Sandvik helps pioneer mine automation in South Korea with an AutoMine equipped TH545i

Underground limestone miner Seongshin Minefield (SSMF) is now operating an automated Sandvik Mining & Rock Solutions 45 t class Toro™ TH545i, which is also the first underground autonomous dump truck in South Korea and one of the relatively few worldwide when compared to the number of autonomous LHDs. It has also gained a lot of interest from other mining companies who have been coming for study visits to see and learn how the equipment performs. The unit is monitored by Jeon Young Jun, a former manual truck operator. So far, he only oversees one automated truck, but within a few months another Toro™ TH545i will be added to the fleet.

He explained how simple it was to learn how to operate the AutoMine® system. “It might differ from person to person, but in my case, it was easy. I had been driving the truck manually for one year, getting used to the machine, so it was quite easy when I first looked at the control panel. And since I’m part of the computer game generation, it wasn’t difficult for me to operate the automated truck because I like technology. All in all, it took two days to learn how to operate the AutoMine® system. Actually, I think it was really fun.”

Jeon Young Jun, SSMF autonomous truck operator

He adds: “Korean mines, and our mining company too, eventually need to go towards smart mining and automation. We feel great pride in being pioneers, and we expect to see increased safety and productivity by introducing automated equipment.”

The relationship between Sandvik and Seongshin Minefield began when the mining company decided to acquire one DT912D tunnelling jumbo, one DD422i development drill rig and two TH545i trucks with AutoMine®. After decades of using equipment from other brands, Seongshin Minefield decided that Sandvik was the best choice to begin its automation journey. Taekchol Kwon, Site Manager at SSMF: “Sandvik has been operating for a long time in many countries. Based on that experience we believe they can deliver a high-end unmanned system. They have that trust, and due to that trust, we ended up choosing Sandvik.”

“As time goes by, mining gets more complicated. And the risks also increase. Our short-term goal is to create a foundation of sustainable and safe mining. While carrying out this project, we can confirm that Sandvik is developing equipment with safety as the first priority. Also, we felt that they are putting much effort into considering our situation and in assisting us,” Minwoo Hong, CEO of Sungshin Minefield, explains. The mine itself is situated in eastern South Korea, in the Jeongseon area, not far from Pyeongchang.

The mine’s limestone deposits are very rich. Even after 40 years of mining, there is still enough to be mined for another 200 years, according to estimations made by the company. The mining method used is room and pillar, with several blasts performed each day. The company employs around 100 staff and executives, with the head office located in downtown Seoul. SSMF’s limestone is processed into a range of calcium carbonate products used in a variety of different applications including paper, paint, and plastic.

Seongshin Minefield has high ambitions of being a safe and sustainable mining company, evidenced by the mine tunnels and active mining areas underground as well as the operating areas on surface which are all clean and well-maintained. Safety is also highlighted as one of the main reasons when the CEO, Minwoo Hong, explains why the company decided to implement automated equipment. “First of all, one person can control the majority of the equipment – and it can be done even if there is no one in the mine. Even though it’s true for all workplaces, for a mining company, safety is the most important issue. Ensuring safety is considered an essential task for sustainable mining operations,” he says.

When the autonomous truck is being loaded there is an almost two metre tall blocking wall separating it from a manned loader which lifts its bucket above the wall to fill the truck box with newly mined limestone.

Automation of mining operations is not only of interest to Seongshin Minefield. It is also on the agenda for the Korean government, which aims to make the mining industry a leader in smart mining with a high rate of automation. That is why KOMIR (Korean Mine Rehabilitation and Mineral Resource Corporation) has been involved as a subsidy partner in the procurement of Seongshin Minefield’s automated trucks.

SeungWan Shon, Director of the Project Evaluation Team at KOMIR, sees great possibilities for automation and digitalisation of the mining industry on a broader scope: “I think the future image of the mining industry, as of now, is being concentrated on equipment and facilities. But we can also see great potential for downstream and upstream digital solutions. Today we are prioritising equipment and facility support, but in the mid- and long-term perspective we will also support software development for 3D mining and 3D modelling. I believe we are moving towards a future where software and hardware are being combined. This will help us achieve our goal of authentic smart mining.”

This is an edited version of a story published on Sandvik’s Solid Ground portal