Anglo American has launched a 3D printing project in South Africa focused on using the technology to manufacture spare parts for mining and processing equipment locally.
The company and its partners on the project, South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and US-based technology company, Ivaldi Group, are initially exploring the creation of a “digitally distributed supply chain”.
This involves a digitalisation of the designs of parts such as impellers for pumps, shaft sleeves, gasket bonnet valves, and mining rock drill bits, with a view towards locally producing and testing these parts at Anglo American’s operations in South Africa using 3D printers.
Anglo said the project would have environmental and community outreach benefits.
“The ability to send files – not physical spare parts – will reduce our carbon footprint, delivery lead times and logistics costs,” said Matthew Chadwick, head of socio-economic development and partnerships.
MCRC is a cooperative research center dedicated to helping Australian companies increase their global relevance through research-led innovation in manufacturing. Its latest project involves a partnership with Downer’s Mineral Technologies business as well as the University of Technology Sydney Rapido advanced technology development unit. The three organizations will work together to research solutions that will advance ways in which composite polymers are used to manufacture mineral separation equipment and create new manufacturing technologies.
3D printing will be involved in the project, which is anticipated to run over a three-year period. The work will take place at a new additive manufacturing facility at the University of Technology’s Broadway campus, and will involve Rapido, a rapid prototyping unit established by the university in 2016 to help industry, government and community partners transform ideas and problems into solutions and products.
3D printing may have burst onto the scene a few years ago with much hype, but it hasn’t yet revolutionised industrial sectors as some analysts exuberantly predicted.
However, forward-thinking Mining organisations are realising that industrial-scale 3D printing in the mines could skim costs from their operations and reduce the frustrations of equipment downtime. By 3D printing the spare parts and replaceable components that complex mine machinery requires, Mine Operators can gain greater control over the supply chain and ensure smooth running of the mine’s equipment.
3-D printing (3DP) is the process of making physical objects from a digital model using a printer. Although still in the developmental stages, the technology has advanced swiftly since its introduction in the 1980s, and is already presenting opportunities in new areas, such as in the custom manufacture of prosthetics, dental products and other medical devices or high strength lightweight precision automotive and aerospace parts that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago.
A 3-D printed model of Barrick Gold’s Turquoise Ridge mine in Nevada, US. Photo Barrick Gold Corp
Over the next decade, technology observers predict that the pace of change will intensify and more and more applications will be found as sophistication increases and the cost of equipment falls, following the now well-established curve for technology products.