Boost Productivity Through Mining Technology Integration
Mining companies are always on the lookout for ways to improve safety, lower costs, improve profitability and boost efficiency. They adopt preventive maintenance procedures to increase equipment availability and extend machine life. And they seek mining technologies to increase production, improve ore recovery and keep workers safe.
The application of new mining technologies continues to have a positive impact on mining operations around the world. Monitoring, diagnostics and prognostics technologies track information on a number of machine functions. Machine guidance systems deliver real-time production information to both machine operators and personnel in the mine office.
A number of mines around the world are using another innovation—Cat® MineStar™— to integrate these existing technologies and add additional capabilities that improve their overall operations. MineStar is a comprehensive system that links machine data gathered in the field, and existing ore control and material identification information, to the office business enterprise systems.
Integrated information systems allow mines to make improvements across the entire site—in operations, maintenance, safety and mine management.
“It can make the whole operation more productive,” says Ken Edwards, a Caterpillar marketing division manager. “On average, mining companies are reporting efficiency improvements of 10 to 20 percent.”
MineStar on site
One company that has embraced the technology is world-leading gold producer Newmont, which worked side-by-side with Caterpillar and dealer Cashman Equipment Co. to implement a customized MineStar application for its North American operations in Nevada, USA.
“Newmont wanted a monitoring and control system to optimally assign trucks, control complex materials, manage daily operations and impact efficiency and productivity,” says Michael Murphy, commercial manager of Caterpillar Mining Technology. “And that’s what MineStar’s Fleet Commander component does.”
In order to meet Newmont’s needs, the two companies worked together to create an industry-leading solution. The system covers multiple sites with a full range of technology for blasthole drills, track-type dozers, loading tools and the haulage fleet. Caterpillar even developed software to manage the mine’s overhead loading facility. “We’re continuing to work closely with Newmont to take the system to the next level,” says Murphy. “The site has experienced production improvements with us working together as a team.”
Newmont faces a host of mining challenges in its complex Nevada operations. Newmont owns or controls about 7,915 square kilometers (3,056 square miles) of land stretching across the state. The company operates a large number of machines in a variety of sizes, sometimes trucking ore 161 kilometers (100 miles). In addition, Newmont has some of the most complex ore bodies in the world. A typical mine site has less than a dozen types of ore; Newmont’s Nevada operations have up to 100.
With so many different variables in play, driving toward a culture of similar metrics helps Newmont achieve the most efficient production possible. MineStar is one tool making it possible for Newmont to achieve that similarity by providing consistency at the same time.
Getting a better view
The amount of information MineStar provides, plus the fact that the software is managing activities on the site, has significantly changed the role of Newmont’s Daniel Reilly, a lead dispatcher. He has an overall view of every machine working on the site.
“Looking at the computer screens, I can tell if the trucks are loaded or empty, what they are loaded with, what kind of material they’re hauling and where they’re going. I know the fuel quantity on machines, I know how many loads they’ve hauled today, if there have been delays, if a machine has broken down or if the operator is taking a break.
“For the loaders I know the name of the machine, who is operating it, where they’re digging, the material types, and any delays. And for the auxiliary machines—dozers, graders, tractors, all the support equipment—I know who’s operating them and where they’re working all the time.”
The mining technology also has had a significant impact in helping Newmont meet daily production targets. “MineStar helps me balance which loading units I need to dig the most material to meet our production goals,” says Reilly. “We decide what the priorities are, decide on a tonnage goal and material goal. MineStar determines where trucks should be going and how much material they should be loading throughout the day. At the end of the day, MineStar gives me a breakdown of what’s been hauled, where it’s been hauled, and how much has been hauled.”
Improving productivity through efficiency
The MineStar system has played a big role in making Newmont’s Nevada operations more efficient, according to Steve Micheli, Newmont’s MineStar foreman. “Prior to MineStar, we had inefficiencies,” says Micheli. “More was done manually by a controller. Now the computer does the calculations and we can just turn the trucks loose. The system is working two loads ahead of where the truck needs to be.”
“In a 12-hour shift, we may get between 13 to 15 extra loads per shift by running free assignment,” he continues. “And it takes six to seven passes to load one of our Cat® 793D trucks. MineStar puts efficiency in the pit, and assigns the trucks to travel the absolute minimum to get the maximum tonnage hauled. We get the most tons we can into a 12-hour shift.”
Micheli says MineStar has increased production by freely assigning trucks and not leaving it up to the human element. “The computer provides accuracy and consistency that humans can’t. And you have to maximize production to be on the winning end of mining.”
Newmont has discovered an additional benefit: When operations are more efficient, costs are reduced. The site can use fewer trucks, less fuel and fewer tires.
“We’ve saved countless gallons of fuel,” says Micheli. “Our trucks are more apt to be traveling loaded rather than empty. And we’re not moving material twice.”
MineStar also enables productivity improvements by making operations information available in an easy-to-use format. “At the end of each shift, the system runs a report and it’s amazing what you can learn,” says Edwards. “Everything that truck is doing—when it stops, when it loads, the fuel usage, when the operator breaks for lunch. Everything is recovered and the operations people can look at the whole shift to compare productivity.”
Newmont benefits from close to 100 reports, Murphy explains, all customized for its operations.
“They use the information to change procedures and look at Continuous Improvement projects,” he says. “The system measures everything and it is delivered in user-friendly reports using familiar software like Oracle and Business Objects.” The controllers in the office receive real-time Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), which are also available on board the machine for the operator.
Improving ore classification and recovery
One of the most positive outcomes from the MineStar implementation at Newmont has been the ability to track the many types of ore on site. Using high-precision Computer Aided Earthmoving System (CAES) on loading tools, Newmont’s operators can identify the types of ore and create mine models and maps. MineStar uses that information to schedule trucks and loaders to meet the daily goals.
“CAES identifies the type of material and maps the type of the ore at the face. This allows the shovel operator to extract low, medium or high depending on the site’s requirements,” says Murphy. “Then MineStar Fleet Commander tracks, monitors and maximizes the efficiency of how that ore is transported to processing facilities.”
Micheli is responsible for making sure the mine modeling is up-to-date with the pits in the field. “MineStar tracks grade blocks and different types of material so we keep all material where it needs to be,” says Micheli. “It determines what material the loader is digging and makes assignments based on the material type loaded and destinations that accept it.”
Taking care of machines
Another key benefit of the MineStar system is MineStar Health, which collects raw data off the machine, transmits it to a server, and allows it to be analyzed using VIMS™ software.
“Machine Health is increasingly important to the mine operator,” says Edwards. “It allows the sites to see—and our dealers to track—machine health. Machines are going to go down for maintenance issues. And when you’re monitoring them, you’re able to make repairs before a major component failure. It will be much less expensive. Mines can save hundreds of thousands of dollars with preventive maintenance.”
Reilly calls MineStar another tool to help keep the Newmont fleet healthy. “In dispatch, we coordinate with the shop for equipment problems and make sure equipment goes in for regularly scheduled maintenance,” he says. “The maintenance shop works with us on trying to keep things running.”
Included in MineStar are a number of features that help improve safety to operators and others on site. For example, the system can be set up to require an operator to punch in a code that will allow him to operate a particular piece of equipment only if he is certified to do so. Once he has been approved for a machine, the operator follows an electronic checklist that must be completed before he can begin work.
An onboard display contains a number of safety features. It can be programmed to transmit regular safety messages, notify operators of machine problems, and inform them about existing or new hazards on site. It also has a moving map on the GPS screen that shows the operator the haul road, dump and loading tool directions.
Counting on Caterpillar
Newmont operates a fleet of all Cat trucks and support equipment, along with the Cat 994 loader as the wheel loader component of its loading fleet. Because of that consistency, the implementation of MineStar allows better integration into the machine data.
“We revamped our Cat fleet in the past two years,” says Jack Henris, surface mine manager. “We went with Cat because of the reliability of the machines, and outstanding support from our dealer, Cashman.”
Edwards explains that the dealer supports not only the machine and MineStar components, but the onboard GPS and radio system as well. “Having a one-source provider is very important,” he says. “It allows the company to minimize the number of suppliers on site.”
Calculating the benefits
MineStar can be a good solution for mines of all sizes in every environment. “Some mines think they are too small for this and the expense doesn’t justify it,” says Edwards. “But as the mine grows, getting up to 20 trucks, they quickly realize what a difference a productivity improvement of 10-plus percent makes. You have to have more control when you have more trucks and drills.”
“The system can pay for itself quickly with the price of commodities the way they are today,” he says. “During this mining boom, it’s all about getting the ore out of the ground, turning it into a product and shipping it. Production is king. You want to sell every ounce you can while the price is high.”
But Edwards says MineStar may prove even more valuable when the boom ends. “During the next downturn, it will be all about efficiencies—saving every penny and mining efficiently. This software really provides a benefit because the mine can operate much more efficiently and lower cost per ton.”
Newmont believes that using tools like MineStar to create more efficient operations helps the mine have less of an impact on the environment, and leads to a more sustainable operation.
“In this day and age, mining is necessary to get us the commodities and raw materials we need to keep the world running,” says Randy Walund, mine superintendent. “But the reality is, mining does have an impact on our communities and on the earth. When you are able to use less fossil fuel and less equipment, you are able to lessen that impact.”
“Because we’re able to track materials, the ore that bears the gold goes to the right place and the waste goes to the right place,” he continues. “So we only burn energy in our milling and processing plants that needs to be used. We know we’re putting the right material through processing. We’re not putting waste through. If you send waste to a processing plant, you’re burning energy and using resources that are not required.”
These efficiencies make it easier for Newmont to operate in a high-cost market. “Any time we can improve efficiency, we will sustain our company,” Walund says. “Even though gold prices are high, the cost of everything else is high, too. When we can keep our costs down, it is easier to do business. By doing all these things, we can continue to mine in the future.”