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Miners gather to see the latest in longwall products and technologies

Miners from around the world gathered in Pittsburgh, Pa., USA, in July 2017 for the Longwall USA exhibition and conference — a biennial underground mining exhibition that has supported the mining industry for more than 20 years.

Longwall USA is the largest longwall mining equipment show in North America, showcasing the latest developments in products, technologies and techniques for longwall coal mining. With more than 70 exhibitors and nearly 20 breakout presentations, the event drew visitors from as far away as China and Australia.

One of the largest booths on the floor belonged to Caterpillar Inc. and its partner CB Mining, the authorized Cat® dealer for underground mining products in the area. Together, the two companies presented a comprehensive look at complete Cat longwall systems, as well as the technologies and services that support them in the field.

In order to give visitors a look at the breadth of the company’s longwall product line, the booth featured a number of digital displays that contained information about its complete offering of longwall products and services.

While there were no machines on display, the booth focused on digitally representing customized roof supports, Cat shearers, armored face conveyors, as well as new products like the High Torque Drive System currently under development.

The company placed a heavy emphasis on automation and its ability to improve mechanical availability and dramatically increase production levels. For example, automation can increase the speeds at which the shearer moves across the face and allow mines to record the perfect pass — then duplicate the shearer configuration for as long as the geology stays consistent.

An additional benefit of automation is the impact it has on safety. Automation allows for one operator at the cutting face instead of two, and makes it possible for that operator to stay on the fresh-air side of the face.

Joining the show attendees were several Caterpillar customers from Australia, where automation has proven effective in helping multiple seams achieve million-ton months — with one reaching more than 330 000 tonnes (363,762 tons) in a single week.

The Caterpillar booth had a display dedicated to VShield — a shield visualization program that allows users to define face advance profiles and provides the operator with a realistic view of the face alignment profile. It also allows Caterpillar and dealer personnel to monitor active faces and issue recommendations to help miners protect their equipment and increase their productivity.

longwall mine

Caterpillar was represented in Longwall USA’s technical program by several customers and by local dealer CB Mining.

The Broadmeadow mine in Queensland, Australia, presented a paper discussing their use of the Longwall Top Coal Caving method with Cat equipment. The mine, operated by BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA), is a source of high-quality metallurgical coal for global export.

The Broadmeadow operation began by using a longwall to extract coal at 4.7 m (15 ft), leaving the top section of the seam to fall into the gob. The adjacent open-cut mine has been mining the full seam section for more than 30 years. Longwall Top Coal Caving (LTCC) was introduced in 2012.

Another Caterpillar customer, CNX Coal Resources, gave a presentation called “Monster Wall,” discussing the concepts, factors, restrictions and other considerations the mine faced when expanding the longwall face length from 457 to 610 meters (1,500 to 2,000 feet). Topics included ventilation, development, production, equipment, maintenance and power requirements.

Bill Powell, General Manager of CB Mining, also had a chance to present, telling the story of how the dealership grew out of a traditional Cat dealership, Cleveland Brothers, to focus specifically on the underground coal mining business. CB Mining has 85 people and two facilities dedicated primarily to the longwall sales, service and support services.

Powell calls Longwall USA an important learning opportunity for everyone in the industry. “There's tremendous value in face-to-face conversations and exchanges with peers and professionals who are embedded and growing a business in longwall mining. We learn from our customers every day, and yet, Longwall USA is an opportunity to listen to and learn from miners who are working in different ways, using new and different technologies, operating in different hemispheres — and being very successful at what they do. Networking in this way is invaluable as we are all intricately tied to the success and future of longwall mining.”

In the United States, nine Cat dealers have longwall equipment operating in their territories, some with just one or two longwall systems. Of the 45 longwall faces in the country, about 30 percent are located in the territory served by CB Mining: western Pennsylvania and northern West Virginia.

Al Hefferan, a Caterpillar commercial manager for soft rock applications and member of the Longwall USA executive commitee, echoes Powell’s sentiments. “Longwall USA is a well-established platform for companies like ours to showcase new developments and technologies for coal miners. On both the tradeshow side, and maybe even more importantly on the conference side, Caterpillar is able to demonstrate our deep commitment to this industry. The conferences allow us to hear directly from customers and industry professionals how they are innovating and moving this sector of mining forward.”

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