For most of the Coal Age readers, the hard reality is that this will be a year in which mine engineers and plant managers look at costs more closely as they throttle back on production. One of the best ways to save money is to use technology to its full potential. When we think about what it was like 20 or 30 years ago, it seems like technology has made a quantum leap. In reality, however, it has been a gradual series of incremental steps that has steadily introduced better technology to the mines and prep plants.
The Deer Creek mine ventilation story (Mine Ventilation, p. 26) reminded me of my days underground. In those pre-PC days, making changes to the ventilation plan took time and we rarely achieved the results we wanted out of the gate. Using computer models, these ventilation engineers were able to assess four different scenarios and explain why three of them wouldn’t work. Then they were able to design a system that was able to meet their needs long before they knew the actual resistances. Real estate comes at premium in the Wasatch Mountains and they used technology and a little ingenuity to decrease the fans’ footprint.
Similarly, in the Motors & Drives report (p. 38), the engineers at Baldor are looking at new ways to put more power in a smaller package. Right now, as many underground coal miners are marveling at the AC motors that have replaced the DC motors and the variable frequency drives, motor manufacturers are already looking at putting more power in a smaller package, which means more space savings for the miners that need it.
Technology advancements are not limited to underground coal mining. The motor technology that automakers are using for hybrid cars may someday be used to make further efficiency gains with draglines and electric shovels, and it may even find its way underground. New monitoring and control devices are allowing highwall miners (Highwall Mining, p. 34) to cut a more consistent trajectory deeper into the seam. Who would have ever imagined a coal miner talking about synchronous motors or temposonics?
Management oftentimes finds it hard to understand why engineers get so excited about technology and gadgets. Then one day it dawns on them: By installing a better monitoring device on the thickener (Operating Ideas, p. 44), they might extend the life of the refuse impoundment by several years—put a price on that. Switching from AC motors to DC motors saves downtime on the PMs and extends the service interval. Or by reducing the restrictions in an airway, they reduce the fan pressures and the mine’s electric bill. If there is a new technology you would like to see Coal Age cover, E-mail me a suggestion. Enjoy this edition of Coal Age.
Steve Fiscor, Coal Age Editor-In-Chief