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Cryogenics in Mining: A True Story

Bob Reed


How many compaines are thriving today without using modern technology, or better yet, how many are still in business? If there is no one sure thing, it is  that there are very few sure things , it is that there are very few sure things. Change is always occurring and those who don’t keep up with change go the way of compaines that made buggy whips, typewriters, and pencil sharpeners… they become merely numbers that are added or deleted as statistics show success and growth, or failure and eventually extinction.

Frank Heigert and Jim Hawk of Monterery Coal Company at Carlinville,llinois , are Survivalists. They have always looked for ways to reduce mining costs, improve mining efficiency, and improve that all-important bottom line. While attending the regular meeting of the Equipment Maintenance Council at Springfield, they heard a presentation by 300 Below, Inc., of Decature, llinois, on the Cryogenic Treatment of metal parts at -300°F and the cost reduction offen brought about through it’s usage. Although Monterey Coal had never had parts “Cryo-Treated”, the thought of reducing costs and increasing profits really got their attention. Following the presentation, they asked what would happen if the links and pins in the bucket system at their Prep Plant were treated. Bennett Metal at Mt.Vernon, IL, manufactured the links and pins for Monterey and Bennett used a highly wear-resistant material called Astralloy. The use of Astralloy had increased the life of the links and pins, but was it possible that Cryogenic Tempering could further improve them.

The question posed by Frank and Jim had never been asked before. 300 Below  had never treated links and pins and also never treated Astralloy. The positive answer to the question wat that Cryo-Treatment(when properly done) normally does  not damage the parts being treated. The parts may improve or  nor improve. but damage normally does not occur. The way to find out was to call Benett Metal and order exactly the same Astralloy links and pins that Monterey had been using, have them drop-shipped to 300 Below at Decatur, and have them treated. Realizing the savings that could occur if the treatment were successful, it was decided to do the test.

Frank and Jim reviewed their records in order to establish their baselines, the treated links and pins were installed, and the test was begun. A successful test  would mean a longer period of time between change-outs and thus fewer change-outs, less down-time, less labor, less links and pins to purchase, and thus reduced costs and increased profits.

During the test, the treated links and pins surpassed the normal life of untreated links and pins and continued to perform. When they were finally replaced, there had been a tremendous gain. Montery Coal decided that in the future all links and pins would be cryogenically treated. The bucket systems at Monterey Coal are now operating entirely with cryogenically treated links and pins and getting a 50% gain on the primary side of the bucket system, and those on the secondary side are consistently lasting 100% longer.

Although the Cryo-Treatment of the links and pins was the first venture into mining, many other applications will likely have a huge impact in improving mining efficiency and reducing costs.

Experience gained by the Motorsports Division at 300 Below has proven to be severe test bed for Cryogenic Treatment and points they way for many mining applications. Tractor and truck pulling, drag-racing, circle track, and endurance are extremely severe forms  of motorsports and require superior performance and increased durability and realiability. It may be good to lead during a race, but it’s  a whole lot better to be leading and still running at the end. Mining is not a race, but making a profit is directly related to keeping the machinery “In the Coal,” by reducing breakage and down-time. It may seem a stretch to make this type of connection, so we’ll move ahead to show the positive impact the motorsports successess can mean for mining.

Gardner Stone adn his Modified Pulling Tractor, “The General,” make up one of the most popular, most successful combinations in Tractor Pulling. “The General” is powered by four Chinook helicopter turbine engines, and produces between 13,000 and 14,000 horsepower. While making a pull, the rear wheels on “The General” turn at over 160 mph. With that abuse, Gardner had become accurstomed to replacing “Non-Treated” gears, shafts, and bearings at midseason when the gears become knifelike. This prompted as call to 300 Below, and the first treatment for “The General.” success!!! Now, “The General” has new Cryo-Treated gears installed every two years, a net gain of 300%.

What does that mean for Mining(both underground and surface), or Gravel Pits, or Rock Quarries , or …?Simply ask yourself the question, “How many gearboxes, transfer cases, drives, axles, etc., do I have in my production facility?”

Ron Wall, Chief Engineer at Freeman Energy, is another valuable individual always looking for ways to  to reduce costs and improve production. Since Ron knew about Cryo-Treatment and the success of treating links and pins made of Astralloy, he approached Freeman Energy Vice President Michael Caldwell, about using  Cryogenic Treatment at Freeman Coal Mines. Although the treatment was new to Michael, he was quick to recognize that it might just be a major factor in reaching his objectives.

Michael had been in mining his whole life  and was quite aware of the need to keep machinery running and reduce costs. He gave Ron the OK to move ahead with Cryo-Treatment adn since the treated Astralloy links and pins had already been successful elsewhere, they were chosen for the first treatment for Freeman Energy. The links and pins were ordered from Bennett Metal and sent to 300 Below for treatment. The test at Freeman turned out to be a major success and now Ron sees to it that their links and pins always make a stop at 300 Below at Decatur for treatment.

Ron is an engineer for Freeman Energy, but also has special means of relaxation(*may be that’s not the best choice of words) racing a V8 –  powered Modified Stock Car in lllinois and Kentucky. Ron’s racing experience and his knowledge of Cryogenic successess in motorsports influenced his decision to treat gears, shafts, and bearings for Freeman Energy applications. Tests are still going on and if the success of the “General” and other motorsports applications are any indication, tests should continue for quite some time. It’s human nature to want to get good test results right away, but in the case of Cryogenics, a successful test goes on and on. Patience is truly a virtue when it comes to the testing of Cryo-Treated parts.

It was an underground coal miner for a number of years in a mine using continuous miners. I had the opportunity to operate most equipment in the mine and that had a direct bearing a realizing the imprtance of reducing breakage, change-outs, and down-time. After all, if you’re not “making coal,”, you’re not making money. Although the parts needed to make repairs and the labor required to complete the repairs are not an insignificant figure, they are only a portion of the costs of a break-down or  a change-out. The tonnage that is lost must be added to the total overall cost. Whether the break-down occurs at the

face, on the beltline, or above ground, it is costly, and with the state of the coal mine economy today, you’d better keep everything running.

It would be great if everything responded to Cryo-Treatment, but that honestly will not happen. Experience has shown many applications and many materials that improve, but it has also shown materials that do not improve.

Although that may be a turn-off to some, they need only think of the reduced costs and increased profits brought about by the many applications that do show improvement. Much is known at this time, but there is much yet to be learned. A 200% or 300% improvement in the life or major parts is always a tremendous accomplishment and very significant in the financial well-being of a company, but offen a 25% or 50% improvement can be a “horne run” in improving the bottom line. A 50% improvement to the life of a $100,000 piece of equipment is at first thought of as being a savings of $50,000, but the reduced down-time, reduced labor, and increased tonnage soon increases that $50,000 figure to a significantly higher number. Companines that keep very good records have offen stated that Cryo-Treatment costs of 10-20 cents normally yield a dollars worth of return. Would you like to give 10-20 cents to get a dollar  back? You would? How many times would you like to do that, and in how many applications would you like to do that? I think that decision is what is termed a “No-Brainer.”

There has been much mention of Astralloy thus for and there is good reason for it. We know the metallurgy in Astralloy improves when properly Cryo-Treated, however, more testing is neccessary to identify other materials that also respond well to treatment.

Again, some will respond and some will not, but what is learned will prove invaluable. Also, high wear, high breakage equipment may be improved by switching to better material, and then treating that material. For comparison, lest’s say a change is made in the material used in a particular application and the new(untreated) marterial increased it’s useable life by 100% over the material it replaced is Cryo-Treated and gains 200% over the life of the “untreated” new material, that becomes an overall gain of 300%. Improvements can only occur when new methods and materials are tried by individuals with open minds and a desire to improve what is already in use. Sticking with something only because “It has always been done that way, ” is no reason, it’s only an excuse, and excuses are never in short supply.

Testing Cryo-Treated items requires the same attention to detail as when conducting other tests……. you must know your present baselines such as how many tons are loaded before a part has to be replaced, how long does it take to complete the change-out, what is the cost of the part being replaced, what is the labor cost of making the change-out, and how much coal is not loaded due to down-time? If you can answer those questions, you are prepared to begin testing. if you cannot, there is no way of telling if Cryo-Treatment can help. The Frank Heigert’s Jim Hawk’s, and Ron Wall’s in mining have those numbers and therefore know where they are, wher they are going, and when they get there. They have a roadmap and they follow it, but just as a new interstate highway becomes avaliable that can greatly improve their travel time, they are constantly evaluating “new roadmaps” that will allow them to reach their destination more quickly, more efficiently, and more economically than the road they are presently traveling.

300 Below,Inc., is the oldest, largest commerical cryogenic company in the United States, and has provided Cryogencis services to manufactures and individuals for many years. They also aell Cryogenic Processors both in the United States and abroad for companies that have a need for Cryogenic Treatment and when shipment of parts to Decatur, lllinois, would be very diffcult.

Bob Reed has a Master’s Degree from Eastern lllinois University at Charicston, llinois, is a former Educator and Underground Coal Miner, and is Mining & Construction Specialist and Motorsports Division Manager.