Tag Archives: Aitik

Metso Outotec and Boliden renew service contract for Aitik copper mine

Metso Outotec and Boliden have signed an extension of their service contract for Boliden’s Aitik copper mine in Gällivare, northern Sweden.

The “3+2-year extension” of the Life-Cycle Services agreement covers the supply of mill lining, chute lining solutions, preventive maintenance of the grinding circuit and recycling of used wear parts, the mining OEM said. The first part of the contract has been booked in Metso Outotec’s orders received in the September quarter of 2020.

The contract is a performance-based cost-per-tonne agreement, in which Metso Outotec gets paid according to the output of the customer’s process. The goal is to ensure the availability of the grinding circuit and to maximise valuable production time, striving for a common goal that benefits both parties, the company said.

Metso Outotec and Boliden have cooperated since the 1960s. Throughout the decades, the collaboration has evolved to meet new emerging needs, while continuing to improve uptime and annual production, Metso Outotec said.

“Safety is Boliden’s top priority and enhancing it is also embedded in the scope of the new contract,” the OEM said. “Metso Outotec will provide solutions that simultaneously cut maintenance time and increase the wear life of parts even further.”

The new contract also focuses more on the management of worn wear parts, with Metso Outotec developing capabilities to recycle and dispose of them more sustainably. The AG mills in Aitik will continue to use Metso Outotec’s innovative Megaliner™ mill lining.

Megaliner helps to maximise the availability of large mills by using an innovative design that speeds up liner replacement. The larger-than-average liners mean fewer individual pieces are needed. Megaliner also has fewer attachment points compared with conventional liners, further improving installation and removal time, Metso Outotec says. It also improves worker safety during maintenance as the liners are bolted into position from outside the mill.

The pebble mills and two regrind mills at Aitik will be lined with rubber and Poly-Met mill linings, Metso Outotec said.

Aitik is one of the largest copper mines in Europe. In 2019, the mine produced close to 41,000 t of copper, employing nearly 800 people.

Visualising the future of particle measurements with 3DPM

The 3DPM vision system has had quite a journey. Since the first prototype was installed at LKAB’s Malmberget iron ore to help the miner optimise its pellet production, the system has helped ‘settle the argument’ between mine and mill at base metal mines in Europe and improve the quality of coke being fed to blast furnaces in Japan.

The future looks bright too, with the potential for the system to play a major role in the automation of mine process plants.

Users of 3DPM have seen the importance of having a high-quality vision system that can measure material from a few millimetres to as big as 300 mm in size at relatively high speeds on conveyor belts.

Matthew Thurley, Principal Scientist at Innovative Machine Vision and one of the inventors of the system, has seen the system evolve at the same time as the industry’s understanding of orebody characterisation has grown.

Sweden-based MBV Systems was involved from the beginning on the system, working in partnership with Thurley during his time at Lulea University. It was a three-way collaboration between the university, the SME, and mining companies that got the product to market.

3DPM stands for three-dimensional particle measurement. The system consists of high-performance hardware for 3D scanning of particles and state-of-the-art software for analysis of the size and distribution of particles on a conveyor belt.

“Each system is optimised regarding the hardware and software to best fit each individual installation site and customer preference,” MBV Systems said. “A few examples include OPC communication, heating options to allow functionality in freezing environments, bulk volume calculation, rock bolt detection, and alarm triggering on oversize material.”

Back in 2006, the system installed at Malmberget was very different.

Thurley said the physical hardware, mounted above a conveyor, was pieced together to function properly, but required integration of many individual parts which was hard to maintain.

Still, it provided the iron ore miner with a detailed particle size distribution down to mm-size classes of its high-grade iron ore pellets.

And, in the 14 years since first installation, the principle of the system has remained: to provide increased knowledge of particle size distribution to generate value in, for instance, crusher/mill control, blast furnace effectiveness, process optimisation, or process knowledge.

As more companies have become familiar with the system, the advanced features such as algorithms to detect fines and partially embedded particles have come to the fore. The hardware has been reinforced for rough environments with IP65 rating and the need for very low maintenance even when running 24/7.

This has meant the system has potential in projects focused on improved quality control, automation and process control; three topics the industry is looking at to improve its bottom line, increase its revenues and remove people from operations.

MBV Systems said: “Our customers, who are already highly automated, must continually make their operations more efficient and reduce costs in increasingly tougher international competition. MBV Systems’ machine vision systems constitute a decisive factor for higher productivity, improved efficiency and for complete quality control.”

LKAB started using the system more than 10 years ago. Over that timeframe, the system won many admirers.

Boliden is a big fan of 3DPM, with installations at its Garpenberg, Aitik and Tara operations.

Earlier this year, the miner decided to install another 3DPM system at Garpenberg, four years after the first system was delivered to the Aitik mine to help boost process knowledge and control strategies for crushers and grinding mills.

The way the Sweden-based miner has applied this technology makes for a great case study, according to Thurley.

At Tara, the system is being used for increased process knowledge – “settling the argument between mine and mill”, Thurley says – while, at Garpenberg, the vision system is being leveraged to detect boulders and rock bolts online in a safe way.

This shows 3DPM can be used for multiple purposes.

Such flexibility is down to the system’s ability to provide full size distribution measurements from 0-300 mm and the use of newer algorithms, with the accuracy dependent on the speed of the conveyor belt and the target size of the material under scrutiny.

One of the differentiating factors of 3DPM compared with other vision systems – many of which are now used within ore sorting projects – is the ability to provide a good 3D data profile of the surface of the rock mass. This helps distinguish between rocks and fines, for instance, even when the two are interwoven.

“With the system, we can classify fines and embedded rocks,” Thurley explained. “In other systems, fines may be mistaken for large ‘rocks’ and significantly skew the measured size distribution resulting in bad data and bad decision making.”

This is particularly important in operations that produce several products within one mine – for instance iron ore lump and fines – ensuring that the correct product ends up in the correct stockpile.

The vision system can be tailored to each application.

“At a pigment producer, for instance, we are looking for material that is 3 mm in size,” Thurley said. “In order to carry out that sort of classification, we use the latest technology to measure 3D points at 0.3 mm resolution.”

Typically, visualisation down to this size of material is not required in mining operations, where the company is really competing with batch ‘mine-to-mill’ ore characterisation studies carried out through sieving or some type of other manual process. Such classification can work well for that ‘sample’ but can be misrepresentative depending on the orebody’s heterogeneity.

“3DPM can, instead, provide an end-to-end analysis that can now start to be used as a decision-making tool,” Thurley said.

Analysis of the ore coming through just after blasting can help provide the reconciliation tool miners require to check how effective the blasting practice is, for instance, helping provide the “pre-crusher size distribution feedback much earlier in the value chain”, he said.

With the incorporation of new software and camera technology, the company is expecting more complex analysis to be carried out on bigger amounts of material, according to Thurley.

“These new technologies will allow us to analyse material on a conveyor belt going at 6 m/s where the previous generation was limited at around 2 m/s,” he said.

This could open opportunities at much bigger operations – some large copper or iron ore mines, for instance – as well as automated plants of the future.

It is not farfetched to see the system operating in the same blasting reconciliation position but providing crusher operators with the analysis required to optimise operations ahead of receiving the material.

Moving one step further, it could provide the same information to a system that operates autonomously.

“This could eventually lead to automatic control of the crusher,” Thurley said.

ABB envisages eliminating diesel from the open-pit mining mix

Reducing carbon emissions during open-pit operations is now a major driver for global mining companies, who are going back to the future by employing trolley assist systems for trucks to limit diesel fuel usage and costs, while at the same time boosting speed-on-grade for greater throughput, write ABB’s Mehrzad Ashnagaran and Michel Serres*.

Haul road electrification technology has been in development for decades, but the emergence of a new generation of diesel-electric trucks that already have an electrical system on board to tap into – making it easy to attach them on a trolley line – means the concept has recently begun to gain significant traction as a commercially viable way to facilitate the all-electric mines of the future.

One of the key challenges when it comes to reducing diesel fuel usage is cycle times. There is no technology today that enables miners to fill the truck’s tank and complete a shift without stopping; either you have to increase the speed of the mobile equipment or the size the fleet itself – both of which have a direct impact on capital expenditure.

Trolley assist systems have returned to the market in the last two to three years in places such as North and South America, Africa and Turkey, mainly due to CO2 emission taxes, the removal of tax advantages from diesel, and premiums offered by energy suppliers to incentivise companies to use electricity.

Going forward, there are many synergies with using trolley lines, which offer huge benefits in terms of CO2 reduction.

Large trucks regularly carry 3,000-5,000 litres of diesel in the tank and consume around 300-400 litres per hour while travelling up a 17 km ramp in half an hour.

By going electric, the vehicles, when on-trolley, only use around 30-50 litres an hour, which equates to a reduction in diesel consumption of as much as 350 litres an hour, making operations much more CO2 efficient. In addition, the speed of the trucks will increase, meaning you have a higher throughput at the mine. Operators can also start to think about parking some of their fleet, which will bring additional indirect value to overall operational improvements through better maintenance planning to improve fleet availability and fleet longevity.

One example of the revival of trolley assist systems is at the Aitik open-pit copper mine in Sweden. Here Boliden, ABB and partners trialled the electrification of four haulage trucks on a 700 m trolley line, with the goal of reducing annual diesel usage by 800,000 litres and carrying 70 Mt of ore every year at the mine without using fossil fuel.

Reduced diesel consumption at Boliden mines

Boliden has now moved on from the 700 m trolley line trial at Aitik to confirming it will install an additional 3 km of trolley line at the mine, plus 1.8 km at Kevitsa (in addition to the accompanying conversion of diesel-electric haul trucks). By doing so, Boliden says it will reduce its diesel consumption by 5,500 cu.m/y when its investment is complete. That is a big number.

Aitik is currently the only mine in an arctic climate where electric trolley has been installed. Overall, with the further three kilometres of electric trolley line, greenhouse gas emissions from transportation over the life of mine are reduced by nearly 15%.

In Kevitsa, 13 mining trucks are converted for electric trolley lines at the same time as the 1.8-km-long electric trolley line is being built. The investment means that greenhouse gas emissions over the life of this mine will be reduced by 9%.

In addition, productivity gains are added as the electrically powered trucks can run at a higher speed, and the working environment for the drivers is also improved, not least through lower noise levels.

Today’s mine design

Diesel-electric trucks have an electrical powertrain in the wheels, meaning they can be driven fully electric, and have an electrical genset on board, so they generate electricity as they go.

However, due to the limitations of existing battery technologies at surface mines, we cannot yet manage large payload trucks of 280-400 tons (254-363 t) fully battery equipped. Companies are therefore trying to close the gap between the trolley and the loading or dumping point using battery packs and other solutions.

Constraint management

The transformation from diesel to electric is bringing new advantages in terms of CO2 reduction but also new constraints in terms of mine planning and fleet management. Energy costs represent almost one third of a mining company’s total cost base; helping industry to manage these costs is therefore key.

Switching OEMs on to electrification

Having initially adopted a ‘fast follower’ approach to new digital technologies, the risk-averse mining sector has also been slow to embrace electrification. Operators are looking to technology leaders such as ABB as well as more niche players to make change happen.

A lot of mining companies are looking to the likes of ABB to influence mining equipment manufacturers and engage them in the electric transformation, and so accelerate the process.

A clear technology roadmap and shifting workforce skill are key to this transition.

The biggest challenge is that customers are nervous about redesigning existing diesel-powered mines to integrate new electrification systems. Asset lifecycle strategies, ownership models and duty cycles are all subject to change. Ultimately, the customer needs a very clear technology roadmap and finding the right partner for this major undertaking is key.

According to Accenture’s resources practice, the profile of the future mining workforce could change by up to 80% by 2024, driven by increased adoption of advanced technologies. The onus is therefore on mining companies to demonstrate a progressive commitment to electrification to attract and retain the next generation of digitally literate talent.

Today the worldwide situation with COVID-19 may accelerate these changes faster than forecast.
Current skill sets will have to be re-evaluated for the all-electric mines of the future, and so the need for change management is key. Tomorrow we will need more workers understanding the concept of electrification, in addition to digital and planning skills – so the shifting skill profile is an important consideration.

*Mehrzad Ashnagaran is Global Product Line Manager Electrification at ABB, while Michel Serres is VP Innovation and Digital North America at ABB

Epiroc Pit Vipers pass automation test at Boliden Aitik

To help increase productivity, efficiency, and safety at its Aitik copper mine, in Sweden, Boliden has looked to leverage advances in autonomous drilling.

The mine has plans to raise production at the open-pit copper mine to 45 Mt/y this year, from 36 Mt/y previously.

To meet this target, Boliden needed to increase production from its fleet of five Epiroc Pit Vipers at the operation, the mining OEM said.

“The traditional and obvious solution would be to invest in additional Pit Vipers,” Epiroc said. Instead, Boliden looked to see if utilising automation and operating its fleet with teleremote, and semi-autonomous single-row Pit Vipers, could provide the needed boost.

“One reason to convert to remote and autonomous operations is the opportunity to reduce non-drilling time, increase utilisation and gain productivity,” Epiroc said.

Aitik is one of Europe’s largest mines with a massive pit visible from space, according to the equipment maker.

Peter Palo, Project Manager at Boliden Aitik, explained: “Its depth is 450 m and it has a width of several kilometres, requiring 15-20 minutes of driving time for operators to travel to and from the surface level. There is also a satellite mine even further away. Lunch breaks in production can last for an hour.”

Another factor taken into consideration is the harsh arctic winter climate, with snowstorms and biting cold that reduces visibility, and increases the need for safe workplace conditions. Both Boliden and Epiroc were curious to see whether automated Pit Vipers could handle these conditions, Epiroc remarked.

The first step in this transition was to perform a test with one of the Pit Vipers, converting and upgrading the machine for remote operation.

A meeting room in the mine office building was converted into a temporary control room, and the WLAN in the pit was updated and fortified to increase coverage and bandwidth.

Boliden staff were trained to operate the Pit Vipers by remote control, with the primary key performance indicators yielding positive results, according to Epiroc. On top of this, the Pit Viper automation technology received positive feedback from the operators.

Fredrik Lindström, Product Manager Automation at Epiroc, said: “There’s more to converting to automated operations than you’d think. To enjoy the full advantages of automation, you have to systematically change and improve routines, adapting them to the new processes. The lion’s share of the work involves getting people to change their habits to reach the common goal.

“Boliden has done a tremendous job laying the groundwork for the necessary process changes.”

The next step involved converting the other four Pit Vipers for remote operation while upgrading the first Pit Viper to handle single-row autonomous operation. The automation, in this case, entails the operator initiating the process, leaving the Pit Viper to drill a whole row of blast holes on its own and moving autonomously between drill holes. Once the row is completed, the operator moves and prepares the machine for the next row of holes.

Comparing the semi-autonomous single row Pit Viper with a fully manually operated machine, under optimal conditions, Boliden has measured a utilisation increase from 45-50% to 80%, as well as a 30% increase in productivity, Epiroc said.

Palo said: “We’re very pleased with the results, which is why we’re converting the rest of the Pit Viper fleet to remote operation as a step towards further automation.”

The operators handled the transition to remote operations exceptionally well, Epiroc said, explaining that the onsite operations control system was designed to mimic the Epiroc Pit Viper onboard controls with the same configuration.

Palo added: “We’ve been running by remote for a year now, and everyone is happy.

“Some of the operators were wary about learning to use the technology, but that settled quickly. They appreciate working together in a control room in the office building. It’s a better work environment, easier to exchange experiences and socialise.

“Handling the winter climate was also a cinch, despite heavy snowfalls and low temperatures for days on end. Even the laser-based Obstacle Detection System coped splendidly during snowfall. The automated systems seem to withstand arctic conditions very well.”

Metso completes mill lining hat-trick with Discharge End Megaliner

Metso has once again flexed its R&D muscles, launching a new and innovative product that, it says, can speed up and improve the safety of one of the trickiest and riskiest processes mill personnel carry out.

The Discharge End Megaliner builds on the Metso Megaliner™ concept the company introduced in 2012. Designed to reduce downtime by minimising the number of parts and people inside the mill during a relining process, the Megaliner has so far been installed in over 30 mills around the world.

A Megaliner element integrates multiple lifter and plate rows and has a minimum number of attachment points. Covering an area several times larger than conventional liners, these liners are light weight in relation to their size and, with threaded bushings, enable safer and faster relining processes to be conducted.

The initial 2012 Megaliner launch saw these lightweight liner parts developed for the mill shell. In 2015, Metso expanded the lining concept to the feed end of grinding mills. The company is now ready to tackle the tricky mill discharge end to complete the hat-trick.

Anssi Poutanen, Vice President of Metso’s Mill Lining product line, said the mill shell was the obvious starting point in the Megaliner evolution.

“The shell represents the largest number of components to install so the potential for time savings for customers was large, hence why the Megaliner started there,” he told IM. “We have since extended to the feed end of the mill and now to the discharge end.”

The new product, which has been in the development pipeline for some time, according to Poutanen, is by no means just a bolt on to the existing Megaliner range.

“Even though the discharge section of the mill lining process is not as big from a volume perspective, the need for long bolts and a complex fixing arrangement in conventional installations makes it one of the most time-consuming and risky processes to carry out,” he said. “The Discharge End Megaliner is a highly valued addition to our Megaliner range as many of our customers struggle with the process.”

The conventional process Poutanen references here is worth spelling out.

With grate discharge mills – typically SAG, AG and ball mills – the conventional relining process at the discharge end usually involves removing the dischargers and grates, replacing with new lined versions and hammering in large, long bolts through the layers to secure the liner components.

“Even if modern recoilless hammers are used, it is still a challenge,” Poutanen said. “When the bolts become loose, they are hazardous and can potentially injure personnel.” In this process, personnel are also inside the mill – one of the most dangerous sections of the whole process plant.

On top of the large, long bolts, nuts are also required to fix the panels in place with conventional lining processes, adding up to multiple individual pieces and attachment points that must be fixed securely from inside the mill, Poutanen explained.

The Discharge End Megaliner, meanwhile, sees dischargers, grates and segments preassembled into one large unit. These are equipped with threaded bushings that are secured with “short bolts” from – very importantly – outside of the mill, he said.

This makes for an up to 50% faster lining installation using up to 70% fewer parts than the conventional process, according to Metso.

Poutanen says the new Discharge End Megaliner can be applied to any type of grate discharge mill – there is no prerequisite for Megaliner liners in the shell and feed end, for example – as long as there is a wide enough trunnion opening to remove and replace the liners, and a liner handler of sufficient capacity.

Metso is targeting the large end of the grinding mill market with this new development. The larger the mill, the greater the throughput, which has a direct impact on the costs associated with potential downtime caused by the relining process, Poutanen explained.

This has already been tested out at Boliden’s Aitik mine, in Gällivare, Sweden, which is currently undergoing an expansion to 45 Mt/y throughput.

The base metal mine already has Megaliner mill liners on the shell and feed end of both of its primary AG mills and has tested the new Discharge End Megaliner over nine months at one of these 38 ft (11.6 m) mills.

The Aitik trial has proven around 70% fewer parts are required compared with the conventional process. Relining has also been carried out much quicker and safer, according to Poutanen.

Similar to LHD operators being removed from the cab in order to remotely operate loaders in potentially unstable areas of underground mines, the ability to carry out the relining process from outside of the mill ‘danger zone’ could be considered an initial stage towards a fully automated relining process.

Poutanen agreed: “I think at some point, we will see a higher degree of automation. It is unlikely to be binary; it will be a gradual process.”

He said the combination of the Megaliner and Metso’s camera-based liner positioning system – which is offered to all Megaliner customers as an “add on” to the liner handling equipment – could help make the process more autonomous.

In order to be able to develop this kind of fully autonomous package, a close collaboration with customers and liner handler suppliers is required, he said. “I think we are still a few years away from having the process move to fully autonomous mode.”

Trolley assist to take off, ABB’s Hammarström says

Thanks to Boliden’s recent trial at its Aitik open-pit mine, in Sweden, the subject of trolley assist is back on the mining industry’s agenda.

Offering environmental and productivity benefits, trolley assist technologies have been spoken of for decades. In the height of the oil crisis of the 1970s, numerous studies examining applications were completed and miners made preparations to reduce their reliance on diesel.

Despite this, widespread industry adoption has not occurred. There have been some installations in Africa, in addition to one in Turkey (Kisladag), but the technology has not caught on to the extent many thought would happen.

ABB, which supplies not only batteries, drives and motors for battery-electric equipment, but can also provide the infrastructure required for trolley assist projects, believes the market is about to turn once again. Gunnar Hammarström, Global Product Manager Trolley Electrification Systems for ABB, thinks there are three main reasons why it is about to take off.

“One is the legislation and environmental part of the business case,” he told IM.

Boliden, which has moved from the 700 m trolley line trial at Aitik to confirming it will install an additional 3 km of trolley line at the mine, plus 1.7 km at Kevitsa (in addition to the accompanying conversion of diesel-electric haul trucks), says it will reduce its diesel consumption by 5,500 cu.m/y when its investment is complete. That is a big number.

“Another completely different reason for why demand has been picking up, especially for larger trucks, is there are a lot of diesel-electric trucks coming into mines,” he said. These trucks already have an electrical system on board to tap into, which makes it easy to put them on a trolley line.

Lastly, fuel prices are increasing all the time, Hammarström said. This is leading miners to diversify their energy mix to help reduce input costs.

When added to the productivity gains that can be achieved with trolley assisted haul trucks and the reduction in noise when trucks run on this line, it is hardly surprising Boliden is not the only one charging into trolley assist.

In the last year alone, First Quantum Minerals has said it will equip its Cobre Panama copper-gold mine, in Panama, with trolley assist, while Austria iron ore miner, VA Erzberg, has announced it intends to electrify the main haul road of its Erzberg mine site and operate a fleet of T 236 trucks from 2021 under trolley assist.

On top of this, RNC Minerals has said it is studying the use of trolley assist at its Dumont nickel-cobalt project in Quebec, Canada.

While trolley assist has been used long before the mine electrification phenomenon we know today gained traction, Hammarström sees trolley assist helping facilitate this market move.

“Generally speaking, I think for most of the vehicles you have in a mine, you can go on battery, but it is very far into the future where you have major uphill transportation of all your production in the mine through batteries,” he said.

The technology involved with stationary charging and the ability to re-charge the battery when going downhill would need to improve on the biggest haul trucks to make it a viable proposition, he explained.

“Yet, if you look into the future – and not that far – a diesel electric trolley might be an intermediate phase,” he said. “If you have invested in trolley now, you can certainly use it when you have batteries (driving the trucks).”

This could see battery-powered haul trucks carry out tasks ‘off-line’ when going downhill or on a flat before they ‘attach’ back onto the line for uphill transportation of material when the battery is recharged.

“I think after diesel-electric powered haul trucks, it will be a really good chance for on-board charging,” he said of the trolley infrastructure.

Epiroc charged up by automation, digitalisation and battery equipment wins

Epiroc’s second ever Capital Markets Day, in Stockholm, Sweden, was an enlightening affair, with the original equipment manufacturer backing up its credentials as a leader in the mine automation, digitalisation and electrification space.

Speakers including Per Lindberg, President and CEO; Helena Hedblom, Senior Executive Vice President Mining and Infrastructure; Sami Niiranen, President Underground Rock Excavation; and Jose Sanchez, President Drilling Solutions, with all of them reeling off a number of statistics worth highlighting.

For example, the company said around 60% of Epiroc equipment is now being delivered with its rig control system (RCS), a system that on Pit Viper blasthole drills is the next “evolutionary step toward fully autonomous mining”, the company recently said.

At the same time as this, 3,400 of its machines have been delivered with “connectivity”, Lindberg said, a transition that is allowing customers to monitor, in real time, elements of a machine’s performance. As recently as the company’s June quarter results release, Lindberg said more than 2,500 machines were ‘connected’.

When it came to automation underground, Epiroc said it had 43 projects on its books, with 600 drill rigs equipped for complete automation of the drilling process; the latter up from the more than 550 Lindberg quoted in the June quarter results.

Epiroc has also seen a 30% increase in utilisation of connected Simba production drills globally, according to Lindberg.

On surface, meanwhile, Epiroc was involved with autonomous and teleremote drilling in 16 countries on five continents, he said.

Among these automation projects were the fully autonomous electric drill at Boliden’s Aitik copper mine, in Sweden, an autonomous SmartROC D65 at Newmont Goldcorp’s Hollinger mine, in Canada, and autonomous Pit Vipers at the leading gold miner’s Penasquito mine, in Mexico.

A map shown by Sanchez also included first remote/teleremote operations in Morocco, Ukraine (see Ferrexpo Yeristovo story), Chile and Papua New Guinea. There was also mention of first autonomous solutions in South Africa (along with a first multipass autonomous operation) and a first autonomous drill in operation in Australia.

And, of course, the company provided an update on its battery-electric solutions, which Epiroc believes will improve health and safety, reduce emissions, lower total cost of operation and improve productivity for its customers.

Lindberg said the company had accumulated 100,000 hours of battery-electric machinery operation to date and, so far, customers had achieved a more than 70% reduction in energy consumption – mainly through reduced ventilation needs.

On the company’s recently-launched Minetruck MT42 Battery, specifically, Niiranen said Epiroc had observed 10% increased productivity through faster ramp cycle time at operations where the machine was being trialled/operating. One of these machines is currently being trialled at Agnico Eagle’s Kittilä gold mine, in Finland, as part of the EU-funded Sustainable Intelligent Mining Systems project (a project Epiroc is coordinator of).

Boliden backs trolley assist haulage for Aitik and Kevitsa

Boliden has decided to invest SEK300 million ($31.2 million) to expand the trolley assist facilities at its Aitik copper mine, in Sweden, as well as implement the corresponding technology at its Kevitsa nickel mine, in Finland.

The investments, to be made mainly during 2020-2021, come on top of the money invested in a two-year trolley assist pilot project at Aitik. This project saw Eitech and ABB supply electrical infrastructure; Pon Equipment and Caterpillar carry out truck modifications; and Chalmers University provide supporting research on system aspects of the electrification. It led to a 700 m electric trolley line being installed and four Cat 795F haul trucks being converted.

The project was also supported by the Swedish Energy Agency and saw investment in a 10 MW capacity DC substation.

Aitik is currently the only mine in the arctic where electric trolley has been installed, according to Boliden.

Mikael Staffas, President and CEO of the Boliden Group, said: “We are now taking further steps to improve both productivity and climate impact at our two open-pit mines.”

In Aitik, a further 3 km of electric trolley line will be built and another 10 trucks will be converted for electric trolley lines. Overall, the plan means that greenhouse gas emissions from transportation over the life of mine are reduced by nearly 15%.

In Kevitsa, 13 mining trucks will be converted for electric trolley lines at the same time as the 1.8-km-long electric trolley line is being built. The investment means that greenhouse gas emissions over the life of mine are reduced by 9%.

The electric trolley installations are being deployed in stages until 2022.

Boliden calculates that this move will reduce diesel consumption by 5,500 cu.m/y when the investment is completed.

In addition, productivity gains are expected as the electrically powered trucks can run at a higher speed than the diesel equivalents.

The working environment for the drivers is also improved, not least through lower noise levels, Boliden added.

AI lays groundwork for process control improvements at Boliden Aitik

A series of tests at Boliden’s Systems Technology division has indicated that artificial intelligence (AI) could unlock further gains from its productivity efforts at the Aitik copper mine, in Sweden.

The company, which partnered up with ABB for these tests, conducted the AI studies to see if technology is available today that could make its concentrators “self-learning,” it said.

The trial took place during the autumn and took a closer look at how AI could be used by Boliden to optimise its concentration processes.

Aitik, meanwhile, is in the middle of an expansion plan that will see production increase from 36 Mt/y to 45 Mt/y of copper ore starting in 2020.

Development Engineer and Project Manager, Johannes Sikström, explained: “At Systems Technology, we develop dynamic simulations of our processes. These simulations can be used in the same way as a game where we define what is a win and what is a loss.

“In the case of self-learning algorithms – so-called deep learning or reinforcement learning – the challenge is the great quantity of data necessary for the algorithm to learn enough about the system for it to make effective decisions.

“This is why games are such a major area within AI research. Games are well suited to enable algorithms to train themselves, and what constitutes a successful result – a win – is also well defined,” he said.

The simulation models enable the company to re-create data equivalent to several decades in just a few hours, according to Boliden.

In its previous projects, Boliden primarily researched machine-learning techniques that analyse data without allowing the algorithm itself to influence it. The aim of the latest project was to allow the algorithm to self-learn instead.

Following initial studies into suitable tools together with Anders Hedlund from data analysis firm BI Nordic, the project led to a degree project in a collaboration involving ABB and Boliden. Max Åstrand from ABB was appointed Supervisor, with his colleague Mattias Hallén taking the lead.

Sikström said: “We directed our attention to the grinding process in Aitik, where we have a well-developed simulation model. We wanted to see if AI was able to do better than our existing control strategy.

“Mattias did a fantastic job setting up the architecture and getting the various environments to ‘play ball’ with each other. We were then able to test various algorithms and different goal functions.”

To begin, Boliden tested a “Q-learning algorithm” which had a goal of trying to control the mill’s load within a given range. After around 40 attempts, the algorithm taught itself to do just that, according to Boliden, acknowledging that it solved the task using a method that would not work in the real world.

In the next step, Boliden investigated the ability of the algorithm to optimise a “gain” instead of optimising a process variable. The goal function for the gain was created as a theoretical model using metal prices, grinding and throughput, for example.

Sikström said: “With this goal function, the AI algorithm succeeded in beating our PID (project initiation documentation) structure to produce a greater gain. So-called wall time was around 80 hours before AI had learned to run the process profitably, in this case equivalent to a plant operating time of more than 300 years.

“The study highlights the value of simulations, and the AI technology shows exciting development opportunities for Boliden’s future process control.”

While the test results were positive, with AI performing better than Boliden’s current control method, Sikström said further studies were necessary before the company considers approaching a viable production solution.

He concluded: “Several technical details need to be resolved, and it is important to use accurate simulation models and well-defined goal functions.

“Because an algorithm is only able to solve the problems formulated for it, process knowhow and experience are at least as important in this type of development as classic process control.”

Boliden Kevitsa takes delivery of first EU-Stage-V-compliant Komatsu haul truck

Boliden has received the first haul trucks from Komatsu as part of its investment in a new truck fleet at its Kevitsa (Finland) and Aitik (Sweden) open-pit base metal operations.

The delivery marks the entry of Komatsu electric dump trucks into the European market, according to the miner.

For Kevitsa, 17 Komatsu 830E-5 haul trucks will be delivered until January of 2020, with nine Komatsu 930E-5 haul trucks being delivered to Aitik until April 2020.

The new trucks are the first EU Stage-V haul trucks within Boliden’s fleet, significantly reducing diesel exhaust emissions, the company said. They will also provide improvements in operator environment and safety, Boliden added.

The Komatsu 830E-5 haul trucks have a 220 t payload and will replace the current truck fleet at Kevitsa, reducing the mine’s production cost, Boliden said. To further increase efficiency and productivity, the trucks will be equipped with dispatch and maintenance systems from Modular Mining to enable optimised production and tracking as well as fleet maintenance support, the company said.

Boliden mentioned the purchase of trucks back in October during its September quarter results, saying it had reached agreement with Komatsu regarding an investment totalling some SEK 900 million ($96 million). At the time, the company said all of the trucks were equipped for future electrification; an important point considering the trolley assist trial ongoing at Aitik.

To mark the delivery milestone of the first truck, a handover ceremony was arranged in Kevitsa on July 10.

During the event, strategies and technical solutions were presented by executives such as Boliden President and CEO, Mikael Staffas, and Managing Director and CEO of Komatsu Europe, Masatoshi Morishita.

Mikael Staffas said: “This is an important step in the development of our open-pit mines while improving our environmental performance from an already strong position. This [is], not least, because we now create opportunities for increased electrification and related productivity development.”

Masatoshi Morishita says: “Today is a milestone for Komatsu Europe. With the delivery of first CE-certified Electric Dump Trucks to Boliden, Komatsu can offer a full line-up of mining products and solutions in Europe as well. We aim this will only be the start.”