Mining, still miles to go. Considering the use of technology backed by softwares and support from OEM suppliers can bring in change in the way mines are operated.
The total cement grade limestone reserve available to meet the industry require¡ments is 89,862 million tonnes, as per the estimate of the Indian Bureau of Mines (IBM). Based on the expected growth and consumption pattern, the current available limestone reserves are going to last only for another 35 - 40 years. Therefore, the activity of mining becomes very important in order to have judicious use of deposit at our disposal.
The other required activity at mining is transportation of material where it will undergo size reduction. These operations are mechanised using a fleet of Dump Trucks and Excavators. Excessive Dump Truck queuing at loading and dumping areas results in lower productivity and higher fuel consumption. Conversely, every minute an excavator is not loading dump trucks is wasted time and money. The fleet management within mine area becomes more demanding. In the earlier days, generally these tasks are manually done and can be done best to one´s ability.
Therefore the productivity from mine to mine under similar circumstances will differ. When we talk of new trends, the same job can be better handled through technology support. CMC (Tata Group Co.) has configured and deployed its Dynamine - GPS based Truck Dispatch System for all loading vehicles involved in mining to one of the cement plants in Rajasthan. Similarly use of different kind of sensors fitted on the vehicles ensure adequate loading level in day-to-day working so that the capacities are fully utilised. In our opinion fleet management as described above is going to become common through the use of software.
The advancement in communications has helped the mining operations in many ways. Before the mobile phones became common, it was extremely difficult to communicate with the personnel at mines because generally mines are at some distance from plant, some time even 15 to 20 Kms away. Considering the present situations the communications have surged and its a great relief for those working in the fields like that of mines.
Many of the earth moving equipment supplied are today using GPS enabled devices which are part of the machine. The OEM suppliers through GPS are monitoring the health of the machines. In fact todays very expensive earth moving machines need timely maintenance and it is preferred from the original supplier. Since the operating conditions, environment and material handled are different, the service approach need not have to be similar for all the mines as stated by M. Naganand of L & T. Today more and more equipment suppliers are making use of technology to offer better product and better service.
As said by Naganand in his article, lubrication has a large role to play in mining. Even consumption wise, mining department is one of the largest consumer of lube oils in an integrated cement plant. Generally OEM suppler provides a time schedule for replacing the various oils in the machine which are to be rigorously followed.
However the new trend is not to have time based or running hour based maintenance schedule but there is more realistic approach, that is condition based maintenance. Which means actually assess the exact condition of the machine or of the oil and then decide on replacement. For the end user this will save cost as well as money and time. Every maintenance is not only cost to the user but also loss of productive hours is equally bothersome. The majority of OEMs are already advocating and asking users to resort to condition based maintenance. Regarding the assessment of the condition of oil, Naganand has given more inputs, please go through.
Without explosives, no mining operation can be carried out. However apart from using ammonium nitrate as an explosive, we have not progressed further. Though new generation of explosives are under development which are more environment friendly, Lead free being tried but are still away.
For conservation of lime stone, we must pull our socks and do whatever possible. Mine planning is another tool we have at our hands. It is nothing but a software backed process by which you optimise the consumption of high grade limestone so that it can last the longest. A company by the name Dassault Systems supplies a software ´SURPAC´ which is very well known and most of the cement plants use it for the mine planning. The software helps to prepare a detailed planning for exploiting the deposit of right grade with different combinations logistically.
In the days to come,the plants will have more mining activity to undertake, particularly for those players who will get the allocation of coal blocks. Apart from the lime stone they will be getting their coal from allotted coal mines. But there is a big difference in the coal mine and limestone mines. Coal mines are generally operated through contractors. It is very rear that company will engage it´s own man power for getting the coal from mines. The specific model of operations through contract has been a well established in our country but that has not been the case for lime stone mines.
Outside our country even the lime stone mines of cement companies are operated through contractors. It makes sense that the cement companies focus on their core activities and i.e. making of cement and not on getting lime stone from mines. It will certainly help to improve the productivity of a given plant. Today it sounds rather difficult, but in the years to come we shall see even in cement plants; the mines will be operated through contractors. The only issue is it should be remunerative enough for the contractors and also there should not be compromise on safety and environment.
Finally the modified Mines and Mineral Act (MMRD2015) came into force from the beginning of this year. The said Act has brought in more transparency in the allocation of the mineral reserves. The reserves now allotted have to be utilised in a time bound manner so that it will help only serious end users. Now the cost of acquisition of the mineral reserve for the cement companies is expected to rise moderately. Since the cost of handling limestone in cement plants is quite high, the location of actual deposit will decide the cost of acquisition.
In short, these are going to be the new trends in the mining sector of cement companies.