Volvo goes for the gold
Located in Ghana’s Western Region, the Kinross Chirano Gold Mine is pioneering operational innovation with the help of both Volvo Construction Equipment and Volvo Trucks.
Just a four-hour drive outside Kumasi, Ghana’s second busiest metropolis, the picturesque countryside sets the backdrop to a modern gold-mining operation with an impressive mine camp.
Established in 2005 as a small open-pit operation, Chirano was acquired by Canada’s Kinross Gold Corporation in 2010. Over the course of the years, the company has ramped up production, establishing multiple open pits and two underground mines. Approximately 250,000 ounces of gold are mined each year and in March 2015, the mine celebrated its two millionth ounce of gold production.
However, due to the negative impact on commodity prices caused by the recent adverse global economic climate, business has not been easy for the mining industry. Gold prices peaked in 2011 at more than USD $1,900 per ounce and have since retreated to around USD $1,100 per ounce.
“Although the industry has faced challenges, Chirano has managed to maintain profitability by making major adjustments and innovations, most notably by transitioning from contract mining to self-perform,” said Kenneth Norris, vice president and general manager of Chirano. By making this change, Chirano has assumed greater control of its production costs and reduced them in a variety of ways. It is here that Volvo Construction Equipment and Volvo Trucks are playing a significant role.
The Chirano mine has around 80 Volvo machines on site, including A40 articulated haulers, wheel loaders and backhoe loaders alongside FMX 8×4 and 10×4 tippers from Volvo Trucks. There are also various support vehicles, such as water bowsers and fuel and maintenance trucks.
As ‘thinking outside the box’ is clearly part of the mantra at Chirano, it comes as no surprise that the mine has found another great way to revolutionize production: it is pioneering a combination of both Volvo articulated haulers and Volvo FMX trucks in its underground operations. This is a perfect example of the synergy between Volvo Construction Equipment and Volvo Trucks.
Volvo business manager for Central and West Africa Frank Schmitt explains that the Volvo Group is unique in the industry. “We offer on-road trucks as well as off-road machines, such as the Volvo articulated haulers,” he says. “This gives our customers multiple benefits in terms of compatibility as well as the lowest cost for hauling material from on-site to a processing plant or waste-rock storage facilities.”
The highly competitive capital costs of the machines, reasonably priced parts and efficient on-site service were all key factors in the decision to purchase Volvo machines. “We get very good service and support in-country, which is key for working in a country like Ghana. Considering the demanding use, we need a lot of support from the local dealership for both parts and technical support to keep the machines running day and night,” Norris explains. This is where SMT, the official Volvo distributor in Central and West Africa, comes in.
Managing director of SMT Ghana Denis Pylyser emphasizes the importance of providing a reliable maintenance and repair service. Its on-site workshop, staffed by eight technicians dedicated to Chirano, ensures an immediate response to any issues with Volvo machines. “These technicians keep the equipment downtime as short as possible, which optimizes the productivity of the mine,” says Pylyser.
“What’s unique is that the 8×4 tipper trucks are going in the underground mine and the 10×4 tipper trucks are going to the open pit. In both locations, they are assisted by Volvo articulated haulers and other supporting machines,” says Pylyser. With their sharp articulation and good steering, the articulated haulers are particularly suited to underground mining operations.
Mine superintendent for open-pit operations Paul Arwona Bejele explains that “very smart decisions” had to be made to be able to keep production costs down. “In open-pit mining in particular, one of the high-cost areas is haulage,” he says. “At Chirano, we found it smart to go with Volvo. The fuel consumption is low and they have high maneuverability, which means we do not need to mine huge areas to be able to provide access for them. And, they are quick in reaching the dumping points and getting back to the pits.”
With fuel consumption being the biggest annual cost to Chirano, second only to labor, the savings have been significant. “All Volvo machines are equipped with Volvo engines, which have high torque at low RPM,” explains Schmitt. “That gives the customer the benefit of low fuel consumption, which means lower operational costs.”
The machines also operate on fewer liquids – another saving. “We have designed the machines so that they need fewer service intervals which means less need for maintenance liquids such as oil, lubricants and coolants,” says Schmitt. “For example over a 12,000-hour run with an articulated hauler you need approximately one-third less liquid than competitor machines.”
The articulated haulers are incredibly popular with operators on-site. With one hand resting proudly on the towering yellow hulk of his machine, operator Collins Hudekpor explains what makes it great to work with. “You can use it very easily in narrow spaces and it is very fast in dumping. And it doesn’t get stuck when we are working in muddy areas,” he says. “But I think my favorite part of this hauler is that the retardation system is very effective, and you don’t have to use the brakes so much when on a decline.”
Bejele is another big fan of the articulated hauler. “It is a rugged, all-purpose, all-conditions machine. It is my machine of choice for the industry.” Standing at the end of one of the massive open pits, surveying the machines as they make their way along the undulating rust-colored roads to tip their loads, he points out the dump capabilities of the haulers. “They are very quick to lift the body, even under load, and quick to lower as well. These are all elements that shorten cycle times which means productivity increases – it is one of the ways that is helping us survive this very tight economic period for mining operations,” he says.
Chirano underground mine manager Raphael Komla Okai worked on the mine before it changed to self-perform. He remembers how the previous contractors used heavy-duty machines underground, which were expensive and had high running costs. When the company made the decision to go with Volvo, he had some concerns. “Initially we thought the FMX trucks were not really meant for underground operations, but two years later we can see that they are really efficient,” Okai says.
At first, Okai’s concerns were deemed valid in that these types of trucks would not traditionally be used underground. However, Norris witnessed them operate successfully underground in Spain and Peru, and recommended them for the operation in Ghana. These days, no one in the mine blinks an eye when they see the FMX trucks alongside the articulated haulers steadily making their way 300-500 meters below the earth’s surface.
“In Africa, we are pioneers in using these types of trucks underground and I think a lot of people are taking notice,” says Norris. “That’s the importance of surviving in this lower commodity and gold price cycle – you need to be innovative and find different ways of doing things.”
The working life of this mine is projected to last until 2020, but as Chirano continues to carry out exploration and discover additional reserves, the mine’s lifespan has the potential to extend – and Volvo is credited with playing a part in making that possible. By reducing production costs, Chirano has been able to look at fresh opportunities to mine new gold resources that might have not been profitable to exploit before now. “That’s a big advantage for us,” says Norris. “Lowering our costs to mine gold by using a more efficient and overall lower-cost piece of equipment opens doors and opportunities to extend mine life.”
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