A container full of competence
Rock drill maintenance costs have plummeted at one of China’s leading rock phosphate producers, which also makes fertilizer to help feed the world’s growing population.
Every year the planet’s population grows by around 75 million people – more than the entire population of the United Kingdom. The United Nations states that the world produces enough food to feed the entire population of earth, yet close to 800 million are chronically hungry. There’s little doubt that food production is one of the biggest challenges facing the world today.
Food production itself has risen significantly since the 1980s, thanks in part to the increased use of fertilizer. Rock phosphate is the raw material used to manufacture most commercial phosphate fertilizers on the market. It’s also available in abundance underneath China.
Worldwide demand for phosphorus is expected to grow as the world begins to run out of the naturally occurring element. There is a finite amount of phosphorus left underground. Although phosphorus can be recycled, it cannot be artificially produced. China and Morocco hold most of the world’s remaining reserves.
The rapid growth of the Guizhou Kailin Group Co. Ltd (Kailin) in the Guizhou province of south-western China has mirrored the economic growth of the country. Since 2000, the Kailin Group has achieved an average annual growth of 33 percent. The large industrial group mines rock phosphate but also owns the chemical plants that produce the fertilizer and several other industrial interests.
Kailin is blessed with rich natural resources of rock phosphate, expected to last for 100 years at the current rate of production. Nearly 80 percent of China’s rich phosphorus resource with P2O5 content above 33 percent is concentrated around the Kailin mining area.
As the phosphate mining operation expands, so does the pressure on the fleet of 65 Sandvik underground drill rigs. In 2016, Kailin approached Sandvik with a need for improved maintenance routines. The resulting Sandvik 365 service agreement has since created the win-win situation of improved productivity and reduced costs.
The Guizhou Kailin Group Co. Ltd (Kailin) is a large industrial group in the Guizhou province in southwest China. The rock phosphate mines around the remote town of Jinzhong are a major employer in Kaiyang county, with thousands of people working underground every day. The mines produce the highest grade of rock phosphate in China, and their reserves are expected to last 100 years.
“The rock phosphate here at Kaiyang is the best in the country,” says Zhongguo He, the general manager of Guizhou Kailin Mining Company.
So good is the material, and so great the demand, that the Kailin operation has expanded drastically over the past 10 years. The sub-level open stoping mines now totally dominate the town of Jinzhong, nestled in a remote valley in rural China. The once sleepy farming community is now a thriving industrial centre home to 50,000 people, of whom approximately 80 percent work for the Kailin Group in some capacity. Although currently one of China’s poorest regions, Guizhou province is investing heavily in infrastructure. It has built several of the world’s tallest bridges to reduce travel times in the mountainous terrain.
“Jinzhong was just a very small village before Kailin was founded,” says Zhongguo He. Although thousands of people now live and work in Jinzhong, it remains a tight-knit community. As he speaks on the town’s central plaza, several people in the distinctive bright-orange overalls of the Kailin company stop to greet him. As a Sandvik drill is driven along the town’s main street, conversation shifts towards the importance of suppliers, not just for the phosphate mines but for the whole value chain.
“We extract the rock phosphate using mostly Sandvik machines,” he says. “It is transported via pipelines to the chemical plant, where it is processed and turned into fertilizer to be transported all over China via railroad and by ship to other countries. The whole operation is owned by various parts of the Kailin Group, so getting the equipment right in the mine has a direct impact on how much food our nation’s farmers can grow.
“The biggest challenge we face in technology terms is to stay safe when we mine underground,” says Zhongguo He. “Getting the right equipment and technology and keeping it operational is crucial. In the past, we purchased just the equipment, but increasingly we are focusing on an integration of purchasing both equipment and ongoing service and maintenance agreements. Not only does it improve our productivity, it helps our suppliers to better understand our needs, which can only benefit us in the years to come.”
In total, the four mines of Kailin run under Jinzhong to a radius of nine kilometres. Ramps zigzag up from the main haulage level that runs below the ore body. From these trackless ramps, platforms are driven out into the ore body in two directions. Each mine consists of up to four simultaneous platforms at levels ranging between 100 and 400 metres below the surface, supported by roof bolts.
The drill-and-blast technique is necessary because of the hard nature of the phosphate ore, and Kailin’s employees rely on a fleet of more than 60 Sandvik drill rigs to drill the blast holes. The mines operate two shifts per day with production blasts on a daily basis. To keep up such high productivity, the Sandvik rock drills mounted on the drill rigs need to be kept in good working order.
Sandvik has supplied Kailin with underground drill equipment for more than 30 years. Currently, Kailin owns 65 units of Sandvik DD-series and DS-series drills across its four mines at Guizhou. A Sandvik 365 maintenance agreement has been in place since 2016. A Sandvik-branded container with maintenance equipment and a workstation is now based permanently at the Kailin service yard in Jinzhong. Sandvik engineers work on site together with the Kailin equipment teams.
Shugao He is the deputy manager of Qingcaichong mine for the Kailin Mining Company at Guizhou. “Before we signed the service contract with Sandvik, we had to wait weeks for spare parts if they were needed,” he says. “Sometimes we would need to dismantle rock drills and ship them elsewhere to be checked. It took a long time and had a major impact on our productivity.”
The problem wasn’t just on the rare occasions the rock drills needed repair. No regular maintenance schedules were adhered to, so the operating efficiency of the rock drills was sub-par. The local team didn’t have the equipment or knowledge of what was required to keep the drills running at their optimum levels.
The relationship between Sandvik and Kailin stretches back 30 years, so once the phone call was made, Sandvik was eager to help.
The Sandvik 365 service agreement brings many benefits to the equipment teams and the overall mining operation. Sandvik engineers are on hand to perform regularly scheduled maintenance checks on the fleet of rock drills, and to make quick repairs should anything go wrong. The base of operations is a new Sandvik container at the Kailin service yard in the centre of Jinzhong.
Despite its small size, the converted shipping container has made a big impact on operations for Kailin. At just six metres in length, the container features a range of tools specifically designed to dismantle the rock drills, a suite of testing tools, a workbench and all necessary technical manuals and documented procedures. In less than 12 months, rock drills from 30 drill rigs have passed through its doors.
“The contract was set up with this container designed to increase our ability to perform maintenance and repairs on site,” says Ouyang Lin, deputy director of the Kailin Mining Company. “It helps us to reduce the likelihood of problems and fix the problems that do occur in a more efficient way.
“Before the regular maintenance was introduced, drilling a single blast hole could take up to 90 seconds. Now with the drills properly serviced, the average is down to 60 seconds. The price we pay for this service contract is very small considering the efficiency improvements we are seeing.”
The benefits don’t stop there. Kailin employees are also enjoying the use of professional tools and training in how to properly maintain and repair the Sandvik rock drills.
Jun Chen, Sandvik key account manager, explains that the Sandvik operational method has been altered to match the customer. “From the supply of parts to the operational methods to the aftermarket service, everything is aligned to Kailin’s specific needs,” Chen says. “Kailin management has become increasingly satisfied with the Sandvik service.”
In addition to its annual production capacity of 7.36 million tonnes of rock phosphate (expected to hit up to 10 million tonnes in 2017), Kailin also produces more than 3.5 million tonnes of fertilizers and more than half a million tonnes of other phosphate products.
As the only pre-qualified phosphorus resource in China that can be directly used as the raw material of high-concentration phosphate compound fertilizer, Kailin is set to become ever more important. Sandvik is playing its part by reducing costs to allow every bit of phosphate ore to be extracted at as low a cost as possible.