Located in Queensland, Australia, Ernest Henry Mining is a Glencore company that first began operating in 1998 as an open pit mine. As the open pit’s economic life span was due to end in 2011, plans in 2009 were confirmed to invest $589 million and transform the mine to underground shaft mining. By early 2012, a 5 km decline had been established to enable the trucking of ore from underground to the surface. Rates of production with this method were approximately three million tonnes annually resulting in about 25,000 tonnes of copper concentrate and 35,000 ounces of gold concentrate per year. By moving to shaft hoisting, 2015 production was forecast to double to six million tonnes of ore. That rate is projected to be achieved on an annual basis over the extended lifespan of the mine to 2026.
The C-Shaft headframe in Yellowknife, originally constructed in 1948, has been one of the most iconic images in the region. The headframe has been there for the entire lives of many local residents. It is a landmark that is displayed on t-shirts, stamps and in history books. However, the headframe is currently being dismantled as part of the Giant Mine remediation project that started in 2013. People have mixed feelings about the structure’s demise. Some feel it is like erasing part of their history while others believe that it’s time to move on.
Yellowknife’s C-Shaft headframe was used by workers for over 50 years for transportation up and down the mine shaft, which is about 640 meters deep. Safety concerns led to the decision to eliminate the C-Shaft headframe to enable early site stabilization for the remediation project.
Mining is a millennia-old industry that has seen many advancements. Throughout the years, new equipment have been designed to make mining more efficient and safer for workers. Perhaps one of the most problematic aspects of the industry lies in maintenance of loading, dumping and haulage equipment. Due to the harsh nature of the work and the environment, equipment such as aluminum mine skips, cages and various machinery take considerable wear and tear. When one essential equipment is compromised, it could cripple the entire process.
Most mine haulage equipment are designed for a mine’s specific needs. As a result, each equipment is unique and require specific measures in order to keep in good shape. Neglected, faulty machinery can lead to accidents and injuries to their operators or other various mine workers. Custom made equipment also require specially crafted spare parts that would most likely be available where it was made in the first place.
Lifting large volumes of materials from the depths of underground mines is a struggle against gravity. It involves carrying dense rock in massive quantities, which equates to immense levels of strain on any equipment used. As such, mining skips must have extraordinarily rugged specifications to maintain efficiency and safety in the excavation process.
The skip must be able to carry large loads without being too heavy itself. Through the years, the mining industry has seen various developments in how skips are constructed, from the materials used to the design of the units. The use of aluminum alloys is pretty common because of the metal’s exceptional strength-to-weight ratio. The material’s downside is low-wear resistance, which is addressed by lining skips with abrasion-resistant steel, mild steel, or rubber.
Mining is one of Canada’s richest sources of income and employment. Over 380,000 people benefit from this industry. Mining has long fueled the economy by providing the building blocks of industrialization, which in turn has created more businesses and job opportunities.
Dangers in the Mine
Miners face various kinds of risk every time they venture deep into the earth. Accidents due to human, mechanical or natural causes sometime happen. An underground rock fall, for instance, can delay operations and entail lengthy and costly repairs. Equipment malfunction or inefficiency can also have negative effects on production. These situations not only put miner safety at risk but they also curtail a mine’s overall productivity which, in turn, impacts profitability.
Before a mining project commences, the site in question is thoroughly explored, entailing a series of lengthy and complex analyses and appraisals to determine the feasibility of the project and the most efficient process to implement. If the minerals are found to be deposited deep in the earth, the only viable option is developing an underground mining operation that involves the creation of a mine shaft.
What is a mine shaft?
A mine shaft is a is a vertical access hole that is several meters in diameter and stretches down to the location of the ore. It is where miners, supplies, equipment, water and air are conveyed to gain access to the ore. Ore is conveyed to the surface through mine skips that move up and down the shaft.
Underground mining is the second oldest method of producing salt, next to the solar evaporation technique. Like most mines, salt mines employ large machines to travel through vast cave-like passageways performing various functions. Unlike most mines, however, salt mines are comfortable to work in (average temperature stays around 70° F all year round) and offer a safer work environment than usual.
Salt mine in Goderich, Ontario
Deep under Lake Huron lies the largest salt mine in the world. Some 500 miners work in the mine, often cited as a massive and almost pure deposit that experts predict will be able to supply 100 years of mining. Compass Minerals is the company in charge of the mine, and if predictions are on point, the company is set for profit for many years to come.
Mining is a multibillion dollar industry obviously because of its colossal role in industrialization. It can be done in two ways—creating an open pit or an underground operation. Open-pit mining is ideal when ground inspection suggests that there’s a huge volume of ore deposit under the mining site. Underground mining can be done if the ore deposit is concentrated in deeper areas. The latter is a more popular option, especially if the mine site is surrounded by structures or close to a community.
In underground mining, shafts are developed to provide workers and machines with access to the ore underneath. Once a shaft is built, mine skips and cages will be installed for the transportation of extracted ore, equipment and employees. The ore will be drilled and crushed to be easily conveyed through the skips. After extracting all ore deposits, the shaft will be closed by filling with the overburden produced during excavation.
Mining products account for over 20 percent of Canada’s total exports. It’s no wonder, then, that Canada has become one of the largest mining nations in the world, producing over 60 minerals and metals with an estimated annual value of US$ 42 billion. These figures reflect not just the healthy mining market but also the abundance of ores underneath Canadian soil.
Thanks to continuous exploration, new mine sites are being established and more minerals and metals are being mined. Current exploration results however, present a formidable two-fold challenge for mining companies: location and accessibility. According to the National Research Council Canada, easy-to-access mining locations are slowly disappearing, leaving remote sites the only option for mining firms looking to establish or expand their operations.
Underground mines need high-volume mine skips that can move vast quantities of raw ore to the surface at once. For instance, in its natural form, gold ore isn’t pure gold at all. Smelting and separation procedures must isolate the gold from impurities and minerals like quartz and silver. If gold mines hope to increase their volume, they need to move more ore.