Advanced mining organizations are starting to introduce industrial-scale, three-dimensional printing of mining equipment, an industry expert said.
According to Louise Steenekamp, director of Wipro South Africa energy and natural resources, using 3D printers to produce mining equipment could improve cost efficiency, while reducing the equipment’s wear and tear.
“By 3D printing the spare parts and replaceable components that complex mine machinery requires, operators can gain greater control over the supply chain and ensure the smooth running of equipment,” she told Mining Weekly.
According to Steenekamp, the current methods by which diamond and gem mining equipment are produced are often “time-consuming, expensive, wasteful and rely too much on third-party equipment manufacturers.” Furthermore, “Mines have to bear the brunt of excess inventory, warehousing and storage costs, as well as the logistical costs of urgently transporting parts.”
According to the report, Steenekamp believes that the fast-paced progress in the information and operational technology spheres spells interesting opportunities for the mining industry.
Currently, mining operations worldwide must venture deeper into the earth and allocate larger resources to find precious gems, inflicting faster wear and tear on mining equipment.
Steenekamp argues that by using robotics “we can create a digital representation – such as a hologram or on-screen display – of the equipment to [monitor and] understand its performance, and interact with the environment kilometers below the surface.”
This data could allow mining companies to predict potential equipment failures, saving valuable on-site time.
But perhaps the most significant advantage of 3D printing is the cost-effective production of customized items on a small scale.
“For mine operators looking to tailor their approach to a specific site, 3D printing offers some exciting prospects. It could not only save costs and reduce the interruptions and waiting times for maintenance but also be the catalyst for smarter operations,” Steenekamp said, adding that additional operations, such as labor scheduling and truck dispatch timetables, can be configured to best fit with a mine’s operation, making 3D printing “a vital enabler.