MINING, whether underground or above ground, is always a challenging operating environment for precision-engineered industrial gearboxes.
SEW-Eurodrive South Africa found its capabilities and extensive experience tested to the full, when it was contracted by a new copper mine in the DRC to supply conveyer drives capable of operating in an extremely hot and humid environment where heavy downpours of rain are also common.
Whereas in South Africa and many other parts of sub-Saharan Africa, dust is typically the main challenge, this project required the company’s engineers to develop bespoke solutions to cope with the particular needs of the DRC location.
“One of the key considerations was to ensure cooling was sufficient,” said Andreas Meid, Head of Department – Engineering. “Fortunately, our upgraded X.e-Series gearbox, together with the different cooling fans that we have available, were up to the task.”
The X.e-Series was improved some two years ago, with the enhancements including better thermal characteristics and a longer operating life for the gearboxes.
“In all, there were six aspects which SEW-Eurodrive looked at on the gearbox and improved. We are finding that these upgrades are benefitting our clients by getting more out of the gearboxes,” Meid said.
The high humidity in the DRC also meant the standard breather used in the typical Southern African environment, for example, was unsuitable.
“If we had used a standard breather – where the main consideration is keeping dust out of the gearbox – there would have been a risk of getting moisture inside the unit and reducing the life of the oil and components. Our solution was a Des-Case breather that removes the moisture from the air and prevents it from entering the gearbox.”
SEW-Eurodrive’s journey with the DRC mine began in 2018, when it was contracted to provide gearbox units for the underground conveyors bringing the ore out of the mine. There were subsequent orders for processing plant conveyors and above-ground conveyors.
The project was one of many large projects undertaken by the company on African soil. “We offered what we call a ‘power pack’, which comprises a gearbox, a motor and high-speed, low-speed couplings. These are then mounted on a common base plate,” said Meid.
“We imported the gearboxes from Germany and manufactured the base plates and everything else in South Africa to meet customer requirements. Then we put all of that together and shipped it up to the DRC.”
Since then, the company has extended its capabilities to localise assembly of these products and more in its new facility earmarked for January 2022 in Johannesburg.
Prior to shipping testing and special packaging was conducted at an independent facility with the client present before the packs left South Africa for the long journey to site.
Once the packages arrived at the mine – in some cases a three to four-week road trip exacerbated by Covid-19 border regulations – SEW-Eurodrive technicians were there to oversee installation and commissioning. The mine began operating in June 2021 and, according to Meid, all is proceeding smoothly with the next phase being planned.
“It was not a simple project as the client’s requirements were stringent and there were a large number of units involved. But, ultimately, we delivered to requirement.”