Title: Vale pushes forward with new technology
Sub-title: Rail-Veyor transportation system being set up and tested at Copper Cliff Demonstration plant.
Last year Vale announced $3.4 billion worth of investments in its Sudbury operations. Recently the company released details about one of those initiatives. “Imagine a mine with no shaft or head frame, no loading pockets, no underground crushers, no conveyors and no diesel haulage trucks,” says Alex Henderson Vale’s general manager (mines and mill technology). “New technology is making a lot of this possible.”
One of those technologies is the Rail-Veyor hauling system, which Vale will be testing in its Copper Cliff Mine 114 Orebody Demonstrating Plant. The company is investing $49 million in the initiative, which will include 2,500 feet of track, a surface dump loop and a control room. Installation is expected to be completed and testing started by the first quarter of 2012. In all 100 jobs will be created. Once installed the system is expected to help develop the mine at a fairly aggressive 400 feet per week pace, due in part to the fact that the Rail-Veyor system requires smaller development headings that facilitate a faster advance rate.
Proponents say the system combines benefits of major competitive technologies. “The facility enables us to test innovative mining technologies that could dramatically improve our operational processes,” says Henderson. “Everybody is talking about the “mine of the future.” That’s because with the declining grades in newly discovered ore bodies, it is crucial that we improve productivity so that our product prices remain competitive with alternate solutions.”
An new way of doing things
The Rail-Veyor system consists of a series of interconnected two-wheel cars that run on light rail tracks. The system is powered by a series of dual stationary variable frequency drive stations that are positioned at intervals along the track. Sensors identify the cars as they approach the drive stations, which then power up rotating horizontal tires that turn against drive plates that run along the sides.
The drive station then shuts down as the last cart passes through, to save energy. Individual carts are connected in a manner that enables then to navigate curves and to dump cargo when their destination is reached. Gaps between the carts are sealed with flexible flaps in order to prevent leakage. These flaps also form a chute to ease product discharges.
This discharge is eased by the fact that the system’s track and drive systems were designed so that the cars can be operated in both an inverted and upright position. That means that the cars can be unloaded by travelling around a “roller-coaster” type loop over the final dumping area where they are emptied as they move into an upside-down position.
Proponents say that the Rail-Veyor technology combines the benefits of rail and conveyor haulage systems. The system currently runs at speeds of up to 10 meters per second and can complete complex turns in a short 30-meter radius. Most importantly though for the current Vale testing facility, which will be Rail-Veyor’s first underground installation, is the fact that carts ascend or descend track set up at a 20 degree angles, which thus keeps down the length required.
“It’s a safe, lean, green, mining machine,” says Henderson, one of the system’s early booster with a chuckle. Henderson got a wind of Rail-Veyor after visits from its business development staff. He was immediately impressed with the technology and soon jumped on a plane to South Africa to check out a similar system that was already operating there.
The Rail-Veyor system, which is powered by electricity, uses less fossil fuels, which thus makes a smaller carbon footprint and fewer emissions. That last point is especially important in underground mining operations due to the ventilation issues involved. “The Rail-Veyor technology is part of a series of initiatives at the demonstration plant that could reduce energy dependency by at least 50 per cent per ton of ore over current practices,” says Henderson.
A Canadian success story
Rail-Veyor is very much a Canadian success story. After retiring from Xstrata, its founder and current president and chief executive officer Mike Romaniuk, and a group of Sudbury based partners, bought out the technology from its initial developers, improved it, and sought out a test client. They didn’t have far to look, because Vale sites are located just a short distance from Rail-Veyor’s head office. “I tried retirement for about four weeks, but found that is was not for me,” says the mining industry veteran with a chuckle. “I’d much rather be active, and starting a new business is a good way to do that.
That said, Rail-Veyor, like Vale itself is very much under the gun in the new installation. If all goes well, the company hopes to take advantage of the system’s overall flexibility to use the site to showcase the technology to other clients around the world. Because they are scalable and can economically move materials over distances ranging from a few hundred meters to hundreds of kilometres, the range of potential clients is considerable, particularly among surface mining facilities.
“It’s a major opportunity,” says Romaniuk. “Although the Vale installation is underground, 16 billion tons of the world’s minable reserves are in surface sites, compared to just 850 million tons underground.” If demand for its products increases, supply issues won’t be a problem says Romaniuk. Track for the system is widely available commercially, and two key components, the cars and drive stations are manufactured in Sudbury, by Bristol Machine and B and D Manufacturing.
Yet despite the Rail-Veyor system’s early promise, Henderson is not committing to any major extension of the technology yet. That said, once the initial installation gets up and running and the bugs are worked out, pre-feasibility studies will be conducted, to assess the degree to which similar solutions can be applied in other Vale sites.
A video displaying the Rail-Veyor system in action is available on the company’s Web-site at: http://www.railveyor.com/feature-video/
Alex Henderson, Vale, 705-682-5389, Alex.Henderson@vale.com
Angie Robson, Vale, Manager of Corporate Affairs, 705-682-5202
Mike Romaniuk, Rail-Veyor,
705-682-0450 (302), Mobile: 705-698-7544, firstname.lastname@example.org
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