By Hans Wille
The loss of the domestic sales market puts an end to the opportunity to test innovations locally. "Collaboration with our German customers has assisted us over many of our developments, but we have been developing strong business ties abroad for many years," says Karl-Heinz Rieser, CEO of Eickhoff Bergbautechnik GmbH in Bochum. Almost all mining machinery was designed in close collaboration with customers in the respective foreign markets. The company produces shearer loaders. A loader weighs up to 20 tons and has rotating drums that break the coal out of the seam. At the end of 2016, Eickhoff launched a remote-controlled high-performance shearer loader for mining small seams. "In Australia, we are currently testing new automation software in combination with sensors for environmental recognition purposes."
Caterpillar Global Mining Europe GmbH in Lünen is known for its innovative longwall technology. Hydraulic roof support controls automatically the advance of the shield behind the cutting machine across the entire width of the face. The shield supports the rock above the longwall, so that it cannot collapse onto the operator and his machine.
Innovation tests abroad
As domestic coal mining started to decline, Caterpillar increasingly focused on exports, establishing subsidiaries and factories in almost all mining countries worldwide, explains CEO Martin Wetter. "In order to maintain our position as an innovation leader, we will develop products in Australia, the USA and Poland in particular."
This is contrary to the strategy followed by Hazemag & EPR GmbH in Dülmen, a specialist in tunnel boring machines that prepare the ground for coal-cutting machines along the seams: "Hazemag will be extending its design and process technology competence center in Germany." This is where we will be accepting and analyzing customer requests and developing new products,” says marketing manager Tim Neumann. The necessary tests and subsequent market launches will be carried out jointly with local sales organizations and collaboration partners. "We will be reinforcing our development skills in Germany and will carry out trials in our target markets."
CFT GmbH Compact Filter Technic in Gladbeck also has a different orientation: "We have chosen the Polish market to test innovations. In this case, it is useful to have an affiliate company in Poland," says Corinna Both, marketing manager of the company, which was established in 1999 and has since gained international recognition as an expert in the ventilation and dust extraction of mines. A carefully designed system of shafts and fans allows CFT to channel cooled fresh air into the very last corners of widely branching coal mines. Some important markets are the CIS states, China, Australia, the USA, Mexico, Canada and, most recently, Mongolia.
"We have recently established a sales company in Chile," reports Rolf F. Oberhaus, a director of SMT Scharf AG in Hamm, which produces rail-bound underground transport systems. SMT Scharf is a worldwide organization with its own companies in key markets, so that the company can develop and test new products on the customer's premises.
Digitalization starts with development
As is the case everywhere else, the mining industry has an increasing demand for remote maintenance and remote control, which can also be seen in connection with "Industrie 4.0" or the "Internet of Things". This is also confirmed by Carla Aguilar, Sales Engineer at MBE Coal & Minerals Technology GmbH in Cologne: "The trend is heading in the direction of greater throughput and a higher degree of automation." The company produces systems for washing and processing coal. Thanks to its good customer connections to most Eastern European coal mining operations, MBE was able to test its new developments there.
For Caterpillar, too, digitalization starts at the development stage: "To test new products, we are increasingly making use of simulation tools and processes," says CEO Wetter. He regards automation as a goal for the products themselves: "In order to design our systems to be even safer, more efficient and more productive, we are consistently pursuing the goal of an autonomous, unmanned longwall face. This is a holistic concept for integrated systems with remote-controlled, automated machine operation and effective communication structures."