High-wall mining reaches new heights in India as Gainwell nears completion of third machine

Coal is still booming in India and high-wall miners are part of it to the point where one of the country’s leading Cat dealers, Gainwell, now manufactures these machines under license from Caterpillar more than four years after going out of business. I AM Editorial Director Paul Moore spoke with Gainwell‘s Dipankar Banerjee, COO, Mining and Jayanta Bhattacharya, Head of Manufacturing on this unique story.

Gainwell‘s Dipankar Banerjee, COO, Mining

Context of the resurgence of high-wall mining in India

In late 2016, Caterpillar announced that it would stop manufacturing new products for parts and pillars, including the closure of its plant in Houston, Pa., Saying one of the main reasons was the concentration of demand in the region. of the Appalachians in the United States, which was slowly declining market. Discontinued operations included continuous miners, coal-fired utility vehicles, feed crushers, roof bolters and transportation systems, but also high-wall miners. Banerjee said I AM: “It was a good move from Caterpillar – because the United States accounted for 60% of its global market for chambers and pillars, and with the coal market in decline and no new underground coal mines planned, demand for equipment had declined considerably. Although Cat no longer made new machines, it continued to support the existing fleet of equipment in the field.

He adds: “However, in India, coal is not a bad word – almost 70% of India’s energy comes from thermal coal and we continue to build new coal-fired power plants and therefore open new mines. of coal. Our current coal production is around 730 Mt per year. The Indian government and the Ministry of Coal have taken many initiatives, including major policy reforms to open up the coal sector to the private sector, to increase domestic coal production to 1 billion tonnes or more by 2023. It There is also a strong demand for high quality coking coal in the country for steel production.

The highwall miner is quite a unique product. Over 50 high-wall mining machines are still operating in the United States, but very few elsewhere – a handful in Australia and India and a few locally made machines in China, such as a machine similar to the ADDCAR design designed by CCTEG that works in the coal from Ordos basin. mines in Inner Mongolia.

Banerjee comments: “High wall mining improves recovery in surface coal mines by accessing veins in the high wall of the pit where access from the surface is no longer possible, for example due to proximity to settlements. In India, two mines were successfully using high wall technology and we always felt that there was good potential here due to the high population density and the large number of surface mines with high walls under which there remained a large tonnage of coal reserves.

Gainwell begins his highwall journey

In 2017 Gainwell contacted Caterpillar saying they had opportunities in India and would be interested in a technology licensing deal given that production of new machines had ceased in the United States. After a period of discussions, this was signed in 2018 authorizing the manufacture of high wall miners in India by Gainwell. The intellectual property license included India and some foreign markets, including China. Gainwell then invested in a new assembly workshop in Asansol, near Calcutta in West Bengal in the heart of India’s coal belt, and manufactured the first machine in 2019.

The two existing high-wall miners in India had been supplied as follows: one by Bucyrus (SHM unit) in the early 2010s, just before Bucyrus was acquired by Cat in 2011 at SECL’s Sharda surface mine (operated by entrepreneur Cuprum Bagrodia Ltd or CBL) and the second in 2015/2016 to Tata Steel for his quarry in the South East of the West Division of Bokaro. As this machine was supplied by Cat it was now known as the HWM300 and it was also operated by contractor CBL.

Cat HWM300 supplied to Tata Steel West Bokaro operation in 2016

Gainwell supplied its first highwall miner to SECL via CBL in February 2019 and the machine is performing very well. The customer has indeed placed another order for the second Gainwell The Highwall Miner will be delivered in 2021. The customer will therefore now have four Highwall Miners, a Bucryus, a Cat and two new units of Gainwell. At the same time, India’s other existing miner user, Tata Steel, approached Gainwell wanting another machine which was duly delivered in October 2020. All news Gainwell units were given the name GHWM300. The Tata Steel unit was successfully commissioned and started coal production from the end of November. Gainwell has made many improvements to this machine, including online diagnostics, full operation through mobile app, etc. and the machine works fine.

New GHWM300 manufactured by Gainwell at his Asansol farm

Investment and evolution at Gainwell

In addition to investing in machining and other equipment, Gainwell invested in a core design and engineering team at Asansol led by Jayanta Bhattacharya and employed as a consultant several former Bucyrus / Caterpillar engineers who had worked on SHM machines in the United States. Bhattacharya said I AM: “It really made the manufacturing process easier for us. We are primarily a Cat dealer selling and servicing equipment for 75 years. But we learned quickly and today we are quite autonomous. We source Cat components and parts made by them and their network of third-party suppliers that they still manufacture to support the installed population of high wall miners in the United States.

Jayanta Bhattacharya, Manufacturing Manager at Gainwell

He adds: “Slowly we are trying to increase the indigenization of the machine in India. In the first machine, we only had about 7% Make-in-India content – on the second machine, this figure rose to 28% and will be even higher for the third machine. Local manufacturing has really strengthened in India in recent years with the growth of the domestic auto industry and a very good supplier base is developing. All equipment tests are also carried out in-house. Cat really helped us in the beginning by holding hands, but now we are on the way to becoming a world class manufacturer in our own right. Of course there were challenges like finding the right people with the right skills like in niche electronics engineering, but we were able to attract the right people and train them. Gainwell‘s Banerjee adds, “It’s important to remember that the GHWM300 is a complex 300t machine costing up to $ 12 million, including the cutting module options, so you can imagine the amount of engineering. and its components.

New GHWM300 Highwall Miner delivered to Tata Steel in 2020

The company also pointed out that each high-wall miner also has a high level of customization depending on the options selected by the customer, but also depending on the thickness of the vein and the geology they will be working with. Bhattacharya says: “As an example, the first machine was able to cut seams from 0.9m to 1.7m. The second machine had a high lift mode to handle thicker seams – so it can handle seams from 0.9-2.5m. Gainwell as a dealer and as a focused business we are able to work closely with customers on their individual needs.

Wider Asian demand – next step in China

For promotion in China, Gainwell has already attended a trade show in the country in 2020 and claims he would already have had a machine in the country in 2020 without the effect of COVID-19. The company is working with Cat Lei Shing Hong (LSH) Machinery dealer in North China and East Central and expects the first Chinese order to go through now in 2021. Banerjee said, “LSH will promote equipment and provide parts service and support for the highwall miner. This is a fairly unique agreement between two major Cat dealers from two different countries, one acting as an OEM and the other as a dealer. Gainwell is also in discussions with a few other Cat dealers about similar arrangements to promote the Gainwell Highwall Miner in these respective markets.

Gainwell says its Asansol site can produce up to two miners per year with the broad plan to supply one nationally and one for export on an annual basis. But if demand exceeds that, the company says that with three shifts instead of two and reducing some of the cycle times etc., they could upgrade to three machines if needed. The assembly is modular and there is room on site to also extend the footprint of the plant. The company also announces that it will invest in 2021 in new machining equipment.

The growth of this Highwall Miner business in India is a real testament to Gainwellthe vision and the confidence of, as it involves the manufacture of a complex mining machine of great value at the national level and it has the full support of the Indian government as well as Coal India.

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