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What type of fan is best for your mining equipment?


March 16, 2021

It can be rough out there.

Whether you’re a design engineer crafting the next innovative piece of mining machinery or a reliability technician responsible for the success or failure of a mine site’s equipment, every decision you make is heavily scrutinized. And that’s on top of the daily demands that come with mining – from the geographic conditions to the worldwide demand for resources that require maximum extraction efficiency.

So you know a seemingly little detail like the engine fan on a giant truck is no small thing.

There was a time when the near 100-inch-diameter fans that cool mining equipment engines were all made of metal. But new technologies, increasing pressure to grow business, and more stringent noise and emissions requirements have combined to provide designers and mining operations gurus with different choices.

And important decisions.

The three main types of fans for mining haulers, excavators and other machines

Today, nylon and composite fans have begun to surpass metal fans in the latest and greatest mining applications.

For decades, metal fans were the only thing available. And while they’re by no means obsolete, they have their limitations.

It’s difficult to optimize the design of a metal fan for specific airflow requirements. They also feature more potential failure points; it’s rare, but some mines have experienced metal fans fretting to the point they plunge into the radiator.

Plastic or nylon modular fans are easier to customize. They can be made at different widths and curvatures, and they’re adhered to a metal center disk, which means it’s easy to increase or decrease blade count.

Nylon fans, though, sometimes succumb to the aggressive conditions that come with working in a surface mine. Chips, bumps and scratches from rocks and other debris can cause significant damage over time.

Which is why composites are becoming increasingly popular.

Composites can withstand harsh operating conditions while also being melded to specific application and mines’ cooling needs. For example, Horton’s engineers recently performed an A-to-B test pitting a metal fan against a thermoset composite fan, and the latter provided a limiting ambient temperature of over 5 degrees Celsius more.

Optimized fan design can also lower decibel levels – an area of increasing import as mining-centric locales like Australia and South America adopt stricter noise regulations.

How are fans made?

Typically, metal fans are stamped and rolled using manufacturing cells. This limits the kinds of design tweaks that can be made.

Plastic and composite fan blades are usually either injection or compression molded. This provides much more flexibility – from blade count to pitch width to a variety of other variables.

How fans impact noise

There are several ways to design a fan that limits noise. One of the most common is to spec a larger fan and run it a lower speed.

Again, nylon and composite fans are best suited for this because they can be engineered to provide higher airflow at lower RPMs.

One area where this has been keenly relevant is Australia’s Hunter Valley Region. Government noise ordinances throughout the area have forced mines and construction operations to take a look at noise-reducing measures as a result.

Why composite fans make the most sense for mining

A European mining equipment OEM once tested a composite fan on one of its 100-ton dump trucks. When the test fan arrived at their facility, an engineer opened the package and found what looked like a plastic fan.

He then placed the fan on the floor and started jumping on it to see if it would crack. When it didn’t, he realized it wasn’t plastic at all but a thermoset composite material instead.

Needless to say, the composite fan is now standard on that dump truck, which had previously been using a metal fan.

With its many mines and precious metals, Australia is considered the proving ground for many mining components and applications. Composite fans have become increasingly popular here since 2015.

One mine improved the life of its fans from 24,000 to 36,000 hours by switching from metal to composite. Another very large mine is actively converting all of its mine haul trucks’ metal fans to Horton’s composite HTEC fans.

That’s a heck of a lot better than the 100 percent downtime that can be caused by a failed metal fan.

And that’s just the durability part of the equation. The more optimized airflow provided by composites, as mentioned, lessens noise and sends more power to the wheels by helping eliminate unnecessary cooling.

A more efficient engine also produces less particulate matter, which is good for the environment and reduces a mine site’s overall carbon footprint.

Most important, though, is performance. A fan that’s lasting longer and making your engine more efficient means more trips from the bottom of the mine to the top, a faster rate of output, and more dollars on the top line of your operations’ financial statements.

All because of a simple – yet significant – upgrade to the engine cooling fan.