Mining machine operators control machines that extract coal, ore, stone, and sand from mines or quarries.
Did you know that 90% of all coal is used by electric companies? Coal is used to produce steam, which in turn can be used to produce electricity. Coal is also used to smelt iron ore, which makes steel. But before any of this can happen, coal must be mined.
Mining is the process of digging into the earth to extract natural minerals. The mining industry provides coal, minerals, and stone that are needed for hundreds of uses. For example, we use coal for energy, copper for wiring, and gold in electronic components. Many other minerals are used to make medicines and household products. Miners extract metallic minerals such as copper, gold, iron, lead, silver, and zinc. They also mine nonmetallic minerals such as stone, sand, gravel, and clay. Coal makes up the major portion of the mining industry. More than half of the electrical power in the United States is made by burning coal.
There are two types of mining: surface mining and underground mining. The type of mine depends on how deep the minerals are under the earth's surface. In underground mines, cutting machine operators cut a strip under the mineral seam to control where the ore will fall. They use a huge electric chain saw, with a blade from six to 15 feet long, to cut the strip, or "kerf." Drilling machine operators drill holes in the ore where workers place explosives. This process is very dangerous and is being phased out.
Continuous mining eliminates the drilling and blasting of conventional mining. It uses a machine called the continuous miner. Mining machine operators sit or lie in the machine's cab. They operate levers that control the ripper bars that cut or rip minerals out of the mine face. The same machine can load the ore directly onto a conveyor or shuttle car. Some of these machines can be operated by remote control, which increases safety.
Mining machine operators must observe the operation of their equipment. They listen to the mining sounds to be sure the equipment is operating properly. Most operators repair and adjust their machines. They lubricate them and replace broken or worn parts.