With quarrying there are literally hundreds of production variables that can impact on the profitability of the whole operation.
Some of the questions production throws up include: How best to layout the site? How to drill? How to blast? Type and position of crushers? Preferred fragmentation? Loading by excavator or wheel loader? Hauling by rigid or articulated hauler, or conveyor?
Added to these are business factors such as customer requirements, profitability targets and investment budgets.
With so many things to consider it is little wonder that many quarries are designed less than perfectly.
However, while some quarry managers realise their operations are less than optimal, they often neither have the time or resources to change the situation.
Fortunately, a combination of computing power and years of quarrying experience at Sandvik Mining and Construction are distilled into an analysis service that uses a mine simulation tool called SimQuarry.
SimQuarry is different to many computer simulation systems because it is built using many years of research data from real quarries around the world.
Sandvik surface drilling division quality and production head Pasi Järvenpää says there are 20 years of practical knowledge converted into SimQuarry.
“The information has been gathered from Sandvik’s experts in drilling, crushing, breaking, conveying and tool choice,” Järvenpää says.
“SimQuarry doesn’t concentrate on the areas of the quarry operation where Sandvik Tamrock’s own product range dominates, but takes a holistic approach, analysing the various stages as a complete system,” he says.
“We can see the whole process from beginning to end.
“Simulation programs such as SimQuarry allow our experts in the field to create a more efficient supply chain through the whole operation.”
By analysing the process from the rock face to finished product, SimQuarry can identify production bottlenecks.
With over 100 variables available, the software can identify the true cost of drilling, blasting, breaking, loading and hauling. This data, which is not ordinarily easy to extract from the profit and loss account, is invaluable in identifying where the money is being spent. Knowing this means areas for cost savings become readily apparent.
It is not just the mechanical processes that SimQuarry highlights: even easily overlooked aspects such as landscaping, safety, management and control can be factored into the analysis.
“Customers often don’t know where all their costs lie; SimQuarry helps make it simple,” Järvenpää says.
Although SimQuarry can process the information almost in real time, the quality of the results depends on the quality of the data entered. Inputting this data can take the Sandvik representative several days and depends on the cooperation and participation of the quarry’s management.
Amassing the data – mapping the site, machines types, haul lengths, gradient, fragmentation sizes, etc – is an arduous process but is vital to ensure the resulting information is truly useful. Even then it only produces the picture of how the quarry is operating today, not how it can operate.
Whether the point of the process is to improve the situation or conceive a better one, by understanding the quarry as a single system makes it is relatively easy to identify the points of the process that need optimising. The program can even calculate the size of expected cost savings.
The service not only offers a blueprint for a better layout of the site, it also examines cost savings such as reducing fuel use by shortening haul distances or cutting waste material by correct fragmentation from better drill/blast systems.
Much depends on the customers’ requirements: maximum production or lowest cost. It also depends on what resources the quarry has to make improvements.
When all the information is entered and the customer’s priorities factored in, the program helps determine any weak areas in the production chain, prompting questions such as: Are all existing machines best suited to the task?
It is often the case that several machine types and sizes can do the job – so the question becomes what is the best? Choosing less than optimal equipment can mean the difference between profit and loss.
Järvenpää says the SimQuarry consultancy service is not a Sandvik selling tool: it is about improving relationships over a longer term.
“Having a good product is merely a qualifying criterion in today’s competitive quarrying industry; providing a high level of support is increasingly what clinches the deal,” Järvenpää says.
According to Sandvik, long-term knowledge support such as the SimQuarry service will become increasingly important in the quarrying and mining industries. It says equipment producers such as itself will take a greater consultancy role for the customer.
“This holistic view of the entire operation shows how keen we are to get fully involved in helping our customers be successful, and not just push more of our products.
“With the customer’s mindset moving from initial costs to equipment and quarry/mine lifetime costs, the ability to accurately map out present and future costs will increasingly be seen as a business imperative,” Järvenpää says.