Where continents melt

The rock-strewn Ural Mountains mark the traditional historic boundary between Europe and Asia. Under their old weathered peaks lies an immense and varied mineral treasure. The first miners came here as early as the 17th century, equipped with only picks and shovels. Their modern-day descendants have tamed some of the most powerful machines ever.

Russia’s Bashkortostan region is situated in the foothills on the Asian side of the southern Urals. Its landscapes are idyllic, featuring wooden houses in small villages along bumpy roads and green pastures filled with fat geese. However, the rustic appearance of the area is misleading. Deep below the surface is found the strong pulse of the local economy, based on copper and zinc.

A centrepiece in the region’s mining is Uchaly GOK (Mining and Processing Enterprise), one of Russia’s leading producers of zinc and copper concentrates. In 2013 it mined more than 6 million tonnes of ore, producing 103,763 tonnes of zinc concentrate and 64,166 tonnes of copper concentrate.

The first open-pit mine near Uchaly was started 60 years ago, and the deposit is now exhausted, leaving behind a huge stone whirlpool measuring some 900 by 1,800 metres. Several underground mines have been developed in its place.

About the Mine Construction Department

The Mine Construction Department is one of the important economic actors in Russia’s Bashkortostan region. As a subsidiary of Uchaly GOK (Mining and Processing Enterprise), it deals with all the preparatory work for several mines operated by its parent company. The most up-to-date mining equipment allows it to handle the whole cycle of the construction process, both on the surface and deep underground.

Apart from technical, production and construction units, the company includes surveyor and geology divisions. Its some 600 workers are highly motivated and skilled professionals. Their team effort, supported by powerful and modern mining machinery, helps to achieve truly impressive results. In 2013 the Mine Construction Department surpassed 10,000 running metres (about 250,000 cubic metres) of advance.

Bringing additional mines into commission is the responsibility of the Mine Construction Department, a unit of Uchaly GOK. It is now working on two new underground mines that will enable it to keep up with the increasingly fast pace of development.

New mines near completion
The first mine, called Ozerny, has been under construction since 2009. Now it is almost finished, and the first ore has made its way to the processing plant. The Mine Construction Department is developing a vertical shaft to increase efficiency. When it is done, the mine will achieve a rated capacity of 400,000 tonnes of ore per year. The deposit is big enough to last for 15 years.

The second project is even more ambitious. Founded in 2013, the Novo-Uchalinsky mine involves a huge 117-million-tonne deposit that should last for nearly 40 years at an estimated mining rate of 3 million tonnes per year. One horizontal and two vertical shafts are to be developed to a depth of more than one kilometre.

“Those are very serious projects indeed,” says Vladimir Grigoriev, director of the Mine Construction Department. “Fortunately, we have not only the needed expertise but also the most up-to-date and powerful mining equipment to complete them.”

Loading time cut in half
Grigoriev adores machinery. Now in his early 60s, he roams the region on a motorbike looking more like a Hollywood star than someone who has 40 years of mining experience. But ask him about the industry and you’ll discover a passionate professional, savvy and caring.

“The true gem in our collection is a Sandvik LH621 loader, and we are the only ones in Russia to have it,” he says. “We have two of those now. The first one was bought in 2012 to speed up work here at the Ozerny mine.

“We had several reasons to buy this machine – a good history of partnership with Sandvik, competitive pricing and a rapid delivery time,” Grigoriev says. “And of course we were impressed by the specifications of Sandvik LH621 with its incredible tramming capacity. I have to say the choice proved to be 100 percent correct. Immediately after the purchase, the time spent for loading was reduced by half. This loader is very reliable, and its efficiency is purely cosmic.”

Impressive durability
Sandvik LH621 has shown great durability and made such an impression that, after a few months of operation, the Mine Construction Department decided to buy another one for the Novo-Uchalinsky mine.

Sandvik equipment at Uchaly’s Mine Construction Department

Today, the Mine Construction Department has operated its first Sandvik LH621 for almost 15,000 machine hours, averaging 550 hours per month. The second one is even more robust: 7,700 machine hours in operation in one year, or more than 21 hours a day.

“Its characteristics and quality are so incredible that in the future we won’t even consider any other machine,” Grigoriev says. “I do love watching those things while they work. Drill rigs, loaders, trucks – they have always mesmerized me. Pretty much the way other people stare at a waterfall or a burning fire, I can spend hours watching these machines operate.”

An operator’s dream
In the Novo-Uchalinsky mine, half a kilometre below the surface, the scene is spectacular. In sharp contrast to the pastoral scenes at the surface, subterranean life is a hymn to machinery. This industrial symphony might be orchestrated by people, but all the attention is on the performers – enormous equipment boasting pure power. And the toughest of them all is Sandvik LH621. Its bucket grabs a pile of rocks the size of a car – a 20-tonne load in one small effort.

“Those Sandvik LH621s are among the best,” says Omyrbek Jussupov, the Mine Construction Department’s chief mechanic. “They stand for the highest standards in terms of both performance and durability. Some time ago we managed to drive 60 metres per month. With this equipment we are driving more than 200 metres in the same time span. As for safety, the loader has a hardened capsule that can withstand pressure of up to five tonnes as well as a system of filters that protect an operator from dust and impurities.”

Operator Evgeniy Zasov agrees.

“I’ve been driving this loader for a year now,” he says. “It’s a very good one. The bucket is big. It doesn’t break down. It’s manoeuvrable and predictable with a computer to monitor the situation. Everything is as it should be. And it is so comfortable – a closed noise-insulated cabin, air conditioning, a nice sound system. It’s almost like sitting in my car. The time passes quickly, and after a working day it is much less tiring than any other machine I’ve ever driven.”

Fruitful partnership
The cooperation between Sandvik and Uchaly GOK dates back to the early 1990s, when the first Sandvik equipment was delivered to the mine.

“It’s hard to imagine, but some of those first machines are still in service,” says Sandvik Mining sales manager Amur Idrissov. “Uchaly GOK is a technologically advanced and fast-developing company, and so is Sandvik. And with such an enduring and productive partnership, we are sure to achieve better results each year.”

The Sandvik Solution

As a dynamic and ambitious company, the Mine Construction Department strives constantly to keep efficiency high without compromising safety. The growing reliance on Sandvik equipment helps the company to achieve its goals.

A well-balanced line-up of Sandvik products has paved the way for a dramatic increase in productivity. The Mine Construction Department’s output quadrupled between 2009 and 2012, going from 2,695 running metres per year to 9,792, and from 48,050 cubic metres to 228,021. At the same time, the number of employees more than tripled from 177 to 551, marking a considerable increase in efficiency.