The Sweden-based duo leading Atlas Copco mining and construction spin-off, Epiroc, have promised an agile company that will act quicker to meet global demands and trends.
It has been more than a year since Atlas Copco proposed plans to split the group into two companies — Atlas Copco and Epiroc.
The move, which shareholders will formally vote on at Atlas Copco’s annual general meeting (AGM) on April 24, has been taking shape at the original equipment manufacturer’s (OEM’s) mining and construction branches around the world.
In Perth, for example, Epiroc’s new branding took over from the Atlas Copco signage that previously sat at the peak of its premises by March. Its machines already in the field will not be rebranded, but all equipment leaving the factories will take on the Epiroc name from May.
A split may be taking place at Atlas Copco, but Epiroc president and chief executive officer Per Lindberg said the new company’s leadership had been determined to ensure the industry that it would maintain the same ambition and direction to supply high-quality, tech-advanced equipment.
He believes the split is set to provide significant benefits for global mining clients in a variety of industry disciplines, while also allowing the company to strengthen the service and technology expertise that developed under the Atlas Copco name.
“The intention of Epiroc is to speed up our activities to be quicker and more agile for our clients,” Lindberg told Australian Mining during a visit to Australia. “If you look at the background, Atlas Copco has been successful in five business areas so the attention, focus and management of this area by the board has perhaps not been the top priority.
“Now we are going to be focused solely on the mining and construction business. I think that is going to be beneficial for everyone, especially the customers.”
With global market conditions gradually recovering over the past 18 months, Epiroc has been established at an opportune time.
The mining cycle is heading up, giving Epiroc the platform to push forward with its growth strategy to meet mining’s modern-day, increasingly tech-focused, needs.
In Australia, the demand is firmly centred on digital technology and automation — two areas that remain priorities for Epiroc regardless of where mining is in its cycle.
“The focus in Australia continues to be on automation. The big mining houses are here and all of them are looking for productivity improvements and solutions through automation,” Lindberg said.
“The industry is looking for new solutions and not the least when it comes to automation and the digital space. This is what we have to provide — we do it already but we also have to continue to develop more so in that area.”
As Atlas Copco, the mining business has achieved a benchmark for an automation project working with BHP to deploy an autonomous fleet of drills at five iron ore mines in the Pilbara.
The fleet, which is managed at BHP’s remote operations centre in Perth, has provided notable productivity and utilisation gains for the miner, while also offering the usual safety benefits by removing operators from a high-risk environment.
Epiroc hopes to add to the achievement in the Pilbara by securing more automation-focused projects at Australian mine sites.
“It’s obvious that we have a diverse set of clients — some of them being very large mining houses and others being operators of smaller mines,” Lindberg said.
“Some of them are underground miners and others are surface miners. It’s important that we understand how we work with automation in these different contexts. Everyone wants automation but the solutions for each of them will be very different.”
Epiroc expects the emerging demand for automation to come from not only the majors, but also Australia’s bevy of mid-tier miners, and possibly even junior companies.
The company’s constant development focus to meet this broader demand is to expand its range, while complementing new equipment releases with advanced technology and data management systems.
It is also prepared to, and has already made, acquisitions or formed collaborations with industry peers to add the capabilities and expertise needed to achieve this goal.
For example, Atlas Copco established a collaboration with Saab AB, and its subsidiary Combitech AB, to provide mining companies with solutions for advanced and secure digitalised operations last October.
Collaborations such as this are in line with Epiroc’s vision of the digital mine of the future, according to Helena Hedblom, Epiroc senior executive vice president mining and infrastructure.
Hedblom told Australian Mining that Epiroc’s short-term expansion strategy would focus on developing autonomous solutions for its smaller drills and underground load and haul vehicles.
“It is of course a huge opportunity to bring the same automation technology into the underground environment,” Hedblom said, “but then the challenge underground is to have a quality network set up to support the autonomous equipment.
“So we are bringing capabilities in from different industries and partnering with companies, which have been at the forefront in those industries to bring the technology to mining and speed up the transformation.
The intention of Epiroc is to speed up our activities to be quicker and more agile for our clients
“We believe in that collaboration. We don’t need to reinvent everything for mining because we can partner up and bring technology from other industries to mining.”
Another area that Epiroc will increasingly develop in the coming years will be its range of electric and battery-powered vehicles, according to Hedblom.
Despite automation being the focal point of Epiroc’s Australian strategy, the company plans to offer additional electric or battery-powered models each year to support growing demand in that area.
Hedblom said it was Epiroc’s intention to introduce more underground battery models in particular.
“It will take time before we have transformed the entire offering but we see that as a priority,” Hedblom said.
“The technology is already there and we have started with the smaller equipment, but now we are stepping up in the larger equipment as well. We are confident that this transition will come and we will be at the forefront driving that change.”
Epiroc is represented by local branches across Australia, and it continues to supply equipment and services to mine sites around the country during and following the split from Atlas Copco.