Thousands of feet below the earth, specialized mining vehicles rumble through tunnels, performing a multitude of tasks like a colony of worker ants. The machines scurrying deep underground include personnel carriers, boom trucks, rock drills, transmixers, shotcrete sprayers, blockholers, long toms, scissor bolters, and scissor lifters, just to name a few. Each has a tough job to do. And when there’s a vehicle failure, the whole mining operation can come to a grinding halt.
Headquartered in Ontario, Canada, MacLean Engineering builds underground mining equipment that makes operations all over the world safer and more efficient. No matter where the mining site is located, underground mining is difficult work. Vehicles and machines with heavy loads move around the clock at high temperatures in dust and moisture. Reliability, performance and long engine life are crucial for a costeffective operation. Like most other industries, time is money. A small holdup in mining production could translate to a loss of thousands or millions of dollars to a mining operation. That’s why, for many of its machines, MacLean counts on Mercedes-Benz Series 900 engines to get the job done.
Tunnels 15 feet high and wide
Underground mining companies excavate hard minerals from the earth. The minerals contain useful metals, such as gold, silver, iron, copper, zinc, nickel, tin and lead. In order to start the mining process, engineers create tunnels to access ore reserves, called the ore body, which are the areas where rock is extracted. These are usually 15 feet wide and just as high. “For underground mining equipment, size is a big factor – you have to get the equipment down in the mine and operate it within the parameters,” says Dan Stern, product manager, MacLean Engineering. “We have to package our equipment so we get the most performance from its size. The biggest challenge for us is to provide a right-sized powertrain for the application at hand.”
The mine tunnels often include many twists and turns, and sometimes changes in gradation. Tunnels often slope at a 20% incline and will likely not be a straight path. In order for the vehicles to navigate the turns of a mine road, many MacLean mining vehicles are articulated—bending in the middle so the driver can easily take corners.
The narrow tunnels of a mine also present other challenges. For example, drivers often have to drive a quarter of a mile before they come across a space large enough to turn their vehicle around. To save time, MacLean has designed many of their machines so the driver’s seat faces the side of the vehicle, pointing directly at the mineshaft’s wall. The driver simply turns his head 90 degrees to the right as the vehicle drives forward, and 90 degrees to the left when in reverse.
Clean air regulations
To keep miners healthy, fresh air is pumped into the mine with massive ventilation fans. Air must move at a ratio commensurate to the size of the engine. For example, in Canada, regulations require mine operators to pump 100 cubic feet per minute (CFM) of air into the mine per horsepower of the engine in use in the mining equipment. So, if you were to operate a 147 horsepower Mercedes-Benz 904 engine (a commonly used engine in this industry) you would require 14,700 CFM of air pumped into the mine to support that machine. The fresh air mitigates many of the risks associated with mining.
However, these regulations present a unique challenge. Mining equipment engines must provide the extreme power needed to do their job. Tasks include drilling, moving personnel and their tools through the tunnels, blasting the rock and excavating material. These tasks need to be done in line with a strict time schedule and each unit of horsepower that is not available from an engine slows the work down. MacLean Engineering relies on Mercedes-Benz Series 900 engines from MTU to power 90% of is vehicles. All of the engines are equipped with innovative clean technology to protect the environment. The 147 hp Mercedes-Benz 904 engine is used in MacLean bolters, many personnel carriers and their remote-controlled BH3 Blockholer. For jobs requiring more power, such as hauling heavy supplies up and down inclines, MacLean outfits their machinery with the Mercedes-Benz 906 engine, which generates 201 horsepower. The additional horsepower allows for speedy delivery of equipment and supplies.
“Mercedes-Benz engines have one of the highest reputations among our customer base for being the cleanest engines in underground mining,” says Stern. “Our customers request these engines. The 900 Series engine is very reputable engine in the underground mining industry, especially in North America and Australia.”
Series 900 Bolter makes mines safe
Safety has always been an important concern for MacLean Engineering. Everyone is familiar with the stories of cave-ins that have made international headlines. To address this issue, MacLean Engineering once again changed the mining industry for the better by developing a new machine. To prevent cave-ins, MacLean created the unique Series 900 Bolter. The Series 900 Bolter is a scissor lift that raises the operator to the ceiling. The machine then drills a hole into the roof and inserts a rock bolt that stabilizes the ceiling, creating a much safer working environment. This bolter utilizes the Mercedes-Benz 904 engine. Over the years, MacLean has sold over 400 Bolters, making it the number one ground support machine in the world. In fact, due to government safety regulations, the Bolter is required for underground mining in North America.
A growing industry
In spite of all these obstacles to success, underground mining is a growing industry, thanks to technologies from innovative companies such as MacLean Engineering. Mining provides a significant, positive economic impact to all involved countries.
Industries in developing countries often propel the demand for base metals that can be used as building supplies. Additionally, as countries develop and wealth increases, there is a demand for precious metals like gold and silver, and jewels such as diamonds. Many Asian countries are starting to experience economic growth from mining. MacLean recently partnered with an established dealer in Mongolia to support underground mining operations for the Oyu Tolgoi Mine project. The Oyu Tolgoi Mine will be one of the world’s largest mines with over 2,200 draw points. The mine produces vast amounts of copper and some gold.
MacLean expects this kind of industry growth to continue around the world, matching the growing need for the goods mining provides. The company has a 41-year-long track record of producing the most innovative mining equipment to meet the ever-changing demands of the industry. The future looks bright for MacLean Engineering, and all of their partners, including MTU engines.
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