Mining Technology: Hilti has a massive global presence, with offices in over one hundred countries, including South Africa where the recent energy crisis has led to mines being shut down. This has triggered a search for more efficient and enhanced productivity in mining operations. Which areas of operation has this impacted this most?
Didier Vilain: [Right] now in South Africa, electricity prices have been increasing by up to 60%. So mines are looking at their overall energy balance and next to cooling and hoisting, compressed air generation for underground equipment is a key area [necessary] to reduce energy consumption.
MT: Which technologies will be employed to reduce this consumption?
DV: Up to 90% of the energy is lost, mainly due to low compressor efficiency and leaks and drop in pressure along the air pipes in the mines. As [a result], compressed air is an inefficient energy medium, so mines are considering using electrical drills for underground operations. [Using this process] energy losses along the electrical cables [can drop] as low as a few percent.
MT: Do you think increasing safety features on new equipment and technology is more important today than it has been before?
DV: It is difficult to say that safety is more important, as it has always been a concern of the industry. What has changed is the actual level of safety, which continues to benefit from ongoing advances in technology and innovation.
MT: How is the mining industry at large adapting to new technological solutions?
DV: Changes in the mining industry are evolutionary rather than revolutionary. That is to say that the development of existing technologies and the testing of new ones happen over a long period of time. So the implementation of change is typically accomplished by a clear and properly structured change management process, with agreed upon tasks, clear deliverables and milestones, taking into account all the identified stakeholders. The ideas themselves – revolutionary technologies – are always a goal in any industry.
MT: How easy do you think it will be for new ideas – either from technology transfer or partnering – to be implemented in future mining operations?
DV: Many aspects have to be taken into account [before products are used]. For example, [before the] Hilti OneStep rock anchor is implemented, [factors to be considered are] mine ground conditions, type of mining operations, interface with the existing mining equipment, rock anchor products meeting the existing safety standards and materials standards that are in place for ground control products, along with training of the employees on the simplified installation process.
MT: Are there any products or mining solutions you feel will be important for the future, particularly to improve safety and performance?
DV: Hilti is aligned with mining industry goals to improve productivity and safety, by tooling tedious, physically demanding tasks that occur daily in mining. [This is done] by moving the underground personnel further away from hazardous areas, along with working on longer-term initiatives, for instance, future automation of production processes such as underground mine roof bolting.
The roof bolt installation process uses rock anchors for ground support in underground mining, supporting the typical mining cycle in most underground mining operations. Roof bolting is a multi-step process.
Currently in the underground coal industry in the US, the roof bolter operators are located nearby the working face, which is a higher risk area. [It works by] performing the same multi-step process, approximately 100 to 200 times per shift.
MT: The MINExpo sessions are set to tackle some of the most pressing issues affecting the global mining industry today. You will be heading the discussion on technology transfer and partnering for productivity. Why is this area so important right now?
DV: The mining industry is a key driver of implementing new technologies. [For example] the first industrial application of AC power was for a mining application. In regards to technology transfer and partnering, the mining industry is continuously [trying to] improve productivity, safety and efficiency. [The industry] is a valued partner for Hilti.
Hilti brings new 'tools' in the toolbox of the technologies that increase productivity and safety in the mines. At Minexpo, we will share a few real examples.
In its history, Hilti has demonstrated its ability to leverage new technologies and transfer them to the construction industry. We are now using the same recipe, based on partnerships and in-depth understanding of customer needs, to transfer innovative technologies to the mining industry.
Automation of this process would decrease human error delays and potentially allow for the current roof bolter operators to be relocated to a safer position further away from the working face. A more automated process also can help increase efficiency, reducing the time spent performing the operation. Reducing the overall duration, frequency and level of exposure to potentially hazardous areas near the working face has historically led to improved safety.
MT: Hilti has successfully partnered with belt manufacturer Flexco to develop a new belt splicing system. Can you explain how this technology has increased productivity and safety?
DV: The Flexco-Hilti system is a less physically demanding system that allows for the application to be tool driven [as opposed to using manpower]. The tool driven approach allows for more consistent and repeatable results when setting the Flexco belt rivets. This produces a more consistent, longer-lasting mechanical belt splice, which improves overall belt conveyance availability, along with eliminating the opportunity for a hammer to strike an employee [a possible result of using systems].
MT: Are there any other parts of the industry you are hoping to share technological expertise and/or partner with?
DV: Hilti is currently leveraging its know-how to broaden the application range of the TEM drill for underground mining operations and penetrate new markets in close cooperation with our customers.
Moreover, Hilti is working on partnerships with specialised equipment companies and innovative players in the industry.