Normet, SmartDrive and the path to electrification

Five years is a long time in mining technology circles: a point Normet is reinforcing with the rapid rise of its SmartDrive® battery-electric utility equipment platform. SmartDrive is a modular battery-electric vehicle (BEV) architecture designed to optimise energy consumption and performance. It includes the latest Li-ion battery technology with a fast-charging capability. High-torque electric motors supply instant torque and efficient operation without any local emissions, while the fully reversible 4WD ensures safe and sure movement in difficult underground conditions.

Normet’s Samu Kukkonen, Technology Director (left) and Mark Ryan, VP Vice President Equipment Offering and New Technology (right)

Built-in energy recuperation technology maximises the storing of regenerative braking energy during downhill driving and deacceleration. This is aided by efficient hydraulic dual-circuit oil immersed brakes that supply additional braking power when needed.  Normet SmartDrive equipment’s batteries can be charged at any time from typical underground AC-sockets. For demanding operations, optional fast chargers can charge batteries quickly during operation or a break. Normet equipment is fully compatible with the universal CCS fast charging standard.

The range of SmartDrive machines today includes BEV Spraymec concrete sprayers, Utilift scissor lifts, Charmec multipurpose chargers, Utimec concrete transmixer, personnel and material carriers, and Multimec multifunctional carrier. These machines have had success worldwide and in a number of cases have been the first BEVs to deploy at major mines such as at Oyu Tolgoi, Sindesar Khurd and Efemçukuru.

In Australia, Normet has been operating in and supporting the Australian market for many years, with offices and workshops throughout the country. Notable SmartDrive successes include Australia’s first battery-powered vehicle for underground explosive charging – a Charmec, that arrived at OZ Minerals’ Carrapateena in 2020 for work with Enaex Australia; then a trial with contract miner Barminco at IGO’s Nova operation in 2021; and a third Charmec trial with contract miner Byrnecut at Gold Fields’ Invincible operation in 2021/2022. To date, Normet has delivered 16 SmartDrive machines to Australia with more on the way.

We spoke with Normet’s Samu Kukkonen, Technology Director and Mark Ryan, VP Vice President Equipment Offering and New Technology, to find out more ahead of their speaker appearances at The Electric Mine 2024, in Perth, Western Australia, taking place at the Crown Perth Complex, on May 21-23! Normet is a Platinum Sponsor of the event with an exhibitor booth presence, plus its Spraymec MF 050 VC SD battery-electric concrete sprayer will be there as part of the Outdoor Equipment Showcase.

Q How would you say the market’s reception to electrifying their underground operations has changed since you launched the SmartDrive platform at the Bauma exhibition in 2019?

MR: Since the launch, we have delivered over 60 units globally. Over these years and tens of thousands of operating hours, the technology has proven its benefits, durability and safety in underground operations. The key benefits include improvement in air quality, decreased noise and almost zero heat, as well as significantly decreased operational costs compared to their diesel equivalent. Even if the reception has been generally positive, understandably many customers are still cautious. We are here to help them to take the first step in the path of electrification: we help with the identification and mitigation of risks, with process planning, infrastructure planning if it is required, with commissioning and training, and whatever the customers need help with. In addition, our equipment is not that energy-intensive, meaning that to try out the technology, the customers might not need to invest in or build any additional infrastructure.

Q You appear to have made inroads across many major mining jurisdictions with SmartDrive vehicles; what would you say has proven decisive in convincing these owners and contractors to use your battery-electric equipment?

MR: We have been in the underground mining business for over half a century, so dealing with the global jurisdictions and legislations, and intensive collaboration with local authorities has been everyday business. So, continuing this with SmartDrive was nothing new to us. By combining our decades long underground mining process experience with world-leading BEV technology and experts, we were able to create a global product offering.

Q Considering this battery-electric success with SmartDrive, why did you feel the need to introduce ElectroDynamic® powertrain architecture to your offering in 2023? Was the launch of this hybrid power offering representative of the various maturity levels present in the market when it comes to electrifying mining operations?

SK: Since the launch of the SmartDrive, we had become adept in electric vehicle technologies. We then realised that this expertise we had, can be utilised to augment, if you will, conventional diesel powered machinery as well. We also knew that this ‘hybridisation’ has to have enough benefits for the mining industry to be interested in it. We came up with a concept where, by replacing the conventional mechanical driveline with a fully electric one and powering it with a diesel engine generator, we could almost double the payload capacity of our biggest agitators while keeping the machine height the same or actually decreasing it slightly. It fits the same tunnel size and has nearly double the productivity. There is a huge value in that. Also, the solution greatly reduces the amount of CO2 emitted or fuel consumed per cubic metre of concrete transported. So, it helps our customers to reach sustainability targets as well. The ElectroDynamic® makes sense from many different perspectives. We believe there is room in the industry for such a high performing product in parallel to SmartDrive. All of these solutions help the industry to reduce CO2 output.

Normet’s ElectroDynamic® architecture combines the best features of its battery-electric Normet SmartDrive® platform and state-of-the-art low-emission engine technology

Q Is this dynamic also one of the reasons why Normet is hosting a panel session at The Electric Mine 2024 titled, ‘Tackling the carbon reduction challenge one step at a time?’

MR: Yes. We feel like the mining industry is still in the beginning of its electrification journey, so we want to do our part in this, by helping our customers to tackle their challenges and build up the confidence for this technology by sharing our experiences and learnings with the industry.

Q Samu, your presentation is looking at the electrification of manipulators and tools in underground mining. What stage is this at within Normet’s offering?

SK: With SD technology validated, we are broadening our focus to electrifying tools and manipulators. We can achieve gains in safety and/or productivity while reducing energy consumption and CO2 output. In our presentation, we will discuss about our latest achievement in this area, the Charmec Revo, a remote explosives charger with a fully electric, servo robotic manipulator. Another example we’ll present is an electric hammer, a collaborative effort between us and Finnish technology company Lekatech. So, these are the first steps in our tools electrification roadmap.

Q Normet has had significant success with the SmartDrive platform in Australia. What do you put this success down to?

MR: The answer is simple: our customers in Australia are committed and motivated to continuous improvement and early adaptation of the technologies to increase the safety and well-being of their personnel. In addition, our experienced Australian organisation is extremely committed to these things as well.

Q In addition to what you have already discussed, what can attendees of The Electric Mine 2024 look forward to hearing about?

MR: Based on our experience, The Electric Mine is a great opportunity for the industry experts to gather together to share their experiences and best practices to learn from each other, and we want to do our part in this as well. We want to share our learnings on these 60+ units we have in the field, as well as our latest innovations in electrification.

Normet is a Platinum Sponsor of The Electric Mine 2024, with the company having a major indoor display in the exhibition hall, as well as being part of the Outdoor Equipment Showcase – where it will be showcasing a Spraymec MF 050 VC SD – a battery-electric concrete sprayer designed for mining. There is still time to register – head to