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Issue 9:

Ukrainian energy company mine sets production record in longwall mine

DTEK, the largest private energy company in Ukraine, recently set a production record for longwall mining in a 1-meter (39.4-in) seam at its mine in Stepnaya — a substantial achievement for any mine and the first time that a mine in the DTEK group has broken the 100,000 tonne-per-month mark.

Located in the coal-rich Western Donbass region, the mine is part of DTEK Pavlogradugol, one of the six coal-mining companies that make up DTEK’s mining arm. Using a Cat® GH800 plow, DTEK Pavlogradugol’s team at coal field 4 was able to extract 100 500 tonnes (110,782 tons) of coal from a 1-meter (3.3-foot) seam in April 2012, at an average daily production of 3 465 tonnes (3,820 tons).

Vertically integrating for success

DTEK is the energy production division of System Capital Management, one of Ukraine’s leading financial and industrial groups. With 147,000 employees, it is the largest vertically integrated energy company in the country, with mining operations supporting its coal processing and energy generation operations.

The company is a key player in the Ukrainian coal industry, with 31 mines and 13 preparation plants. DTEK mines thermal and coking coal throughout the country, and accounts for around 46.1 percent of Ukraine’s total coal production. It has proven coal reserves of 1 157.3 million tonnes (1,275.7 million tons).

Some of the coal is exported, but most of it is prepared and used at DTEK’s own energy generation facilities. From there, much of the electricity is supplied to Ukraine’s largest industrial consumers. At peak production, DTEK’s power plants have a capacity of 18.2 gigawatts. Their current output is 50.1 billion kilowatt hours, sent out over 84 700 kilometers (52,630 miles) of electrical grid lines.

DTEK is able to maintain its leading position in the fuel and energy market by employing a professional management team capable of maintaining a high degree of synergy and efficiency across the board, and by introducing cutting-edge technology at all levels of operation.

Turning to the experts

In connection with ongoing efforts to modernize and improve its mines, DTEK was searching for a partner to help increase efficiency in thin seams. In 2007, the company contacted a manufacturer whose team has a reputation for expertise in low-seam extraction technology.

After several site visits and discussions, DTEK purchased a GH800 plow system with 2 x 400 kW (536 hp) output power, as well as 199 roof supports, roof support controls and other technical equipment necessary for the longwall operation.

DTEK also purchased Horizon Control and Overload Protection systems to help make the face more efficient. Horizon Control is a unique guidance system that allows for fine-tuning of a plow’s direction along the face, which makes this plow ideally suited to undulating seam conditions.

In order to support the setup and service of this longwall, the manufacturer formed a local company, which continues to support operations in Ukraine today as Caterpillar Global Mining Ukraine LLC.

Caterpillar’s technical sales support staff constructed a miniature face on-site in order to train DTEK personnel before installing the equipment underground. The setup included the plow, several roof supports and a section of conveyor that enabled workers to safely learn the automation and control system as well as how to maintain the equipment.

Getting the right tools for the job

Longwall mining is the fastest, most productive method of coal extraction in terms of sheer tonnage. This is largely due to the continuous operation and heavy automation of a modern longwall face. However, it can be challenging to efficiently mine very thin seams of coal like the ones in the DTEK application.

There are two standard methods of extraction for longwall mining. The most common is the shearer, a large machine with two cutting drums that can cut even the hardest coal at an unparalleled speed. The other common method is the plow, a smaller machine that is used only in thin seams.

“When it comes to low seams, plows offer a number of advantages over the traditional shearer,” says Caterpillar’s Norbert Katthoefer, who has 37 years of experience in the longwall mining industry. “They are easier to guide, making them ideal for undulating seams, and offer more precise control of cutting depth for maximum efficiency. They are often able to achieve efficiency levels equal to, or even higher than, traditional shearers when conditions permit.”

Finding the right equipment for the DTEK site was a challenge. “With a low seam height, weak adjacent strata and hard coal, the seam presented a unique challenge in terms of efficiency,” says Caterpillar sales representative Vladimir Semenkov. “While plows have long been seen as a viable method of extraction in seams with soft coal, most plows on the market cannot efficiently cut through harder coal.”

The GH800 plow has proven to be the right tool for DTEK. The speed with which the plow operates is key to the record-breaking production. Plows can travel at a speed of 3.6 meters per second (720 ft per minute) — significantly faster than a shearer.

“Right now, our Cat plow is one of the most efficient mining systems not only in the area, but in all of the Western Donbass region,” said mine director Nikolai Yeremin. “Our production is greater than that of shearers in similar mines. But the most important factor is safety, because our workers do not have to be at the face during plow operation.”

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