The technological expectations of mining become reality

Improving market conditions in Australian mining have driven an increase in demand for Sandvik’s technologically advanced equipment and systems this year.

The journey towards a digital mining environment started at the equipment manufacturer decades ago, but it has recently gathered momentum as a more optimistic environment has emerged.

Sandvik has always been a company focused on offering the most advanced equipment possible. Over the past two decades a priority of this has been on autonomous solutions.

The company has also focused on offering systems that support both its equipment and their users at mine sites.

Sandvik’s contribution to a digital mining industry is demonstrated across Australia today, with its AutoMine and OptiMine systems the foundation of this.

At the Northparkes copper-gold mine in New South Wales, for example, Sandvik’s AutoMine Loading Fleet platform has delivered safety and productivity improvements to the operation.

Northparkes has eight automated Sandvik loaders operating in the same footprint 24/7 with a high utilisation rate.

The loaders have provided strong performance at Northparkes for several years, going flat out in the drives and reaching their maximum operating speed.

Sandvik has broadened the AutoMine system to cover most mining disciplines, recently launching the Lite package in Australian markets.

The Lite package is proving useful in stoping applications, providing easy installation and high mobility, while maintaining strong levels of productivity.

The effectiveness of these products demonstrates the growing appetite for advanced technology in mining, according to a Sandvik panel of experts.

As the industry moves on from the last downturn, it understands that increased productivity will be realised by ‘mining smarter’ – through insights delivered by information and analytics

Sandvik automation vice president Riku Pulli described technology, automation and smart mining as expectations of the industry that had become reality.

“Sandvik customers are reporting significant benefits gained by using these technologies in regards to higher utilisation, less equipment damage and remarkable improvement in capabilities in controlling the mining process in real time,” Pulli told Australian Mining.

“Above all, automation has proven to improve mining safety significantly, and Sandvik is proud to report that there are more than 1.5 million operating hours with AutoMine Loading and Hauling gained globally with zero lost time injuries.”

Sandvik OptiMine business development manager Kwan Lee agreed that demand for autonomous equipment and advanced technology had increased over the past year.

“As the industry moves on from the last downturn, it understands that increased productivity will be realised by ‘mining smarter’ – through insights delivered by information and analytics,” Lee said.

“A number of new projects have a strong technology focus or flavour to it,”

Ahead of the curve

Sandvik is set to remain at the forefront of the mining industry’s shift towards digital operations.

The manufacturer has launched several intelligent equipment models in recent years and has many near-term product releases in the pipeline, according to Pulli.

“The equipment across the board is now rapidly becoming smarter – they can be operated in semi- or in full automation modes and very importantly they already are or will shortly become fully compatible with Sandvik OptiMine and AutoMine platforms,” Pulli said.

A recent development, Pulli continued, was the launch of Sandvik’s connectivity and data analytics technologies area, which he said would secure additional value for miners.

Technology that improves energy efficiency – an important consideration throughout modern-day life – has also become a priority for Sandvik’s research and development team.

Petri Virrankoski, Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology business line manager – load & haul and automation, believes the industry will continue to see increased demand towards innovations in energy efficiency and alternative driveline solutions.

He said low emission and fuel-efficient Tier 4 engines had become standard in some of Sandvik’s load and haul equipment to reflect this trend.

“One the key design philosophies for Sandvik LHDs and trucks is low own-weight v payload ration, making them the most fuel efficient in the industry,” Virrankoski said.

In July, Sandvik introduced new intelligent mining trucks for automated haulage – the Sandvik TH551i and TH663i.

The company said the trucks increased haulage production by as much as 30 per cent when paired with its AutoMine platform, while lifting productivity without an increase in fixed costs.

A recent evolution in AutoMine Trucking is decline haulage, which enables a high-level of utilisation and improved productivity in declines for underground miners that use ramp haulage.

A Sandvik AutoMine Trucking operator

Automation developments

Sandvik plans to increase its range of autonomous mining equipment in the coming years.

Pieter Prinsloo, Sandvik automation business development manager, said the manufacturer’s expansion plans would enable it to meet industry demands.

“One major development we are focusing on at the moment is the introduction of fully autonomous bucket filling, especially in applications such as block or sub level cave mining where one operator will be able to monitor and supervise an entire fleet of loaders from a single operating console,” Prinsloo said.

“The next step then will be to move the operations centres to centralised hubs to reduce travel time and costs due to FIFO.”

Today’s mining operations are increasingly linked by technology, data and analytics – something Sandvik is aware of through its development of systems to help mining companies keep track of their equipment performance.

Lee said information management was not, however, becoming easier, as there was now so much data to collect.

“In terms of information management, the future is all about analytics – what to do with the data we are collecting,” Lee said.

“But with data growing at an ever-increasing pace, it is becoming increasingly challenging for individuals to look at the data – hence analytics will address this challenge, and is going to be critical in the next few years.”

Lee believes the industry needs to be smarter about using data to become more efficient at managing information.

“In the industry we are so concerned about ‘double handling’ something – especially the dirt – then why isn’t ‘double handling’ the data a big issue? Lee pondered.

“We are still content in collecting the data manually and then digitising it – this is an inefficiency in the process and Sandvik has solutions that address this.”

Regarding monitoring, Lee said Sandvik customers had commented on the benefits of having increased visibility of their fleet performance.

“For example, being able to follow the trend of critical parameters (temperatures, pressures) to ensure it is within range, or looking through the alarm history to understand (and modify) operator behaviour,” Lee explained.

“It has made the process of collecting the data, and reporting on it, much easier.”

What’s next for mining?

The diversity of mining in Australia means there will be a plethora of new innovations and developments entering the marketplace in the coming years.

Pulli found it difficult to identify just one innovation or development that would have the biggest impact, but pointed to a few trends he expected to remain prominent.

“The equipment will continue becoming more and more intelligent, the level of automation will still increase by use of artificial intelligence, data analytics and new smarter sensing technology solutions,” Pulli said.

He continued: “Continuous 3D scanning or camera based modelling technologies will become integrated into mining process management, and in general there will be smarter and better technologies available to manage and optimise the mining process, either with robotic and unmanned technologies, or still having parts of the processes manually controlled.”

Virrankoski indicated Sandvik’s focus would complement these trends, with the move towards automated operations to remain a priority.

“The automation readiness will increase in Sandvik equipment, making them easier to upgrade from manual to automated mode,” he concluded.

This article also appears in the September edition of Australian Mining. 

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