The Wirtgen Group has a widespread application expertise on surface miners as our machines have been working in various applications around the world says P Ramesh, Managing Director & CEO, Wirtgen India. In an exclusive chat with Equipment India, Ramesh elucidates the trends in the surface miner for various sectors. Excerpts from the interview.In 1994, a Wirtgen surface miner 1900 SM demo machine started tests in Ambuja Cement's Gujarat operations. From there on, you have come a long way. How do you look at the evolution of the technology of surface miners?We have come a long way since the trials at Ambuja Cements. We now have supplied surface miners with cutting drum widths of 2.2 m and 2.5 m to the limestone sector and the 3.8 m to the coal sector. All these variants have evolved further to our experience of surface mining operations in the Indian coal and limestone sectors. These machines continue to be successful in these sectors till date.Tell us about the advantages of using surface miners.Selective mining of the pay mineral is a major advantage which is never possible when we have thin seams of minerals interspersed with bands of inter burden. Environmental concerns have taken centre stage in the mining sector today and the surface miners with their blast-free exploitation of minerals are a very effective and acknowledged solution today.What is the latest range of surface miners on offer and tell us about its features and advantages?Wirtgen Group today has the widest range of surface miners which find application in many parts of the world for different applications. In India though use of surface miners have been successful in the coal and limestone sectors, we anticipate demand from other sectors like bauxite as well in the future. Our model SM4200, which is the biggest surface miner, is now immensely popular in the coal and iron ore sectors in the US and Australia. This machine is capable of producing coal at a rate of about 3,000 tonne/hr. We have variants of this machine suitable for both hard and soft formations.At present, what is the potential for surface miners?From the second half of 2011, demand for surface miners has been on an upswing thanks to many tenders awarded by the subsidiaries of Coal India. We expect this trend to continue through the next year also. At present, we have more than 100 surface miners working in the country with around 70 per cent in coal and the balance in limestone.At Bauma 2010, Wirtgen displayed the world's largest surface miner. Is it available in India?This model is definitely available in India and will be the model to watch out for in the future. As this is a high production machine, the mining area should be conducive for deployment of this machine and also the allied machinery for loading and transportation and opening up of the face should also match with this machine.The cost-effectiveness and overall efficiency of continuous mining with surface miners is determined significantly by the local operating conditions besides the actual mineral properties like compressive strength. How are these inputs factored into the latest versions of surface miners Wirtgen has developed?Wirtgen Group has a widespread application expertise on surface miners as our machines have been working in various applications around the world. This experience is assimilated at Germany periodically and is factored in, whenever a product improvement or new product launches are undertaken. Changing customer expectations in terms of services are also seriously considered and customised solutions to assist customers in various geographical regions are now part of our offering.What is Wirtgen's spend in R&D and what is the scope of further improving the surface miner?R&D spend is a way of life at Wirtgen and this is adequately substantiated by our various product launches at all major industrial fairs in the world like Bauma. Research on upgrading existing products are also happening continuously.How do you look at competition in this segment?Demand for surface miners will only go up and so we do expect new entrants in this segment.Tell us about the future plans with regard to surface miners in India.Exceeding customer expectations in terms of our customised service offerings, product upgradations of our existing products and the launch of the SM4200 are our plans for future.