Navigating the Depths
Typically, underground mining is a significant sector that involves numerous tunnelling tasks. The fundamental tunnelling process in metal mining below the surface involves creating ramps, levels, and sub-levels, constructing stock phases, crosscuts, and additional structures. Tunnels are constructed in underground mining operations to obtain access to the ore body, transport equipment and personnel for production activities, and install ventilation, electrical cables, and other essential underground infrastructure. These tunnels come in various sizes, lengths, and dips, and their permanence or temporariness depends on their function and geological and mining conditions.

Underground automation systems for efficient mining, automatic power crushers for crushing and compacting operations, multi-functional excavators for construction and demining functions, use of hybrid electric motors for cost-effective operations, and rail-veyor technology for bulk material hauling solutions are emerging trends that directly affect the dynamics of the mining equipment industry.

The growth of the mining industry is driven by development in the automotive and transport industry, advancements in processing equipment and manufacturing technologies, and an increase in the usage of minerals in various industries such as building and construction, and packaging. In terms of consumption growth, India is one of the leading regions, due to massive urbanisation, growth in income of people living in urban areas, and rapid industrial development. Additionally, continuous advancements in the automotive and aerospace industry and ongoing R&D activities to develop innovative, cheaper, and effective products fuel the growth of the market.

Furthermore, domestic demand for Copper and Aluminium is expected to be strong on the back of an improved outlook for industrial and infrastructure growth. The government’s thrust on the energy and power sector, smart city, Housing for all, harnessing renewable energy resources, electric vehicles, infrastructure development, Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan, and Make in India spells good news for the India mining industry. The per capita copper consumption in India is expected to increase from the current level of 0.6 kg to 1 kg in the coming years. Importantly, the average per capita copper consumption in the world is 3.2 kg.

In recent years, mining companies have adopted a growing range of digital solutions. Many have mechanised their operations, moved from the physical to the digital realm by adding equipment sensors. Despite this progress, in many ways these steps are only a beginning. The true power of digital transformation lies in a structured road map that extends changes from an individual asset level to the entire organisation, to create a platform for innovation and collaboration—ultimately ensuring that digital transformation goes beyond replacing workers and instead augments the workforce and collaborates with it.

As in past years, many mining projects across the country faced delays caused by government decision-making, court cases, and environmental, regulatory, and land acquisition issues. The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed mining operations, and the industry has faced supply chain issues and import challenges.

India allows 100 percent foreign direct investment (FDI) for the exploration and mining of non-core minerals, as well as in oil exploration, captive mining of coal and lignite, and coal processing. To meet energy demand, India plans to upgrade the equipment and technology used in many of its mines, particularly in the coal sector. In 2020, the Indian government passed an ordinance allowing the commercial mining of coal and removing all restrictions on end-uses of mined coal. The ordinance also removed barriers to required experience for companies to participate in coal block auctions.

The increase in the use of coal and the rise in construction activities concerning railway tracks and roads through hilly areas across developing economies such as India are propelling the growth of the global mining equipment market. On the other hand, the high cost associated with mining equipment and strict government regulations on the import of mining equipment curtails the growth to some extent. Moreover, the growing adoption of digital mining technology by miners across the world is projected to pave the way for new opportunities in the industry.

SANY mining machines are equipped with the latest technologies, which meet all the customer requirements. The company’s hi-tech modern engine has fast digging speed with low energy loss. And its maximum operator comfort makes the SY500C-10HD efficient, economical and the perfect match for mining activities. The company has also developed EVI App to monitor the real time performance of the machine and fleet management by the customer. Along with this, we have also developed an internal service app which helps us to increase the uptime of machine when and where required.

Caterpillar Underground Mining delivers equipment, technologies and collaborative support to help underground mining operations work productively and safely while minimising costs. With a worldwide team dedicated to underground mining, Caterpillar works with mining companies and Cat® dealers to adapt equipment and services to help meet the challenges at each mine.

For underground hard rock mining, Caterpillar designs, manufactures and supports a range of underground loaders and trucks. The core design and engineering team is dedicated solely to hard rock mining vehicles, and the machines are manufactured in a state-of-the-art factory constructed, especially for building these trucks and loaders.

Says Rajesh Nath, Managing Director, VDMA India, “Mining would continue to play an important role in India. In actuality, mining accounts for 4 per cent to 5 per cent of our total GDP. Around 60 to 65 percent of India's electricity still comes from coal. By 2025, the Ministry of Coal wants to expand coal production from its current level of 740–750 million tonnes to one billion tonnes. India is still one of the few nations in the world where mining is still a major industry. Because of this, even German businesses are optimistic about India.”

He adds, “The export of German mining equipment to India increased by over 404 percent in the first seven months of this year. At IMME, we have 13 German companies that are upbeat about the potential India offers in the mining sector. German businesses are in a position to benefit both India and Germany by offering high-quality, safe technology and equipment for the mining industry. Energy efficiency is a further crucial factor. Indian businesses will soon release items that save energy.”

Says Arvind K Garg, Senior Vice President and Head, L&T Construction and Mining Machinery, â€œThe Indian construction industry registered a CAGR of over 5 per cent in the last five years despite two years of disruptions during the pandemic. The Government’s focus on growth driven by infra development and manufacturing is aiding demand growth. In addition to the various ongoing infrastructure projects under the National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP) valued at $1.4 trillion for the period 2020-25, the Government of India has recently launched the $1.26 trillion Gati Shakti - National Master Plan for multi-modal connectivity, an integrated infrastructure development plan for seamless connectivity for movement of people, goods and services from one mode of transport to another and to facilitate the last mile connectivity to reduce travel time for people.”

He adds, “Coal continues to be the major demand driver in mining, followed by limestone and iron ore. India still imports a large quantity of coal and the demand for coal is expected to grow steadily till India has adequate alternative renewable energy options. Hence the GoI has taken the necessary steps to ramp up coal production to over 1 billion tonne by 2025. Coal India and its subsidiaries and commercial coal mining by MDOs are expected to drive the demand for mining equipment to new heights.”

“Mining is an important activity for India, as one of the fastest-growing economies of the world, there is increased pressure for metals/minerals to meet the demands of futuristic infrastructure growth in our country. The 'Make in India' initiative for expansion of the industrial sector would further increase the mineral resources demand. In the past few years, the Indian Government has adopted several measures to boost the domestic supply of coal and reduce dependency on imports. Over the forecast period (2022-26), India’s coal production is expected to post a CAGR of 7.5 per cent, to reach 1,153.3 MT by 2026, owing to the commencement of various upcoming projects, along with supportive regulatory reforms,” says Amit Banerjee, Chairman and Managing Director, BEML.

He adds, “With the mining sector being one of the core industries of the economy and with its year-to-year growth, the market for mining equipment looks to be positive growth. As far as BEML is concerned we have registered a growth of around 8 per cent in the mining and construction business vertical during the FY2021-22 and we expect a growth of 10 per cent during the current year. Opportunities are booming with a few setbacks in the sector and the mining equipment industry is hopeful for a rise in demand due to new mining activities and government support in the infrastructure sector. However, there is a definite scope for improvement in the overall sector.”

Karthik Bala, Mining Regional Manager, Resource Industries Sales, Services and Technology, Caterpillar India, says “Caterpillar is closely working with customers to understand their equipment needs. We are trying to guide them into what could be the best mining solution. We are not only talking about machines but end-to-end solutions. We are giving them examples of benchmarking sites so that they can refer to them. From the perspective of the private sector and state-owned enterprises, we think there are a lot of opportunities for growth. The next 10 years will be an important period for mining in India.”

“The future looks promising. Growing infrastructure is the main factor driving India's population toward urbanisation. We require development in steel, cement, and power to sustain this. These three factors are the main ones influencing the mining sector in India. The growth is overwhelmingly excellent. In Epiroc, mining and construction are very evenly distributed. Fifty per cent of our revenues come from the mining industry, and 50 per cent from the infrastructure-related business. While all segments are performing well, the infrastructure category performs significantly better”, says Sujeet Kumar, Business Line Manager - Surface Division, Epiroc Mining India.

Rise of IIoT

Adds Sujeet, “In comparison to other mining markets, India lags behind. A few participants have demonstrated strong interest and are catching up. We sold them technological solutions. Players like Tata Steel are integrating a lot of technology into their mines. Another corporation that heavily relies on technology is Hindustan Zinc. Even prominent Indian players like Adani are entering the fray. In addition, they are bringing about a significant technological change in the mining sector.”

He adds, “Loaders and trucks are the main electrified equipment in underground mining. They are developing battery-powered machines. Large-scale surface drilling equipment is already available. We also intend to develop equipment for modest surface drilling. Diesel engines in prime movers will be swapped out for electrification.”

Says Karthik Bala, “We are also showcasing Cat® MineStar Edge™, Caterpillar’s cutting-edge cloud-based, subscription managed application that creates an operational ecosystem that gives our customers near-real-time visibility to every aspect of their operation. It allows them to efficiently execute their mine plan and deliver optimal quality to the plant and to the surface. Edge makes it possible to measure, manage, analyse, and optimise our customers’ entire operations. The interesting point about the solution is that it is OEM agnostic. It doesn’t have to be Caterpillar equipment; it can work on any manufacturer’s equipment.”

He adds, “The fact that MineStar Edge solution doesn't require extensive infrastructure expenditure from the business makes it an attractive value proposition for our customers. Being a cloud-based solution, it just requires minimum hardware installations to function with any existing infrastructure. With this, data points such as fuel consumption, payload, asset utilisation, etc. are immediately posted into the cloud device, allowing the mine operator or mine owner to monitor how effectively the asset is being used.”

Sany India has emerged as a game changer in the construction and mining industry with their vast array of technologically superior products. One such product is SKT90S. Considered to be a mining monster in the true sense, SKT90S comes with a payload capacity of 60 tonnes and body volume of 33 cubic metres. The core advantages of efficiency, comfort, intelligence along with a superior payload capacity of 61t makes the SKT90S one of the most powerful, durable, reliable and efficient truck for our mining industry.

The SKT90S is a dump truck with a 60 t payload, with a number of improvements over more basic models of this design including a hydro-pneumatic suspension to replace the traditional leaf spring structure, vastly improving the machine life and operator comfort of the machine as well as upping availability.

Dheeraj Panda, COO – Sales, Marketing & Customer Support, Sany Heavy Duty India, “We can track the machine and its functioning with the aid of mechatronics. Additionally, it interacts rather directly with the customer. The consumer is fully aware of the HMR, fuel consumption, and geo-coordinates of the machine it is using. Mechatronics assists in identifying any machine flaws early on so that a device failure is avoided. Many of our customers own a group of machines. We can provide them with an URL through which they can look at machines from the comfort of their office and also check the HMR, fuel consumption, and various other parameters.”

B&R’s modular X90 control and I/O system offer the perfect hardware platform. The system's heart is the X90 controller with a powerful ARM processor and up to 48 multifunction I/O channels. The modular controller can be equipped with optional I/Os, interfaces, or circuit boards – such as the one for condition monitoring. B&R’s mapp components are quick to configure and communicate with each other automatically – reducing the amount of actual programming to a minimum. This results in a very high-performance system that monitors machine health and informs operators in time to act.

Said Tridib Majumder, Managing Director, Quaker Houghton India, â€œThe products we have in the metals industry contribute to reducing friction, energy savings and improving finish primarily in cold rolling of flat steel products. We have rust-preventives to ensure there is no corrosion after the steel is rolled. For the benefit of both steel and non-ferrous customers, Quaker Houghton continuously improves our products and develops novel solutions. For the Transportation OEMs, we have fluids that go into improving process efficiency once steel or iron is used to build a vehicle – car, 2-wheeler, 3-wheeler bus, or truck. We have fire-resistant hydraulic fluids for the mining segment. There are numerous hydrocarbon gases in subterranean mines which have a tendency of catching fire. This can cause the entire equipment to be destroyed or damaged in the fire.”

“At IMME, we are also promoting the dust and silica monitoring system through our UK-based OEM. The Dust Monitor utilises a next-generation optical Particle Counter (OPC) to deliver dramatically improved accuracy and repeatability of measurement over a diverse range of Particulate Matter (PM) sizes. With its advanced design, patented algorithm, dynamic flow, and multiple scatter angles, it delivers more valuable information than any other unit of its kind and now comes with a full on-device configuration to give maximum flexibility and accuracy of results,” Subrata Mitra, Group President, Vishwa Group of Companies.

He added, “We also provide rock monitoring system, which aids the mines in securely holding the roof in place. We have partnered with Australian and British business associates for this. The Rock Monitoring System continuously collects data to enable the optimisation of roof support planning while also monitoring the integrity of rock structures in underground mining and tunnelling and maintaining the highest levels of worker safety. The people at the surface may watch the movement of the strata underground in real-time from their PC and are not need to physically go underneath in order to inspect the strata because the underground data is relayed to the surface. As a result, the system is very safe and effective.”

Road ahead

In the emerging market scenario, there is an increased use of these equipment at Indian projects and with the new policy revival in mining and construction segments, this trend is going to gather momentum in future. According to Sen, projects like the Zojila tunnel, Char Dham railway line project and some hydro power projects planned will drive demand for tunnelling equipment in future.