Iron ore mining in Australia: Wirtgen Surface miners are main mining equipment

The Australian continent offers a wealth of mineral resources that is truly unique in the world. As a raw material supplier of, for example, coal, iron ore, bauxite or nickel, Australia holds a prominent position in the world market. The economy of the fifth continent is determined to a significant extent by the success of the mining companies.

The mining industry is the key driver of economic growth. Conventional mining methods involving drilling and blasting were dominant until recently; since 2007, however, one of the continent’s largest iron ore producers has been banking on the innovative technology offered by the Wirtgen surface miners. The mines operated by Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) are Australia’s first large-scale project that uses surface mining as the main mining method. As many as 43 Wirtgen surface miners have become vital keys to the economically efficient mining of high-quality materials in FMG’s iron ore mines.

Cut costs; improve product quality – the advantages of selective mining

FMG’s iron ore deposits are located in the Pilbara region in Western Australia, less than two hours’ flight north of Perth. In this region, FMG holds the mining rights to an area covering 71,400 km². A special hallmark of the mines presently opened up by FMG is the flat-lying nature of the iron ore deposits. In such an environment, the advantages offered by the surface mining technology are most obvious: “Wirtgen surface miners allow high-quality products to be mined with economic efficiency even from technically challenging mineral deposits,” says Bernhard Schimm, Manager of the Wirtgen Mining Division.

In comparative studies that were performed as part of the selection process to determine the most suitable main mining method, surface mining was able to win out over all other mining methods.

Fortescue Metals Group was won over by the high economic efficiency of the surface mining technology:

  • Wirtgen surface miners enable precise and highly selective material mining. Maximum exploitation of the mineral deposit is thus guaranteed.
  • Selective mining using surface miners allows the product quality to be influenced at a very early stage, which results in high-quality materials being mined.
  • Major potentials for cost reduction can be realized as surface miners cut, crush and load the material in a single working pass. The use of primary crushers, for example, is thus eliminated.
  • The use of surface miners cuts the overall investment costs in opencast mining equipment required for iron ore mining by nearly fifty percent. Surface mining eliminates the need for crushers, for example, and reduces the number of transport trucks.
  • Cutting, crushing and loading in a single step additionally enables the production costs per tonne of iron ore mined to be reduced by around forty percent.

Fifteen 2500 SM surface miners impress with maximum mining performance

FMG’s large-scale project began in 2004 when initial feasibility studies were conducted in the mines. Even early trials and geological analyses revealed the benefits inherent in the use of surface miners. Numerous trial operations were carried out over the next two years. To optimize machine operation, the customer – supported by Wirtgen Australia, the Wirtgen Group’s local subsidiary – carried out various trial operations using 2200 SM and 2600 SM surface miners.

At the same time, the customer and Wirtgen visited numerous international reference projects involving surface mining: Wirtgen GmbH looks back on some thirty years of expertise in surface mining, and has succeeded in establishing the innovative mining technology in the USA, for example, where it is used to mine gypsum, or in India where it is used to mine limestone and coal. Once the trial results had satisfied the customer in terms of both machine productivity and quality of the material mined, the first deposit of the FMG site, the “Cloudbreak” mine, was opened up and the infrastructure tailored to the use of surface miners. The pits were laid out to the greatest possible length, for instance, to achieve extended uptimes while keeping non-productive times (e.g. turning) low.

At the beginning of 2007, an agreement was signed between FMG and Wirtgen covering the purchase of ten 2500 SM surface miners. Following commissioning of the first machine in June 2007, trial operations produced outstanding results so that FMG decided to expand its fleet by another five 2500 SM machines.

Each of the fifteen surface miners impresses with cutting performances ranging from 1,200 to 2,000 tonnes per hour depending on rock hardness. “It is admirable how Wirtgen has succeeded in implementing such a high cutting rate right from the start in their first large-scale project in iron ore,” says Graeme Rowley, Executive Director at FMG until March 2010.

The surface miners produced the intended results not only in terms of quantity, however, but also with regard to material quality: FMG has installed an “Automatic Positioning System” in the miners, which allows optimum use to be made of the advantages offered by selective mining. The system acts as a digital map, enabling the miner operators to accurately position their machines in the deposit and thus to also precisely determine the quality of the material being cut. The loaded trucks are then sent to different storage locations. The various grades of iron ore stockpiled in the different storage locations are later mixed in accordance with composition requirements.

Maximum performance in large-scale opencast mining: the 4200 SM

FMG’s choice of the surface mining technology became the foundation of a strong business relationship between Wirtgen and FMG. “We had been looking for a technology that would enable us even more efficiency in iron ore mining, and we found it in surface mining,” stresses Graeme Rowley. “With the Wirtgen surface miners we chose not only the best technology, however, but also the most reliable supplier. It became clear right from the start that we placed the same demands on surface mining.” In view of their successful cooperation in implementing FMG’s large-scale project, Wirtgen and FMG decided to also make the most of their joint potential for innovation. They collaborated in developing an even more powerful surface miner that would be perfectly matched to the conditions prevailing in iron ore mining: the 4200 SM. Combining FMG’s wealth of experience in iron ore mining and Wirtgen GmbH’s know-how in machine design makes the 4200 SM a matchless high-performance machine for the mining industry. In March 2009, after just eighteen months of development, Wirtgen GmbH was able to present a machine that not only promises maximum economic efficiency but also keeps that promise in field operation: even during the trials performed at the time of commissioning in the Cloudbreak mine, the surface miner achieved twice the cutting performance of a 2500 SM. The customer’s response was entirely positive: FMG ordered additional 4200 SM surface miners.

With the joint development of the 4200 SM, Wirtgen GmbH also stressed its claim in customer service. “For us, the business relationship is not over once a machine has been sold. We are driven by our desire to be a reliable partner to our customers, supporting them on a long-term basis to make sure they achieve their goals,” says Mining Division Manager Bernhard Schimm.

Service support: full service from the very first minute

Especially in mining, where the machines are in operation around the clock and availability is a vital key to the success of a mining company, Wirtgen GmbH has positioned itself with a full service offer.

Wirtgen service staff support customers in every way possible from the time of delivery of the machine. Following their arrival at the Cloudbreak mine, the miners were set up for operation by Wirtgen service technicians in less than a week. A kit of basic spare parts was supplied together with the machine. Based on field experience, the two companies also drew up a list of additional spare parts and wear parts requirements.

Initial training classes for machine operators and service staff were conducted at the time of commissioning of the machines. In consultation with the customer, Wirtgen GmbH additionally offers a broad and ongoing training programme. While introductory training classes for new employees are offered on an ongoing basis, extension trainings are also conducted either in the mine, in Perth or in the German main plant to optimize utilization of the machines.

Service structures focusing on customer requirements ensure maximum availability

The comprehensive range of services offered is based on close cooperation between the main plant in Germany and the local Wirtgen Group subsidiary. To support FMG’s large-scale project in the best way possible, Wirtgen Australia – based in Sydney – established an additional service centre in Perth. This is where repairs are carried out, cutting drums and conveyor systems are overhauled, and spare parts having a total value of approx. AUD 7.5 million are stocked. Some forty service technicians and logistics experts from Wirtgen Australia are based in Perth, making it their business to support FMG’s mine “just in time”. The effective service concept also provides for service staff to be present in the mine: some 20 service technicians from Wirtgen GmbH and Wirtgen Australia provide technical support on site. The team is in close contact with the service experts at the German main plant to obtain technical assistance whenever necessary. Constant support of the customer is thus ensured, enabling them to implement their production targets.

Parts structure in line with customer requirements

With a spare parts concept tailored to fit the customer’s specific requirements, Wirtgen GmbH maximizes availability of the machines:

  • The parts needed for daily use are stocked on the construction site. These include cutting tools, toolholders or crawler track components. Items required for regular maintenance, such as filters or gaskets, are also stocked on site.
  • The warehouse at the service centre based in Perth additionally stocks items for long-term requirements. These include, for example, conveyor belts.
  • Over 85 percent of the potentially required spare parts are thus stocked in the customer’s immediate vicinity. Safety items such as engines or gearboxes are additionally kept in stock at the German main plant to ensure prompt delivery.

Much more than a machine supplier, a complete and profitable solution

The large-scale project in Australia clearly shows that, in the field of surface mining, Wirtgen GmbH offers its customers not only powerful machines for the mining of high-quality products but also a comprehensive solution concept for large mining projects. Driven by its ambition to continue the joint development of machines, and by the high standards placed on first-rate customer support in after-sales service, Wirtgen GmbH positions itself as the ideal business partner in surface mining.

For further information, please contact:

Wirtgen GmbH
Michaela Adams, Mario Linnemann
Corporate Communications
Reinhard-Wirtgen-Strasse 2
53578 Windhagen

Phone: +49 2645 / 131-0
Fax: +49 2645 / 131-499

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The use of surface miners cuts the overall investment costs in opencast mining equipment required for iron ore mining by nearly fifty percent.

Iron ore mining in Australia: Top-of-the-range machine performance and service support.

The mine layout in surface mining: the pits are laid out to the greatest possible length in order to maximize the machine’s operating time. In addition, the Wirtgen surface miners produce stable and precise cross-sections on surfaces and embankment walls.

“Just-in-time” service: Wirtgen’s service support offer comprises both local support provided by service technicians as well as the demandbased stocking of spare parts. Maintenance times are thus minimized, and the surface miners are all set for full-time operation.