Sandvik pushes automation boundaries

Image: Sandvik.

Sandvik develops some of the world’s most advanced autonomous mining solutions at its Tampere test mine in Finland, including AutoMine Concept, which the company launched at its Innovation in Mining Virtual Event.

AutoMine Concept uses new sensing capabilities and artificial intelligence (AI) to create a fully autonomous underground mining vehicle experience.

The AutoMine Concept vehicle showcased at the event can shape its own path throughout a mine in an ever-changing environment with no human oversight, filling and unloading its bucket along the way.

The AutoMine capabilities are so advanced that vehicles equipped with it can even perceive their surroundings and environment in 3D and react in real-time, detecting obstacles such as pedestrians, inching underground mines closer to zero harm operations.

Sandvik unveiled AutoMine Concept at the Innovation in Mining Virtual Event in September, where attendees were the first in the world to see it in action.

Attending virtually from homes and offices around the world, delegates were transported to Sandvik’s test mine in Finland where they watched a vehicle powered by AutoMine Concept shape its own path through the site using 3D online mapping.

When an unexpected pedestrian strayed into its path, the obstacle detection and avoidance sensors allowed the vehicle to immediately come to a halt without causing any harm to the worker or equipment.

Sandvik product line manager in automation and digitalisation David Hallett says AutoMine Concept encapsulates the beginning of Sandvik’s vision for autonomous underground mining in the future.

“AutoMine Concept is not a manual machine we have adapted for automation, but rather the opposite, in which the machine has been designed specifically for automation in mining,” Hallett explains.

“One of the first things you’ll notice about this machine is that it is fully autonomous, cabinless and built with the newest modern industrial design.

“Don’t let the good looks fool you though, this machine is built to withstand the harshest mine environments while having the most advanced automation technologies under the hood.”

The design boasts in-built components for high reliability and productivity, such as smaller rear wheels for a lower overall vehicle frame, making it easier to manoeuvre through narrow underground mine tunnels.

This underground and automation-friendly design and adaptability makes for higher productivity and ease of use.

AutoMine Concept’s intelligence isn’t just limited to finding the best route through the mine, but also for picking up ore with its automated bucket filling that requires no human intervention.

“It has been equipped with the latest sensor technology for 3D environment sensing and detection and its able to use AI for self-planning and adapting as environment conditions change,” Hallett says.

“In addition to automated bucket filling, the machine is also capable of automated path planning for quick setup when moving to new working areas.”

With AutoMine Concept, machinery measures more than one million points every second and analyses them to build its mine path using AI based on what it knows about its environment and of its own capabilities.

Sandvik research and technology development for digitalisation lead Jussi Puura says AutoMine Concept is designed not only for autonomous vehicles, but also for underground mining.

“The cabinless machine is equipped with our next-generation sensing system, seeing its environment in full high-definition 3D and it sees up to 100 metres in pitch black darkness,” Puura says.

“It sees the ground, walls, the roof, all the obstacles on the ground or hanging high up and reacts to them and localises based on what it sees in real time and creates a map of the environment as it goes.”

This gives operators more precision and control of their vehicles without having to constantly monitor the vehicle themselves.

Vehicles using AutoMine Concept can complete tasks without the need for human intervention, from travelling between mine levels, filling the bucket, discarding ore at the dumping location to turn manoeuvres in tight spaces.

“There is a new level of precision and control introduced by the electric drive line,” Puura says.

“We measure and control the speed and force of the machine and feel the resistance of the rock and are in perfect control of tyre slipping all the time, this means less tyre damage.”

AutoMine Concept machines can not only control their route but also the speed at which they travel according to the conditions at the time of operation.

“The machine chooses safe speeds for itself based on the traffic rules and the situation,” Puura explains.

“If it is approaching a narrow corridor or driving on a very bad road, it will drive slower to match the situation. If the machine senses an imminent collision risk, it will first slow down then safely stop before the collision.”

As the machine travels throughout the mine, it creates its own routes without prompting from any fixed tracks or roads in the system.

It displays clearly what it is planning to do and the route it plans to travel along, sensing the track in real-time in case of any unexpected obstacles.

This feature also appears in the November edition of Australian Mining.

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