The air in the tunnel is thick with heat, but undeterred, the Six Volvo A30E articulated haulers burrow into the darkness, their suspension especially lowered to navigate the narrow passages of the mine.
The haulers are working in the Iron Quadrangle region near the city of Belo Horizonte in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil. The name Minas Gerais means 'general mines' because the area, in the Southeast of the country, is a prolific greenstone belt with a rich history of mining. The belt has produced significant quantities of gold, diamonds and iron from open pit and large-scale underground mining operations for more than 300 years. Today, Belo Horizonte serves as the commercial centre for Brazil's mining industry and the area has excellent infrastructure to support world-class mining operations.
While the rest of the world expected Brazil to follow its North American neighbour into the dark financial crisis of 2008, Brazil surprised everyone by surviving the downturn with hardly a scratch. Today, Brazil is one of the world's up-and-coming market economies and by far the biggest industry, apart from agriculture, is mining.
Brazil's gold and iron ore mining is experiencing a period of extreme growth and new mining projects are expected to ensure the country retains its leading position in global mineral commodity production for years to come.
Canadian-chartered company Jaguar Mining is one of the fastest growing gold producers in the world with operations in the state of Minas Gerais. Jaguar has a 65,500 acre land base in the area, consisting of Sabará, Turmalina and Paciência mines and processing facilities. It also has mining operations in the Northeast of Brazil, in the state of Ceará - another vast mining area.
The company is currently number four for gold production in Brazil, producing around 200,000 ounces of gold per year. But it has plans to significantly increase production to 700,000 ounces a year by 2014 - becoming number one in the country for gold production.
The Volvo articulated haulers work in three, six-hour shifts in the Mineração Turmalina mine, located in São Gonçalo do Paraná, Minas Gerais; operated by 20 employees. The conditions can be difficult as the temperature in the mine can reach up to 40 degrees, but vertical holes in the roof of the tunnel improves ventilation and the atmosphere for the workers.The tunnels are only 5m wide by 4m high and the machines must navigate the low galleries to take the ore out of the mine, where the gold is extracted. For every one tonne of ore, only five grammes of gold is taken.
Volvo's dealer in the area, Tracbel, has been supplying Jaguar with Volvo machinery since the company started its operations in Brazil in 2005 - and the companies have formed a close relationship. Vice President of Tracbel, Luiz Gustavo, says the first machines they supplied to Jaguar were 10 Volvo L90E wheel loaders - with a 500-600mm lower cab to fit inside the mine. Today, Jaguar has 20 Volvo L90Es and they acquired the six Volvo A30E articulated haulers in February this year. Prior to this, Jaguar was using on-highway tipper trucks that were unsuitable for mining operations.
"The road trucks couldn't work very well because of the humid temperature," says Gustavo. "The trucks need to transport a lot of ore from the mine to the outside and the roads inside the mine aren't very good for road trucks. So we showed them our Volvo A30E articulated haulers and, after checking out the competition, they agreed that these were the best for the job," he continues.
Valter Oliveira, Administrative Director for Jaguar Mining, says: "At Jaguar Mining we work with the same concepts as Volvo, which is safety, high quality equipment and the best environmental techniques possible. This is why we chose Volvo. Our operations and development efforts protect the environment and surrounding natural resources, so we need the equipment to match," he explains. "The machines have great productivity and fuel consumption, and the onboard technology is second to none."
Jaguar Mining has noticed a distinct change in its working methods since acquiring the Volvo haulers. "Besides the improved safety, which we need when working with large machines, the mine's productivity has increased considerably," says Oliveira.
Jaguar has been so pleased with the Volvo machinery that Tracbel is currently signing a maintenance agreement for a technical team to take care of the Volvo machines in the mine, around the clock. "The after sales business is very important for mining," says Gustavo. "Mines need availability of mechanics and parts. This agreement means that if a breakdown happens with the articulated haulers then our team is there to support them immediately. Our branch is very close so we can send new parts."
Jaguar Mining has been very pleased with the level of service and machinery that it has received so far. "Tracbel's technical assistance is excellent and our technical team has given good feedback on the performance of the Volvo equipment." says Oliveira. "This is why we have signed a maintenance agreement with them. Summing up, we are very satisfied with the partnership."
The Iron Quadrangle is literally a 'goldmine' for more substantial mineral discoveries, and yet it remains relatively under-explored compared to other great greenstone belts around the world. Jaguar Mining has expansion plans to work at 25 mines by 2014 and new machine acquisitions will be necessary to cope with the high demand of underground ore transportation.
"Taking into consideration Volvo Construction Equipment's high quality and performance, its machines are top of our list for future investments," concludes Oliveira.
Text: Clare Gittins
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