Whether it’s open cast or underground, mining provides a uniquely challenging environment. Over the past few decades, especially given the growing focus on safety, sophisticated machinery has come to play a greater and greater role in modern miming.
By Nathan Fouché*
Specifically, as the vehicles used in mining and transport of the product have grown in size, so too have the demands on the tyres they use. Durability and suitability for the job have become key success drivers when it comes to tyres in the mining environment—something that’s especially obvious when mines are trying to increase production to take advantage of higher commodity prices such as we are experiencing at the present. Because the vehicles used in mining have overall become much, much larger payloads have increased from an average of 20 tons to the region of 380 tons in some classes, each vehicle is a massive investment, with running costs anywhere between $4000 and $8 000 per hour. Vehicle downtime is massively expensive, and so the quicker a tyre issue can be solved, the better for the mine’s overall profitability. Another important factor to consider is that mining is by its very nature a long-term exercise—the investment required is enormous, and the equipment, including tyres, also requires long lead times. When the commodity cycle hots up, the mine cannot simply acquire new equipment quickly—its existing equipment must be so well designed and maintained that it will support increased production.
Long-term relationships are key
To make this possible, it’s clear that mines need to build long-term relationships with their suppliers. From the tyre point of view, manufacturers have to invest the time and energy in understanding what each individual mining client’s operating conditions are like and, even more important, what its strategy is. Once that is achieved, the information has to be fed back into the manufacturer’s R&D so that the tyres can be designed to meet those requirements. Tread design is one important aspect, as can be seen by the move towards the longer lasting, more cost-effective radial tyre. Another important aspect is the constant search for better, more durable materials for constructing the tyres to ensure that they can carry dramatically increased payloads at greater speeds. It’s thus crucial that mines choose partners that have both the capacity and willingness to enter into these long-term relationships, and that have the deep R&D capabilities needed to evolve their products constantly in line with what the market needs. The former implies a strong succession plan to ensure that the supplier can field dedicated and expert account managers at client sites to ensure that the link between tyre design and client needs is maintained; the latter implies not only deep pockets but the commitment to invest in R&D.
Moving to the solution-based approach
In this demanding environment, another key development is the move towards a Solution-based approach, something Bridgestone has also been able to pioneer. In line with the increasing sophistication of the product, and its direct impact on the productivity of the mine as a whole, the next step is for the tyre supplier to undertake the provision of proactive monitoring and onsite support. For example, tyre pressure monitoring systems can now be used to monitor tyre performance in real time so that problems can be identified before they happen. Such systems can also be used to identify vehicles whose work rate can be increased, thus increasing productivity. In the end, the name of the game is not only understanding what mining customers want from their tyres and providing it, but also helping them to ensure maximum productivity by providing ongoing solutions that keep the wheels turning. *Nathan Fouché is the business segment manager for off the road at Bridgestone Southern Africa.
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