Tough mining in the Urals

Copper and zinc are some of the most used metals in the world. But finding and extracting the minerals is tough, and especially so in the Ural Mountain range, whose stunning beauty is matched only by the harshness of its climate. In the winter, the temperature plunges as low as -30◦C (-22◦F) and in the summer it soars to a searing 35◦C (95◦F). Rich in mineral deposits, Nature’s northern boundary between Europe and Asia is a highly demanding place to work - for both man and machine.
Tough mining in the Urals

Running on a roughly north/south axis for 2,500km (1553 miles) through Western Russia, the Urals stretch from the Kazakh steppes up to the coast of the Arctic Ocean, offering along the way a rich diversity in culture, ecology -- and geology. Beneath the forbidding landscape of the Urals lie significant riches, including gems such as topaz and beryl, as well as large deposits of copper, zinc, gold, platinum, coal, iron, nickel, silver, oil and other minerals. But in a region of such extreme and harsh operating conditions, it is perhaps not surprising that the land offers up its mineral wealth with more than a degree of reluctance.

Extracting the mineral resources from one of the planet’s oldest surviving mountain ranges, presents unique geographical, meteorological and logistical obstacles for companies determined and hard-headed enough to confront them. For the last 10 years the Urals Mining Metallurgic Company (UMMC), has risen to that challenge with great success. The company’s several thousand employees produce large quantities of high quality rolled copper as well as zinc, gold and silver among others. UMMC’s headquarters and copper smelting plant are located in Yekaterinburg, the administrative and cultural capital of Sverdlovsk Oblast, one of Russia’s most heavily industrialised regions.

Situated on the Asian side of the mountain range, Yekaterinburg is Russia’s fifth largest city with a population of 1,300,000. Named after Catherine, wife of Peter the Great, the city is best known to the wider world as the place where the last Tsar, Nicholas II, and his family were executed in the summer of 1918 during the Bolshevik Revolution. Ipatiev House, the spot where the royal family met their demise was demolished in 1977. Today, a stunning new church and monastery stands on the site. It is one of the many large scale reconstruction projects that have taken place across this modern looking city.

It is clear that much has changed in the 91 years since the most dramatic event in the city’s history, but one of the constants has been the area’s heavy reliance on the extractive industry and metallurgy because of their wealth and employment opportunities.

With the quarries, mines and copper smelting plant up and running 24 hours per day, UMMC need to be able to rely on a high level of efficiency, reliability and productivity from the construction equipment machines they use. Through its local dealership in the area, Volvo Construction Equipment has supplied them with a number of different machines, including articulated haulers, excavators and wheel loaders.

After the excavators have dug out the ore from the steep and rugged inclines of the mines and quarries, the robust articulated hauler transport the ore to the plants where it can be treated, and made ready for delivery to the smelting plant in Yekaterinburg. The articulated hauler is tested to its limits by the extremely precipitous slopes along the route, as well as the rugged surface of the roads, but its owners have watched it rise to the local challenges.

Working 12-hour shifts in the most extreme conditions, the on-board temperature control systems and extra engine filters have helped neutralize the fiercest conditions the weather can throw at the machines. The all-round visibility from inside the cab has also played a vital role in creating a safer environment for the operators and other employees in quarries bustling with activity.

At the same time increased legal demands from the authorities, covering issues such as care for the environment, operator safety and site security are becoming increasingly important factors in choosing construction equipment. With its three long-established core values of quality, safety and environmental care, Volvo has been in a strong position to help customers in these areas.

In spite of the weather, the quarries have been running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days per year. In such a demanding environment, that cannot be achieved without machines of the very highest quality.


FACTS:  In terms of volume, zinc is the fifth largest metal in world trade, after iron, steel, aluminum and copper. Half of all the zinc is used for corrosion protection of steel, and about two-thirds of the stalled products go to the construction industry. Other uses are in batteries and alloys such as brass. Copper has many uses: in pipelines for water, heat and electricity, as construction material, in household products, as protection against corrosion, in coins and musical instruments, to name a few.