Deployment preferences show the biggest opportunities for mining technology providers.
With 1,878 operative major mines in 2016 -equitably spread over metallic minerals, non-metallic minerals and coal - and vast mining resources, the prospects are bright for India's rich mining equipment supply chain.
'In heavy earthmoving machineries, India uses the latest mining equipment including surface miners used globally, though all are imported, such as CAT, Volvo, etc,' says Rajnikant Pajwani, Wholetime Director, Ashapura, a leading multi-mineral solutions provider.
'India has no gaps in the supply of small-size mining equipment,' says Chandra Datt, General Manager (BD), Sainik Mining and Allied Services, one of India's largest coal mining companies. 'Normally, equipment is available within 10-15 days from the date of a confirmed order.'
However, the biggest opportunities lie in areas that are unserved and underserved.
Gaps in availability
India lacks equipment and technology for fast and accurate surveys and exploration, especially the most reliable means of resource or reserve estimation by the Australasian Joint Ore Reserves Committee (JORC) code, the practice code setting minimum standards for the public reporting of minerals exploration results, mineral resources and ore reserves, according to Pajwani.
'JORC, which is globally accepted for the classification and reporting of all energy and mineral resources, is considered authentic and reliable and delivers bankable reports,' he says. 'But in India, we follow the United Nations Framework Classification for Resources (UNFC) code. We also need to improve on the technology deployed in mine planning and design, surveillance, safety, environment protection and, most important, in various means and aspects of reclamation and rehabilitation of exhausted land.'
Room for indigenisation
Underground mining machinery is another area of opportunity. It is an area where 'indigenisation has not happened at all, so prices have been kept high,'says Suprabhat Sarkar, General Manager, Tekmonin Construction, a company engaged in mining.
The outcome is that companies make do with less equipment than optimal. 'In view of the exorbitant cost of available imported underground mining machinery, it is common to see a mismatch between the equipment deployed in terms of capacity, reliability and production levels in the Indian mining sector,' says Sarkar. 'Companies can even work with 75 per cent of the number of machines needed; this ends up compromising maintenance and, in turn, safety.'
'We use foreign-manufactured jumbo drills for mine development and production, foreign-made, low-profile dump trucks in the 30-tonne, 50-tonne and 63-tonne classes, and loaders of 10 tonne and 17 tonne capacity, all of which are imported and so associated with long lead times and slow maintenance owing to the limited availability of parts and insufficiently trained mechanics,' continues Sarkar. 'What keeps manufacturers from making trucks, loaders, underground mining application drills and surface mining heavy machinery in India?'
Evidently, there is a huge opportunity for the government to push the Make in India policy in the mining sector.
'India has hardly two or three manufacturers supplying large-sized mining equipment, and these are mostly imported from other countries,' opines Subhash Suthar, Executive Director-Mines, Dalmia Cement Bharat. 'Although small-size equipment is now being manufactured in India, it is not competitive nor on a par with overseas equipment in quality.'
'Mining companies would be able to plan well and deploy adequate equipment if prices were to come down,' reasons Sarkar. 'Indian manufacturers could make a start through tie-ups with mining companies.'
Where mining contractors have a choice, typically in applications where the mine owner does not specify the use of certain equipment, they opt for the most cost-effective solutions, according to Balakoti Reddy, Senior Vice-President, BGR Mining & Infra. In open-cast coal and chrome mining, he sees a trend towards the deployment of increasingly large volume trucks.
'We use a Volvo (EC480) 3.3 cu m excavator and Volvo 19.5 cu m dumpers (FM-440) for the transportation of overburden and coal simply because these are economical and fuel-efficient,' says Datt.
'At BGR Mining & Infra, we pair 26 cu m trucks with excavators of roughly 4.6 cu m capacity to remove the overburden, and 33 cu m coal body trucks to remove the coal,' adds Balakoti.
What has made this combination possible is the evolution in the size of large-volume rock body trucks, a segment dominated by Volvo, he says.'We were using trucks of 19 cu m and 440 hp until trucks of 24 cu m with 480 hp were introduced and now 26 cu m trucks with 520 hp are available. We look forward to greater evolution in this sizing towards a truck of 40 cu m capacity.' Using a large-volume truck instead of a dumper of 100 cu m (paired with a shovel of 10 cu m capacity) can save about 30-40 per cent of capital expenditure and about 25 per cent of operational fuel cost, in Balakoti's view.
Equipment preferences cover the number of equipment deployed as well as the type. For example, 'where the work includes long stretches of road or large industrial projects, we prefer to invest in more than one crusher, sometimes of different capacity,' says Samar Ghoshdastidar, Technical Director, Simplex Infrastructures.
Simplex Infrastructures prefers making aggregate over buying aggregate because 'our experience dictates that investing in a crusher for the production of aggregates helps save 25-35 per cent of the cost while permitting tighter control over quality and pilferage.'
To meet the flakiness and elongation index for aggregates for road projects, Simplex uses a three-stage crusher comprising a jaw crusher, cone crusher and vertical shaft impactor. The stone comes from quarries where the company deploys crawler drilling rigs designed for rough terrain, equipped for top hammer applications for a 48-76 mm hole diameter, and a crawler drill designed for blast hole and toe hole applications of 105-115 mm diameter holes. These crawler drilling rigs are of reputed international brands such as Atlas Copco, Soilmec, etc, of different capacities depending on the suitability to the application, and are also chosen for their versatility, explains Ghoshdastidar. 'We opt for drilling rigs that are suitable for blasting holes for quarrying work and for micro piling, anchor piling, etc.'
Maintaining a fleet
Companies operating diverse mines need to use a wide range of mining equipment. At Dalmia Bharat, for instance, excavators and shovels from the 20 tonne to 120 tonne class are pressed into service in limestone mines dotting the south to the east. 'Consequently, we use front loading as well as backhoe buckets, of capacity varying from 0.9 cu m to 6.5 cu m,' explains Suthar.
'Our dozers are anywhere from 120 hp to 380 hp in capacity. Our hauling equipment for limestone and waste spans 35 tonne to 65 tonne off-highway trucks to 10 to 12 wheel highway trucks. Our drill machines include 112 mm diameter crawler drills as well as 165 mm diameter fully hydraulic drills. Primary rock breakers are fitted on 60 tonne class excavators while secondary breakers are fitted on 30-40 tonne class excavators. We also maintain and use motor graders, vibratory compactors, pay loaders, etc. Essentially, the capacity of a mine, the nature of the deposit, the local conditions and modus operandi drive the choice of mining equipment, while the lead and lift distances determine the choice of hauler types and capacity.'
Maintaining a large fleet necessitates regular replacement of equipment. 'In the current financial year, so far we have bought a terminator for primary rock breaking and crushing-cum-screening buckets for some special applications while we are now considering replacing a few 60 tonne class excavators with rock breaker attachments, dozer and loader, etc.' He adds.
Rent or own?
At Ashapura, the mining equipment deployed includes hydraulic excavators of 1.0 to 2.3 cu m capacity, 10-30 tonne hauler or dumpers for mining, 110 mm Atlas Copco wagon drills, 400-500 hp ripper dozers, 100-200 hp motor graders, and fixed and mobile crushers of 150 to 250 tph capacity. Ashapura has world-class laboratories across all mining locations equipped with sophisticated equipment such as X-Ray diffractometer, X-Ray fluorescence spectrometer, etc.
However, most of this heavy earthmoving machinery and other equipment is not part of the company's fleet. 'We outsource equipment through long-term (typically three year) contracts,' says Pajwani. 'Outsourcing makes sense because equipment is so readily available on hire, which helps curtail a huge investment and is conducive for our cash flow. Another benefit is convenience; mining equipment spans various classes with each needing a different set of people for maintenance.' So when Ashapura needs to deploy certain equipment, as it is now considering engaging a few more ripper dozers, 'we identify competent contractors with a preference for local outsourcing as this supports local communities,'he adds.
Bringing new players into the industry and supporting fair practices for local communities are good moves.
That said, trained mechanics and operators of mining machines are in short supply, observes Sarkar.
'By and large, these jobs are not being adequately compensated.' Going forward, one hopes this will change for the better.
- Charu Bahri
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