Is this the world's most technologically advanced earthmoving operation?
- 26 April 2009
- Product News
A specially built control room overlooks the massive operation. Here, huge flat screen monitors show pictograms of all the earthmoving machines currently in use. A colour coding system designates the status of each machine: for example, BLUE pictograms show trucks returning for a load, GREEN for fully loaded trucks, and RED for idle machines. An automatic alarm system flashes problems such as a machine that hasn't moved for five minutes. "We can see at a glance where each machine is, but we also have two-way communications with the operators so we can, for example redirect pick-ups where necessary," says Mike Laboscartni, control room supervisor. "In addition to this real-time monitoring the control room generates valuable data such as tonnes per machine, per hour and even per shift. So it's also an excellent tool to identify operator training needs." Not surprisingly, Venetia was the first ever diamond mine to achieve ISO 9002 quality management certification.
A total of 47 Caterpillar® off-highway trucks are used to transport the excavated rock from the base of the open-cast mine, whilst another 45 Cat® dozers, loaders, and excavators support the operation. As with most quarrying operations, where all the plant and expertise remain in one place for several years, the Caterpillar dealer has been able to work extremely closely with the mine owners to constantly improve and perfect machine reliability and drive down the costs per tonne. In addition to a tailor-made MARC (Maintenance And Repair Contract), the local Caterpillar dealer, Barloworld, has placed a permanent 87-strong team of site managers, supervisors and support staff to help maintain the high equipment availability. And every day representatives of that team meets with the mine's owners, the world famous De Beers, to discuss and plan machine and operator optimisation.
"There's actually no formal contract in place," says Brett Stevens, sales manager for Barloworld Equipment. "By focussing on condition monitoring, components are expected to last much longer and that substantially raises reliability targets. To this aim, we've deployed the latest service and maintenance systems such as ProductLinkTM, SOS (Scheduled Oil Sampling), the AQUILATM Drill System, CAES (the Computer Aided Earthmoving System), and MVRS (MineStarTM VIMS Remote System). All these advanced systems help us to manage, predict and optimize the almost 100 Cat machines on site." The result is that all this intensive technology has made the Venetia mine one of the largest mining technology sites in South Africa. So let's take a closer look at those systems:
Product Link is Caterpillar's proprietary telemetric monitoring system. Computers on-board each machine gather critical engine performance data and transmit it wirelessly via satellite to one of the Caterpillar network operations centres. Here is it processed, prioritised and uploaded to a password-protected web-based portal. Engineers and technicians can then access the vital information to plan preventative maintenance strategies.
- Scheduled Oil Sampling, or SOS or short, is a laboratory service that helps detect problems before they become serious. Similar to a blood test that a medical doctors use, an oil sample is taken from a machine's hydraulics and sent to a Caterpillar-certified laboratory. Here trained engineers analyse the sample and diagnose any specific problems. Too much silicon, for example, indicates dirt entry into the hydraulics. Too much sodium: water coolant entry.
The AQUILA Dragline System takes the guesswork out of drilling by accurately guiding the operator in the execution of drill patterns, reporting on individual machine and operator productivity, and allowing remote, real-time supervision of drilling activity and blast planning from the mine office.
The Computer Aided Earthmoving System (CAES) is an advanced earthmoving tool that allows machine operators to achieve maximum landfill compaction and desired grade/slope. It also conserves and ensures even distribution of valuable cover soil without the use of traditional survey stakes and crews. It uses GPS technology, machine-mounted components, a radio network, and office management software to deliver real-time elevation, compaction and grade control information to machine operators on an in-cab display. The Venetia diamond mine uses this system to monitor shelf levels within the mine and ensures that all access roads are safe.
MineStar is a comprehensive, integrated mining information system. Through a series of sub-systems for production reporting, truck assignment, health monitoring and fleet analysis, MineStar links information gathered in the field to the office business enterprise systems.
It all adds up to a highly advanced and comprehensive machine-health monitoring system. For example, the MVRS alone reports an average of 23,000 machine-health events each month, which are prioritized by Barloworld's data centre. "In addition to the advanced monitoring systems we also constantly implement new programmes, some of which we pilot ourselves," says Brett. "For example, we recently introduced a ‘Kidney Looping System' that cleans and filters the hydraulic oil on board a machine. This is primarily to save on oil and extend machine component life by reducing the number of oil changes and contamination entry points. It also filters out any debris that in time would cause permanent component failure. In some cases we found that filtered oil of 4,000 hours was surprisingly cleaner than brand new oil. We financed and ran the pilot system ourselves before sharing the results with De Beers. They were so impressed that they invested €100,000 in more Kidney Looping Systems. These now also significantly contribute to prolonging component life as well as saving huge quantities of oil - up to 41,000 litres were saved in the first eight months."
The smart partnership
It's that type of ‘smart partnership' that runs throughout the Venetia operation, as can be seen by the state-of-the-art parts depot. Advanced management systems ensure that fast moving items do not stay on the shelf for more than seven days: it's the perfect balance between ensured availability and stock minimisation. Larger parts, such as engines are stored centrally in Johannesburg, which makes them also available to other Barloworld customers across the region.
Another powerful example of this smart, problem-solving partnership is the increased life-times of the tyres used on the Cat earthmoving machines. "Three years ago we were getting an average of just two and a half thousand hours of service from our tyres," says Johnny Veloza, operations manager at Venetia. "Barloworld suggested that we install special analytical software in our trucks to monitor the various gradients, torsion stresses and turning radiuses on our access roads. After a comprehensive analysis several stretches of roads were redesigned and the machine operators were given extra training. We now have an average of 6,500 hours of service life from our tyres."
In total, the Barloworld support for the Venetian diamond mine has four main components:
- Advanced electronic reporting and analysis
- Highly efficient parts operation
- On-site service, maintenance and repair and teams (100+ people)
- Financial planning and fleet analysis
As part of the De Beers commitment to the environment and local community, the company has established several far-sighted programmes, as Johnny Veloza explains: "All of our 1,250 directly employed workers are paid around 15 percent more than the national average. Importantly, we do not have any migrant workers, so everyone can go home at night to their families and friends. We've also established a 50,000 hectare game reserve around the 4,600 hectare mine site - this has helped create in a much bigger trans-national game reserve spanning Zimbabwe, Botswanna and of course South Africa. And, we have minimised our water usage from the Limpopo river via an extensive water reservoir and recycling system."
In addition, as part of South Africa's BEE (Black Economic Empowerment) programme De Beers recently sold 26 percent of its South African division to a black-owned company: Ponahalo Holdings whose ownership is split 50/50 between De Beers staff and pensioners and a black investment firm. South Africa's BEE strategy is aimed at dispersing economic and political power among the country's black majority.
What is it like to find a diamond?
"You wouldn't recognize one even if it was in your hand," says Johnny Veloza. "The diamonds are embedded in the diamond ore, called kimberlite, and are only retrieved after extensive crushing and sorting. They are also extremely rare - on average you have to process a whole tonne of ore to get just 250 milligrams of diamond, and to get that one tonne of kimberlite you have to excavate almost 10 tonnes of rock. But it's still a great feeling when you see the daily shipments of diamond in the sorting centre, and it's great being part of this enormous operation and the people behind it. I recently visited a steel mine with my five-year old son. He said afterwards ‘Dad, steel mining is OK but diamonds are cool.' I have to agree with him."