Recent research predicts that the mining automation market will be worth $3.29bn by 2023 — a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.7 per cent since 2017. While automation greatly enhances productivity, it also places additional demands on steel components. This article examines why wear resistant steels are vital to modern, enhanced production.
The research by Markets and Markets found that the recent boom in automated mining technology is going from strength-to-strength. Atlas Copco, Rio Tinto and Caterpillar are presently among the big players in automated mining, and Asia-Pacific (APAC) is set to becoming the largest market.
However, the more intense rigours of automated drilling processes also put greater demands on steels used in mining equipment. Components like rock drills are already subjected to factors that cause considerable wear — like vibration and the type of motion, temperature, load, velocity, contact area, sliding distance and atmosphere.
If the wrong steels are used for these components, then this can lead to equipment failures and downtime.
That’s why choosing wear resistant steels is crucial to getting the best performance from automated drilling technology. Wear resistant — or abrasion resistant steels — are relied upon in applications where resistance to abrasion, impact or sliding are essential. Their popular uses include in rock drills, wear plates for rock-processing machinery, crushers and power shovels.
Wear resistant steels are typically austenitic grades, the most widely used grade of stainless steel. They are non-magnetic and contain high levels of chromium and nickel with low levels of carbon — typically of around 1.2 per cent. Austenitic steels are usually 12 per cent manganese, a strong austeniser, which means it helps to retain the steel’s tough properties at room temperature.
They also have work-hardening capabilities. Pure metals are rarely used in manufacturing because they are too soft. Instead, wear resistant steels contain the non-metallic elements carbon and nitrogen, the atoms of which fill the gaps between the steel’s iron atoms. This “distortion” makes it more difficult for the layers of the metal — or the lattice — to slide over each other. Wear resistant alloys are harder, less malleable and more ductile than pure metals, as a result.