Tag Archives: automation

EU competition, collaboration and connections helping Epiroc solve mining challenges

Epiroc’s start-up mentality is enabling it to continue to solve the mining industry’s biggest challenges, but it is not doing this alone, according to Katarina Öquist, R&D Manager of Technology and Innovation in the Underground Division.

Speaking ahead of her appearance at the EIT Raw Materials Summit 2022 in Berlin, Germany – taking place on May 23-25 – Öquist said access to other industry partners, academic institutes and start-ups through initiatives like EIT Raw Materials continues to help the company overcome challenges the sector throws at it.

“Specifically on the EIT Raw Materials project, there is the possibility to take in young start-ups and academic institutes, which can prove key when considering the ‘kicks‘ the funding can provide such companies and initiatives,” she said. “It is important for these young technology companies to have a connection to applications, being able to test out concepts and ideas in a real-world environment with companies like Epiroc, and, at the same time, introduce new thinking into industries such as mining.”

This wide scope of participation is increasingly required when considering the future direction of the mining industry, according to Öquist.

Katarina Öquist, R&D Manager of Technology and Innovation in Epiroc’s Underground Division

“If you look at the mining industry, and the part I am in with Epiroc, we are experiencing the biggest technology shift ever,” she said. “We are looking at electrification, autonomy and digitalisation all at the same time. All of these have interdependencies and connections in between, which make it quite complicated.

“When I started in the start-up sector some 15 years ago, you often were looking to solve one problem, but, today, you are not offering the sole solution; you must interact with a much bigger technology ecosystem.

“For this, collaboration is very important.”

In this regard, EIT Raw Materials and European Union Commission funding are more important than ever, ensuring all stakeholders are connected and focused on coming up with workable solutions for industry to achieve their lofty ambitions.

While not tied to EIT Raw Materials, the NEXGEN SIMS project is a good example to highlight here.

NEXGEN SIMS builds on the EU-sponsored SIMS (Sustainable Intelligent Mining Systems) project, which aimed to demonstrate new technology and solutions for the mining industry. Running from 2017 to 2020, the SIMS project resulted in, among other things, the Epiroc line of battery-powered mining machines.

NEXGEN SIMS, meanwhile, is a consortium of 13 partners collaborating in an EU-sponsored project to develop autonomous, carbon-neutral, sustainable mining solutions, building on the SIMS success. The partners are Epiroc Rock Drills, AFRY – ÅF Digital Solutions, Agnico Eagle Finland, Boliden Mineral, Ericsson, KGHM Cuprum, KGHM Polska Miedź, K+S Minerals and Agriculture, Luleå University of Technology (LTU), LTU Business, Mobilaris MCE, OZ Minerals and RWTH Aachen University. The project, led by Epiroc, has a budget of €16 million ($16.8 million) and will run from May 2021 to April 2024.

“In the case of NEXGEN SIMS, it is built on a known partnership including new partners,” Öquist said. “After being involved with the majority of these partners since SIMS, we build from a high level of trust, which increases the possibility of success, especially concerning integration.

“Europe, in general, is very good in facilitating these type of collaborative projects that involve all segments of the innovation ecosystem – start-ups, industry partners and academics.”

According to Öquist, the NEXGEN SIMS project remains on track, with the integrations between electrification, automation and digitalisation likely to hold the most exciting outcomes for the wider mining industry.

For its part, Epiroc is also helping accelerate the development of start-ups of its own, taking stakes/interests in key technology providers and allowing them access to its much larger network.

ASI Mining, FVT Research and Mining TAG represent just a few examples here.

Öquist expanded on this with a reference to Mobilaris MCE, a company Epiroc acquired outright just last year, after five years of holding a 34% stake.

“They (Mobilaris MCE) started off in 1999 as a start-up from the telecoms business,” she said. “Due to them being in the northern part of Sweden, they tagged onto the mines and we ended up acquiring a minority interest in them.

“In the five years since, they have had a nice journey under the guise of Epiroc. They represent a local small start-up growing by going under the wings of a much larger industry partner.”

Epiroc, too, has benefitted from this collaboration, with Mobilaris MCE’s situational awareness technology recently becoming a key part of the OEM’s 6th Sense digital solution.

Not all OEMs would be willing to facilitate the growth of other companies in such a way, but Öquist, who has only been in her role with Epiroc for two years, puts this down to the company‘s unique culture.

“We call ourselves a 150-year-old start-up,” she said. “Regardless of how big we grow, that mindset remains – if someone highlights a problem, we set out to solve it through both internal and external collaboration.”

FLANDERS autonomous drilling solutions start up at Anglo’s Mogalakwena mine

The first FLANDERS autonomous drills are now up and running at Anglo American Platinum’s Mogalakwena platinum group metals operation in South Africa, with a third set to start up later this year.

FLANDERS CEO, John Oliver, and VP of International Operations, Willie Van Ryneveld, recently visited the mine in Limpopo, South Africa, where the first ARDVARC autonomous drills are now in operation in fully-autonomous mode.

The first two ARDVARC Autonomous drills were delivered on time and within budget to Mogalakwena, and the third Epiroc Pit Viper 271 XC drill is due to arrive at the FLANDERS South Africa workshop for conversion in May, the company said. The company said the first PV 271 XC drill recently drilled its first hole in fully-autonomous mode.

FLANDERS’ flagship ARDVARC automated drill control systems has been used around the world for more than 15 years, with more than 30 mine site deployments in this time.

The product suite is designed to facilitate customers to scale up automation at their own pace and covers all aspects of drill automation, from semi- autonomous to tele-remote and autonomous operation of a single piece of equipment to multi-machine control and full-fleet automation using Command Centre control capabilities. ARDVARC Autonomous comprises a suite of tools for automating, analysing and optimising drilling production and processes, interconnecting with fleet management systems and other data acquisition technologies.

The company claims operations can achieve productivity gains of up to 30% when employing ARDVARC autonomous solutions by reducing downtime due to human factors such as shift changes and pauses of drilling during blasting operations.

Cavotec charged up by new mining truck proof-of-concept work

Last month, Cavotec, a company that designs and delivers connection and electrification solutions to enable the decarbonisation of ports and industrial applications, secured an order that, it says, signals its entry into industrial battery charging for heavy-duty vehicles.

The order in question, valued at over €3 million ($3.2 million), related to the supply of a proof-of-concept battery charging system for a leading green energy technology company to enable high-voltage charging of electrically powered heavy-duty mining trucks at a mining application in Australia. The project was expected to be delivered from the beginning of 2023, it said.

So excited by this proof-of-concept work, Cavotec went as far as saying the order and its work on the order could open a market that is estimated to be worth several hundred million euros in the coming years.

While a battery connection and charging system for mining represents new territory for Cavotec, the company name is not new to mining.

Its electrification, power distribution and automation systems have been employed by the likes of BHP, Codelco, Pilbara Minerals, Rio Tinto and Vale, among others. It has also worked with OEMs such as Epiroc, Caterpillar, FAM, FLSmidth, Joy Global (Komatsu), TAKRAF, thyssenkrupp, Sandvik, Aumund Group, Caterpillar, Normet (Spraymec pictured above) and Metso Outotec, among others, on developing solutions.

And, added to this, the company already has experience with fast, high-power charging solutions for marine applications.

IM touched base with Memed Üzel, Chief Commercial Officer of Cavotec, to find out how the company is combining all this experience to deliver on the project brief.

Memed Üzel, Chief Commercial Officer of Cavotec

IM: How are you adapting your fast, high-power charging marine solutions for a heavy-duty mining truck application? What similarities are there between the two applications from a charging perspective?

MU: The similarity between the two is the requirement for providing a reliable, high-power, high-speed connection, where we have gained a lot of experience in the last few years from our marine applications. Our connection solutions are always designed and manufactured with harsh conditions in mind. Our connectors operate in a wide variety of temperature and humidity levels while ensuring serviceability and easy maintenance.

Unlike consumer applications for electrical automobiles, the Cavotec connectors in industrial and marine applications are made to be used many times a day reliably throughout their lifetime while ensuring a secure connection on the first try. On the charging side, we have the ability to use both a proprietary and a standard interface to communicate with the vehicle’s battery from the first connection to the end of the charging cycle.

IM: How will your existing experience in mining with electrification, power distribution and automation systems enable you to adapt the marine solutions for mining?

MU: Cavotec relies on decades of experience of providing electrification, power distribution and automation systems in mining. Mastering mining equipment specification and requirements make Cavotec the one-stop shop solution provider for all mining equipment OEMs.

IM: Can you explain some of the details behind the architecture around this proof-of-concept system? Is it charged via cable, overhead, etc? What size battery will it be charging? What are the expectations around charging time and power rating?

MU: The details of the final solution will be revealed at launch. For now, we cannot comment on the details of the technical solution. We will make an official reveal announcement jointly with the customer at that time.

IM: Are you working directly with the mining company, the OEM or the systems integrator on this project? Is it a client you have worked with before?

MU: As we are bound by confidentiality at this stage of the project, we cannot comment on this just yet. In general, depending on the industry and the application, we tend to work with OEMs, system integrators or end-users.

IM: Is this the only battery charging mining project you are currently working on? Are you working on any underground projects, for instance? Again, is this with OEMs or mining companies directly?

MU: Cavotec is active in a wide variety of industrial applications, including mining. We have seen the interest increasing rapidly for industrial charging projects.

Epiroc captures battery-electric, automation order from Odyssey Mine owners

Epiroc has won a major battery-electric and autonomous fleet order from the owners of the Odyssey Mine in Malartic, Québec, Canada.

The order, from the Canadian Malartic Partnership, will be used in the new underground gold mine.

The Canadian Malartic Partnership, a 50:50 JV between Yamana Gold Inc and Agnico Eagle Ltd, is constructing the Odyssey Mine, which will become one of Canada’s largest gold mines when it is fully ramped up later this decade.

The ordered equipment includes a variety of drill rigs, loaders and mine trucks, with some of the machines will be battery powered. Automation features include Minetruck Automation and Scooptram Automation, which are part of Epiroc’s 6th Sense portfolio of digital solutions. By combining these solutions with Epiroc’s Traffic Management System, material handling is optimised within the mine, bringing benefits such as virtually eliminating the risk of collisions, Epiroc said.

Helena Hedblom, Epiroc’s President and CEO, said: “The Canadian Malartic Partnership is taking a massive next step with the new underground mine where our battery-electric and other advanced machines with state-of-the-art automation and traffic management solutions will help optimise safety and productivity. Epiroc and the Canadian Malartic Partnership have a history of successful cooperation, and we look forward to continue contributing to their success.”

The equipment order also includes education and training using sophisticated simulators, which was flagged by IM earlier this year.

This is the second equipment order from the Canadian Malartic Partnership. Epiroc also won a large order for drill rigs, loaders, and mine trucks in the September quarter of 2021.

The Odyssey Mine is located just west of the Canadian Malartic Partnership’s open-pit gold mine, which is still in operation, and to which Epiroc in previous years has provided Pit Viper surface drill rigs.

Odyssey is expected to feature an LTE mobile communication network, an automated fleet of 60 t trucks operated from the surface and on-demand ventilation, the Canadian Malartic Partnership has previously stated. All all of the major production fleet, including trucks, drills and LHDs, are also expected to be battery electric.

The Odyssey Mine will be accessed by a ramp and a shaft estimated to be 1,800 m deep. Plans are to extract 19,000 t of ore at an estimated grade of about 2.75 g/t gold and roughly 5,000 t/d of waste rock during peak operations.

Patrick Mercier, General Manager of the Odyssey Mine, said: “Over the years, Epiroc has clearly demonstrated its willingness to be a leader in the technical evolution of mining equipment, whether in electrification or automation. Obviously, this transition will not happen by itself. We are privileged that Epiroc has proposed us a collaborative approach in order to effectively integrate their equipment into the Odyssey Mine and actively participate in this evolution. The benefits from this collaboration will contribute to making mines even safer and jobs more accessible in the field.”

The equipment ordered during the March quarter includes battery-electric versions of the Boltec (an M10 Boltec, pictured) rock reinforcement drill rig, Simba production drill rig and Boomer face drilling rig (jumbo). It also includes an Easer raise boring rig, Scooptram loaders, and Minetruck haulers. The machines will be equipped with Epiroc’s telematics system Certiq, which allows for intelligent monitoring of machine performance and productivity in real time. Epiroc will also provide service and spare parts, as well as expertise on electrification solutions.

Superior finishes construction of ‘world’s largest telescopic radial stacking conveyor’

Superior Industries Inc has completed design and manufacturing work on what it considers to be the world’s largest telescopic radial stacking conveyor.

The brand-new TeleStacker® Conveyor model is a 48-in-wide by 210-ft-long telescoping conveyor (1,220 mm x 64 m) capable of building 425,000 t stockpiles.

Superior says the record-breaking stacker will be used to unload dry bulk ships along the Atlantic Coast in Florida.

Operators at the port will take advantage of the TeleStacker Conveyor’s PilePro™ Automation. This Superior-designed-and-supported system automatically controls the stacker’s actions while building partially- or fully-desegregated stockpiles. Some popular features include pile volume reporting, maintenance triggers and diagnostics screens, the company said.

In 2022, Superior is celebrating 25 years of manufacturing its famous TeleStacker Conveyor. During that time, the conveyor has earned a reputation as the best tool for defeating costly material segregation while bulk stockpiling, the company said.

Anglo American commences first longwall shear at Aquila met coal mine

Anglo American’s new Aquila mine has achieved its first longwall shear of steelmaking metallurgical coal on schedule and on budget, marking the project’s final stages of construction and commissioning, it says.

The Aquila mine, located near Middlemount in Central Queensland in Australia, extends the life of Anglo American’s existing Capcoal underground operations by seven years, after the company’s nearby Grasstree mine reached its end of life in recent weeks.

Themba Mkhwanazi, CEO of Bulk Commodities, said: “We have delivered the Aquila project on time and within our budgeted attributable cost of $226 million. This new mine will have a total average annual saleable production of around five million tonnes of premium quality hard coking coal and benefits from low capital intensity as we are using the existing infrastructure and systems from our adjacent operations. Aquila offers us highly attractive returns and margins at conservative long term consensus prices.”

Tyler Mitchelson, CEO of Anglo American’s Metallurgical Coal business, said: “Safely starting up longwall mining at Aquila Mine on our original schedule, despite the effects of the pandemic, is an important milestone for our Metallurgical Coal business and will support our ongoing contribution to both the Middlemount community, and Queensland’s economy. The mine uses our existing infrastructure at our Capcoal complex and supports around 600 ongoing operational roles for our Queensland-based workforce, including providing continuity of employment for our Grasstree mining team.”

The Aquila Mine has been developed as one of Australia’s most technologically advanced underground mines, leveraging Anglo American’s advancements in underground automation technology, remote operations and data analytics, the company says. The mine features two longwalls, allowing operations to continue without the downtime usually required for longwall moves. Both longwalls are fully remote-capable and will be sequentially operated from a site-based remote operations centre on the surface of the mine.

Anglo American’s Capcoal complex comprises Capcoal Open Cut Mine, Grasstree Mine, Aquila Mine, the Coal Handling and Preparation Plant and associated infrastructure. Aquila is owned 70% by Anglo American and 30% by Mitsui & Co. Ltd.

Anglo’s digital vision for Quellaveco takes shape with Epiroc autonomous drill rig arrivals

Anglo American’s automation plans for its Quellaveco mine in Peru are starting to take shape, with its first automated trucks having started up in “pre-mining” mode last year and now automation-ready drills on site ahead of first ore production later this year.

The company’s most digital and autonomous mine yet, Quellaveco is expected to produce 300,000 t/y of copper over the first 10 years of the mine from an orebody that currently has around 1,300 Mt of reserves.

In the company’s December quarter production results today, it said construction of the project was progressing to plan, with first ore mined in October and first copper concentrate production expected in the middle of 2022.

In the first half of 2021, the operation started up four of a planned fleet of 27 autonomous Cat 794AC haul trucks as one element in a range of technologies that will help to make Quellaveco Anglo American’s first 100% digital mine.

Anglo American plans to deploy a fleet of 27 autonomous Cat 794AC haul trucks at Quellaveco

Now, the company has drill rigs on site that, by the end of this year, should be fully integrated into its in-country remote operations centre. The rigs – six fully autonomous Epiroc Pit Viper 351s and three tele-remote SmartRoc D65s – will eventually be overseen from this remote operations centre.

IM put some questions to Tito Cacho, General Manager of Quellaveco, to find out more about these rigs and what led to the planned automation leap at the mine.

IM: How did your experience with Epiroc on developing and implementing a new tele-remote drilling project at Los Bronces influence the decision to implement a fully autonomous drill fleet at Quellaveco? Did many of the people that implemented the Los Bronces project come over to Quellaveco?

TC: One of the objectives of Anglo American has been building a modern and fully digital mine at Quellaveco, incorporating the latest technologies to make this an even safer, productive and sustainable mining operation. A team of Anglo American engineers that were involved in the Los Bronces implementation have assisted in some aspects of the project in Quellaveco, bringing the benefits from our experience gained in Chile.

IM: What qualities does Quellaveco as an asset have in terms of applying autonomous drilling (aside from the fact it is a ‘greenfield mine’ you can design around automation)?

TC: We believe that Quellaveco will set a new standard. Through our experience with automation, the industry is driving towards safer and more reliable operations. This can make a significant difference not only to the mining operations itself but for our stakeholders who increasingly demand more sustainable operations.

Our team has been developing processes and procedures to build autonomy into the operational culture from day one. We are developing multifunctional skills in our operators and technicians, so that they learn about new roles and equipment operation, giving us the flexibility for people to work in any part of the process. The enthusiasm and willingness to learn and work with this new technology that we have seen in all the groups in Quellaveco has been an incredible asset.

IM: What other benefits stood out to you when evaluating fully autonomous drilling at the asset (safety, productivity, etc)?

TC: Safety is the primary benefit, and, as you know, is our most important value at Anglo American. We can distance an operator from areas of risk and put them in an environment that is safer, with less exposure to dust, noise and vibration. The operator becomes an autonomous drilling controller and is more comfortable and in a better ergonomic position. In addition, we have been able to improve the use, efficiency and precision of the equipment, and the ability to control multiple machines per person are notable benefits over manual operation.

Anglo plans to deploy six fully autonomous Epiroc Pit Viper 351s at the operation

IM: How easy is it to implement fully autonomous drilling operations in Peru from a regulatory perspective? How does it compare with other countries?

TC: Anglo American’s approach is engaging with regulatory authorities from the beginning, and that is what we have done in Peru. We believe our stakeholders see the advantages of having a modern and fully digital mine operating in the country, from a safety, efficiency and sustainability perspective.

IM: How many rigs out of the “multiple” drill rigs you ordered from Epiroc will be autonomous? What does the timeline look like from here in terms of them reaching their capacity? When will their control and oversight be integrated into the remote operations centre?

TC: Quellaveco will have six Pit Viper 351s that operate fully autonomously and three SmartRoc D65s that operate in tele-remote (operator controlled from a distance with some autonomous functions). We aim to integrate full control and oversight of the drill fleet into the remote operations centre by the second half of this year.

MacLean’s van Koppen on affecting industry change

MacLean Engineering has been a fast mover when it comes to leveraging battery-electric equipment, having announced an EV Series platform back in September 2016 and rolled out electrified machinery across its production support offering in the five-and-a-half-years since.

A family-owned company with roots in Canada’s mining technology heartland – Sudbury – MacLean is continuing to innovate with new solutions that leverage not only electrification, but the latest in automation and digitalisation too.

IM spoke to Maarten van Koppen, VP Product Management, ahead of his presentation at The Electric Mine 2022, in Stockholm, Sweden, to find out how these three industry trends are converging in line with the company’s Application Intelligence philosophy.

IM: As a mine engineer with experience integrating both battery-electric and autonomous equipment into mining operations (at the Borden operation, among others), what new perspectives have you brought to MacLean since you joined in 2020?

MvK: It’s a little atypical for a mining engineer from a mining company to join an OEM. Mine engineering graduates do join OEMs, but the typical route is to head there straight from school.

In terms of electrification and automation, the perspective that I brought to MacLean was an acute awareness of what is ‘on the other side of the fence’. Having that knowledge has slightly changed the way we interact with customers.

I made a point of preparing material for consultants and study managers that could be very useful in preparing tradeoff studies and inspiring more discussion. We now have an overview for consultants that lists the budgetary prices – based on an ‘average’ MacLean vehicle – for both electric and diesel equipment in an apples-to-apples comparison. We also have crude cost models that can be customised with different energy prices, labour rates and a couple of other key drivers. That really helps consultants with these early tradeoff studies.

Having been a study manager at Borden, I can appreciate what it takes to make consultants and study managers’ lives easier. We are now getting positive feedback from industry that speaks to that.

The good news for me and MacLean was that there was a solid team with Stuart, Anthony and others already doing this work. They understood what the industry was looking for and our key strengths as an OEM.

Since coming in, I have also taken over the static simulations for our EV Series offering. A lot of customers still have range anxiety and I have been able to help with that by customising these simulations for their own sites factoring in, for example, their ramp grades, lengths, etc. Through those simulations, you can outline different scenarios and explain the opportunity charging philosophy in a way that is specific to their operation.

And, finally, MacLean was already on this track, but I reiterated that our battery rental arrangements were very simple and needed to remain so. It is typically just a fixed rate, single number per month. Other OEMs use other arrangements that are a little more complicated, but my experience is that, in terms of forecasting and budgeting, these systems can become onerous to administer and difficult to model out accurately without encountering a bias around expected machine utilisation rates.

IM: At the same time, what was it that attracted you to a company like MacLean?

MvK: First and foremost, my dad, until he retired, was a heavy-duty mechanic who was promoted up the ladder in the company he worked for. This was primarily in the Port of Rotterdam where he helped maintain the big forklifts that operate there – these can be quite complicated from an operational point of view. In that regard, I have always had an affinity and interest in equipment, something that has carried through to my siblings, all of whom are involved in engineering.

Second, joining a family-owned company with three generations of MacLeans involved is a sign of long-term commitment. That was also very attractive.

On a slightly different note, I felt that joining an OEM would allow me to affect the greatest amount of change across the industry. In my role, I get to talk to customers all over the world with a wide range of projects, enabling me to explain where electric machines might make most sense for them in terms of generating increased shareholder value, improved working conditions for employees, etc. That also had a bearing on my decision to join MacLean.

Then, of course, there was an opportunity to embark on a steep learning curve – learning about powertrains, drive trains and all the mechanical and electric bits and pieces that go into our machines. It has been very rewarding so far.

Maarten van Koppen, MacLean Engineering’s VP Product Management

IM: Have you been surprised by the industry take-up of these new solutions since joining MacLean? What trends have supported this acceleration in demand?

MvK: That’s an interesting question. Taking it back a little further, when I started off at Borden, I expected the industry adoption to be quite rapid – perhaps more so than it has been.

We were on a good track in 2019, but the pandemic caused a brief interruption. I think a lot of operations took that time to re-evaluate certain choices or projects.

We were very busy with consultants on tradeoff studies in the early days of the pandemic – that never really stopped – and we’re starting to see these studies result in fleet orders.

The other thing that went under the radar with the pandemic is, in 2020, all the big mining companies made massive commitments to carbon reductions. Part of that is now starting to trickle through with quotes and interest.

For companies that have aggressive targets for 2030, this is impacting fleet decisions today. If you buy a machine now, it will most likely last for 15 years or more, so you are effectively deciding today about what machines you will be operating in 2037.

IM: MacLean initially announced an equipment electrification plan all the way back in September 2016 at MINExpo, selling your first EV Series machine that year. Since then, you have accrued in excess of 100,000 operating hours on these machines. When evaluating this data, what has surprised you in terms of operating performance, industry acceptance, cost outcomes, etc?

MvK: We have a lot of experience with all our BEV equipment, which is spread out across the offering. We have, through this experience, confirmed operating performance and proven the increased speed of these machines going up-ramp. For instance, with the new batteries we are using on 17% ramps, providing the road conditions are OK, you can drive up that ramp at 15 km/h with an empty battery-electric boom truck. You are looking at 8 km/h with a diesel-powered boom truck, so the speed difference is quite significant.

We have also carried out some very targeted trials, one of which was with a customer in British Columbia, Canada, last summer, where we captured those carbon savings with a bit more detail.

In that trial, we recorded 315 hours on the machine over the course of three months. If you had used a diesel machine over those hours, it would have consumed about 5,000 litres of diesel, generating about 18 t of carbon. With the grid being as clean as it is in BC, the carbon emissions from powering up the machine were about 100 times lower than pure diesel – about 130 kg in total.

Even when we do the back calculation using conventional diesel generation to power up these electric machines, it is still three times cleaner than a machine with a diesel engine.

The one thing we still need to do at our test facility in Sudbury is to confirm what heat savings we can achieve when using BEVs compared with diesel vehicles. We know from other work in the industry that we should see an order of magnitude lower heat emissions, and we are looking at building on our own in-house simulations with real-world test data.

IM: Has this data and feedback influenced your EV Series product line developments over this timeframe? What new products/concepts have come to light on the back of analysing this data?

MvK: Absolutely. Our on-board chargers, for instance, now come from a different supplier that offers better performance, a lower price point and an improved tolerance to less-than-ideal power infrastructure. If you have more robust electronics on these batteries, it is always likely to be better suited to more underground mines.

We have also been able to simplify the drivetrain by removing the transfer case for some of our lighter machines such as the shotcrete sprayer.

As well, we have some exciting changes coming up with the offering of a CCS-2-type off-board charger receptacle. For all-electric mines where off-board chargers are required to power other equipment, such as trucks and loaders, we figured it would make sense for our equipment to be compatible. This means we can charge machines with up to 250 kW of power, provided the off-board charger can push that kind of energy. As for on-board charging, we hit a practical limit to our maximum 100 kW charging capacity. Most mine grids have a limit of about 150 kW on their 400-1,000 V AC mine grids to accommodate jumbos, so we have to stay within that limit. Depending on customer needs, we can configure the charging solution to what makes sense for their project or operation.

MacLean, on the charging front, is also working with the BluVein consortium out of Australia to explore overhead battery charging. While primarily focused on haul trucks, this type of charging solution could be a good fit for our battery-electric grader. Graders typically work on ramps – where this charging infrastructure would be located – and, out of all the machines in our portfolio, a grader is the one machine that should not stop moving in ideal circumstances. The overhead charger matches the application in that regard.

We don’t blanket everything with one solution at MacLean – there is a niche for every solution when it comes to batteries and charging. Yet, knowing and understanding what the application is provides us the opportunity to configure a better product for the customer. That type of Application Intelligence is at our core.

Where this ties back to our battery-electric vehicle experience is in the importance of the ramp quality in these types of operations. In every haulage operation, you know the smoother the ramp, the faster you can tram and the more efficient it is for the overall mine. Yet, the added benefit that comes with battery-electric machines is the regeneration opportunities presented with a smoother ramp. That is why we felt it was necessary to come up with a product like this.

IM: On-board, opportunity charging with a standardised battery capacity has been the order of day for the majority of machines you have deployed in mining to this point. Is this blueprint changing for the next generation EV Series in line with the different applications?

MvK: We’re open to evaluating just about everything, but the one thing we are married to is the idea of the battery staying on our vehicle. This makes sense for the type of equipment we make and the applications we serve. Outside of that, we’re pretty flexible.

On top of the CCS 2-type charger coming out in 2022, we have a chiller for active cooling available to allow BEVs to work at higher ambient temperatures. That is currently on a boom truck in South Africa. As you can imagine, it is easier to test a chiller in a South African summer than a Canadian winter. We think we can operate those machines effectively up to 50°C ambient temperature and possibly more.

The battery supplier change is very big for us and we now have a roadmap to improve performance where we can more easily switch between battery products with that one supplier, taking advantage of future improvements.

It is interesting times as that whole battery-electric vehicle component field is changing so much with the world going greener in general terms. The more components we can pick from that are meant for mobile industrial uses, the better we can configure our machines. The one thing I don’t think people realise is that mining equipment manufacturers are way too small to mandate customised components on a machine. We are at the mercy of what components are available on the market.

Those technology improvements will also hopefully put some downward pressure on costs when all the supply chain interruptions settle down.

IM: Where is the industry’s level of maturity with battery-electric solutions? Have many of the initial barriers to entry (upfront cost, worries over range, etc) been overcome?

MvK: I think there is still a bit of a ‘sticker shock’ when people see the quotation for a BEV, which is common among the OEMs. Yet, people are now looking beyond the initial capital cost, taking into consideration the cost savings that can be realised over the lifetime of the machine.

What I find interesting is how capital markets are now playing a role.

For example, underground coal miners, on top of the regulatory pressures they are facing, are now finding it very difficult to attract capital for their operations. The flipside is true when we think about some junior companies out of Canada that have announced plans to go carbon neutral and fully electric – they have been able to attract capital from investors that would typically steer away from mining. This is especially true when they are looking to mine ‘battery minerals’.

There is still a level of scepticism and hesitancy, but customers that have trialled BEVs generally realise the need to go all-electric. I do expect with the regulatory changes in certain jurisdictions where we do a lot of business, there will be more enquiries. If it becomes a tradeoff between going all-electric or spending a tonne of money on upgrading your ventilation infrastructure to abide by regulations, the battery-electric vehicle value proposition for existing operations will become a lot clearer.

“Knowing and understanding what the application is provides us the opportunity to configure a better product for the customer,” van Koppen says. Pictured is the battery-powered TM3 concrete transmixer

IM: In terms of technology development, MacLean has also been developing automation and digitalisation solutions. How do you see all three – electrification, automation and digitalisation – complementing each other?

MvK: The combination of electrification and digitisation is a good match. A lot of our telemetry developments came from the BEV side where we needed those diagnostics; these are now carrying over to the diesel side. Also, integrating automation and digitisation makes a lot of sense for a lot of the same reasons that you need the data to automate operations.

A lot of the engineering challenges will be around automation and electrification working together, and how you get energy into the machine. Driving, stopping and controlling the machine is not a problem – it is actually probably easier on an electric machine – it is how to get energy into it. The consortium we are in with BluVein is one solution, but I don’t think it is the ‘only’ solution. There are others on the market, but they currently come with a price point that makes them prohibitive.

IM: I know you have partnered with universities and colleges on the robotics side of things in recent years. What’s the latest on these developments?

MvK: A lot of the collaboration, to this point, has focused on boom movements. We are starting to automate boom movements as we think it will have applications in not just oversize management with water cannons, blockholers, or secondary ore reduction drills, but shotcrete and explosives loading too.

We are also partnering on several other things with universities and colleges on tech development. One of the things that comes to mind is the Robobolter we are working on right now. Here we are looking to put a robotic arm on the deck of our tried and proven Omnia bolter platform to take the operator out of the environment.

Customers have been telling us for a while that, due to the travel times, heat or seismic exposure, they would like to see the operator further removed from the face when it comes to bolting operations. At the same time, we wanted to make sure this solution had all the strengths of our proven platform bolter – being able to load up for an entire round, provide multiple types of support without extensive retooling, etc. We’re looking to introduce that product in 2023.

Like many of our new products coming out, these vehicles will primarily be designed around battery-electric operation, with a diesel option. That is a shift in thinking – designing for electric with a diesel consideration, instead of the other way around. The grader is the exception to that as we had to make the first one in diesel form. But, when we look at our new explosives rig coming out next year, that is primarily designed as an electric machine, which we will make available in diesel as well.

IM: Is the Robobolter likely to be your most advanced machine in terms of automation, digitalisation and electrification when it comes out in 2023?

MvK: I think the Robobolter, at launch, will be our most advanced machine, but there is increased internal competition within MacLean to reach new benchmarks across our offering. That competition is good for the business and the industry.

It’s refreshing and encouraging that the MacLean ownership is big on growth in both product lines and the territories which we operate in. We also want to disrupt the sector in the niches we operate in, having full support in terms of innovating and coming up with new products.

On top of that, as it is family-owned company, you can make decisions that best suit our customers. For example, our ownership will not allow us to sell machines we cannot support in the field.  This philosophy has somewhat saved our bacon with the supply chain pressures the industry is experiencing of late, ensuring we have enough spares to supply new machines as well as service those in the field.

Maarten van Koppen will be presenting ‘Electric, automated and digitally-connected: the MacLean machine pipeline’ at The Electric Mine 2022 conference in Stockholm, Sweden, on February 17-18, 2022. For more information on the event, click here.

Hindustan Zinc accelerates growth plans as it partners with industry leaders

Hindustan Zinc Ltd (HZL), a Vedanta Group Company and the world’s second largest integrated producer of zinc and lead, is in acceleration mode, embarking on aggressive expansion and collaboration plans with technology and innovation partners from across the globe.

One of the first mining companies to commit to going “Net Zero” by 2050, it has a strong focus on ESG reinforced by plans to deploy battery-electric vehicles, tap into more solar and wind power potential and recycle waste heat from its captive power plants. Such ambitions are being delivered with up to $1 billion of finance in the next five years to “go green” and, by 2025, achieve focused sustainability goals.

At the same time as it is looking to become an ESG leader, it is boosting its mine and metal production by leveraging “smart mining” and an extensive resource and reserve base.

IM put some questions to Arun Misra, Hindustan Zinc CEO, to find out how the company intends to deliver on its lofty ambitions.

IM: HZL’s 2021 financial year to March 31, 2021, was characterised by record production volumes and profitability; how were you able to achieve such results given the COVID-19-affected constraints on your operations?

AM: The uncertainty has evolved continuously. If I give you an example, we started the year with the uncertainty of COVID only; that is people getting infected leading to absenteeism. It was so contagious, it spread so fast, half of our workforce were down. So, that struck us heavily, but, nevertheless, because we had experience of last year, and this time there was no lockdown of industry, we were able to figure out how to manage and we did manage well, compared to last year’s same quarter, which was also COVID-affected. We had introduced various measures to change the way of working to ensure a safer working environment for the employees. We also got our workforce vaccinated along with their families to further minimise the risks associated with the pandemic.

Hindustan Zinc CEO, Arun Misra, says Hindustan Zinc has been at the forefront of ensuring personal health, be it of its employees or local communities

Furthermore, the automation and digitalisation efforts at Hindustan Zinc are equipped to better withstand these testing times while ensuring quick revival to a normal level of operations.

IM: During the height of the pandemic, HZL – like other socially responsible mining companies – supported communities within or close by to its operations. Can you highlight some of the actions you took over this period and what impact they had?

AM: We at Hindustan Zinc have been at the forefront of ensuring personal health, be it of our employees or local communities. We have gone beyond and extended our support to the state of Rajasthan and the nation at large by contributing significantly to the PM Cares Fund and Rajasthan Chief Minister Relief Fund.

To meet the requirement of oxygen during the second wave of the pandemic, we had set up an oxygen bottling plant at our Dariba unit (Rajsamand district) in a record time of five days and had supplied over 14,000 cylinders of medical oxygen. We even arranged 500 oxygen concentrators to be imported and distributed for use across the state.

We had provided an insulated vaccine van to the Udaipur district medical health office to support a smooth vaccination drive and extended support to the local health administrations, by disinfecting villages by spraying and fumigating with sodium hypochlorite solution and providing medical gear like masks, sanitisers and PPE to local communities.

We even constructed an 8,000 sq.m air-conditioning dome hospital, based on German technology, which has a capacity of 100 beds – including 20 ICU beds – to accommodate patients and provide them with essential COVID treatment and medical facilities.

IM: ESG is obviously a major focus area for HZL, as these examples illustrate. Where specifically are you investing in your mining, power and smelting operations to make them more environmentally friendly?

AM: As a COP26 business leader, we have always been active in tackling the repercussions of climate change and have a strong focus on reducing carbon emissions. We are pioneers in India, declaring our ambition to convert all our mining equipment to battery-operated electric vehicles and will invest $1 billion over the next five years to make our mining operations environmentally friendly.

We are continuously expanding our renewable power of 274 MW of wind and 40 MW of solar under our greenhouse gas reduction goals by converting 50% of our total power to renewable forms in the next five years. We are among the only two metal and mining companies globally – and among four Indian companies – to be part of the coveted CDP (Carbon Disclosure Project) ‘A List’ 2020.

Furthermore, we have even published our first Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosure (TCFD) Report this year and have also joined the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) forum to understand nature-related risks and opportunities and accelerate the transition towards a nature-positive and carbon-neutral future.

We have set Sustainability Development Goals to 2025 for ourselves where we are aiming towards sustainable operations for a greener tomorrow.

Hindustan Zinc has embarked on a major growth push at its mining operations with six ongoing expansion projects that will see over 100 km of tunnels developed for underground infrastructure and ore access

IM: At the same time as this, HZL has embarked on a major growth push at your mining operations with six ongoing expansion projects that will see over 100 km of tunnels developed for underground infrastructure and ore access. How are you able to balance your sustainable expansion plans with pledges to reduce your overall footprint?

AM: We strive for operational excellence and cost efficiencies and continue to stay on the growth track while being equally cognisant of our environmental, social and governance commitments, as well as our sustainability goals. We are leveraging more digitalisation and automation than we ever have, as well as engaging with technology leaders to do ‘more with less’.

The SmartDrive equipment we plan to use enables higher productivity, lower operating costs and, most importantly, zero local emissions, featuring in-built energy recuperation technology to make the most of regenerative braking energy during downhill driving and deceleration.

Being a power-intensive business, our key focus is always on reducing dependence on non-renewable sources of energy and enhancing our renewable power base.

IM: How important has it been to partner with like-minded technology and solution providers to ensure you meet these ambitious goals? Can you provide some examples here?

AM: We always look for partners who align with our philosophy of running sustainable operations to achieve company goals. We don’t need one-off solutions from companies to meet our targets; we need companies that will engage throughout our medium- and long-term projects and provide an element of customisation that factors in the realities of operating in our underground mines. We look for global partners to work with us where we exchange ideas, insights and knowledge with them in our growth journey.

We believe in providing opportunities to our business partners to leverage collaboration on technology, innovation and digitalisation, for long-term value creation and mutual growth.

To support our expansion plan, it is crucial for Hindustan Zinc to collaborate with mine development and operation partners who share a similar vision to ours, which is to leverage cutting-edge technology to create a positive impact on the entire mining fraternity. We are currently working with companies like Sandvik, Epiroc, Normet, Barminco, RCT, Siemens, etc as our global partners. We have engaged with them to provide end-to-end solutions rather than sourcing a specific supply or service.

Hindustan Zinc has given an equal platform for women engineers in its mining operations, appointing India’s first female underground mine manager in 2021

IM: You have already stated a goal of 1.5 Mt/y of zinc production in the upcoming years and extending your lead as India’s largest integrated zinc-lead producer; what is your vision for the company to 2030 and beyond?

AM: We are excited about our next phase of expansion to take mining capacity from 1.2 Mt per annum to 1.35 Mt/a. We will surely cross 1 Mt and we should be above our guidance if we achieve the desired run rates in our third and fourth quarters.

While our growth plans are a key part of the company’s future, we are also focused on becoming the leading zinc-lead-silver producer from an environmental, social and governance point of view. Our DJSI Ranking of being among the Top 5 companies in the metal and mining sector is testament to this. We are already winning significant awards for our ESG and CSR efforts, and expect this recognition to continue and grow as we head towards mapping out our 2025 sustainability goals.

Also, the mining value chain is changing across the globe and more consumers are becoming aware of the origins of the products they buy and the emissions that come with their production.

To collaborate with Hindustan Zinc on its green growth mission, email [email protected]

Sandvik receives record AutoMine order from Codelco’s El Teniente mine

Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions says it has received a major order for the AutoMine® load and haul automation system valued at about SEK 250 million ($28 million) from Chile’s Codelco to be used in the El Teniente mine.

In addition, a connected load and haul equipment order, with an initial value of SEK 150 million, was received, bringing the total value of the orders to SEK 400 million, Sandvik said.

The contract will run from 2022 through 2027 at the Andes Norte block cave.

Since the first AutoMine system was commissioned in El Teniente’s Pipa Norte mine in 2004, Sandvik has supplied several intelligent load and haul equipment fleets as well as AutoMine and OptiMine solutions to Codelco mines.

The new order will be supplied in two phases. During 2022 and 2023, Codelco will receive two Toro™ TH663i trucks and two Sandvik LH514 loaders, as well as an AutoMine Fleet system capable of being scaled to support up to 16 machines and AutoMine production area hardware for future expansions over several years.

The first phase of the order, which also includes support contracts for the equipment and AutoMine system, will initially be used by Codelco Andes Norte in a new block caving area in El Teniente that is expected to commence production between mid-2022 and early 2023.

From 2023 through 2027, Sandvik will deliver six more Toro TH663i trucks, six Sandvik LH514 loaders and an additional AutoMine Fleet system.

Emilio Vega, Business Line Manager for Automation, Sales Area Andean & South Cone at Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions, said: “Codelco selected Sandvik’s solutions based on our proven technology, capable of fulfilling requirements for safety, reliability and productivity. Furthermore, we have competent staff capable of serving and supporting the organisation’s existing systems. This provides value-added services that enable optimised productivity in order to meet the customer’s production performance.”

AutoMine underground for loading and hauling is an automation system for autonomous and tele-remote operation of a wide range of Sandvik loaders and trucks. The scalable solution can provide tele-remote to fully autonomous operation for a single machine or multiple machines, including full fleet automation with automatic mission and traffic control capability, according to Sandvik.

Patricio Apablaza, Vice President Sales South Cone & Andean at Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions, added: “Codelco’s objective is to continue implementing automation and digitalisation solutions in its mining operations. We have a great opportunity, as a key supplier, to be part of this change by supporting Codelco with high-end technology and providing key support to its operations to help our customer succeed in this journey.”

The AutoMine Fleet system is a highly advanced automation system for a fleet of Sandvik underground loaders and trucks sharing the same automated production area. It provides advanced traffic control capabilities, as well as a wide range of interfaces for infrastructure integration to allow for complex automation applications in challenging environments.

Pablo Gandara, Project Portfolio Manager, El Teniente Mine, explained: “For Codelco and, in particular, for El Teniente mine, it is a goal to continue being the largest underground mine in the world. This purpose also needs to be accompanied by other attributes that are key today to continue being leaders in the mining business, such as safety, environmental sustainability, and productivity.

“Considering all these elements, we have come to the conclusion that to operate our mines we require companies that have the same values, and that is how we came to define that the Sandvik AutoMine product satisfies all our needs. In addition to show best practice of a real partnership is the cooperation that began many years ago between Codelco and Sandvik in the first automated project for El Teniente, which was the Pipa Norte sector in 2004. From there we have built a relationship between two companies, we understand each other very well, and we trust in the joint capacities that we have developed.”

David Hallett, Vice President, Automation at Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions, said: “We are excited to continue our journey in automation and digitalisation at Codelco’s El Teniente mine to help increase safety and productivity for their operations. This order will be delivered as a turnkey solution composed of all elements of Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions’ offering for equipment, digital technologies and aftermarket. Sandvik strives to be the number one productivity partner for our customers and this order and delivery will embody all elements of this.”

Back in February 2021, Sandvik said it would deliver its AutoMine Fleet system to automate a new fleet of Sandvik LHDs running at Codelco’s Pacifico Superior and Pilar Norte GTI operations, part of the El Teniente underground mine.