Sandvik’s long-term relationship with Northparkes Mines in New South Wales is an example of how the role of original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) has evolved in mining.
For more than two decades, Sandvik has been supplying and maintaining the copper-gold mine’s underground machinery.
The Northparkes mine, the first in Australia to use the block cave mining method, has always been a progressive operation focused on implementing the latest mining technologies and methodology.
As Northparkes has wanted to transform the operation into a technological-advanced digital mine, Sandvik has supported this move through the development of its autonomous equipment and complementary systems.
Sandvik’s AutoMine Loading Fleet platform has delivered significant safety and productivity improvements at the operation with its innovative features.
Northparkes’ eight automated Sandvik load-haul dumpers (LHDs), operating in the same footprint around the clock with a high utilisation rate at a lower cost, are helping it achieve these results.
Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology general manager Harry Hardy said the Northparkes partnership had set a high standard
for not only the technology and systems that were implemented, but also in terms of the growth of the workforces involved at both companies.
“You can talk about Sandvik and the technology challenge (at Northparkes) and sure that was a great challenge that Sandvik rose to, but the more interesting angle on it is what it has done for the cultures,” Hardy told Australian Mining.
“It has meant a lot for the whole workforce and the community. There were many positives, as well as some perceived negatives initially. There were also some barriers that were imagined that had to be disproven and taken away.
“You do move into that space of culture, working closely with the people and building trust. And that’s only really done through information, facts and data, and of course proof over the long term.”
Sandvik has broadened the AutoMine system to cover most mining disciplines, with the company gaining momentum with its AutoMine Lite package this year.
AutoMine Lite is useful in stoping applications, providing easy installation and high mobility, while maintaining strong levels of productivity. AutoMine, which was first installed by Sandvik in Chile during 2004, will play a central role on the company’s latest Australian equipment releases – the TH551i and TH663i underground trucks, which were launched this month.
When the trucks are paired with the AutoMine Trucking platform, mines can increase haulage production by as much as 30 per cent, according to Sandvik.
The manufacturer has also developed the OptiMine platform, an information management software solution that offers a real-time view of underground operations.
In the coming years, Sandvik expects to make significant developments to its OptiMine system to complement the advances it has made with AutoMine.
“I think if we look forward into 2018 and beyond, say from 2018 to 2020, it will be the time where we really develop the OptiMine suite of products,” Hardy said.
“Each installation will require an integration with the mine systems, so collaboration and trust will again be key elements for success.
“Sandvik will be spending a lot more time on software and just continuing to work with our hardware and getting more hardware capable to go with these platforms.”
What to do with data?
The explosion of data created by its software platforms has Sandvik pondering the next workforce culture challenge of this digital implementation – how will this information be managed and used to benefit mining companies?
Analytics will play a key role for Sandvik as it moves forward with digitalisation. The company announced an agreement with IBM in March to jointly develop market-leading offerings in data driven productivity and predictive maintenance services for mining and rock excavation.
Sandvik OptiMine business development manager Kwan Lee said the company was working with its clients to clarify how data would be efficiently and legally managed in the future.
“Something that is very different for the industry now moving forward into this digitalisation is the question around data – who owns the data?” Lee said.
“That is also very important because we are now moving more data into the cloud. Who knows where the data is sitting? You need that clarity.
“Another important requirement is that the digital systems need to work together. OptiMine has been developed from the beginning to integrate with our customer’s digital ecosystem.”
The manufacturer plans to release a discussion paper to address topics around data ownership and interoperability.
Sandvik wants to be involved in the culture change around data management in the same way it has been during the transition and development of operations at Northparkes.
Hardy is even hopeful that the company will be recognised nearly as much for its software and data expertise as it is for its advanced machinery in the coming years.
“When we get to 2020 and people ask what did Sandvik do that was different – I think they will say they are more software and data orientated,” Hardy said.
“If we can do with every customer what we did at Northparkes I think we would be happy. We sat down and worked together on the project. It created a tremendous amount of value for them and us.
“We have both got a great reward for effort out of it – they helped us develop a product too.”
This article also appears in the December edition of Australian Mining.