Q&A with Atlas Copco’s Portable Energy Division
Mining Global speaks with Paul Humphreys, Vice President of Communications Atlas Copco’s Portable Energy Division about how sustainable productivity is essential for the industry in becoming increasingly competitive
What is Atlas Copco’s commitment to ‘sustainable productivity’?
Within Atlas Copco we stand by our responsibilities towards our customers, towards the environment and the people around us. We strive for performance levels that stand the test of time. This is what we call sustainable productivity
For Atlas Copco’s Portable Energy division, which provides generators, compressors, light towers and pumps to the mining industry, this transfers to our forward-thinking approach. Creating customer value is all about anticipating and exceeding their future needs – while never compromising our environmental principles. Looking ahead and staying ahead is the only way we can ensure we are a long-term partner for our customers.
How does that affect the mining sector in practical terms?
Reliability is of utmost importance in this industry. Mining can involve a complicated set of applications that require very high standards in terms of safety, productivity and sustainability. Therefore, equipment needs to be robust, dependable and safe. However, sustainable productivity is also vital as the industry is becoming increasingly competitive. Atlas Copco meets all of these criteria. Stemming from our close relationship with the mining industry, which stretches back over 100 years, we have learned a great deal about the design, construction and support of our equipment onsite. Today all of our generators, light towers, compressors and pumps are engineered for these stringent demands, often in harsh climates.
Mining is diverse. The requirements of the products will depend largely on whether a customer is working below ground or above ground.
When working below ground, highly stringent safety regulations need to be borne in mind. Electrical equipment is often used to eliminate the need for transporting and transferring high volumes of fuel in sensitive areas. Often, the equipment is used in a semi-permanent manner. Being in place for considerable periods means portability is less important but longer service intervals are a necessity. To give an example of how portable energy equipment is used below ground, a compressor can be deployed as a universal power source but would often be specifically used for drilling smaller holes into which explosives are placed for clearing.
Working above ground, compressors would be much larger due to the need to drill much wider holes at depths of over 100 metres. These compressors are typically reliant upon diesel due to the difficulties in accessing any other power source in remote mining locations. Despite the size of these compressors, it is still very important that they can be easily transported between sites. A compressor used for drilling applications should fit on the same truck as the drill mechanism.
Two examples of ‘sustainable productivity’ in action can be found in compressors for exploration drilling and also in light towers.
In exploration drilling, it is vital to select the right compressor for the particular job, so that performance, rate of completion and energy efficiency can be optimised. The most important factors to consider are the depth and diameter of the hole that needs to be drilled. After these two parameters have been determined, we can begin to match the requirements to the correct product. In simple terms, drills with large hammers creating deep holes, will need a more powerful compressor than a drill with a smaller hammer creating a smaller hole. In many applications, you could choose from multiple products to complete the task, but the important point is to determine which compressor can do this in the most efficient way.
Atlas Copco is developing a full range of compressors known as the DrillAir range, specifically designed to cover a multitude of drilling applications. The DrillAir range is built scientifically around the principals of pressure and flow. The focus of the design is the relationship between these two variables and for the compressor to find the right combination for the application. This improves the efficiency aspects of time spent on the job and fuel consumed. With the DrillAir range, it is possible to achieve the maximum air flow at any pressure setting.
We strongly believe LED will be the ‘normal’ light source in all regions of the world. It’s a lighting source that is better for your business and better for the environment too. The way we have looked at and approached LED technology is a good example of why Atlas Copco, in 2016, was recognised as the world’s most sustainable machinery company by the prestigious annual Global 100 list. This is the tenth time we have appeared on this list.
With our HiLight range, we have invested time, effort and capital in developing a solution that goes above and beyond satisfying our customers’ expectations. A weakness in some of the current LED offerings on the market is the low light coverage. Our belief in improving technology drove us to do a deep analysis of this technology. It took just about two years to design and perfect our vision.
What is Atlas Copco’s outlook on the mining industry?
Mining has had a tough time over the last several years, largely driven by weaker commodity prices and demand. It’s a huge business and very diverse, so certain segments have been affected more severely than others. However, mining is, by definition, a cyclical business. As supply dries up and demand continues to grow, investment will be needed in the future. Many of the minerals mined are so important to everything we do in life and we feel the consumption of such materials will only increase. We definitely will see a recovery in the sector although maybe not as rapid as the growth that has occurred previously. We also see that the requirements of the industry have shifted to some extent, with any different factors becoming more important, such as sustainability and productivity.
How important will ‘sustainable productivity’ be to the future of the mining industry?
The terms sustainability and competiveness go hand-in hand. We believe that you simply cannot have one without the other. The mining industry shares this approach.
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Codelco partners with Microsoft to extend digitisation
Chile's Codelco, the world's largest copper producer, has announced a deal with tech giant Microsoft to fast-track the digitisation of its sprawling mining operations, helping it extend automation and improve analytics.
The joint project with Microsoft will beef up the company's capacity to make its production processes more efficient and promote "sustainability" within its operations, Codelco said in a statement.
Codelco, like many Chilean miners, has fought in recent years to adopt new technologies to boost efficiency and keep down costs at its aging deposits, many of which suffer from declining ore grades.
"We are promoting profound changes so that different areas operate in a completely remote and automated way, reducing risks, improving productivity, safety and reliability of our operation," said company executive Alvaro Garcia.
Mining companies worldwide are pushing forward with plans to operate mines remotely, reducing the risk of accidents and boosting efficiency.
Codelco’s move towards automation however has led to confrontations with unions, who see it as a threat to their livelihoods. The company said the project with Microsoft will include a training component for the its workers.
The state-run miner has recently ramped up its use of technology to ensure its copper is 100% traceable, a vital step in reducing its carbon footprint and boosting sustainability within its operations.
Codelco’s CEO Octavio Araneda said that tracing copper through its mines would help the company more precisely measure progress on its social and environmental goals while providing proof to increasingly demanding customers of those efforts.
“We can now say that 100% of our products are traced…which will allow us to have a very strong transparency regarding our resource use footprint,” Araneda said.
The announcement comes amid a broader push by the company to reduce water consumption, recycle industrial waste and scale back carbon dioxide emissions by 2030.
Codelco said in a webinar that the tool it has developed to assure traceability will help assure those sustainability targets are met.
Soaring demand for electric vehicles, a key component in the global fight against climate change, has increased attention on the carbon footprint and sustainability of inputs such as copper, cobalt and lithium.