had to deal with in the past 19 months.

As mining projects were delayed and uncertainty became the currency of the day, demand for equipment also decreased, while maintenance was top of mind. “To be successful in business, you need to be flexible and able to adapt, and I believe that some challenges that arose from the pandemic have made companies adapt for the better,” reflected Marla Tremblay, executive director of MineConnect.

Delays in sourcing parts and receiving deliveries and replacements held up projects. “Today, it is still a challenge getting parts in a reasonable time frame. Where possible, we will substitute parts, but that is not always practical. It is inefficient to start assembly without having all the parts, but to meet deadlines, we sometimes have no choice,” said Christina Visser, CEO of Ionic Technology Group.

Adaptation and quick innovation have been key for the service sector to meet clients' needs, with several companies now experiencing more demand than ever before. Epiroc Canada received record orders in 2021, with a heightened interest in components and mid-life services.

“BluVeinXL allows for the safe, flexible and viable electrification of very heavy haul trucks with circa 220t payloads. Our standard IP rated rails allow mining companies to install a single power rail to service a mixed fleet of mining vehicles.”

James Oliver, Managing Director, Bluvein

One way of dealing with supply constraints is recycling. Epiroc recently opened Reman Centre in Sudbury, where there is a parts exchange program, and a recycling strategy to recycle everything possible from each core. “We are at less than 2% waste now and are still working on reducing that,” said Andre Bertrand, business line manager – parts and services, Epiroc Canada.

The Reman Program guarantees the availability of specific components for clients' projects at all times— a major selling point, given current delays. Epiroc is increasingly involved with the ramping up of Batteries as a Service (BaaS) “Taking ownership of the batteries, having the full warranty and lifecycle ownership, BaaS allows us to now sell power instead of product,” added Bertrand.

Kal tire has focused on retreading mining tires in Canda to reach up to three life-cycles, at a lower cost for clients. The company’s Maple Program supports companies in reaching their environmental targets. “Our third-party verified carbon calculator provides clients with quantified data related to the fuel and carbon emissions saved in the retreading and repair process,” said Dave Allan, vice president of Canada, Kal Tire’s Mining Tire Group.

In line with the concept of the circularity, Halyard Inc made the decision to purchase EcoVac Solutions, which allows for the reprocessing, cleaning, separating and recycling of excavated materials. Having a facility near the city allows construction companies to source material and deposit their waste in a centralized location. “Previously, the materials were being disposed of in unregulated ways. […]EcoVac offers a facility in close proximity to Toronto which significantly reduces costs and the carbon footprint of construction companies,” said Justin Taylor, president.

When it comes to mineral resource estimations, companies like SRK and AMC have continuously focused on de-risking projects. The industry has relied on 70-year old tools for modelling, but with decreasing profit margins, there has been a rise in stochastic resource models. This is predominantly by majors. “Technical teams can estimate the tonnage and grade using drill hole data, integrated with the geology and statistics,” said Oy Leuangthong, corporate consultant (geostatistics) at SRK.

SRK recently created a machine-learning approach that uses qualitative and quantitative date for mineral resource classification. “This should make data integration easier and faster to repeat, given there are often multiple updates of a mineral resource model, and also allow it to be an auditable process,” Leuangthong added.

AMC described its Hill of Value services as follows: “These are developed to model anything that can be described, overlay all the results, and provide our clients with a comprehensive and complete evaluation. This allows our clients to make informed decisions to de-risk projects and create value for their stakeholders,” said Francis McCann, general manager, Toronto, AMC Consultants.

This process leads into their Predictive GeoMetallurgy service, which generates a dynamic 3D block model. This allows clients to understand the ore body to improve their design and recovery while minimizing costs and volatility. AMC’s Smart Data database completes the largest independently validated collection of hard-rock mine performance data sets in the world.

Developing new services through innovation remains a key focus within the industry, with international member-driven organizations collaborating to reach new solutions. Carl Weatherell, executive director and CEO at the Canada Mining Innovation Council (CMIC) believes that no problem is impossible when approached through collaboration. “We asked the question a few years ago —can we develop technology to reduce energy in a process by 50%? Within three years, we had a demo prototype up and running, demonstrating a 42% reduction. We are not commercialized yet, but that is the next step. We have another tech variant where we are looking at a 72% energy reduction,” he said.

Companies such as Vale, Glencore and AngloGold Ashanti make up the eight-member partnership to develop the technology. By focusing on dynamic charging, BluVein aims to enable lower cost, high-productivity electrification of even the heaviest applications within the mining sector. All partners are investing in the BlueVein1 product for commercial release.

With more companies committing to zero waste and net-zero emissions targets, a new competitive streak is emerging in the sector. Those who do not disclose their operations’ GHG emissions will start on a slippery slope that could mean being left behind as the sector moves towards greater transparency. “Our focus is on transformation to attain zero waste in the mining industry, which is basically about changing the paradigm of the business — of what is achievable,” added Weatherell.

Images courtesy of Metso Outotec