The rise of surface mining

What are the advantages of using surface miners for hard rock deposits such as iron ore when compared to alternative mining methods?

Surface excavation machines (SEMs), like the Vermeer Terrain Leveler® SEM, use top-down cutting that allows the operator to separate materials, extract higher value and more consistent sized product. The end product reduces the need for a primary crusher, reducing energy and expenses.

Also, surface excavation equipment is more environmentally friendly than traditional methods. Mining operations can significantly reduce the amount of explosives they use, which helps reduce the amount of dust and vibration produced. They are also able to comply with more stringent government regulations affecting drilling and blasting methods can be implemented.

What adaptations need to be made to the surface miner machines to allow them to work in harder rock?

Surface mining operators need to evaluate the power to weight ration of a surface excavation machine. Harder rock requires a heavier machine and more horsepower.

In addition, the surface excavation machine a machine cuts impacts productivity. Units that cut upward are not able to utilize the weight of the machine which impacts its performance in hard rock. The Vermeer Terrain Leveler SEM cut downward and used the machine’s weight to provide better traction and deliver more of the machine’s horsepower to the cutting attachment.

The Vermeer SmartTEC® operating system on the Terrain Leveler SEM also helps teach the operator how to cut into harder rock by assisting the operator what the machine wants to do in harder rock to optimize productivity.

Do you think that there will be an increased trend for using surface miners at such deposits, or do you think there is more demand for them in softer commodities such as coal or phosphate?

Increasing regulations around the world are impacting traditional drilling and blasting surface mining methods. Many of these regulations implemented because towns and cities expanding around mining operations and citizens will complain about the vibration, sound and dust that drilling and blasting produces. In other locations utilities and/or pipelines are being routed near or through mining operations, which also come with regulations about how close drilling and blasting can be done.

For operations facing growing regulations, surface mining methods costs are the best way to continue to mine. Surface excavation machines allow miners to go after harder rock and still be cost-effective. And, in some applications, it’s more cost-effective to surface one because the waste can be separated from ore and there is better product size control.  

Where are Vermeer’s main markets for surface miners for hard rock mining? Is the company looking to expand into any new regions?

The use of surface mining machines is expanding in Australia, West Africa and South America. In the regions, demand for aluminum is driving the need for bauxite mining and precision surface mining allows material to mine more efficiently.

Other areas of the world are also adopting precision surface mining methods, and Vermeer has a worldwide network of dealerships in place to help them get started.

Do you have any recent examples of hard rock mines where Vermeer’s surface miners have been used?

  • Bauxite in West Africa, South America and Australia
  • Iodine in Chile
  • Limestone in North America, Asia and Europe
  • Lowering the tunnel floor in mines

Answers provided by Diogo Craveiro, Marketing Lead at Vermeer Corporation

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