By Anoop Kumar
The mining and aggregates industries find themselves at a pivotal point in history with major transitions and transformations ahead. This evolution is driven by a confluence of factors, including sustainability goals, the advent of electric vehicles (EVs), and a demand for robust equipment performance and maintenance in the face of increasingly harsh operational conditions.
I have been involved in numerous conversations regarding the anticipated shifts in the aggregates landscape. From those discussions emerged several proactive measures industry stakeholders can undertake to prepare for what lies ahead. But first, let’s take a look at how the industry is positioned today.
Global Mining Market
It’s no secret that the mining industry is subject to cyclical market conditions due to factors like economic downturns, geopolitical challenges, regulatory changes and shifts in demand patterns. Despite uncertainty, the global mining market, valued at approximately $2.1 trillion, is poised for robust growth, with a projected compound annual growth rate of ~6% by 2027. A part of this market is the lubricating grease market, which powers the mining industry. According to a Kline report, aggregate and mining machine greases constitute a critical segment of the total industrial grease market, accounting for approximately 13%.
As this sector expands, there is an opportunity for grease formulators, equipment manufacturers, and mining operators to collaborate in developing specialized lubrication solutions that meet the unique demands of mining operations, especially given the increase in extreme weather and the challenging conditions facing the aggregates industry.
Equipment Lubrication, Maintenance Changes
The aggregates sector is no stranger to the challenges posed by extreme operating conditions. Heavy loads, water ingress, temperature fluctuations and abrasive particulates are a big part of the tough environmental conditions in which mining operations deal with every day.
To address these challenges, the industry will need to gravitate toward high-performance lubricating greases designed for demanding environments. These formulations not only enhance equipment longevity but also align with sustainability goals by minimizing waste and reducing environmental impact. The good news is that switching to a high-performance grease is something you can do immediately to begin improving the life of equipment.
While there are already high-performance greases available on the market, many lubrication manufacturers are taking on proactive measures to ensure that the industry keeps moving forward instead of lagging behind. Investing in research and development to create greases tailored for specific operational conditions is one way I predict the industry to shift – lubrications will go from a one-size-fits-most approach to an extremely curated line up of solutions.
Conventionally, lithium thickener-based greases have long been a dominant choice in the grease industry, including the aggregate and mining industry. However, due to the recent exponential drift of lithium in batteries, there is an increasing trend to look for alternate thickener based high-performance greases. Overbased calcium sulfonate greases have been projected as a suitable alternative to lithium-based greases in the aggregate and mining industry.
Coming together as an industry will be crucial to creating the next era of best practices in terms of how to select the right lubrication for the application and how to improve sustainability as much as possible. By prioritizing high-performance, lubricating greases that work better in tougher conditions, industry stakeholders can get ahead of the changes to come.
What’s more, another shift we are seeing is an enhanced focus on preventative maintenance and technologies to support better equipment maintenance. We expect to see even more technologies that incorporate automation, AI, and data analytics to help operators prevent expensive breakdowns and troubleshoot failures with more precision than ever before. All of these advancements will significantly enhance operational efficiency and mitigate costly downtime.
In the face of evolving industry variables, the aggregates sector stands at a crucial juncture. The convergence of sustainability, EV demand (which impacts the mining side of the industry) and the need for resilient equipment operation in challenging environments is driving the next chapter of the aggregates industry. And as the global mining market anticipates steady growth, the industry can adapt now to ensure preparedness and resilience for tomorrow.
Anoop Kumar is senior grease formulator at Chevron Products Co. and president of National Lubricating Grease Institute (NLGI).