Mining is extremely dangerous. If you don’t know what you’re doing or how to use your equipment, you can easily get hurt. The best way to stay safe and prepare for a career in mining is to educate yourself on the different types of equipment you will be working with daily.
Underground vs. Surface Mining Equipment
Different mining sites require their own unique sets of equipment. While the majority of this post will focus on surface mining equipment, it’s essential to explain the differences between the two main mining types. Above ground, or surface mining, includes strip mining, open-pit mining, and mountaintop removal mining. Essentially, surface mining is the term used to describe any mining where the rock overlying the mineral deposit is removed.
In underground mining, the overlying rock is left intact. Minerals are removed via shafts and tunnels. Underground mining can be further categorized between hard-rock mining and soft-rock mining. As the name suggests, hard-rock mining is used to extract hard minerals like metals or diamonds. Soft-rock mining, on the other hand, is used to extract softer minerals like salt, coal, or oil sands.
What Machines are Used in Surface Mining?
The following equipment will be found at many surface mining sites.
Hydraulic Mining Shovels
In mining, shovels are also frequently referred to as excavators and are used to pick up large amounts of dirt or other materials and transport them from one spot to another. These excavators are particularly useful when opening the mining site to expose the minerals that will be extracted. As we mentioned above, surface mining involves removing the rock overlying the mineral deposit, and hydraulic mining shovels and excavators help do just that.
Depending on the ore they’re extracting, miners use excavators to transport the minerals from one point to another for processing.
A wheel loader is a type of hydraulic mining shovel that differentiates itself with its large size and hauling capacity. Wheel loaders can also travel at fairly high-speeds, so they’re an excellent solution for mining operations with ore pockets that are spread out across the site.
If mining sites aren’t using a wheel loader as their primary excavator, they can be used:
- As a backup while the hydraulic mining shovels are in service
- As a support machine for cleaning up the site
- For simplifying the operations of the other machines
For example, hydraulic mining shovels can deposit their loads directly into the wheel loader, as opposed to going all the way to the crusher. The wheel loaders can then take many loads at once to the crusher, saving time for all parties involved.
As the name suggests, mining crushers are used for crushing large rocks into smaller rocks or gravel. In mining, crushers are typically used to take the extracted ore and break it down into more manageable pieces. Crushers are capable of reducing the size of extremely hard minerals and raw materials. They are categorized based on how small they can make the raw materials. Primary and secondary crushers reduce materials to coarser sizes while tertiary and quaternary crushes reduce the particles to very fine pieces.
While this equipment doesn’t directly participate in the extraction of minerals, it does ensure a mining site runs efficiently. Motor graders are used in road construction and maintenance so that trucks and excavators can move from place to place quickly and safely. Well-maintained roads will also save on machine maintenance, fuel, and tires. The type of grader used is dependent on mining site conditions and equipment usage.
Blasthole drills are used to create the holes that explosives will be placed into for mining site creation. These drills can be electric, diesel, or hydraulic powered and are typically used in new mine development and contract drilling. Blasthole drills are extremely powerful as they must penetrate some of the toughest rock in the world and face arctic conditions and high altitudes.
This piece of equipment is typically used in coal mining to extract coal from exposed horizontal seams in open-pit mines. Highwall miners are mobile and are frequently used after other extraction methods have reached their limits in what can be obtained. Highwall miners primarily work by cutting into the seams on the ground using a cutterhead. The cutterhead digs out the entire length of the seam, transporting the newly found coal from the seam to the surface using conveyor belts.
Because highwall miners are used above ground, they tend to be a safer alternative to underground mining. Additionally, unlike other mining methods, highwall miners only require a skeleton crew, saving the mining site in operational costs.
The final and largest piece of surface mining equipment we will cover are draglines. Draglines are used in open pit mining and work similarly to excavators. The difference between draglines and excavators is that draglines operate on a much larger scale. Many draglines can remove dirt in scoops of several hundred tons. Additionally, many dragline buckets are the size of a two-car garage.
Get Your Surface Mine Training
Now that you have a basic understanding of common surface mining equipment, it’s time to take your knowledge to the next level. Sign up for our Surface Miner Training Course to become MSHA certified and learn everything you need to know about safe and efficient surface mining.