Hardrock mining – techniques used to extract minerals from open-cut and underground iron ore, copper, gold, bauxite, and laterite mining operations – has a long tradition. While the oldest form of raw material quarrying, known as mining, goes back to the occasional use of flint deposits in the Stone Age, the sector experienced its first major boost during the first industrial revolution in the late 18th century. This era facilitated the entire mining workstream, especially as it expanded the possibilities of material transport, which until then had been limited almost exclusively to manpower and horsepower.
The next milestone in this context, however, had to wait until 1892. Back then, during the second industrial revolution, the first conveyor belts raised the transport possibilities of the mostly heavy raw materials to a new level. Since then, mining went through another revolution in the 1970s – automation through computer technologies – and is now in the midst of the digital age, also called Industry 4.0. While the sector still relies on conveyors, it still faces numerous challenges that are influenced by various global trends.
Changing climate and increasing demand for raw materials
Raising sustainability, profitability, and efficiency. This, among others, is what the mining industry focuses on in the coming years. The search and need for more sustainable solutions are primarily driven by climate change – and backed up by numbers. Between 1970 and 2010, global greenhouse gas emissions from the industrial sector nearly doubled. The growth of the global mining and primary industries contributed significantly to this increase, although their share of global gross domestic product (GDP) declined over the same period.
Reducing exhaust gases underground not only serves to protect the climate but also saves costs in the supply of fresh air. In addition, there are more newly established emission limits to consider occupational health and safety aspects. In Germany, for example, new occupational exposure limits (OELs) for nitrogen monoxide and dioxide have applied in the mining industry since November 2021. The same applies to the OELs for carbon monoxide and particulate diesel engine emissions.
Climate change also requires safer working conditions, as extreme weather events place higher stress on conveyor belts and increase the risk of landslides or mine collapses. Meanwhile, increasing profitability and efficiency involves several tasks which are sometimes contradictory: reducing costs, employing people, and raising social acceptance of mining while the demand for raw materials is steadily growing – it doubles approximately every 20 years and thus requires new, intelligent solutions.
Service package complements the product range
The way to success is paved by high-tech solutions, automation, and of course modern conveyor belt systems. The portfolio today includes various types tailored to the material in question and the environment in which it is operated – for example steel cord conveyor belts, textile conveyor belts, solid woven conveyor belts, steel mesh conveyor belts, conveyor belts for steep incline conveying, and enclosed conveyor belts. Industrial hoses play another key role in this business. Due to their high flexibility, they are frequently used in above-ground and underground mining applications. Their top functionality and long service life are essential for tough applications.
However, safe, and efficient transportation processes not only rely on systems tailored to a specific use but also on the right service. Customers ask for comprehensive services including assembly, technical advice, and training and, more frequently, also for belt monitoring. Support is thus needed through all stages of every order and worldwide. Among other things, a modern service portfolio includes installation and replacement, maintenance and repair, belt refurbishment, conveyor inspections, audits and emergency call-out support, or equipment for rent.
Smart technology increases resource efficiency
Apart from this, mining companies are also leveraging new tools and applications – such as telemetry, wireless sensors, and remote operations – to raise safety, increase productivity and improve financial performance. In this context, 5G and the already widely used 4G technology offer various advantages. Compared to other wireless solutions, they provide better coverage as well as higher reliability and security – all important features when the machines in question are in the same area and exchange information.
Meanwhile, resource efficiency is another aspect of modern mining that is becoming increasingly important – especially from an environmental point of view. Here, ecology and economy meet the trending topics of automation and digitalization. Companies and experts are thus working on the development of robust, networked, and autonomous systems as well as applications based on smart sensors and data. These solutions help raising safety by localizing and navigating vehicles, recognizing people and objects, characterizing materials, and automating and optimizing processes.
Extracting raw materials as selectively as possible automatically results in ecological benefits. For example, digital environment detection systems could be used to continuously analyze the geological structures of the deposit during extraction. In the end, this leads to several improvements: better recognition, more precise mining, less overburden, lower transport expenses, and lower energy consumption during extraction. Considering climate protection, mining companies must also ask where the electricity used in the machines comes from. Thus, a growing number of mining companies are testing solar, wind, and battery storage systems at their sites.
Need for resistant cabin interior equipment
The basis for the next aspect, raising efficiency, includes an intelligent interior design of the cabin. As working on rough terrain and in extreme weather conditions poses challenges to operators and machines. Durable, reliable, and accurate control is always needed. The tough machines used in mines also need field-proven hardware that is up to the challenge. Thus, vibration, shock, dirt, and grime shouldn’t stop cellular devices from keeping customers and their assets connected and up to date.
The same applies to displays that have to be extremely resistant, as they are exposed to high demands particularly in industrial vehicles. To increase safety, environment detection systems give drivers better visibility, which can help ensure safer operations, protect equipment, and even save lives.
Time to achieve the next milestones
From transport with horses, to the invention of conveyor belts, to the development of smart technology solutions: The hardrock mining industry has experienced many changes over the past 240 years. Currently, it faces many challenges at the same time and is thus forced to transform and achieve the next milestones in the future.
But today, Continental already provides comprehensive field services and offers intelligent products to support climate protection, increase safety and raise efficiency – not only with wireless sensors or cabin interior equipment but also by offering state-of-the-art conveyor belt systems.