Exports of German mining equipment for 2020.

2020 was a challenging year, and 2021 will not be much easier, writes Klaus Stöckmann, VDMA Mining’s deputy managing director

With regard to geopolitical developments, in terms of both trade and environmental policies, we didn’t expect an easy 2020, but it was worse than anticipated. After order intakes had already slowed at the end of 2019, the economy was then overshadowed by coronavirus-related disruptions, causing a sharp decline in the mining machinery business.

Travel restrictions, limited contact and activities, online meetings, remote services, working from home and more have thrown our everyday working lives off. When looking back, however, we can claim to have mastered the challenges of this year well, also thanks to loyal customers.

At the beginning of 2021, we see weak business on the one hand and lively innovation activities on the other. Just like back in 2015-2016, mining companies worldwide are hesitating to greenlight new large-scale projects. Orders have declined and the decrease was stronger than initially expected; exports of German mining technology also dropped from 1.97 billion euros for 2019 to 1.56 billion euros in 2020.

The same can be said for other manufacturers of mining equipment in Europe. And the only encouraging signals came from Poland, Switzerland, Central America (especially Mexico) and from Australia.

Further Digital Developments Inspire the Industry

Today, interoperability and the digitalization of processes and autonomous systems are driving the industry. Buzzwords such as cyber-physical systems (CPS), networking, cloud solutions, Industry 4.0 or smart mining have reached the mining industry, and manufacturers are creating specific solutions for this.

Against this backdrop, the 145, mostly small and medium-sized companies organized in VDMA Mining have focused on the further development of digital approaches in mining. Knowing that the most sophisticated digital equipment is worthless if upstream and downstream machines cannot communicate with one another, German mining machinery manufacturers have begun to define the interfaces necessary for machine-to-machine communication.

The Open Platform Communication Unified Architecture (OPC UA) is the preferred interface standard. It meets the requirements of mechanical engineering and offers benefits for both the mechanical engineering and process industries.

We, as VDMA Mining, have started an extensive discussion with our members on the development of an OPC UA Companion Specification for mining and have created various international working groups to advance this effort. The specification contains a basic description of mining machinery and equipment, and the main intention is to support machine-to-machine communication in mining processes and vertically into higher-level mine operating systems for control, information and diagnostic purposes as well.

The basic description of mining machines and equipment is supplemented by selected applications, e.g., longwall mining, conveying, mobile mining machines and mine operation. More than 32 companies, including the Global Mining Guidelines (GMG) Group and other organizations are active in an international working group to develop a common language for data exchange in mining.

The overall aim is for international as well as European implementation of the OPC UA Companion Specification. In more than 17 VDMA branches, 38 working groups are engaged on this project.

Collaborating for a Better Future

We are once again cooperating with universities, especially with the Institute for Advanced Mining Technologies at Aachen University RWTH. The institute, together with the mining faculties of the University of Clausthal in the Harz mountains, the University of Bochum in the Ruhr area, and Freiberg University in the Ore Mountains, belongs to the network of the German mining equipment manufacturers branch. They should be mentioned in this context, too.

Finally, part of our network is the German Mining Network (http://germanmining.net). Seven international Competence Centers for Mining and Mineral Resources are located within the respective bilateral German Chambers (AHKs) in the most important commodity producing countries (Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Ghana, Peru and Southern Africa). The German Mining Network informs German companies about the raw materials situation in the countries concerned, as well as the local raw materials industry of supply opportunities for mining technology from Germany.

Promoting German Expertise and Quality

To better serve our clients in the future, the performance of suppliers from Germany must be known worldwide. This is why VDMA Mining organizes joint booths at the most important mining trade fairs worldwide, including (hopefully) MINExpo 2021 in Las Vegas, U.S.

For the year that has just begun, we hope that this supplement, Best of Germany, inspires many readers to learn more about modern, efficient, reliable and safe technologies from German suppliers.

Read more: https://mining.vdma.org/en/