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Rail-Veyor gets Vale Inco’s attention

September 1, 2009
by Norm Tollinsky
In: Technology with 0 Comments

Sudbury-based Rail-Veyor Technologies Inc. is poised to revolutionize material handling in the mining industry. A cross between a railroad and a conveyor system, the rail-veyor is able to load and dump on the fly, negotiate a 20 per cent grade and turn corners without difficulty. Propelled forward by electrically-powered drive stations distributed along the line, it’s also energy-efficient and produces virtually no emissions.

Risto Laamanen, who passed away suddenly July 7, acquired North American distribution rights to the technology in 2006 from the inventor, retired mining engineer Mike Dibble. The company then entered into a joint venture with Vale Inco to build a fully operational, 730-metre surface demonstration track at the Frood-Stobie Complex last year.

Laamanen, a prominent Sudbury entrepreneur, was president of Laamanen Construction, as well as the founder, chair and CEO of Wallbridge Mining Company Ltd., a junior miner with properties in the Sudbury Basin.

“Mike Dibble had been thinking about (the rail-veyor concept) throughout his career and got into it full time after he retired,” said Laamanen in an interview with Sudbury Mining Solutions Journal June 24th. “He built a demonstration track in Florida in 2001-2002 and had people come and see it. Everyone liked it, but they said,

‘Once you’ve sold one, let us know.’

“He heard about us in 2006, came to Sudbury to see me and showed me his video,” said Laamanen.  “I immediately recognized the potential.”

So did Vale Inco.

Enabling technology

“The rail-veyor is a very important enabling technology for us,” said Peter Golde, who heads up a Vale Inco team that’s studying the viability of the system for several current and planned mine development projects in the Sudbury Basin. “It will allow us to change the way we design our new mines and access orebodies a lot quicker. It will also allow us to eliminate a lot of the large underground excavations.”

Using rail-veyor technology, Vale Inco hopes to do away with underground crushers and ore pass networks. It could even eliminate the need for mine shafts.

“The track would go up a ramp to surface and even along surface to the mill,” said Golde. “In deep mining situations in mines where we’re now using very expensive haulage trucks to move up to the shaft bottom, the rail-veyor would allow us in a very economical way to extend operations below shaft bottom by ramping in small profile drifts.”

The company is studying the feasibility of using rail-veyor technology at Totten Mine, which is currently in development, and at its Kelly Lake property.

The looped test track at the Frood-Stobie Complex consists of 51, eight-foot cars and eight drive stations. A section of the track is on a 20 per cent grade to simulate an underground ramp. The rail-veyor passes through the drive stations and is propelled by two horizontally fixed wheels turning against the cars’ side plates.

“As the rail-veyor approaches a drive station, it starts up and propels it ahead,” said Golde.  “As soon as it leaves that drive station, it shuts down and the next one starts up, so you’re only looking at one set of drive motors being on at any one time. The power consumption is very low compared to operating diesel trucks. And because it’s electrically-powered, it will also help us save money on ventilation.”

Continuous trough

Rubber flaps between the cars create a narrow, continuous trough, allowing for loading and dumping of material while the rail-veyor is in motion. The dumping mechanism consists of a raised track with a double rail that loops down, turning the cars upside down and allowing the ore to drop into a bin. Plans are in the works to add loading and unloading stations to the test track by September or October.

The rail-veyor is easy to install, disassemble and move to new production areas within a mine. Ballast isn’t required – even for carrying ore – because of the way the weight is distributed along a narrow track. There is no need for a locomotive.

There is also less maintenance than there would be for a conventional conveyor system, which has a lot of wearing parts.

“I thought it would be a really hard sell because mining companies are entrenched in the way they do things,” said Laamanen. “Traditionally, they’ve been very slow to change, but this technology has been accepted by everyone who has looked at it. They all see the potential and like the simplicity of it.”

According to Laamanen, rail-veyor technology also has applications in surface mining operations as an alternative to truck haulage because it’s more energy-efficient, produces no emissions and creates no dust. It also has application in the coal mining industry, he said.

Endless opportunities

“There are all kinds of opportunities outside the mining industry. The list is endless. The state of Texas, for example, is talking to us about moving grain. They want to get the trucks off the road. Right now, they’re hauling grain by truck or rail and neither is very efficient or environmentally friendly. That’s a perfect application for the rail-veyor. You don’t even need steel cars. You can use fiberglass.”

A Finnish company has shown interest in using it to haul wood chips.

Currently, an installation at a Harmony Gold mine in South Africa is the only commercial application of the technology.

Laamanen was in the midst of negotiating worldwide distribution rights to the technology and held out the possibility of manufacturing rail-veyor systems in Sudbury before he passed away.

“We’d like to build a plant here, but we have American partners, so it’s still up in the air,” he said.

Fragmentation and handling of oversize material are also factors being studied as part of Vale Inco’s investigation of rail-veyor technology. According to Golde, the company is aiming to have 95 per cent of material less than 18 inches in size.

Also under consideration is the possibility of using the railveyor to backhaul supplies and transport personnel.

Kris Laamanen, Risto’s son, now heads up Rail-Veyor Technologies and Laamanen Construction since his father’s passing.

Kris said he’s excited about the potential for the rail-veyor and is committed to carrying on his father’s vision for rail-veyor and Laamanen Construction.

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