As the Industry 4.0 revolution takes hold and the opportunities presented by additive manufacturing...
Metal additive manufacturing is transforming how the mining industry operates. Also known as metal 3D printing, the technology can improve operations, reduce costs and increase the lifespan of vital equipment.
But how exactly is metal additive manufacturing used in the mining industry? And what benefits and opportunities does it present? In this blog, we answer all of these questions.
- What Is Metal Additive Manufacturing?
- How Is Metal Additive Manufacturing Being Used in the Mining Industry?
- What Are the Benefits of Using Metal Additive Manufacturing in the Mining Industry?
- Start Your Metal Additive Manufacturing Journey Today
What Is Metal Additive Manufacturing?
Metal 3D printing is a manufacturing technology that has the potential to transform mining operations. Although the mining industry has been slower than other industries to adopt metal 3D printing, many applications to improve productivity and operational efficiency exist.
The metal 3D printing process creates parts by depositing material only where it is needed, enabling the construction of intricate geometries that wouldn’t be possible using traditional manufacturing methods. It’s ideally suited for low volume production of parts with highly optimised designs and for creating customised parts.
It’s important to note that additive manufacturing should be used in conjunction with traditional manufacturing methods to realise the benefits each production method provides.
How Is Metal Additive Manufacturing Being Used in the Mining Industry?
There are many opportunities to capitalise on the benefits of metal 3D printing throughout the mining value chain. It’s best to look at some of the critical stages of the value chain to help you get an idea of the applications.
Machinery used for open-pit or underground mineral extraction, such as drilling rigs and excavators, must be energy efficient and durable to withstand high levels of shock and vibration. Using metal 3D printing, replacement components such as couplings, brackets and drill parts can be produced with optimised geometries to reduce weight and improve robustness.
Here are some examples of how metal 3D printing can be applied to the extraction stage.
- The sliding case of a water-powered down-the-hole (DTH) hammer, consisting of multiple components, can be fabricated as a single part, simplifying assembly and removing the need for weld joints.
- Drill bits, coupling sleeves and clamping jaws with complex forms can be 3D printed quickly, without the need of expensive pre-production tooling.
- Mounting brackets using lightweight 3D-printed structures can be utilised to improve the energy efficiency of drilling rigs and electric loaders.
Crushing and Grinding
Crushing and grinding equipment process large volumes of extracted material and are consistently exposed to high levels of wear and abrasion. Minimising equipment downtime is critical to this production stage. By using metal 3D printing, replacement parts can be supplied rapidly and when needed.
Here are a few specific examples of how metal 3D printing can be used::
- Replacement components for crusher gearboxes and motor drive systems can be reverse-engineered — 3D scanned — and reproduced within a matter of weeks.
- Grinding mill liners can be designed with less weight and fewer assembly components to improve mill energy efficiency and reduce installation time.
- Impellers of slurry pumps can be designed with optimised flow profiles to improve performance and fabricated without the need for expensive casting molds.
What Are the Benefits of Using Metal Additive Manufacturing in the Mining Industry?
Easy Access To Spare Parts
Mines are typically situated in remote and high-risk locations that aren’t easily accessible. For this reason, transporting spare parts to mining sites can take a lot of time and be very expensive.
3D printing provides the opportunity to produce parts locally and reduce the number of manufacturing steps needed. Critical spare parts can be delivered to customers faster, less inventory is required onsite and a more sustainable supply chain carbon footprint can be achieved.
Reducing spare part lead times also means unplanned maintenance activities can be carried out faster and the impact of downtime disruptions can be minimised.
Replace Obsolete Parts
In the mining industry, it’s not uncommon for equipment to have a service life of over 25 years. However, maintaining these machines can be a challenge.
Companies are forced to invest in large spare part inventories or run the risk of not being able to service their equipment once replacement parts are no longer commercially available. That's where metal 3D printing can help.
Obsolete parts can be reversed engineered and reproduced simply by scanning, creating a 3D CAD model and then printing the part. As a result, physical inventories can be replaced by digital inventories and obsolete parts can be produced on-demand.
Parts must be durable to withstand the rigorous demands of the mining industry. The cost of equipment failure can be high — specifically downtime and maintenance — so component designs must be perfectly optimised for their given application.
3D printing provides the ability to cost-efficiently fabricate complex geometries and customised designs. In doing so, the designs of existing parts can be enhanced to improve reliability and application performance.
Here are a few ways in which part designs can be optimised using 3D printing:
- Flow profiles of fluid handling systems can be optimised to minimise pressure losses, pitting and erosion.
- Internal cooling channels can be introduced to parts working in high temperature environments.
- Complex gyroid structures can be used in heat exchangers to maximise surface area and improve heat transfer efficiency.
- Mounting brackets and supports can incorporate lattice structures to reduce weight and maintain strength.
- Assemblies can be fabricated as a single component to eliminate the use of weld-joints and simplify installation.
Metal 3D printing addresses many questions around sustainability — an increasingly important topic in the mining industry. Transportation costs and CO2 emissions can be reduced by producing spare parts closer to mining sites. Additionally, by reducing the weight of parts through design optimisation, mining equipment can be more energy and fuel efficient.
Unlike traditional manufacturing methods where raw material is subtracted, the process of additive manufacturing only applies material where it is needed, meaning less energy and raw material are wasted.
Start Your Additive Manufacturing Journey Today
Are you ready to discover the benefits of metal additive manufacturing for your business? Then we have the resource for you. Our guide provides all the advice and calculations you need to propose a solid business case for metal 3D printing. Click the link below to download our guide and get started.