Sandvik positions mining companies for underground automation

Resolute Mining's Syama underground operation in Mali.

Total underground automation is becoming a reality. Sandvik is working with Australia’s Resolute Mining to introduce the technology in West Africa. Australian Mining writes.

Sandvik continues to bolster its underground automation capabilities with updated equipment and systems.

The original equipment manufacturer (OEM) has accelerated its development into an automation-ready company as these projects have become economically possible for mining companies 

Sandvik has established its ‘3 Pillar Framework’ for automation, which provides efficient monitoring and accurate reporting of data, smart management systems and intelligent machines equipped with systems like AutoMine and OptiMine.

It has also released a range of new machines – the i-series – that support the move of mining companies into an underground automation environment.

Sandvik has taken a major step towards its underground automation vision this year through a relationship with Australian-based gold company, Resolute Mining.

The company is working with Resolute to establish a strategic framework to fully automate the Syama underground gold mine in Mali, West Africa.

Syama underground, which is scheduled to start sub-level caving in December, will be automated around a Sandvik production system.

Resolute and Sandvik have together designed the operation, collaborating on equipment selection, underground infrastructure design, and the ability to match that with the miner’s ambitions to operate machinery that increases profitability, reduces costs and improves safety.

The partnership has also provided a unique opportunity for interrelationship between technologies, linking Sandvik equipment and the software Resolute uses with their entire value chain and operations.

Sandvik is delivering the AutoMine and OptiMine systems for planning, analysis, process optimisation and automation, including a full fleet of Sandvik TH663 trucks, LH621, LH517 and Sandvik LH514E electrical loaders, to fully automate the mine.

The system, which is scheduled for commissioning this year, will also feature a range of development, production and bolting rigs and rock tools. The LH514E tethered electrical loader has been selected as the main loader for stope extraction.

Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology president Lars Engström says the collaboration is bringing full end-to-end automation and process optimisation into an underground mine.

“I believe that the Syama project gives us both a unique opportunity to bring together cutting edge technologies into a large scale project and create the mine of the future in Africa,” Engström says.

Resolute, which launched production at the Syama mine in 2009, has agreed to work with Sandvik for three years. The partnership includes the introduction of current and future Sandvik technology without having to amend the contract for each purchase.

The gold miner identified several benefits by working with Sandvik on the automation project, including increased machine productivity and performance; a reduced number of machines; reduced risk and better safety outcomes; a reduction in underground personnel; lower production costs per tonne; greater control of mining with less variation; a reduction in wear and damage; increased productivity and efficiency; greater machine life; the potential for mining rate increases; and the ability to train the workforce using new technologies.

Resolute managing director and chief executive officer John Welborn says Sandvik is the only equipment provider that can offer the full suite of proven autonomous equipment and digital solutions that the gold miner required.

“A key focus of our business is to ensure we maximise the potential of this outstanding deposit for our stakeholders by delivering a world-class underground mine characterised by a highly trained and skilled local workforce, a safe working environment and industry leading productivity,” Welborn says.

Resolute’s Syama automation plan, along with a power upgrade project, has helped it reduce the cost profile at the operation by as much as 15 per cent.

The gold miner, in an updated definitive feasibility study (DFS) released in July, lowered its Syama all-in sustaining costs (AISC) from $US881/oz to $US746/oz.

Syama’s lower cost profile is supported in the new DFS by a 38 per cent increase in underground reserves and a four-year increase to the mine life to 2032.

Welborn is excited to see the company’s investment in technology and exploration result in an expansion to the operating margins, scale and value of Syama.

“Our ambition at Syama is to transform this world-class gold deposit into a world-class gold mine,” he says. “The updated DFS numbers capture the progress we have made in exploration, automation and power, and confirm Resolute is transforming Syama into a robust, long life, low cost mine.”

Welborn says the sub-level cave mine plan at Syama lends itself to automation.

“Our partnership with Sandvik to deliver autonomous haulage and trucking enables a major productivity and cost improvements over the original DFS,” Welborn says.

“Reducing operating costs and increasing production at Syama is consistent with our journey to build an operation that utilises best-in-class technology while maintaining flexibility to incorporate further advances in mining and processing.”

Sandvik’s has strengthened its i-series equipment range for the push into underground automation this year by launching the LH517i intelligent loader and TH545i mining truck.

The LH517i loader has been matched with the TH551i truck, released last year, due to their designed payload capacities. It features the latest Sandvik Intelligent Control System and My Sandvik Digital Services Knowledge Box on-board hardware for product health monitoring and faster trouble shooting.

Sandvik has taken flexibility for customers interested in tele-remote or full automation into account by having the machine ready for automation. It requires just a few days for a retrofit to AutoMine.

The TH545i, which joins the TH551i and TH663i machines in the truck family, is designed for intelligent mine operations and improved productivity.

It also comes automation compatible and can be equipped with an optional AutoMine Trucking Onboard package.

The automation compatibility provides the possibility to move equipment operators from underground to other locations, improving safety, according to Sandvik.

Perth-based Resolute has emerged as a leading ASX-listed gold company in Africa with Syama. The company is pursuing growth on the continent, making investments in African-focused, Canada-based companies, Loncor Resources and Orca Gold, this year.

In Australia, Resolute owns the Ravenswood gold mine near Townsville in Queensland.

This article originally appeared in the September issue of Australian Mining.