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Getting smarter about rock

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When a customer in Brazil approached Vermeer about using the Terrain Leveler® surface excavation machine to mine caliche for an iodine leaching operation, his biggest question was how the machine would perform. This was his company’s first entry into using surface excavation machine technology to help enhance the productivity of their mining operation.

We know that surface mining material is a precise process. Knowing what you can about the material’s hardness and abrasiveness means you can more precisely estimate mining production and cost per ton for various types of rock. That’s important, especially today with razor-thin industry margins.

Back in 2000, Vermeer made a significant investment to enhance its rock testing capabilities. The company hired an experienced geologist who built a cutting-edge rock testing laboratory following international and domestic geological society standards.

To date, our rock laboratory has tested thousands of rock samples from across the world. UPS and FedEx show up daily with boxes of rocks for our lab to analyze. But what’s unique about the Vermeer rock laboratory is that while we sample and test rock, we also go out into the field and verify how our machines, like the Terrain Leveler SEM, perform in that rock.

This provides us with a global database that uses an algorithm to extrapolate data to help our customers estimate production and cost of operation using our surface mining machines. And it’s done free of charge.

Rock tests

It all begins with rock samples – our experts prefer to have a minimum of five or six samples from the entire project. The samples are cored and undergo the following tests by our experienced lab technicians:

  • Unconfined compressive strength (UCS)
  • Cylindrical and side compression
  • Abrasivity (Cerchar Abrasivity Index)
  • Indirect tension (Brazilian Test)
  • Density
  • Specific gravity

Vermeer has gone a step further and developed our own energy index test. This test involves dropping a carbide tooth on top of the rock to measure the indentation. Depending on how high (measured in inches) you must drop the carbide tooth to get an indentation tells us what the likely chip factor is of that rock may be. This in turn indicates the estimated energy needed to break the rock.

The laboratory test results are provided to our customers in a written report with pictures of the sample cores before and after testing.

Pushing a pencil

At this point, we can use our solutions calculator to estimate production ranges, cost of operation and cost per ton when using a surface excavation machine in the type of rock tested. The information we provide customers includes estimated ownership, maintenance and operating costs.

Ownership costs can be amortized over the life of the machine (based on hours), while maintenance costs include scheduled rebuilds and wear item costs based on machine engine operating hours. Operating costs include tooth (pick) costs, fuel costs, machine operator wages, and oil and filter costs per hour.

What’s unique about how we do things is we use the customer’s figures in the calculations rather than taking a cookie-cutter approach and generalizing.

The program calculates an estimated range in possible production rates per hour. Once this value is calculated, then cost per cubic meter or yard and cost per ton are calculated using the total fixed and variable costs as described above. Because the range in rock properties is quite broad, three different estimated production rates are presented. The first and third values bracket the low and high estimated production rates, and the second value shows what may be expected on average for that type of rock. The program can also estimate tooth replacement needs based on the abrasivity of the rock.

What’s the value?

It’s a detailed process, but what the customer receives is an estimate of the cost of using a Terrain Leveler SEM in that particular rock condition.

The solution calculator is is probably one of the strongest tools we can share with customers to help them determine if a surface excavation machines may be right for their operation. Because, at the end of the day, a mine wants to know what their cost per ton is.

By the way, that mine operation in South America did end up purchasing a Terrain Leveler SEM, and their leaching process time has been reduced from the typical 2 to 3 years to 12 to 15 months, while iodine mineral recovery has increased from 8 to 12 percent.

So in answer to the customer’s question of how would the machine perform, I feel confident in saying the machine performs just fine.

I would be happy to share examples of how surface excavation machines are helping mines like yours across the globe. Just send me a message and we can visit. You can also learn more by visiting

The costs and productions rates as calculated with the Vermeer solutions calculator are only estimates. The actual amounts will vary based upon your conditions, maintenance, operator experience, site preparation and many other factors. This is only a tool for estimating. The actual production rates and costs will vary.

© 2017 Vermeer Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

  • rock
  • drilling in rock
  • Vermeer rock lab
  • surface mining
  • hdd tooling

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