Autonomy Takes Center Stage at MINExpo 2016
The vibe at MINExpo 2016, which took place September 26-28 at the Las Vegas Convention Center, was fairly predictable, but the leap in technological advancements, especially in the area of autonomous mining, was quite surprising. More than 44,000 people attended the world’s largest mining exposition, according to the U.S. National Mining Association (NMA). That attendance figure was down 15% from four years ago, and it’s understandable considering the current state of the mining market. The general consensus on the show floor was that traffic levels weren’t as slow as many had anticipated.
The NMA organized an opening session with several executives, who discussed the current state of the mining market. On stage were two precious metals miners (gold and silver), a copper miner, a coal miner and an equipment manufacturer. (See MINExpo Review, p. 56.) With many of the U.S. coal operators either in or emerging from bankruptcy, the executive representing coal showed understandable frustration and some of his comments bordered on capitulation; i.e., whether one believes man has caused climate change or not, the coal industry is not going to change the prevailing attitude, so it needs to accept it. The equipment maker, who has seen sales drop significantly since the last MINExpo, used terms such as “severe” and “drastic” to describe the market downturn.
The executives on the metal mining side of the business were more upbeat, cautiously optimistic. Gold prices at the time were relatively high ($1,325/oz-$1,350/ oz) and silver ($20/oz) was the same, while copper has languished for the last year or so ($2/lb-$2.15/lb). They also expressed frustration over regulatory issues, but kept that discourse to a minimum and discussed successful safety initiatives, sustainability programs, and capitalizing on technology to improve management and reduce costs. Thousands of people gathered for this session and they got to hear what they had suspected first-hand from industry leaders.
Meanwhile on the show floor, the central hall was packed with some of the largest mobile equipment on Earth. Caterpillar, the largest exhibitor, had an impressive spread of equipment. Komatsu, Cat’s cross-town rival, brought a cabless 200-ton autonomous hauler, which appears on the cover of this edition of E&MJ. It attracted a lot of attention and it wasn’t the only cabless piece of large equipment. Atlas Copco displayed a cabless blasthole drilling rig. During the last four or five years, the mining industry has pushed the development of autonomous operations and seeing the large cabless equipment puts those advancements into perspective.
Aside from autonomy, the two other themes that seemed to emerge were emissions free and harnessing the power of Big Data, or Mining 4.0 as some have dubbed it. Vendors unveiled large battery-powered LHDs and jumbo drills that will eliminate diesel engines, which are good for miner’s lungs and lowers the costs for ventilating underground mines. It seemed that almost everyone had a data acquisition system related to its equipment or mine performance where miners could determine areas of their operations that were performing well and other areas that need improvement.
For those who were unable to attend, several articles in this edition describe much of the equipment and technology that debuted at the event. E&MJ would like to congratulate NMA on a great event and we can now look forward to MINExpo 2020.
Steve Fiscor, Editor-in-Chief, E&MJ