Takeaways from Haulage & Loading 2009

By Steve Fiscor. Editor-in-Chief

The overall theme and the tenor of Haulage & Loading 2009 was surprisingly different than past conferences. The conference, which was held during May in Phoenix, is geared specifically toward truck-shovel mining and sponsored by E&MJ and its sister publication, Coal Age. Obviously, the Bigger is Better these from year’s past would not work in the current economic climate. The group that organizing the conference decided to take a different approach, Cost Control for an Uncertain Economy, and it paid off. Throughout the technical program, mining professional from educational institutions, the mines, and equipment and service providers offered ideas on how to optimize systems and still mine safely. The surprises included: a high quality group of delegates from the mines, some frank, controversial discussions, and a very active exchange between the delegates and the presenters and the exhibitors. We at Mining Media would like to than everyone who helped make Haulage & Loading 2009 a success.

The conference led off with a session that included presentations on haul road design, the interaction between the road and haul trucks, and in-pit crushing and conveying systems (IPCC). In fact, E&MJ has published one of the papers  in this edition. To stand in front of a crowd of mine operators and truck makers who are mentally conditioned to constantly improve the truck-shovel mining process and talk about IPCC, takes bravery. IPCC is a competitive form of haulage that either shortens the haul distance or eliminates trucks entirely in favor of conveyors. Jeff Duvall from Snowden, a consulting firm that had recently completed a comparison study of IPCC, skillfully discussed the results and fielded some tough questions. Granted, the drop in petroleum prices stole some of his thunder, many mines are seriously considering some form of IPCC.

One delegate joked that the theme could have been: Mining Safer, Cheaper, and Greener. In addition to talking about improved safety and cost savings, the IPCC presentation along with several others mentioned a reduced carbon footprint. Several vendors these days are touting their systems, whether it be IPCC, conveyors in general, or trolley-assist for haul trucks as a more “environmentally friendly” option. That is a half truth. The mine would generate less emissions. However, unless the mine draws power from a nuclear-powered grid, the emissions are simply transferred to the power plant through increased electricity usage. The engineers at ThyssenKrupp recently explained that their research shows that truck haulage requires three to four times the energy to transport the same amount of material from point A to B than an IPCC system. In Conveyor System Design, the engineer from Siemens includes the carbon footprint from steel manufacturing in his comparison. The carbon foot print for conveyor haulage is definitely lower, but not exactly emissions-free. Depending on the cost, availability and reliability of electricity, these technologies would make sense economically in a world of excessively high oil prices, despite the environmental attractiveness. The debate between trucks and conveyors has legs.

A panel discussion, Operating Safely in a Low Cost Environment, delved into the sensitive area of holding costs to a minimum without compromising safety. The panel included two mine operators, a safety consultant, and a mining equipment vendor. Delegates heard a great deal of advice, which included firsthand experience from mine operators. Ruben Griffith from Freeport, one of the largest mining companies, talked about some of the measures they were taking to ensure that their managers were… managing. Among the austere initiatives he noted was the novel idea of taking the computers away to move them beyond answering E-mail all day and out into the field. Now they carry a clipboard and a 2-way radio and they are actively observing and managing in the pits. When he was asked about the reaction from the managers, he said that most of the managers liked the new program and mine performance has improved.

Post conference research indicated that both the audience and the exhibitors, by a commanding majority found value and that they would return for Haulage & Loading 2011. During the next year, E&MJ will publish many of the presentations from the conference. In the meantime, Mining Media will construct a Haulage & Loading reading room on its Website (www.mining-media.com) where E&MJ readers can access the PowerPoint presentations along with MP3 files. If the conference delegates took away one idea that prevented an accident or saved their parent company some money, then Mining Media considers the Haulage & conference a success.