Seizing the Opportunity: Mining Equipment Manufacturers Leverage Technological Innovations in the Current Upcycle

The mining industry is experiencing a period of growth and rising commodity prices, creating a favorable environment for equipment manufacturers to explore new technologies and improve efficiency in production processes. With increased cash availability in the market and more flexible budgets from final users, mining companies are eager to test the latest gadgets and innovations. Global original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are strategically focused on long-term innovation, with a particular emphasis on electrification, automation, interoperability, and new technologies for rock excavation.

Epiroc, the company taking over Atlas Copco’s mining business, has identified four areas of innovation interest: electrification and battery-powered equipment, automation for remote operations, interoperability for efficient decision-making using big data, and new rock excavation technologies to potentially replace traditional drill-and-blast methods. The introduction of battery-powered equipment offers advantages such as reduced operational delays and improved health, safety, and environmental compliance, especially as underground operations become deeper and regulations become more stringent.

Caterpillar, a prominent player in the mining industry, has been investing in continuous mining prototypes for hard rock in Chile, with the aim of replacing drill-and-blast methods. The company is also incorporating advanced technologies such as sensors, payload systems, and rear-view cameras into its underground load-haul-dump machines (LHDs) to enhance productivity and safety. However, Caterpillar aims to launch battery-powered equipment commercially only when it matches the performance of diesel engines.

Komatsu Mining Corp., formed through the merger of Komatsu and Joy Global, is well-positioned to drive technological advancements across various mining machines. From Komatsu trucks and construction equipment to P&H shovels, Joy underground equipment, and Montabert drills, the company aims to introduce Switched Reluctance (SR) technology in its products. SR technology allows the recapture of energy during braking or lowering of the bucket, enhancing fuel efficiency and reducing maintenance. The company plans to expand the application of SR technology to other Komatsu products in the future.

The development of several mining projects in the coming years presents significant opportunities for equipment manufacturers. Komatsu has been involved in projects such as the Toquepala expansion and has sold shovels to Cerro Verde. Volvo Peru offers FMX trucks for earthmoving activities and acquired the mining truck business of Terex in 2014, providing a complete range of construction equipment. The company expects positive growth with new projects like Quellaveco.

Dump trucks for construction are experiencing a resurgence in demand after a period of decline. Mercedes-Benz distributor Divemotor highlights the reversal of the negative trend, with expectations of selling around 1,000 dump trucks in 2018. The company has launched new models, including the Actros for transportation activities and the Arocs for earthmoving and off-road requirements. The Arocs features innovative technology, such as the Turbo Retarder Clutch, which improves braking capability, reduces cycle times, and enhances productivity.

The underground mining sector is experiencing growth due to improved base metal prices, leading operators to increase investments and renew their fleets. Normet, a Finnish company specializing in underground equipment, has observed a surge in fleet renewals as companies reactivate their investment programs. Mechanization has become necessary in specific processes due to safety regulations, and Normet’s equipment portfolio addresses these needs. However, the company acknowledges limitations in mechanizing narrow-vein operations and predicts changes will occur in the future, such as the mechanization of explosives charging.

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