Epiroc Australia underground business manager Shaiful Ali explains why the move to electrification can help the environment as well as reduce operational costs.
The environmental benefits of electrification are a major reason why the mining and resources industry has moved to embrace the technology.
Research shows that both industry customers and the general public are placing larger emphasis on companies with a greater social and environmental awareness.
However, environmental factors are not the only reasons companies are increasingly looking towards implementing battery-powered equipment in underground mining.
Swedish original equipment manufacturer (OEM) Epiroc recognises the importance of working together with industry and other manufacturers to give mine operators a range of options when it comes to choosing the right equipment for the right role.
In 2017, Epiroc began development of a battery platform and in 2018 unveiled its second-generation battery-electric equipment.
Epiroc Australia underground business manager Shaiful Ali says there are significant reasons behind the move to provide mine operators with a battery option.
“There is a lot of discussion around the health and safety aspect of using battery technology underground,” Ali tells Australian Mining.
“We see the benefits of batteries not only from a health perspective but also, long term, from a cost perspective. The cost benefits from using a battery are similar to the original costs of a mobile phone.
“When the mobile phone was first released it cost thousands of dollars, but as technology progressed and mass production starts, that is where you can see the cost benefit.
“There are also other cost reductions when using battery-powered machinery, for example, ventilation costs would be reduced, due to the the reduction in diesel fumes associated with battery equipment vehicles, subsequently providing a healthier environment for the operators underground.”
In 2020, the OEM unveiled its Batteries-as-a-service solution, which is designed to provide a unique option for operators to cost-effectively access its battery-electric machines.
“We sell the customer the machine but then the battery itself is an expensive commodity,” Ali says.
“What we did was propose an arrangement where the customer buys the machine, but we then lease them the battery. What that does is allow the customer to have more control over updates in technology.
“The service will provide the battery at a monthly nominal fee where Epiroc will be responsible for the management of the battery, the model advances of the batteries and the disposal of the battery.”
Epiroc’s development of its services and solutions has this year been complemented by new machinery releases, such as its next-generation development drill, the Boomer M20.
The Boomer M20 has a sturdy and robust design with an optional zero-emission battery driveline. This is the first rig of its kind to be able to drill partly on battery power.
Its new booms feature internal hydraulics and a hoseless design, meaning less unplanned downtime for hose repairs. The hoseless design gives the operator better visibility from the cabin, greatly improving operator safety.
Epiroc expects the M20’s features will increase productivity and machine utilisation, while facilitating planning of mining operations.
“The M20 provides difference with three main criteria in health and safety, precision and maintenance,” Ali says.
“The M20 will have the ability to be fitted with a battery driveline, it has internal hydraulics because we see the hydraulic hose as one of the real costs of failure underground when it comes to the operation.
“We also have the newly designed cabin on the Boomer M20 – the new cabin provides a reduction in noise to the existing cabin and is pretty much designed for the comfort of the operator.”
Another key feature of the Boomer M20 is Underground Manager, software designed for production planning and creating drill plans for the drill rig. The drill plans can be transferred to the rig via USB or RRA (Rig Remote Access).
Underground Manager logs position, angle and depth of each bolt installed. This gives quality control of the rock bolting to ensure proper bolt installation has been performed.
Epiroc has this year also launched its new Collision Avoidance System, which detects objects in the immediate area of machine operators.
“Previously we had a system that informs but did not react – it required the operators to react,” Ali says.
“This new system is able to react on behalf of the operator and works together with the proximity detection system, which will dictate what distance the machine will stop at.
“The Collision Avoidance System is primarily for our trucks and loaders. These recent products show how important safety is for our customers.”
Ali says Epiroc has been working with its mining industry partners to provide tailor-made solutions to increase safety in the workforce.
Automation continues to be a key aspect of the bespoke solutions that Epiroc is developing, with Ali saying the OEM plans to expand on what it offers in this area.
“Truck automation is something that we are working on as well, as we see that as the next step of our journey moving forward,” he says.
“I think that the concept of automation has now been accepted; I think what everyone is striving for right now is ensuring that the automated machines are able to duplicate manual operations.
“There is no real point in automating a machine if it only carries out 50 per cent of the productivity.”
Ali says Epiroc strives to anticipate industry needs and works with the industry to provide the best possible solutions.
The OEM has established a roadmap that looks at least five years into the industry’s future, taking trends in technology and evolving factors such as ESG (environmental, social and governance) into consideration.
“Technology has the ability to change so quickly and regulations are also changing around the world, so it is important to be able to move with the expectations of the customer,” Ali says.
“For example, diesel-free could be the future, but it is not yet, and at least we are working towards providing our customers with that option. The key is to have that option to move forwards and to try to understand exactly what the industry requires in its next step.”
This story also appears in the September issue of Australian Mining.