Australia Exports Mining and Processing Technology

Investments in research pay dividends at home and abroad

By Kyran Casteel, European Editor, and Steve Fiscor, Editor-in-Chief 

Unlike some industrialized nations, the mining business in Australia is not just surviving, it’s thriving. Having access to plentiful resources relatively close to the coast certainly helps, but there is more to the story. During the last 40 years or so, Australia’s mining industry has grown to the point where it commands $53 billion in investment, which puts it well ahead of Canada and Brazil. Today, two major mining companies are headquatered in Australia, along with many large mining companies and service providers.

Realizing early that its strengths lie in exports, the Commonwealth of Australia invests in its industries to ensure that they are competitive abroad. A large portion of the Australian economy hinges on the mining business and they do not take the revenue stream for granted. It’s a two-way street, where the country realizes the importance of the mining sector and mining companies know that they must extract resources in an acceptable way—socially, environmentally, and economically. Australia’s future, to a great extent, depends on being able to replenish those resources and successfully compete in the mineral export business.

Prior to the connectivity that enjoy today, Australia was a remote outpost where the miners had to solve problems on their own. That inventive nature still exists today and on the following pages E&MJ offers a snapshot of the some of the mining and mineral processing technologies that have developed from ideas germinated Down Under. Many of these companies working with Australian research firms have brought system to the market that will help the mines operate more safely and cost effectively.

The Australian mining and mineral process research and development scheme is what sets it apart from many other mining nations. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the commonwealth establish several programs that are partially funded by the mining sector. Now, 20 years later, these groups have built a reputation for science and engineering excellence, and more importantly they ensure Australia’s economic future.

Australia Funds Mining Research

CSIRO is a world leader in the science of mineral exploration and mining. Put simply, CSIRO’s Exploration & Mining Division works to ensure the continuing prosperity of the resource industry and the country that it serves. It’s a powerful partnership of science and technology, innovation and application. CSIRO Exploration & Mining Division has research centers based in three Australian state capital cities:

–Brisbane, Queensland, at the Queensland Centre for Advanced Technologies (QCAT)

–Perth, Western Australia, at the Australian Resources Research Centre (ARRC)

–Sydney, New South Wales, at the Riverside Centre.

CSIRO is currently researching mining automation with responsibilties shared between two CSIRO Divisions, Exploration & Mining and the ICT Centre. In the next 10 years, CSIRO believes that integrated real-time knowledge will transform mining decision making and automation processes, opening the way to the automated mine which will deliver significant benefits in productivity and safety. Generating this knowledge will depend on harnessing advanced communications technology for mining applications and the development of a suite of new sensors to enable autonomous equipment operation in hazardous and constantly changing mining environments.

Personnel tracking, environmental and geotechnical monitoring, equipment control, tele-operation and traffic management are some innovations that will allow workers to operate mines from safe environments and achieve consistent and predictable outputs.

CSIRO hopes to increase safety and productivity in mining by developing high technology, distributed intelligent network systems and automated mining processes which will streamline decision making, remove people from hazardous environments, and ensure consistency in production systems.

The CSIRO Minerals Division works with industry to optimize the performance of existing processing equipment and develop new techniques; and to deliver the innovations that will enable operators to maintain their competitive positions worldwide. In addition to working with established mineral processing and smelting technologies, the group is also undertaking research in several emerging science areas, such as synchrotron science, ionic liquids, and microparticle processing. CSIRO Minerals also applies its mineral-processing expertise to non-minerals areas, such as extracting value from industrial wastes and developing security and counter-terrorism innovations. More recently as a part of its Light Metals National Research Flagship, the group os researching the entire processing chain for aluminum, titanium and magnesium. The Minerals Down Under National Research Flagship program is investigating ways to reduce the minerals industry’s impact on the environment while maximizing its benefits.

JKTech, through its association with the Julius Kruttschnitt Mineral Research Centre (JKMRC) and the other Centres of the Sustainable Minerals Institute at the University of Queensland, provides proven techniques to the minerals processing industry to enhance process design and optimize plant performance.

The JKMRC has been delivering significant research outcomes in mining and mineral processing for over 40 years, mainly sponsored by the international minerals sector via the industry body AMIRA International.

New developments are routinely published in international journals and presented at international conferences.

During July, JKTech launched SMI Knowledge Transfer, a unique professional development initiative, offering life-of-mine training courses and workshops to

the global mining and minerals processing industry. Replacing the previously named JKTech Training, this new SMI Knowledge Transfer initiative builds on the already strong brands of JKTech, ACMER (the Australian Centre for Minerals Extension and Research) and the individual SMI (Sustainable Minerals Institute) Centres at the University of Queensland.

SMI Knowledge Transfer activities cover a broad range of operational and sustainable development topics, encompassing exploration, operation, closure, relinquishment and other aspects providing industry personnel with knowledge and skills for any part of the mine life-cycle.

While AMIRA International does not carry out research itself, it brokers collaborative projects between industry and world-leading research providers by leveraging government and industry funds. The projects are funded by joint sponsorship from member companies, and AMIRA pursues additional sources of funding to benefit these research efforts. The association’s current project portfolio encompasses around 50 R&D projects. Importantly, AMIRA International projects are helping to build the technological and educational capacity of the countries where the association’s members have a presence.

 Coal Producers Invest in Mining Research

Australian black coal producers contribute to a program of collaborative research that is conducted for the benefit of the coal mining industry. Coal producers have committed to pay $0.05/metric ton (mt) to fund the Australian Coal Association Research Program (ACARP). The association’s mission is to research, develop and demonstrate technologies that lead to the safe, sustainable production and utilization of coal.

Each year the ACARP Committees select approximately 60 research projects to pursue. In addition to several peripheral end use programs, the association perform research on technologies for underground and open-cut coal mining, and coal preparation.

ACARP’s underground health and safety, productivity and environment initiatives include strengthening ventilation and gas management technology, minimizing risks from fires and explosions, advancing emergency response technologies, reducing operating costs and improving reliability of subsidence predictions.

Safety, productivity and the right to operate are priorities for open cut mine research. The group supported work on an automated swing loading system for electric shovels, the science of rehabilitation and minimizing mining impacts on neighboring communities.

Maintenance, improved recovery and plant capacity are some of ACARP’s key coal preparation strategies. Work is focused on maximizing yield, reducing production costs, minimizing emissions, reducing water consumption and the use of lower quality water without adversely impacting on process efficiency.

CRCMining is an internationally recognized mining research center, established by the Commonwealth Government under the Cooperative Research Centres (CRC) program.

CRCMining is supported by 16 industry and university participants, including some of the biggest names in the mining business. The CRC program was established in 1990 to bring together researchers and research users. CRCMining is one of approximately 70 CRCs.

CRCMining was recently awarded $2.2 million in grants from ACARP. The funding will assist six new and continuing research projects. The grants cover a wide range of projects; including continuing research into DC motors, shovel automated digging and blasthole slotting.

E&MJ July/August 2009: Australia Regional Report


Keeping An Eye On Dragline Booms

The Australian Coal Association Research Program Project Number C16032, writes Adam Van Dyck, aims to add value to exiting NDT regimes. Van Dyck, who works for Bureau Veritas Asset Integrity and Reliability Services, explains that the project involved the application of an advanced method for measuring residual stresses in ferrous materials called StressVision. This technology, he says, also has significant replication potential for other mining applications such as fixed plant and vehicle chassis.

A series of unique experiments were undertaken to develop a better understanding of the capabilities and limitations of the device when applied to dragline booms. Based on the results , a set of specific applications for dragline booms has been proposed. Whilst the device has its limitations, Van Dyck reports, there is certainly real potential for applications such as the determination of stress relieving effectiveness, Fitness for Purpose assessments and the validation of Finite Element Analysis modelling. Conversely, however, it is that some other applications, such as using StressVision as a flaw detection tool in booms, are not feasible, particularly in view of the availability and proven effectiveness of traditional and automated NDT techniques such as Time of Flight Diffraction.

The report, Application of StressVision Technology to Dragline Booms is available from ACARP.

China draws on MineARC expertise

Mounting pressure to stem the number of mining accidents has encouraged the Chinese Central Government to assess the relevance of ‘world’s best practice’ mine safety regulations and consequent measures and procedures that might be necessary. As a result, MineARC Systems has been engaged in talks with the China Coal Research Institute (SYCCRI) aimed at setting out a set of ‘safe-refuge’ regulations for the Chinese underground coal mining industry. CCRI is a research division of the Chinese Central Government’s Assets Supervision & Administration Commission.

MineARC® Managing Director Geoff Whittaker has commented: “The Chinese Central Government is now demonstrating a clear commitment to bringing industry safety standards up to the level of ‘developed producers’. MineARC was invited into the consultation process because we were recognised as leaders in our particular field of mine safety. Working with CCRI has presented a chance to make a significant contribution towards resolving what is both a major industrial and a humanitarian issue. We’ve been advocating improved underground safety standards around the world for the past 15 years, but to finally make headway in China is very positive and something we can be proud of. Despite the current safety record, in terms of refuge regulations in place, China will soon be ahead of arguably more developed producers, such as South Africa, Latin America and even Australia.”

Using MineARC’s patented CoalSAFE® Refuge Chamber model and the United States MSHA 2009 Final Rule Regulation* as a platform for ‘industry best practice’, a CCRI led consortium is close to introducing a sweeping set of regulations outlining the compulsory provision of refuge chambers in all licensed underground coal mines. The regulations are expected to begin a phased roll-out in late 2009.

MineARC® General Manager Mike Lincoln emphasizes the relevance of the company’s equipment with reference to the major accident at a coal mine in the Northern Province of Shanxi, which claimed 74 lives and injured hundreds during February this year. The initial explosion resulted in fires, smoke and toxic gas inhalation, fall of ground and prolonged entrapment of workers. It was the single worst incident of its kind in China for over a decade. “When an emergency situation occurs you can never be 100% certain of what might happen. In hindsight however, it’s clear that the human cost of tragedies like Shanxi would likely be far lower if those miners trapped underground had access to adequate safe refuge – with prolonged breathable atmospheres and artificial cooling, as is provided in MineARC® chambers.”

MineARC® Systems is currently finalizing its involvement in the regulatory process, having already signed an exclusive China-wide distributor agreement with CCRI with the aim of establishing a full joint venture agreement in 2010.

Collision Avoidance System

Since the introduction of large surface mining equipment, there have been ongoing problems with collisions on mine sites. Poor external vision due to blind spots and limited maneuverability are all major contributing factors in mine site heavy vehicle accidents.

In response to the requirements of the mining industry’s pressing need to provide the safest possible environment for operators of heavy mining equipment and the smaller vehicles that they interact with, key industry stakeholders representing the interest of the mining industry approached Australian owned and operated, Advanced Mining Technologies Pty Ltd (AMT) together with the Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) to develop a solution.

The key objective was to research, design and develop a stand-alone Collision Avoidance System that was capable of providing heavy vehicle operator’s with a visual and audible early warning system to assist in the avoidance of potential hazards and collisions with other vehicles and items of plant. During the research phase of the project it was noted that most mines have adopted standard safety procedures or “soft barriers” such as, no-go zones for Light Vehicles (LV), standard parking and start-up procedures and audible reversing alarms for Heavy Vehicles (HV), however these measures were not preventing collisions and fatalities.

After four years of collaboratively working with the Australian Mining Industry in researching, developing and conducting extensive mine site trials, AMT developed a world-class, Australian made, stand-alone Collision Avoidance System. AMT’s Collision Avoidance System (CAS-CAM/ RF®) offers mining companies and equipment operator’s unrivalled safety and peace of mind with an automatic 360-degree object detection system that is continually looking in all high-risk directions to identify potential high-risk scenarios. When a programmed risk scenario is identified, the system’s cameras switch to view the vehicle at risk and provide the operator’s of both vehicles with an early visual and audible warning of the pending danger. Moreover, the system is designed as a stand-alone safety system and operates independent of any other mine infrastructure, telemetry, GPS or vehicle computer systems.

The system has self-diagnostic capabilities and monitors and reports any faults to the operator. The in-vehicle colour monitor stores all data associated with any predefined vehicle interactions. Each vehicle that is equipped with AMT’s safety system has its own ID, thus providing an audit trail in the event of an incident. The system is modular in design and uses ‘plug and play’ components for minimal downtime in the event of external damage.

AMT’s unique CAS-CAM/RF® system uses Radio Frequency (RF) proximity sensing technology which enables designated “risk zones” to be programmed relative to any mobile equipment, including: Truck, Dozer, Grader, Loader, Scraper, Medium Vehicle, Drill, Dragline, Shovel and LV. In addition to mobile plant, other equipment and assets such as lighting plants, pit pumps, stockpile pillars etc can be installed with Stationary Objects (SO) RF transceivers with programmed no-go zones thereby providing protection from collision by HV’s.

Because every mine site is different and all alarming and risk scenarios are fully programmable, AMT in consultation with clients provides a full site safety audit and risk assessment. This provides a tailored solution for alarming scenarios based on object type, distance, direction of travel, speed, location (front, rear, sides or radius) to ensure that audible alarms are only generated for high risk interactions and not during normal operations.

Typical high risk scenarios that the CAS-CAM/ RF® system provides effective anti-collision solutions include:

• Truck to LV

• Truck to Truck (e.g. front to rear)

• Truck to Dozer

• Dozer to LV

• Loader to LV

• Grader to LV

• Dragline / Shovel to Dozer

• Dozer to Stationary Object (e.g. portable lighting tower, pit pump)

• any other machine to machine, machine to LV, machine to Stationary Object scenarios.

 While AMT’s Collision Avoidance System (CAS-CAM/RF®) has been designed as a stand-alone safety system, the system can be interfaced with third party Fleet Management Systems and is therefore capable of providing remote data exchange for all onsite vehicle interactions. Data can be exchanged in either real time, or in packages to a central computer for management reporting and monitoring as well as a mine site supervisor’s mobile phone the second a high risk vehicle interaction occurs. CAS-CAM/RF actively monitors hazard exposure and is a highly effective system for managing the risk of onsite vehicle collisions.

In addition to providing a unique world class Collision Avoidance System (CAS-CAM/ RF®), AMT offers clients world-class service, safety inspections and audits, spare parts and support capabilities. Whatever your requirements may be, AMT has the solutions and capacity to work with your organisation to tailor a Collision Avoidance System and service package that meets your current and future requirements.

Suspended Body System: More Tons, More Markets, Less Noise

Duratray International has successfully scaled up its Suspended Dump Body (SDB) system to fit “Ultra Class” haul trucks (with carrying capacities up to 365 metric tons payload). The company has also expanded sales of the system for mine and quarry haul trucks to new geographic regions during 2008-2009. New markets include PNG, Indonesia, New Caledonia, Laos, Norway, Perú, México, Canada and Suriname. This success follows the company’s winning of the prestigious Export Achievement award in 2006 for exports to Chile.

Within the Ultra Class truck ranges, Duratray has developed and successfully commissioned about 70 SDB systems for Komatsu 930E (290 mt) and Komatsu 960E (327 mt) trucks, as well as several for the largest Caterpillar 797B mining trucks. The benefits are the body’s lighter deadweight, higher volumetric capacity and lower long-term maintenance costs. There are also occupational health & safety benefits, particularly reduced impact and noise to the truck operator.

The dump body engineering design and project management are undertaken from Duratray’s Bayswater facilities in Victoria, where all of the rubber wear mat kit is also manufactured using a large-diameter pressurised autoclave and other customized tooling. Manufacture of synthetic suspension ropes is undertaken at the firm’s Perth, Western Australia facilities. These components are then shipped to project sites around the world ready for final assembly of the suspended dump body and its installation onto the client’s haul truck. All brands of open pit trucks can be fitted with Duratray dump bodies – both in new trucks and as replacement dump bodies for existing trucks.


Math, Machinery and Mining

In 1969 Max Winders, Bill Barlow and Russ Morrison formed WBM in Brisbane as a consulting service for Australian industry. Their aim was to provide measurement and computational analysis of difficult and unusual problems in mechanical and maritime engineering and environmental hydraulics. The mining and related bulk handling sectors have made and continue to make significant use of these services, now provided by WBM as part of the London, UK based BMT Group.

WBM first started working with the mining industry in the 1970s. Some companies operating draglines in the range 2,500 – 5,000mt experienced problems with the slewing ring mechanism and sought help. WBM identified a problem with the multi-roller thrust bearing: if the rail surface was not perfectly flat the weight on a roller could increase from the normal 100mt to 200 or 300mt, either causing the roller to spall or pushing it out of line. The company invented the Roller Load Test for measuring loads in the bearings and showing how they should be set up. Later WBM developed methods for repairing the damaged ring by extracting the roller and using NC grinding to flatten the ring.

Expanding Scope

The success of this technology encouraged WBM to establish an office in Denver during 1982 in order to do roller load testing for draglines operating in the USA. The company also started working for Amcoal in South Africa during the early 1980s. Since that time WBM has applied its expertise to numerous other mining problems as well as working in bulk handling, the maritime, rail and road transportation fields, and environmental engineering.

Meanwhile, in the UK, British Maritime Technology — now the BMT Group — was established in 1985 by bringing together research and technology organisations in the marine and transportation fields. The Group has since grown a wide range of business services to assist companies and governments investing in major capital projects and seeking to operate their businesses in the most cost-effective, safe, reliable and environmentally responsible manner.

In 2006 exiting key WBM shareholders allowed BMT to invest in the company, creating BMT WBM as a substantial engineering consultancy with a staff of almost 150. At the time, BMT Chief Executive Peter French said BMT had been attracted to WBM as it was an ideal business and geographic fit and a company with a similar ethos.

Today BMT WBM still has its headquarters in Brisbane plus offices in Mackay, Queensland; Newcastle and Sydney, New South Wales; Melbourne, Victoria; and Perth, Western Australia; and also has an office in Vancouver, Canada as well as the one in Denver. Russ Morrison is very much still with the company, serving as director and CEO. The company operates in three main areas: Water & Environment – BMT WBM is one of Australia’s leading specialist environmental consultants; Naval & Maritime; and Machinery.

BMT WBM Machinery Group

The Machinery Group works with the surface and underground mining, mineral processing, metallurgical and other downtime-critical process industries fields; ports, bulk handling and conveying; marine, road and rail transportation; and power generation. The group provides services for machinery designers, manufacturers and operators. Solutions typically may reduce running costs; improve operational performance, efficiency and safety; extend equipment life. Thorough mathematical analysis remains a core competence applied in conjunction with very comprehensive tools for measurement and analysis and state-of-the-art computing.

BMT WBM staff use several high-end techniques, including advanced dynamic simulation (ADS), computational fluid dynamics (CFD), discrete element modelling (DEM) and a number of Finite Element Analysis software packages. The Group has gained particular experience in conveyor dynamic analysis and conveyor belt monitoring, cranes and lifting tackle, fluid power hydraulics and the weighing of large machines. To support this work staffers have developed capabilities in specialized gearing, in-situ machining, power and controls.

Surface Mining

Building on the early work with large draglines in the Australian coalfields BMT WBM has become a world leader in providing independent advice to dragline operators to assist in solving mechanical, structural and electrical problems. The range of services includes:

  • repair/replace advice and re-engineering for dragline tubs, revolving frames and booms;
  • drive control modification to increase the available payload or extend operational life;
  • suspended load testing to precisely measure bucket loading under operating conditions;
  • roller load testing to assess the condition and likely life of the slew bearings, identify the cause of deterioration and advise on means of extending their life;
  • spall detection on roller circle rails in order to track the rate of deterioration; and
  • in-situ rail grinding to reduce or eliminate the cause of slew bearing problems.

Working with bucketwheel excavator (BWE) operators in Australia has similarly enabled BMT WBM to become a recognized authority on BWE applications, selection, design, maintenance and operation. The company claims to be in a unique position to advise on the use of these machines in lignite and similar mining operations. Specific services include: maintenance practices; repair and refurbishment, including stability issues; condition assessment and inspection; automation and control of the digging operation; safety device checking; design and production, performance and structural testing.

The expertise gained with draglines and BWEs has, not surprisingly, been extended to mining shovel problems with structures, slew bearings, machinery and key systems. As BMT WBM specialists are involved in the design, testing and analysis of large dump truck bodies, the company also provides operators with a range of related services.

In one of BMT WBM’s most dramatic surface mine projects the company assisted with engineering aspects of the recovery of the 8050 dragline submerged during last year’s flooding at the Ensham coal mine in Queensland. This ambitious program aimed to get the dragline back to work in one year but was actually completed in ten months. [ASK Don E for pic if cant’ get one from web]

Underground Mining

Rapid adoption of high tech underground systems during the past decade has created extensive opportunities for BMT WBM to apply its expertise in both coal and metalliferous mines. The company has assisted operating companies with equipment purchasing and with improving the productivity and safety of existing systems.

For example, BMT WBM has carried out specification and design audits for new longwall roof supports; made diagnostic measurements on operating longwalls; done full scale prototype strength and fatigue testing; provided inspection and management plans for roof support cracking problems; undertaken quality management of fabrication and rebuilding; planned and supervised repair projects; and optimized hydraulics and control systems to increase longwall productivity. A similar scope of services has been applied to longwall shearers, armoured face conveyors, continuous miners, crushing – loading – conveying systems and TBMs.

Mineral Processing and Handling

BMT WBM offers design, auditing, troubleshooting and related services for various types of mineral processing equipment, including ball, rod and SAG mills, vibrating screens, rotary breakers and centrifuges. For the operators of bulk coal and mineral handling facilities at mines and ports the company has developed a broad-ranging service covering design, design audit, vibration testing, safety audits, inspection, repair supervision, re-engineering and life extension. A recently deployed innovation is the Rail Wagon Vibrator which not only dislodges sticky material quickly during unloading but also eliminates the need for physically demanding and potentially dangerous manual work on the wagons.

Conveying is a particular BMT WBM strength and the firm has designed a number of major high-capacity systems for installation in several countries. Applying its high-tech engineering approach the company has developed sophisticated conveyor analysis tools which can be used in conjunction with extensive experience to provide cost effective, reliable conveyor systems. House specialities include the design of moveable conveyors and drive heads, applying the company’s experience in Australian lignite mines, and dynamic analysis of belts and systems used in long or high-inertia conveyors during starting and stopping.

One research area that had BMT WBM pretty optimistic at the time of E&MJ’s visit earlier this year is sensing technology for moving ship loaders that will automatically prevent collisions. This might help make fully automated ship loading a possibility, said Russ Morrison.

Robotic Wagon Vibrator

The tendency of sticky coal to hang-up in bottom dump rail wagons has been a

long-term problem in the mine-to-ship transportation of Queensland coal. Such hang-ups can frequently extend the time taken to discharge a 10,000 mt train load from the nominal two hours to four and sometimes to periods in the 10 – 15 hour range. That’s very bad news for a system that is often under pressure to maintain acceptable delivery schedules.

The usual solution is for terminal operators to vibrate the sides of the wagon using manual jackhammers in order to dislodge the coal. Unfortunately it is not always very effective, so that delays still occur, it is not good for the structure of the wagons and it is a physically demanding job in unpleasant conditions that may well lead to ill health and possibly accidents. WBM looked for a better remedy and came up with the Robotic Wagon Vibrator concept. Design started in 2001, with strong support from the management of the Hay Point Coal Terminal near Mackay. The first prototype was installed there in early 2003 and operated for the next four years, during which time WBM progressively improved the functionality of the machine. In 2007 four “production” versions were installed at Hay Point and RWVs have since been installed at the Dalrymple Bay and Abbot Point Coal Terminals.

The system uses a combination of high frequency vibrating element and sensor technology to remotely control the clearance of hang-ups. The sensor technology is able to determine what type of wagon (out of six types in common use by Queensland Rail) is passing the RWV and which of these wagons have hang-ups and must be vibrated. The wagon information enables the control technology to extend the vibration element on to the lower sill of each wagon as the train rolls past the RWV and to track along the side of the wagon from one end to the other where it retracts. The sensors that detect that coal has not been discharged because of a hang-up enable the control system to activate vibration. The vibrator delivers an oscillating force of about 1.5mt on the side of the wagon that does not, however, have any adverse effect on the wagon.

The vibrator equipment is designed to IP67 or better in order to cope with the aggressive environment and a single operator monitors the process from an acoustically treated, air conditioned control room. The system is also integrated with the site SCADA networks to permit remote interrogation and performance logging. In a further system development BMT WBM has introduced laser scanners that can discriminate a wider range of wagon types.


Pythons Crush Costs for CRG

Effective mineral liberation has been and will remain a primary focus of mineral processing and Australian based scientists and engineers play a significant role in advancing the technology. But reducing the costs of the crucial transfer of mineral values from in-situ ore to the concentration process has received a growing amount of attention over the years. Ballarat, Victoria based Gekko Systems has addressed both aspects with the development of the Python keyhole processing concept. Whilst moving primary crushing into the open pit and close to the base of the hoisting shaft has improved the economics of ore transport to the process plant, Python takes crushing, grinding and pre-concentration as close to the underground mining face as mine geography allows, albeit at a small scale.

On October 1, 2008 four years of development culminated in the successful installation of a 20mt/hour Python 200 Underground Processing Plant at the Central Rand Gold (CRG) mine in southern Johannesburg, South Africa. This plant has been commissioned and operated under contract by Gekko’s South African office. Now Johannesburg listed CRG has ordered two more, larger Python units from Gekko Systems for installation by the end of 2010.

Gekko reports that design of the additional 50mt/h Python 500 units is nearing completion and construction of the initial unit is well under way. It is CRG’s intention to operate them underground by the end of 2010. The systems have been designed to be transported down a conventional mine decline. Gekko says the keyhole processing concept offers significant environmental benefit with reduced comminution costs and a small footprint. High tech, modular and fully automated, the plant crushes, grinds and pre-concentrates ore leaving just 5 – 30% of the material treated for pumping to the surface. “Keyhole processing eliminates the need to carry the entire ore body mass up to ground level”, said Gekko’s Technical Director, Sandy Gray. “Tailings are disposed in voids; haulage, operating and processing costs are substantially reduced; and environmental impacts are minimized.”

Key features of the Python include a two-stage, high reduction crushing circuit, InLine Pressure Jig multi-stage gravity circuit, and high capacity flash flotation. The units can be built and shipped to site with speed and ease. The new Python 500 is also designed to accommodate modular expansions, such as milling or flotation, as dictated by the nature of the ore. The key benefits of the pre-designed Python modules are savings on project design time and costs, as well as the low-energy flow sheet, which saves both capital and operational costs.

“We view the Python system more in line with the purchasing of earth-moving equipment where you have the available range of throughput options that can be customised for ore variability,” said Sandy Gray.

This year Gekko Systems’ Python underground processing plant won the Highly Commended Australian Mining Prospect Award in the Minerals Processing Plant of the Year category for the second time in the award’s five-year history. The first award was in 2006 for Lihir Mining’s Ballarat Goldfields plant.

Meanwhile, Gekko’s established InLine Pressure Jig is to pre-concentrate silver, tin and zinc ore at Pirquitas, Silver Standard’s recently commissioned silver, tin and zinc mine located in Jujuy, Argentina (see E&MJ, May 2009, p 16). Gekko designed and installed a pre-concentration module consisting of six IPJ2400s which increases the throughput of the milling and flotation circuit.

The InLine Pressure Jigs will pre-concentrate ore allowing a substantial increase in the plant feed rate prior to the ball mills. This is achieved by passing plus 2-12mm crushed material through the jigging circuit, where the lighter (barren) material is directed to tails. The total feed is reduced by 50% after the In Line Pressure Jig’s treatment, leaving over 90% of the values in the concentrate stream. This allows an increase in the plant feed rate without economically compromizing recovery. Prior to the InLine Jig process, the crushed material is screened and water added allowing it to be pumped to the Jigs. The concentrate from the Jigs is then de-watered before passing to the grinding mill, where the water is recycled back to the beginning of the process, making it almost self-sufficient in water use. In the design process, a pump specialist was contracted to select appropriate pumps and motors to compensate for the effects of the high altitude.

Significant capital and operating costs savings are achieved with this pre-concentration module, through the fully automated operating system, low power usage and efficient re-cycling of water. The ease of construction has allowed for faster commissioning at the Silver Standard mine. 

JKTech Forms New Partnerships, Builds New Tools

In May this year, Brisbane-based JKTech Pty Ltd announced its partnership with the Peruvian based company Transmin Metallurgical Consultants. JKTech is the technology transfer company for the Julius Kruttschnitt Mineral Research Centre (JKMRC) and other centres of the Sustainable Minerals Institute at The University of Queensland. A leading provider of metallurgical consulting expertise in Peru and neighboring countries, Transmin will now also provide JKTech consulting services to the region. Peru is considered one of the major mining countries in the world, listed in the top ten producers for all of the main metals, JKTech points out, adding that it already has strong relationships with many of the major mining companies in the region including BHP Billiton, Barrick Gold, Freeport McMoran International, Xstrata and Anglo American among others.

The partnership will provide comminution and flotation consulting services to the region and also training and the JKTech software and hardware product range, including automated quantitative mineralogy (MLA). Adam Johnston, Transmin’s Chief Metallurgist says “Many of our clients encounter crushing, grinding or flotation problems. JKTech’s suite of tools, services and experience at solving these problems are second to none. This is a fantastic opportunity for South American operations to use these cutting edge techniques with the additional benefit of access to local engineers offering fast bilingual support. The team at Transmin is ecstatic with the dynamic and cooperative integration that JKTech and Transmin are undertaking.”

A rather more specific partnership has been entered into with a South African company, Stone Three. The aim is to supply the worldwide mining industry with the Anglo Platinum Bubble Sizer (APBS). This nifty device is itself the outcome of a joint project, in this case between Stone Three and Anglo Platinum Research who utilized gas dispersion measurement techniques developed in the course of the AMIRA International P9 research program. The portable unit can gather data on the size and distribution of the bubbles in flotation cells and can also be used to measure superficial gas velocity, collect suspended solids and diagnose impeller wear, says JKTech.

One of the most recent tools that JKTech has developed is a high pressure grinding roll (HPGR) test suite that provides data that can be used in JKSimMet studies for evaluating the suitability of HPGR circuits for a given set of ore types. “Type A” tests yield ore-specific parameters for the most common ore type in the set while “Type B” tests use this information to measure the HPGR’s response to the variations within the set of ores to be treated. JKTech says the test results complement other methods of ore characterization.

Meanwhile, responding to the change in the mineral industry’s fortunes, JKTech has compiled the following list of five cost-effective steps that will reduce site overheads and increase profit margin.

  1. Understand your feed variability: Conduct mineralogy breakage and

separation tests from mine samples and predict the plant performance.

  1. Optimize your throughput-power relationship: Conduct plant surveys and     laboratory measurements to develop models of the comminution circuit to optimize plant performance using JKSimMet.
  2. Optimize your grade-recovery throughput relationship: Conduct plant surveys and laboratory measurements to develop models of the flotation circuit to optimize plant performance using JKSimFloat.
  3. Conduct a site energy audit: Perform a site energy audit to determine high energy users and develop models to assess energy reduction strategies.

5. Conduct a water balance: Perform a water balance to determine major water   usage areas and develop models to assess water reduction strategies.,

Premium Natural Rubber

Based in Hawthorn, Linatex Premium Rubber has been associated with producing natural rubbers for many decades. To deliver the lowest cost of ownership, these rubbers are specifically designed to combat the harshest and most abrasive slurry environments, says Tony Siric, Global Rubber Sheet Product Manager for Linatex. Extensive experience in this field has contributed to the development of a new product, Linatex VS, now available following extensive field trials.
At the Los Pelambres copper mine in Chile, South America, engineers placed Linatex VS in high wear piping from a cyclone cluster. Compared to the product previously used, Linatex VS provided four times more life for the client. In South Africa Linatex VS moulded mining pump parts provided seven times the wear life performance achieved by the proprietary rubber compound.
Siric explains the VS advantage: “Until now using the hot bonding process has meant having to settle for a product that does not have the long lasting advantages of cured natural rubbers, such as Linatex Premium Rubber. Eighteen months of development and trials have made Linatex VS a product that we believe will now deliver these outstanding results.” The manufacturer says that Linatex VS will provide end users with unmatched abrasion resistance in fine slurry applications, allowing maximum yield and ensuring overall maintenance provides the lowest cost of ownership in the application, for the client.
Another relatively recent Linatex technical development, carried out in collaboration with Sydney-based Benbro Electronics, is the use of sensors embedded in flexible hose material to monitor the amount of, for example, slurry pipe hose wear. Benbro equipment transmits this information to a computer, eliminating the need for manual examination of the slurry pipes. The system has been trialled at the Cadia gold mine, near Orange, NSW, and successfully tested at the Candelaria copper mine in Chile.

Meanwhile in China Linatex and Anshan Engineering have trialled the Linatex tailings dewatering system and the Shandong JinXin iron ore mine is set to become one of the first global Linatex clients to introduce the system. Linatex says it is confident of the reliability of the unique dewatering approach.
And, in South Africa, Linatex Banana Screens have been proving the company’s motto of ‘lowest cost of ownership’. Under ‘normal’ conditions, most banana screens last approximately five years but Linatex units at Kleinkopje Colliery have survived more than ten. Perhaps even more surprisingly, two banana screens in the secondary circuit at New Vaal colliery still have the original side plates installed 25 years ago.

Computation for Dewatering: Greater efficiency with environmental benefits

According to Outotec’s Australian-based thickener design and supply team, using Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) has advanced the previously acceptable rudimentary understanding of thickener flow patterns to a new level. This new benchmark for thickener modelling can help to optimize the design and function of thickeners, thereby increasing their ability to meet efficiency and environmental demands, including the conservation of water and chemicals.

Dr Alex Heath, a CFD modeller with 10 years’ experience in the AMIRA P266 research project Improving Thickener Technology, was relatively recently appointed Principal Research Engineer, Thickener CFD and Process Modelling at Outotec. “CFD allows proposed thickener designs to be truly customized and optimized for individual duties, resulting in enhanced mixing, energy dissipation, flocculation, solids distribution and shear rates,” Heath explains. “The company recently established an in-house thickener CFD team, responsible for all of Outotec’s global CFD thickening activity, to help clients capitalize on the many gains available through it”, he says.

“CFD capabilities take a large amount of risk out of thickener designs because the technique can eliminate mistakes before they become reality,” says Dr Heath. For instance, instead of a mistake in feedwell design costing hundreds of thousands of dollars over the thickener’s life due to inefficiencies, the CFD team, led by highly experienced modellers, can quickly, accurately and cost-effectively produce optimal designs for a fraction of this cost, Heath says. CFD is particularly useful in such critical areas as overflow clarity, underflow density and throughput. These, in turn, are critical to water and chemical conservation.

Outotec claims that, after a number of years investing in relevant CFD research and development, it has developed the industry’s first major feedwell innovation in over 15 years. The Vane Feedwell™ incorporates several globally patented elements into its unique design and has quickly shown its value in ‘real life’, ensuring highly efficient thickener operation. The Vane Feedwell is now the global standard on all Outotec thickeners.

Investment in the latest StarCD parallel processing software and multi-processor hardware has given Outotec full Eulerian multi-phase CFD capability and the ability to model turbulent stratified buoyant particle laden flows, which occur in the feedwell and top half of a thickener. “The CFD simulation capability is combined with many years experience in interpreting the results in terms of key parameters like mixing, energy/momentum dissipation, flocculation, feedwell discharge symmetry, solids distribution and laminar/turbulent shear rates. Outotec uses CFD for internal R&D programs as well as to give confidence in individual unit installations”, says Dr Heath. 
With CFD becoming, more and more, the way of the future, says Outotec, the company believes the investment for a comprehensive in-house CFD capability is already benefiting its clients, ensuring their thickener designs are CFD-optimized for full performance potential. Most other thickener suppliers outsource CFD work, the company comments. The CFD team is based in Outotec’s Perth office and led by Richard Triglavcanin, Global Technology Manager – Thickening.


With raw and intermediate materials shipment being such an important segment of the Australian economy, the provision of accurate, cost effective and conveniently maintainable equipment systems for weighing, sampling and analysis is vital. Specialist technology, some locally manufactured and some imported, has been combined with knowledge of specific domestic applications and logistics to create businesses that may also compete internationally. Here we look at just three examples.

Access All Areas with Accuweigh

Formed in June 1992 in Port Adelaide, Accuweigh is now Australia’s largest industrial weighing company with branches in all mainland states offering complete after sales service and support on all types of weighing equipment. It is also a major player in the weigh packaging and inspection business segments. The founding Directors, Brenton Cunningham and Greg Brogan both had many years of previous experience in the scale and weighing industry. Cunningham’s experience lay in engineering sales, management, marketing and administration, whilst Brogan’s skills lay in mechanical engineering, automation, inspection equipment and hands-on trouble shooting.

Later Accuweigh acquired a small packaging machine manufacturer known as “Weighpack Services” and Ross Waller joined the company as a third Director, bringing expertise in design, development, and implementation of packaging equipment and complete automatic production lines. Following on from the success of the operations in South Australia and then Western Australia, Accuweigh moved into to all the eastern States of Australia and in 1997 acquired the well known scale identity, Avery Scales, thereby becoming a true national identity. During 2001, the Eastern States based Salter Weightronix operation was acquired and renamed Salter Australia, further strengthening the company’s product mix and staff. In 2006 Accuweigh bought the New South Wales packaging machinery manufacturer Bud-Pak.
The head office is in Willetton, Western Australia; the South Australian branch, where the company commenced operations, is in Port Adelaide; the Victoria branch is in Springvale North; and the Queensland premises is in Geebung. There are two branches in New South Wales, one at Lansvale near Sydney and the other in Beresfield, near Newcastle, where the Bud-Pak operation is located.

There are now literally thousands of existing Bud-Pak and Accuweigh installations through-out Australia, New Zealand and the Asia Pacific region and Accuweigh has the experience and expertise to design, manufacture, install, commission and provide service and support across diverse environments in all states. As well as products it manufactures, Accuweigh distributes equipment from other Australian firms and from quality suppliers around the world.

Mining and metals production is an important customer group for Accuweigh and, for example, the Port Adelaide branch recently supplied a set of CAS model NC-1 crane scales to Nyrstar’s lead smelter at Port Pirie. CAS is headquartered in East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA, with a west coast office in Fullerton, California. The crane scales will be used in the sintering process of the blast furnace. These crane scales will accurately weigh the feed bins containing the raw materials used in the sintering process, including lead concentrates, lime sand, and coke fines.

Smart Weighing with Rinstrum

Rinstrum designs and manufactures: Bench and Hanging Scales, Digital Weight Indicators, Weight Controllers and Weigh-Batchers, Process Control and Data Acquisition units, Remote Displays and Weight Transmitters. The company uses expert subcontractors globally to assist in manufacturing the highest quality product. All units undergo complete functional testing and performance validation in the production facilities. In Australia the product line is enhanced with load cells and programmable indicators from GSE Scale Systems.

Formed in 1992 as Ranger Instruments, the Brisbane-based company adopted the present name in 2003 to coincide with the establishment of the company’s German office Rinstrum Europe GmbH. The company is privately owned and operated with a significant percentage of staff owning shares.  Rinstrum has gone from strength to strength, now distributes throughout Australia, Europe, Asia Pacific and the Americas and claims to offer a service unique in the Weighing Industry. As well as the design and manufacturing team there is a thoroughly trained team of experienced professionals on hand to offer expert advice on the best way to implement customers’ weighing applications.

A rigorous research and development program is intended to ensure the products continue to offer innovative design, reliability, affordability and industry-leading performance. The main hubs in Germany and Australia are resourced to provide high levels of finished goods stock, service and repair support, technical advice and training, and customer specific product customization. To cover other areas at a similar standard Rinstrum has appointed local distributors which the firm supports with backup from the hub operations. With extensive in-house pre-compliance testing facilities the designers are able to ensure their products meet the world’s most demanding acceptance standards. And by leveraging the investment in approved product platforms the company can deliver production quantities of custom product, complete with regulatory approvals, in record time. Rinstrum believes it is this capacity in particular that sets it apart from the competition.

Approved Weighing Systems

Rinstrum’s trade approved weighing systems feature built-in RS232 connections to printer, PC or display unit; multiple print functions with built-in clock calendar; dedicated function keys for zero, tare, gross and net weights; standard functions 

Unit switching, counting, manual hold, peak hold, live weight, totalising, high resolution, auto tare, show set points; PC configuration software (Viewer) to transfer and backup indicator configuration for faster, easier setup; and a complete range of mounting options – panel, wall, post or desk.

Truck weighing is handled by indicators in both the R400 and 5000 series. The R400 series indicators feature a multi-line display and handle up to 16x350ohm loadcells. The 5230 has specific truck weighing application built in. The D640, D740 and 6500 can all be used for large remote displays outside to display the weight to drivers, a reported example being a D740 supplied – by Accuweigh – for a concrete deck weighbridge at the Angas zinc mine in South Australia.. The 0071 Summing Box takes up to 6 load cell inputs and can be daisy chained with another 0071 to handle up to 11 load cell inputs.

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Recently relaunched as a fifth generation version, the Rinstrum 5000 Series indicator features a standard DIN housing. Over 50,000 units have been sold worldwide.

Laboratory Automation by IMP

The IMP Group, based in Osborne Park, Western Australia and also in Boksburg, South Africa, Salt Lake City, USA and Brazil, is today a global leader in laboratory automation for the minerals and metals industries. The group has supplied sampling and analysis systems to an impressive array of reference sites worldwide. This status is maintained through ongoing investment in research and development, training and a quest for client service excellence, IMP says.

The Group was first established in South Africa during 1987 to provide innovative solutions meeting the specific needs of mineral industry customers. Success has resulted in the company building a wealth of experience and expertise, as well as a portfolio of patents on technology developed as part of this process. Together the Group units now have more than 140 employees globally. The majority of the staff complement is dedicated to the design, supply, installation, commissioning, operation, service and maintenance of automated laboratory facilities. This core skill-pool within the company includes a team of chemists, metallurgists, engineers, and highly skilled technicians.

IMP has a strong strategic alliance with its major OEM supplier, Herzog Maschinenfabrik, which employs more than 160 people in Germany, Japan and the USA. Herzog has supplied sample preparation equipment to the steel, cement, and mining industries for more than 40 years. Since 1994 the two firms have collaborated to deliver more than 75 automated robotic laboratory solutions, initially in southern Africa and subsequently in Australia, the USA, and Europe as well. However, IMP emphasizes, the Group works in close cooperation with all the major manufacturers of analytical equipment and system components to achieve effective supply logistics. This ensures that systems are customized to optimally meet each customer’s specific needs and preferences.

Three installations that have played a key role in establishing the group’s reputation are: the largest laboratory automation project in the world, for Anglo Platinum in South Africa, where the facility is the size of a football pitch and uses 14 robots; the largest robotic sample preparation and wet chemistry system in the world for FMI (previously Phelps Dodge), at Safford in the USA; and the largest fully automated iron ore laboratory in the world for BHP Billiton Iron Ore’s Mount Newman operation in Western Australia.

IMP has sold a number of systems to major iron ore mines in Australia and elsewhere. The facility at Mount Newman provides BHP Billiton with sample preparation and analysis (by Fusion and LOI) and features fully automated sample drying, automated sample preparation including crushing splitting and milling of 1400 samples per day, automated TGA and XRF capacity for 2400 samples per day. In South Africa IMP supplied Kumba Resources with a unique automated sample tower, sample preparation system and laboratory for the Expansion Project at the Sishen iron ore mine.

More recently devised for sites in Western Australia is the robotic sampling set-up for Fortescue’s Cloud Break iron ore mining operation. IMP has delivered a Mine Analytical Laboratory (MAL) at the Cloud Break mine site and a Sample Prpe Facility (SPF) at the company’s ship loading facility in Port Hedland. The MAL provides geochemical sample preparation and XRF analysis on 800 mining and metallurgical process samples per day while the SPF carries out sample reduction, preparation and analysis from the Primary Cut.

Delivered in four containers and also installed in a purpose designed building during July 2008, the MAL equipment was commissioned and validated and the Laboratory Information Management System was integrated into the overall mine management process within weeks so Fortescue could use the system for production sampling. IMP says that having the automated laboratory at the mine site provides the company with the advantage of very quick turn round times on chemical analysis; in turn the analyses allow Fortescue to make timely informed judgments on ore grade production planning to optimize iron ore product quality. The Herzog sample preparation equipment is teamed with the latest XRF spectrometry system from PANalytical. Fortescue has chosen the large UK-based inspection and testing company Intertek to manage the facility independently. Intertek has more than 1,000 lab facilities worldwide, over 40 of them within its Minerals Division, and acquired the five Genalysis laboratory operations in Australia during 2007. It has subsequently opened a new Intertek Genalysis facility at Townsville in Queensland.


MinVu: Transforming Data Into Information

Just as there are process control technologies that “sit on top” of distributed control systems to implement control strategies for a process plant, so high level software can be used to analyze the data provided by monitoring systems mounted on individual mining equipment units for fleet management etc. There are several suppliers worldwide, one of which is Brisbane-based MinVu.

Established in 2000, MinVu provides mining companies with accurate performance information and production reports derived from the data gathered on site. The company, which is a Microsoft Certified Partner, utilizes in-house tools to rapidly analyze, transform and integrate raw mine operational data to create a single reporting system for all this data. Minvu says it delivers consistent, uniform information that can directly support the mine’s operational decision making and business improvement process.

There are presently 14 sites using MinVu, most of them in the Bowen Basin, Queensland and Hunter Valley, New South Wales coal fields. These include five Rio Tinto Coal Australia operations (including the Clermont project), three Anglo Coal Australia sites and Xstrata Coal’s Bulga mine. Overseas clients include PT Kaltim Prima Coal in Indonesia, Ok Tedi Mining Ltd in Papua New Guinea and the BHP Billiton Ekati diamond mine in Canada, which is supported from an office in Vancouver. MinVu has also provided Ekati with a web data entry system for adding standardized legacy information into a single data warehouse.

The MinVu system can utilize data from all the major fleet management and data acquisition systems – such as Modular, Pitram, Wenco — and likewise can integrate the processed information with the main enterprise and corporate planning systems, such as SAP. Data from blasthole drills, loading shovels, draglines, truck fleet, fixed plant etc is extracted, translated and loaded to the MinVu Datamart database. Automated and ad hoc search engines extract equipment measures, equipment activity information, materials moved data and operator activity logs. These information streams are available via three types of interface — System Interfaces, Reporter, and Intrashift – supplying a single version of the truth, MinVu business development specialist Craig Ford told E&MJ. This trusted information can be accessed for Corporate Resource Planning, through the MinVu Explorer desktop entry point and on the MinVu Intrashift Viewer.

MinVu says the system adds value by using a simple but flexible set of rules for validating raw data, standardizing the valid data and comparing it with Key Performance Indicators and business plans. The analysis and publication facilities are powerful tools for business improvement, making performance data available to management and operators in real-time and post shift. The data standardization enables valid comparisons of performance from mine excavation to the completion of processing, Ford said.

The two main services the company offers are the Intrashift near real-time performance information service, with 10 – 15 minute updates, and post shift analysis for business improvement. Ford commented that maintenance departments make good use of the MinVu Shift Fleet Availability report. Typically a client site has one or two servers in place. Reporting options include web viewer, e-mail, SMS messages, plasma screen displays and printers. MinVu can provide multiple daily system health checks and proactive support as well as quarterly product updates with innovations developed in-house and in collaboration with clients. Usually, MinVu staffers spend two days at each site, twice per month.

Ford explained that MinVu collaborates rather than competes with its fellow Brisbane companies Leica Geosystems and Mincom. However, the firm is not short of international competitors, such as Gemcom, based in Canada, and Micromine, which is also based in Australia. MinVu exhibited at last year’s MINExpo with a view to growing business in the Americas.

Micromine: Transforming Tax Dollars Into MasterMine

In mid-2008 Micromine announced it had been awarded a grant of over US$4.5million by the Australian government. The grant is being used to develop MasterMine, a new mining software platform that, Micromine hopes, will transform the industry. “At an estimated total cost of over US$10.5million, MasterMine will be the largest ever mining software development project to be carried out,” said. Micromine’s managing director Graeme Tuder. The grant is also helping the company to closely integrate and consolidate its principal applications.

Micromine said the MasterMine project, spanning three years, will integrate Micromine’s key applications; the MICROMINE mine design and modelling tool, the GBIS data management system, the PITRAM mine production control system and the DOME mine production management system (which was also conceived with the help of a grant back in 2005). MasterMine will focus on evolving these existing solutions in three distinct streams — resource data management, resource modelling and underground mine production control. Solution prototypes were expected to be deployed towards second half 2009.

Meanwhile, Micromine was awarded a Certificate of Merit for PITRAM at Australia’s iAwards in April this year. 


Jigsaw360 Keeps the Ants on Track

Leica Geosystems’ nerve center is based in Heerbrugg, Switzerland, which is where much of the company’s wide range of geospatial products is developed. However, the headquarters for the mining technology team (or Technical Center) has been primarily based in Brisbane, Australia, since 2003 when Leica Geosystems acquired Australian company Tritronics. Tritronics had been established in the Queensland capital since 1975 and with strong ties from this location already in place this locale was ideal.

The team in Brisbane steadily developed the surface mining products, and the results included monitoring and navigation systems for dozers, blasthole drills, draglines, electric rope shovels and hydraulic excavators. Other companies within the mining sector that have been acquired by Leica Geosystems (and their parent company Hexagon AB) operate out of Canada, India, and South Africa.

In the United States the Leica Geosystems mining team linked up with Tucson, Arizona based Jigsaw Technologies in the mid-2000s, initially establishing reciprocal marketing arrangements and then acquiring the company in 2007. Jigsaw Technologies had been set up by people with in-depth experience of the design, development and deployment of GPS-based real-time fleet management applications.

Today Leica Geosystems Mining Systems employs approximately 100 around the globe— including some supporting the company’s marketing alliance with Locata, the Canberra-based supplier of GPS local signal management technology—and has sales, support and supply bases in Australia, the United States, Latin America, China, South Africa, South East Asia and New Zealand.

Jigsaw360 Mine Management Solution

The key advancement introduced by the Leica Geosystems Mining Systems team since the incorporation of Jigsaw Technologies is Jigsaw360. This product suite, Leica Geosystems says, harnesses the most highly advanced technologies and can automatically provide optimized truck and shovel assignments, monitor and report key performance indicators (KPIs), increase productivity and minimize operating costs.

In summary, Leica Geosystems Account Manager Anthony Fraser and Brendon Lilly, Senior Systems Engineer, explained to E&MJ, the key technical features of a Jigsaw360 installation are these:

  • A Jigsaw360 module with high quality color touch screen display can be fitted to each machine in a mining operation. Each unit can fully function, gather data and accept operator’s input without an active link with the central server.
  • These units can communicate gathered data from the on-board systems to the central ‘office’ system. They can also receive the updated operations information using Leica Geosystems’ patented database replication process and any industry standard IP-based wireless network technology.
  • Every machine with a Jigsaw360 module can provide real-time accurate information concerning, for example, what it is doing, who’s operating it and where on site it is located. Each operator can view full color ‘live’ mine maps showing the current location of all the Jigsaw360-equipped machines on site as well as material locations, crushers, roads, ramps, fuelling stations and stockpiles. This vehicle-to-vehicle awareness facilitates efficient machine routing.
  • At the same time, each machine system can operate independently, in terms of data gathering and interacting with mine site operations, even if the wireless link to the office is lost. Should the link go down, data is stored on-board the machine until the machine reaches communication again.
  • GPS technology unites with advanced mathematical process optimization algorithms for more efficient site operation.
  • The Jigsaw360 mine management software packages are compatible with legacy mine management applications and allow for incremental site upgrades without data loss, costly downtime, or large ‘one-off’ capital investments.

The Jigsaw360 product suite includes low-precision positioning for fleet management, and high-precision positioning for fleet navigation—where Leica Geosystems can calculate tool position to the centimter. Running on the Linux operating system, the on-board computers can either be reprogrammed using a USB memory stick (via a simple[MB1] reboot), and can be configured remotely over Wi-Fi, making the system easy to support.

Operating on an X86 processor, the computer displays data via an on-machine ruggedized graphical user interface (GUI). Information displayable includes: real-time shift production and tonnages; operating hours, shift schedules, haul cycle times, blending values and history; and Key Performance Indicators such as actual production vs target production, actual vs target availability, productivity by material type. Jigsaw360 also automatically records and measures queue, spotting and idle times; determines where site improvements can be made; and sets new KPI targets that will be displayed on the operators’ screens.

Jigsaw360 fleet management

Designed for fleet management, the Pro JS products have been designed for use by operators, maintenance personnel, engineers, managers and supervisors to help them meet production targets and implement site improvements. In addition:

DrillPro JS monitors drill penetration rate, drilling time for the hole etc; tracks consumables use for optimizing drill tools lifetime, and enables the driller to update pattern progress.

LoadPro JS analyzes loading tonnage, exchanges data with the trucks being loaded, provides a mine traffic screen that displays the ETA of haul trucks on the move, and screens a polygon display of material mining blocks.

HaulPro JS monitors the entire haul cycle, can indicate a ‘best path’ travel route for a given truck assignment, and allows drivers to log spillages and other hazards for display on the other vehicles’ screens.

DozerPro JS, for tracked and wheeled dozers, highlights hazards and operational boundaries as well as providing full task/activity management and monitoring facilities.

AuxPro JS provides similar information, including KPI and production data for other ancillary equipment such as water spray trucks.

Jigsaw360 high-precision fleet navigation

The Jigsaw360 Mine Management Solution product suite offers a number of high-precision products for use site-wide. The aforementioned fleet management products fully integrate with this product offering and provide sites with an increased level of flexibility when choosing the mine management solution best for their needs.

Leica DigNav JS provides precise to-the-teeth ore navigation, with automatic material identification (ore block recognition). Features include ore dilution control, bench elevation and slope control so as to reduce rework and optimize operator effectiveness. The system can also interpret and display, to the operator, complex CAD[MB2] designs and topographic maps, as well as dynamically reconcile all mine face advances, taking into account planned and actual mined production.

Similarly, Leica DozerNav JS delivers GPS navigation, optimization and production monitoring for track and wheel dozers. It provides operators with easy-to-visualize Digital Terrain Models derived from CAD designs and topographic maps, and outputs instantaneous feedback about progress and problems that can be used to modify the model “on the fly”. Leica Geosystems says the package eliminates the need for grade staking and survey crews, as well as reducing rehandle and machine hours. It can be used for any normal dozer application requiring the preparation of an accurately dimensioned and positioned working surface.

Leica DrilNav Plus delivers accurate drill navigation and allows operators to drill to a specific elevation for reduced ore loss. Key features include real-time feedback and moving maps (via a graphical display), as well as the ability to upload patterns from the office on-board the drill, or for the operators to layout patterns on the go. For sites, the need for staking is eliminated and the drill’s on-board database means that data is turned into useful information so that informed decisions can be made.

Leica DragNav Plus allows digital terrain models to be sent to the dragline operator so that they can benefit from real-time guidance for bucket position and ore body location. This includes where to dig and dump. Also tied within Leica Geosystems’ dragline product suite are the Series 3 Dragline Monitor (performance monitoring) and Leica SIMS (structural integrity monitoring system) which help operators to dig more and improve cycle times whilst preventing overload of the dragline’s boom.

Leica MineOps

At the heart of a Jigsaw360 site’s control operation is Leica MineOps. An innovative software package, Leica MineOps leverages the most up-to-date technologies to enable fast communications between field units and a site’s central server. Sophisticated patented replication technology, between the onboard databases and the central server, sees Leica MineOps works in real time to optimize dispatch, and ensures that all mining machine information is up-to-date both onboard the mining machines and in the office (live mine maps, machine-to-machine awareness, proximity awareness etcetera). This makes the management of mining machines far simpler than ever before and provides the site’s management team with continuous relevant information for maximum operator and equipment performance[MB3] [MB4] .

Leica MineOps also allows controllers to optimally control mining activities via an intuitive user interface, which is directly linked to every machine, to provide them with a visual information window of all operations at the mine as they happen, whilst also allowing them to use the real time data to plan for success in the shift.

Post-shift, all of the information supplied by the on-board Jigsaw360 modules can be analyzed within the Leica MineOps office software package; where data is turned into full-featured reporting on, for example, operator feedback and performance, production information, mine planning data.


Jigsaw360 at Drayton Mine

 One Australian operation where, Leica Geosystems reports, the Mining Systems team has already worked with site staff to increase productivity is Drayton Mine, located 13 kilometers south of the town of Muswellbrook in the Upper Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia. The mine commenced operation in 1983 and employs approximately 300 people. Reserves total 61 Mt proven/probable coals. Drayton Mine utilizes one dragline, a number of excavators and a significant truck fleet to mine approximately 5.5 Mt/year ROM coal, yielding 5.4 Mt saleable coal (2006 figures).

A significant characteristic of Jigsaw360 is that it can be implemented incrementally without disrupting production to an unacceptable extent. Drayton’s owner Anglo Coal Australia (ACA), a division of Anglo American Plc, recently took advantage of this feature to replace the outdated management system at the mine with a Jigsaw360 Mine Management Solution. ACA, which has operations running the length of the Australian East Coast coal fields, also announced Leica Geosystems as the company’s preferred supplier for fleet systems. 

By implementing the Jigsaw360 Mine Management Solution, the mine intends to benefit both on site and in the office from the use of a high speed wireless LAN. The architecture allows a rapid of flow of communication between mining machines and the office in real-time, giving Drayton the ability to access and analyze information and KPIs such as (but not limited to): precise vehicle tracking; arrival time prediction; queue and hang times (i.e. machine effectiveness); vehicle and operator safety; fleet assignments and truck allocation, and productivity measures. Excavators, haul trucks, a dragline, dozers, graders, water trucks (all acutely aware of each other’s real-time location) are dynamically working to meet their production goals, guided by Leica Geosystems’ technology.

It is this architecture, Leica Geosystems believes, that gives the Jigsaw360 Mine Management Solution the leading-edge over other available solutions. According to Kevin Greenwood (Vice President, Leica Geosystems Mining Systems):, “Our patented system architecture provides fast communications throughout an entire site and is redundant, so that the effect of failures, or areas of poor coverage, are minimised and catered for. This design enables reliable communications across the site without the loss of data. For sites this means that they are able to plan effective site strategies for a maximum bottom line return.”

Leica Active Customer Care

Rounding off the Jigsaw360 Mine Management Solution is Leica Geosystems’ new customer care programme, Leica Active Customer Care. Launched in July 2009, Leica ACC backs-up Leica Geosystems Jigsaw360 product suite and sees them stand by their maxim of “your mining operation—our priority.” With three levels of care to choose from (Platinum, Gold and Silver) Leica ACC gives customers robust product support tools so that site personnel can easily lodge, track, and manage support incidents. The benefit of this, Leica Geosystems say, is that this will enhance their customers’ workflow, in turn leading to optimum site operation with minimum downtime.

AE Simulator Use Drives Best Practices Forward

Perth-based Immersive Technologies is a leading supplier of operator training simulators used for open-pit mining. The company now has more than 450 advanced mining equipment simulator modules in 25 countries. Its Advanced Equipment (AE) Simulators are considered vital to many of the world’s leading mining companies.

The company recently held its largest and most successful simulator User Group Forum to date in Utah. Themed “Operator Optimization,” the three-day event provided Immersive’s customers, which includes mining companies and equipment OEMs alike, the opportunity to discuss best practices in simulator implementation and utilization, explore new product and service offerings, while networking within the world’s largest mining simulator user base.

“Results reported during customer presentations, together with discussions during the workshops continue to demonstrate the significant impact simulation training is having on the safety and profitability of mining companies around the world as they turn their attention to achieving more from their current resources,” said Peter Salfinger, CEO Immersive Technologies. “It was inspiring to hear customers sharing examples of how closely their simulator data is mirroring their in-pit data and the tangible results being achieved. However it is even more exciting to see the Immersive simulator community supporting each other and taking an active role in the continual development of the training technology.”

During the forum, presentations were coupled with hands on new product demonstrations, interactive discussion workshops and a variety of fun networking events. “With nearly 600 equipment trainers globally now certified in Immersive Technologies’ TrainerAdvantage program, the User Group Forums are the perfect environment for these training professionals to meet, discuss industry trends, and actively participate in the future direction of simulation within the mining industry,” Salfinger said. The Operator Optimization theme will continue to be the focus at Immersive Technologies’ sister event, which will be held in October 2009 in Perth.