Tag Archives: Aitik

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.”

Metso pumps business area going with the mining flow

Metso used the recent Bauma fair, in Munich, Germany, to showcase several new solutions, including its MDR500 pump for mill discharge applications.

The MDR500 fits on a frame 1400 and is the largest frame for the MD series to benefit from an innovative pump maintenance slide base, Metso’s Director EMEA, Pumps business area, Steve Sedgwick told IM at the event, ahead of the publication of its annual feature on pumps and pipelines.

In terms of routine inspection or repair, this design allows the complete bearing frame and rotating element to be removed as a unit; thus, impeller, complete gland seal component and back liner renewal can be carried out rapidly and safely. The inlet and discharge piping can remain in place, which aids health and safety.

The MD series has been designed speci¬fically for mill discharge, very abrasive applications and cyclone feed duties, offering sustained efficiency and performance, on top of operational reliability and durability, according to Metso.

The company says it uses only high-performance materials for its MD pumps that come with excellent resistance to abrasion and erosion. Special emphasis has also been placed on components able to withstand exceptional wear from coarse heavy solids due to the modern hydraulic design.

“An oversized robust steel shaft and extra thick casings and liners are just some of the heavy-duty components equipped on our MD series pumps,” Metso said.

While the MDR500 on the Metso stand came with a rubber lining, the company also provides an alternative metal lining for coarse feeds (MDM500).

The pump (MDR500), which as the name implies comes with a 500 mm inlet, has a large diameter, slow-running impeller, on top of double adjustment feature ensuring both suction side and gland side impeller clearances can be set perfectly from new, and maintained throughout the wear life of the components.

This specimen on show was, by far, not the largest model available, with Metso saying it can meet most flow and head requirements for the intended applications.

Last year, the company introduced a new pump test rig at its Sala facility, in Sweden, equipped with a 2 MW motor that could accommodate the company’s largest mill discharge pump – the MDM650 and larger. Some of the pumps tested on this new rig have already been dispatched to a mining customer in South America.

Sedgwick said the company had also sold many pumps to miners in several countries in recent years – for base metal and other operations – and was continuing to register good demand from mining companies around the world focused on gold, iron ore and copper.

He said Metso had also recently made a delivery to a company in the CIS where the pump was being used in conjunction with high pressure grinding rollers in a hard-rock comminution circuit.

Metso doesn’t just supply the pumps that go into these heavy-duty applications, though. It has also helped integrate the equipment into the operations they were built for by supplying rubber pipes, valves and other solutions to ensure they operate to their full ability.

A case in point is Boliden’s Aitik mine, just south of Gällivare in the north-central part of Sweden, where an expansion project to take the operation from 36 Mt/y of throughput to 45 Mt/y has been going on for the past few years.

This 25% increase in production – that came with a subsequent rise in the output of copper concentrate – required every part of the Aitik plant to be optimised, Metso said.

Initial investigation showed if concentrate volumes were to step up with this expansion, the mine would run into capacity limitations with the existing tailings from the plant.

The miner needed a proven solution fast in order to achieve its production goals. It also required one that could cope with environments where temperatures could vary from -40°C to 30°C.

This is where Metso suggested a solution consisting of heavy-duty slurry pumps and rubber-lined steel pipes designed for rugged applications.

The company supplied 16 km of natural rubber-lined pipes, ranging in size from DN200 to DN600, with rubber compensators and branch pipes, and the heavy-duty pumps. The pipes offer five times longer wear life compared with a typical polyethylene pipe, according to the company, and were supplied alongside rubber hoses, and rubber bends equipped with thick long-wear rubber and an “ultra-smooth surface” for low flow resistance to increase the tailing capacity.

Aitik gets connected to LTE network as Boliden looks at 5G future

Boliden has, for the past few years, been testing out 4G and 5G networks at its mines in the Nordic region and recently went live with 4G (LTE) network services at its Aitik open-pit copper mine in Sweden, Fredrik Kauma, Project Manager, told attendees at the recent Mines and Technology conference in London.

The company, one of the mining sector’s leaders when it comes to employing innovative technology, installed its first underground Wi-Fi network in 2013 and has since come a long way on this connectivity journey.

Today, all of Boliden’s mines have complete Wi-Fi coverage, with the network consisting of some 3,000 installed access points and additional hardware, Kauma said. The company uses this for voice communication and positioning, but also other services such as remote control, machine-to-machine interactions and general data or information access.

In 2016, the company installed a small 4G network in one of its underground mines. Now, multiple upgrades later, the network includes the latest 4G features, in addition to elements considered “borderline” 5G, Kauma said. He credited a close co-operation with Ericsson and its research organisation for this installation as well as the Swedish mobile network operator Telia.

The 4G/5G network covers about 1.8 km of tunnels plus 10,000 m² of other areas (production/workshop/offices/canteen) with relatively few pieces of radio equipment, according to Kauma.

Coverage of a similar area with Wi-Fi would require about three times as many access points, he pointed out.

Kauma said: “We use our 4G/5G network to:

  • “Test and compare connectivity-related capabilities – network speed, coverage, quality, etc;
  • “Learn about operation and maintenance; how to roll systems out, what to monitor, key performance indicators, etc;
  • “Understand more of the business side – what work to do in-house/outsource, what should be part of a service level agreement, etc.”

A direct outcome of this test network has been the recently addition of 4G network services at Aitik, one of Europe’s largest and most efficient open-pit copper mines.

This will allow the company to, primarily, carry out accurate remote control of its fleet of Epiroc Pit Viper blasthole drill rigs.

“But, long-term we believe it will replace our existing production Wi-Fi network,” Kauma said.

The future in 5G

While Wi-Fi does offer Boliden much in terms of connectivity, it cannot match 4G/5G when it comes to robustness and coverage. This is part of the reason the company is pursuing developments with 5G technology.

Equipment tracking is one area that could potentially be improved with 5G, Kauma said.

Today Boliden currently uses “passive” Wi-Fi tags for this task, with active antennas mounted on mining vehicles. The signal reflection is only picked up if the tags face the direction of the active antenna and the vehicle with antenna passes close by. While this system adds a lot of value, it does not currently offer the reliability Boliden would like to see, he said.

With 5G, Boliden expects to have “active”, as opposed to passive, tags, which transmit information on a pre-determined basis.

What Kauma termed “advanced remote control” operation is another area set to benefit from 5G connectivity.

The company already has remote control operations today, but it is either line-of-sight or a pre-determined, repetitive type of remote operation; not advanced.

In advanced remote operations, the performance of the wireless communications network has a direct impact on how well the operator can handle the machine, with control responsiveness and picture quality the main factors here.

According to Kauma, low latency will greatly improve the real-time aspects required for secure and efficient handling of vehicles, machinery and other equipment such as drills, hammers, shovels, etc.

In addition, the Quality of Service concept, where priority of connection is given to certain customers, will guarantee bandwidth needs for a detailed enough video stream to the remote operator – even on a heavily loaded network, he said.

“Higher data rates and increased network capacity will enable remote control on a larger scale than what’s possible on today’s 4G technology,” Kauma said.

The improved connectivity expected to come with employing 5G will also be beneficial for wearable technologies, which Boliden has been trialling to help improve the safety and well-being of employees.

The company recently tested out use of a prototype “smart vest” at one of its underground mines for, primarily, proximity detection, but also to “gain a better understanding of other possibilities that comes with this technology”, Kauma said.

The prototype vest was the result of research cooperation between Boliden, Ericsson, clothing company Helly Hansen and technology firm LightFlex Sweden AB.

In addition to the standard proximity detection functions, lights or reflectors warn the wearer as well as surrounding personnel of potential dangers through different flashing/blinking patterns.

Together with advance camera technology, the lights also aid autonomous machinery to automatically detect humans in dark environments.

Boliden would like to, in the near-future, use wearable technology for the monitoring of employees in physically-demanding environments; for analysis of the immediate environment surrounding employees (extreme temperatures, dangerous air quality, strong vibrations or sounds); and for positioning and situational awareness (ie warnings for approaching vehicles).

Key ingredients to make this a reality include a reduction in power consumption – low power means smaller and longer lasting batteries – a fall in cost, enabling the company to equip its entire workforce, and better network coverage and reliability – hence the use of 5G.

“If 5G delivers on its promise, it will be a critical component enabling wearable technology in an industrial environment like ours,” Kauma concluded.

Trolley assist up and running at Boliden’s Aitik copper mine

Boliden has installed four trolley assist truck units at its Aitik copper mine in Sweden as the company looks to step up its vision for fossil fuel-free operations, the company’s Technology Director, Staffan Sandström told attendees at Epiroc’s Power Change Days event in Örebro, Sweden, this week.

The trolley kits, supplied by Caterpillar, are running on Cat 795F haul trucks on a trolley assist line as part of a two-year trial project at Europe’s largest open-pit copper mine.

For the project, Boliden has joined forces with Eitech and ABB to supply electrical infrastructure; Pon Equipment and Caterpillar for truck modifications; and Chalmers University with supporting research on system aspects of the electrification. The project is supported by the Swedish Energy Agency and has seen an investment in a 10 MW capacity DC substation.

The aim is to examine the possibility of replacing elements of Aitik’s transport system with electrified trucks. The objective is to be able to move the majority of the 70 million or so tonnes of rock transported at the open pit each year entirely without the use of fossil fuel.

At the event this week, Sandström confirmed the first trolley line was commissioned in September and had been working well, showing a close to two times increase in speed on an incline when compared with the equivalent diesel trucks.

The real test for the trucks and trolley line was yet to come, he said.

“This is nothing new; it has been done before. The new thing here is going to be working in 40° below [freezing],” he said.

The project’s Technical Manager, Jonas Ranggård, made a similar remark recently in a Boliden press release, saying: “As we want to be able to use the electrified routes in all weather conditions year-round, the pilot project as a whole can only first be evaluated at the end of 2019/start of 2020.”

Rikard Mäki, Project Manager for the R&D project, told IM the company was already preparing for these conditions.

“Road maintenance impact is one of the parameters that will be evaluated in the pilot project in order for us to accurately take this factor into account as part of the following investment decisions. We have fitted one motor grader and a wheel loader with machine guidance systems in order to maintain correct flatness, target slope and height of the ramp.”

On the trolley assist technology, Sandström continued: “Today, it works very well and roughly 30% of all transport has potential to be used on the trolley line at Aitik,” he said, adding it could have wider applications at the company’s Kevitsa nickel-copper mine in Finland.

Boliden said the first Aitik trolley line is around 700 m long and is expected to save some 830 m³/y of diesel. This should help the company reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by up to 80% along those routes where the technology can be implemented.

In addition to the emission benefits brought to both the wider community and those operating in the mine, Sandström said the productivity and cost benefits (reducing the amount of diesel purchased) could also have a big impact.

Mäki said: “We do see this technology as the most promising solution near term for both Kevitsa and Aitik in order to reduce fuel cost and emissions. Decision to move ahead with further extension of the system is pending results from the pilot test. The initial results are looking very positive and the operators are very engaged in the pilot test.”

In other news, but still on haul trucks and potential electrification, Boliden confirmed in its September quarter results that, on October 19, the company reached agreement with Komatsu regarding the purchase of 17 haul trucks for Kevitsa and nine mine trucks for Aitik in an investment totalling some SEK 900 million ($99 million).

The investment is being made against the background of the ongoing expansion, insourcing of transport and as a replacement for part of the existing fleet of trucks. Boliden said all of the trucks are equipped for future electrification and delivery will commence in mid-2019.