UNDERGROUND MINING Daily maintenance from ground level at the Kvarntorp mine.

Digging Deeper: Mesabi® Heat Exchangers Go the Extra (Underground) Mile to Overcome Intense Underground Mining Conditions Across the World

Gold, iron, copper, platinum, silver, diamond – many of the world’s most precious and valuable metals are all found deep below the earth’s surface. So deep that it doesn’t make sense, economically or environmentally, to mine them through surface mining techniques. Mesabi heat exchanger on mining equipment

While Mesabi® heat exchangers are synonymous with the heavy-duty mining equipment used in many open pit mines across the world, what you may not realize is that far underground mining operations in the United States, Australia, Mexico, South Africa, Sweden, and Poland (just to name a few), rely on Mesabi® products to keep their equipment running safely and efficiently in some of the most well-known mines on the planet.

Deep Down

Mining underground may be one of the most challenging industries on Earth. Just the thought of building miles of tunnels underground and creating a complete system to harvest precious metals is mind-boggling in and of itself. But there’s more to it than just that. The bumping and jolting of the large machines made to fit in a compact underground tunnel, located too deep under the earth’s surface for the sun’s rays to be of any use; the heavy corrosive environment of the salty, rugged earth; and the potential risk of the mine ceiling falling on a loader on any given day, are just a few examples of the abuse that underground mining machines must be equipped to handle.

“You just can’t imagine how hard underground mining can be on equipment. It’s your worst nightmare,” said Tim Cass, an OEM Applications Engineer with L&M Radiator, which manufacturers Mesabi coolers. “Once I visited a gold mine in Canada to offer them help on a new machine that was having issues. When they showed me their loader, it was just beaten up, and all gouged. It looked like it had been through hell. I told them, ‘I thought you needed help with a new machine,” and they replied, ‘Well, yeah, this is our new machine.’ The damage happens that quickly.”

Due to the diverse landscape of every underground mining operation, there is not just one way to mine underground. There are three main kinds of underground mines:

  1. Horizontal mine – These mines are located on a mountain or cliff face and resemble forward tunnels or block caves. In this case, the ore body is straight ahead. 
  2. Slope or portal mines – These mines originated as surface mines that became so deep that it was no longer economical to continue opening up the pit, so the mining operators switch to underground mining. Ore is hauled to the surface using trucks.
  3. Shaft mine – In shaft mines, the ore body is incredibly deep, sometimes more than 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) underground. The ore, often platinum or diamond ore, is found and mined in horizontal drifts below the earth’s surface. In these mines, operators often bring machines down in parts, because the elevators are too small to carry a whole machine down into the mine.

Falling Rocks, Clogging, and Corrosion are All Hurdles for Conventional Radiators

With extracting the world’s most valuable ores comes a number of challenges, and machines must be equipped to face incredibly abusive conditions.heat exchanger deep in a mine on Caterpillar mining equipment

“Underground mining is so different and so much harder on machines compared to surface mining,” said Chris Domogalla, Design and Applications Engineer at L&M Radiator. “The miners operate in very tight quarters. The mining equipment is literally bouncing off the walls and jarring the whole system.”

Besides the tight quarters and sharp jolts, machines are subject to intense vibration, overheating issues due to temperatures exceeding 120°F (49°C), corrosion from saltwater that seeps from the mine walls, and uninhibited clogging from mud, dirt, and dust that splashes onto the machine or churns up from the ground as a result of driving.

In an environment that gives trucks, loaders, and drills plenty of reasons to break down or fail, maintenance is another hefty hurdle.

“Because the machines are smaller, more compact, and travel so deep into a mine, maintenance is always an issue,” said Cass. “If you have a loader or a truck go down somewhere in the mine, you either need to repair it on the spot, or tow it through the tunnels back to the maintenance shop, which is typically located underground.” 

“In shaft mines, there is no way to bring the machine out because the elevators are so small, so they have to fix it in an underground shop or take it apart piece by piece up to the surface again. This is incredibly time-consuming and expensive,” added Cass.

The environment is so abusive to machines that the lifespan of a loader used for underground mining is nearly half that of a machine used for surface mining. Where a loader on the surface will last ten years, underground it may only last only five or six years.

Mesabi® Radiators Lead the Industry with Unbeatable Durability and Easy Repair

Built with a deep understanding of just how many ways underground mining can take a toll on a machine, Mesabi® heat exchangers are equipped with unmatched durability to take on any of these challenges.

“L&M Radiator’s development of the V-Tube design was a real leap forward in underground cooling applications,” said Cass. “We developed the V-Tube in 1996 for applications where radiator clogging was an issue. When we first sold a V-Tube core to an underground mine in Nevada, the customer was so enthusiastic at the improvement that within a year or two, the V-Tube was standard on nearly everybody’s underground loaders and trucks.”

Mesabi V-Tube technology is not only more durable, lasts longer, and puts up with everyday abuse much more successfully than a conventional cooler, it is made to be easily repaired in case damage does occur.

“If a tube(s) are damaged, which happens fairly often in underground mining, it is much easier to repair our coolers in the field,” said Cass.Atlas Copco Minetruck MT2010 with Mesabi Heat Exchnager

“If the cooler does get damaged from an accident, the Mesabi V-Tube can be either plugged or repaired in the mine where a conventional radiator more than likely would have to be removed, or they’d have to move the equipment into a special area to do such a repair,” Domogalla added.

Not only does the Mesabi V-Tube design resist clogging, but it is also much easier to clean, limiting downtime expenses and extending the life of the radiator. 

“Our cores are strong enough to be cleaned with high-pressure air or water without worry of damage,” said Cass. “One of our Australian field team members went to a mine in India that was having problems with overheating and clogging, but they didn’t realize that they could use high-pressure water to clean the cores. They were afraid to do so because if you hit a conventional radiator with high-pressure water, the fins bend over, and it damages the cooler. But our V-Tube™ and S-Fin coolers are made specifically to withstand high pressure. The mine’s maintenance crew was stunned by how easy it was to do.”

In specifying Mesabi heat exchangers for corrosive underground environments, Cass and Domogalla both highly recommend using Mesabi® brass tubes, which are designed to withstand corrosion. 

The Mesabi Way or the Highway

Any company that is serious about underground mining uses Mesabi heat exchangers, radiators and coolers. Mesabi products are standard on the heavy-duty equipment typically used in underground mining operations, such as Epiroc, Komatsu, and Caterpillar machines, and is optional on Sandvik machines. Mesabi products can replace conventional radiators on nearly any piece of equipment used in underground mining.

“After customers throw away two or three of the conventional radiators, they give us a call,” said Cass. “At the end of the day, if your machine is down all the time, it’s not making you money. Mesabi radiators are easy to clean, easy to repair, and last the life of the machine. So, sooner or later, many underground mining operations convert to a Mesabi radiator.”

Whatever Your Needs, L&M Radiator Has a Solution

Underground mining isn’t the only industry that L&M Radiator products have perfected. Check out how L&M Radiator meets the demands of mining and oil and gas operations and more at The Mesabi® Exchange


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