Open Cut

Dragline Research Review

Open Cut » Overburden Removal

Published: July 97Project Number: C4001

Get ReportAuthor: Jim Humphrey | ARCO Coal

The existing ACARP program is a vast improvement over its predecessors. There is virtually no comparison in the quality of work, the expeditious performance of researchers, the applicability of the results and the technology transfer mechanisms. This is not to say it can't continue to be refined, but it certainly has come a long way. Additionally, compared to research programs in other countries, ACARP proveds significantly more value, to the mining operations, for every dollar by a long margin.

In general, operations think that the best research is low tech, robust, and versatile. In other words projects need to be easy to apply, have a high probability of success, and be applicable to as many operations as possible. Hoever, even the best projects go unappreciated if unseen. ACARP can continue to insure its success by improving and diversifying the technology transer mechanisms, in order to make the knowledge gained in research available to more people. Additionally, efforts should be made to drive projects by ideas from the operations rather than by the ideas from the researchers. Some projects could be predefined based on users needs and let out as in a 'tender process'.

Projects should continue to be phased in stages, but more focus should be applied to final objectives and how they will be achieved. This planning process should include more emphasis on how a project adds value.

ACARP projects have recently begun to take on more emphasis on safety. This trend should be encouraged and supported. If not from a humanitarian aspect, then just because these projects have a tendency to be Low Tech, Robust and Versatile. Additionally, projects have had a bias towards mechanical aspects of draglines with very little work done from a planning perspective.

There are numerous synergies between the projects but ACARP encourages very little cooperation. This project places special emphasis on the identification of synergies. Additionally, it appears background research on many projects is scanty at best. Many researchers appeared unaware of similar previous work. ACARP should emphasise these aspects during project selection.

Conclusions & Recommendations

As part of this research review process, interviews were held with over 60 individuals from 9 different mining operations, leading manufacturers and research organisations in Australia, the US and South Africa, with the intent to investigate their needs and interests, as well as solicit comments on current research projects. From these discussions a number of predominant themes emerged. Most people favoured projects that were one or more of the following:

  • Low Tech
    Projects that relied less on new or innovative technology, but rather upon basic engineering principles.
  • Robust
    Projects that had a high probability of application, less risk and were easy to apply.
  • Versatile
    Projects that could be applied by variety of users or to a broad selection of applications.

For these reasons favoured projects were on subjects that included buckets, operator interfaces, planning tools and modifications to existing draglines.

It was noted that current research tends to predominantly focus on 'hard' technology. However, this doesn't need to always be the case. Development of training programs and planning tools would certainly seem worthy objectives as well. It is surprising, for example, how many young dragline engineers don't seem to grasp the real goal of draglines (to uncover coal at the lowest possible cost per tonne shipped).

It is still common to find engineers that try to use rehandle or swing rates as their performance indicators, sometimes they understand the limitations of these numbers, but often they don't. Training courses on KPI's and using dragline data would go a long way with rookie engineers. Additionally, in this world of amazing computer advancements dragline engineers and operators still don't have means to (quickly) plan in 3D.

Accolades to 3D-Dig for what it has accomplished, but it's still way too cumbersome to be used on a daily basis, there is room for improvement in this area. There are considerable cost savings to be realised in minimising electrical demand costs, and while some operations have addressed this on an individual basis there is still substantial value in industry wide applications.


The majority of ACARP research projects that were reviewed concentrated on dragline Design and Operations, in general however, surprisingly little research is being conducted on Safety issues. This may be apparently so because of the relatively short exposure of this project, but it shouldn't become a trend. Where as South African and American research would have a long way to go in most areas, to compare with the ACARP program, they both maintain a strong safety component.

In South Africa the Chamber of Mines dedicates a significant effort to it's 'Safety Innovations' booklet which, as part of the biennial ElectraMine exposition, is produced as a compilation of safety ideas. These ideas are submitted as part of a competition. Solicited from mining operations and they are generally innovative inventions that were developed in the field to meet an existing need, not the result of concerted R&D program.

Several hundred of the ideas are then awarded based on merit and compiled into the 'Safety Innovations' booklet. There is a nominal charge for the booklet, but the ideas are made freely available to the mining industry in the hope that others will benefit from their application.

In the US the breakup and partial closure of the US Bureau of Mines research groups has had a devastating effect on the government mining research in that country. However, the Health and Safety research was virtually untouched and was retained by the Department of Energy and NIOSH. This area was a predominant focus of the USBM and was obviously seen to be the area of most importance. Health and Safety research always seemed to have the broadcast and most effective technology transfer mechanisms. This may have lead to its improved image and resultant survival.

Dragline Automation

Dragline automation in general is being received very favourably by the industry. The program seems to be properly staged and controlled. Given the advance rate of this program and technology in general, a fully automated dragline in the next 4 or 5 years would not seem an unreasonable expectation.

However, this project needs to begin to refine its focus and determine how exactly dragline automation will add value. What aspect(s) of the operation of the dragline will benefit from automation? There is no doubt that draglines will benefit from automation, but will it be through reduced operator fatigue, maximised utilisation of motor performance or reduced fatigue stresses?

This project would have to be coordinated with C3047 Mathematical Analysis and Modelling of Dragline Operating Methods and it successors in order to achieve true autonomous operation. Additionally, ties with programs like C5001 and C5002 that deal with fatigue life in structures and gearing should be encouraged to optimise operating costs.

Given the advancement in autonomous trucks, an effort towards shovel or loader automation would seem a logical spin off.



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