Applying soft-rock mining concepts in hard-rock mining

Caterpillar wants to replace conventional drill-and-blast operations in low heights. That's why it introduced its Rock Straight System, which is defined as "a fully mechanized longwall system designed for continuous mining of flat and tabular deposits and reefs of hard rock minerals."

The system's cutting machine uses CAT's Activated Undercutting Technology, which has been specifically developed for the extraction of bedded hard rock deposits.

In conversation with MINING.COM at MINExpo International 2016, CAT's Jens Steinberg, who is the Head of Product Management in Hard Rock Mining, explained that the equipment also includes a low-profile hard rock chain conveyor and hard rock hydraulic roof. This allows it to deliver simultaneous cutting, loading and hauling—controlled by the longwall automation system.

The machine, which represents the first continuous hard rock mining platform that can be operated in a fully automatic mode, is now commercially available.

Cat Rock Straight System graphic (Photo: Caterpillar).

Cat Rock Straight System graphic (Photo: Caterpillar).

Full interview transcribed for clarity:

MINING.COM: Can you tell me about the new product that you have here at MINExpo?

Jens Steinberg: What we are having here is the Caterpillar rock straight system. It’s a longwall system for hard rock mining.

MINING.COM: What is its application?

Jens Steinberg: It’s basically for customers that are mining tabular, hard-rock deposits, especially the lower-seam heights. You are looking at some of the reefs in South Africa, like chrome and platinum, some of the gold reefs… Around the globe, you’ll also find copper deposits where this rock straight system could be applied.

MINING.COM: I understand it’s a new technology…

Jens Steinberg: Absolutely. It’s actually allowing our customers to apply the continuous mining system, as it’s known for decades already in the coal and soft rock mining industry -with all its advantages like high productivity, very safe rock environment- apply that same concept in hard-rock mining.

Cat Rock Straight Sytem cutting unit

Cat Rock Straight System cutting unit (Photo: Caterpillar).

MINING.COM: What are some of the safety features of it?

Jens Steinberg: We have a cutting machine that rides on a conveyor and the system is also having a hydraulic roof support shield behind to support the hanging wall and to provide a safe environment, but also, basically, that machine that was cutting hard rock is replacing drilling and blasting.

We are taking the miners away from the phase. It’s a single operator for that system and he sits in a very safe and also nice and comfortable cabin to supervise the system.

MINING.COM: Can you talk about some of the automation features?

Jens Steinberg: It’s a semi-autonomous cutting system, so the cutting sequence runs fully autonomous, and the supervisor is just supervising that from the cabin. He then needs to initiate the phase-move after checking that there is nobody in the phase, and that’s basically all that’s required from the operator.

Cat Rock Straight System in Training Center

Cat Rock Straight System in Training Center (Photo: Caterpillar).

MINING.COM: Where do you currently have the unit running?

Jens Steinberg: We had the system running on for validation. Validation is completed now and we have the system now launched and it’s its first time here in the show and we are selling it just now.

MINING.COM: Do you have any particular markets that you’re targeting?

Jens Steinberg: The core market is going to be South Africa, because just from a geological point of view there is the majority of the hard deposits, like gold, platinum, and chrome… and the copper shell actually there’s many of those around the globe in many countries, in the U.S., in Europe, and in Africa.