Tag Archives: automation

Master Drilling keeps advancing technology developments in face of market uncertainty

Having recorded a slight decrease in operating profit for the year ending December 31, 2019, Master Drilling pointed investors to several positive mining technology innovation developments within its latest financial results presentation.

In terms of financials, the main headlines were a 6.9% rise in revenue to $148.3 million and a slight decrease in operating profit of 5.1% to $22.4 million. The company put the latter down to “adverse global market conditions and an uncertain macro operating environment”.

Koos Jordaan, Master Drilling Executive Director, focused on the latest with the company’s Mobile Tunnel Borer (MTB), Shaft Boring System (SBS) and automation, remote operation and digitisation efforts when addressing investors on the financial results webcast.

Starting with the MTB, the company confirmed the Phase 1 project it carried out for Northam Platinum at its Eland platinum group metals operation in South Africa was executed in the second half of 2019. According to Northam, this was a “performance validation project” that involved tunnelling on the 5.5 m diameter footwall conveyor decline at Eland.

The MTB is a modular horizontal cutting machine equipped with full-face cutter head with disc cutters adapted from traditional tunnel boring machines. Unlike these traditional machines, it is designed to work both on inclines and declines, with the ability to navigate around corners.

In Northam’s most recent annual report, it said the MTB trial would allow the company “to test and optimise both the efficacy of the machine as well as service functions that support the machine’s operation”.

At the end of February, Northam said: “The MTB trial was completed, yielding positive results, and will be applied to develop the Kukama belt decline barrel.”

This latest contract at Eland, termed the Phase 2 contract by Master Drilling, started up this quarter and will see a 1.5 km decline constructed in around 18 months, the raiseboring specialist said.

Jordaan said during the webcast that the company had experienced some delays in the start-up phase of this project, but recently it had obtained and “realised a steady build up”.

“Apart from this project, there is a lot of interest out of industry,” Jordaan said of the MTB, adding that the company was working on upfront engineering estimations for two other projects.

In addition to carrying out estimates for these projects Jordaan said an “alternative contractual business model” was under review for future MTB projects. This model is focused on the “capital nature” of employing the MTB and, Jordaan said, could “make a big difference as to the way we provide this service”.

Looking to the company’s vertical developments, Jordaan reviewed progress on the company’s SBS project.

In the second half of 2019, Master Drilling carried out an “experimental project” just outside of Fochville, in South Africa, to cut a 10 m test shaft of 4 m diameter. IM witnessed this in October, where the main cutting mechanism of what could eventually be its 45-m long, 450-t SBS was tested out in 300 Mpa rock.

When IM visited just over a week into these daily demonstrations, the machine was around 4.6 m below surface, no cutters had been replaced and Jordaan was satisfied with the machine’s performance.

In the webcast, Jordaan confirmed that the testing had seen the machine get up to “just short of a 1 m/hr instantaneous penetration”.

Such advance numbers could add considerable value to shaft sinking projects “if you consider the current complexities, safety-related issues, cost and productivity” associated with conventional sinking, he said.

Master Drilling, in order to mitigate the risks associated with bringing this mechanised technology to a largely conventional sinking industry, has split the development of the SBS into five phases.

Phase one – the testing that took place just outside Fochville – was concluded in the December quarter, while phase two to four – covering the assembly, manufacturing and commissioning of a machine and proving it to be commercially ready – had funding in place from Master Drilling’s partner, the Industrial Development Corporation.

Lastly, on the automation, remote operation and digitisation efforts, the company said it had completed several milestones during 2019.

One of these was displaying the ability to operate a raiseboring machine situated 3.5 km underground from a room on surface at the AngloGold Ashanti-owned Mponeng gold mine, in South Africa.

Jordaan said just over 20% of production was able to be completed by remote control during this project. “This helps you a lot if you have operations with high re-entry times,” Jordaan said, adding that it aids utilisation.

The company was looking to roll out this remote operation functionality across another four rigs in South America, North America, Scandinavia and India, according to Jordaan.

Looking at automation, Master Drilling has the capacity to employ semi-autonomous control on 42 rigs in its fleet. Jordaan said this has already shown to optimise the cutting cycle and provide a 20-50% productivity benefit at certain sites.

“We have also developed full autonomous control – the engineering side of it – and are waiting for the ideal project to apply and introduce it to industry,” Jordaan said.

When it comes to digitalisation, Jordaan was able to report that Master Drilling’s real-time operational reporting facility was continuing to be rolled out across all its operations. He also said additional modules were being developed around this hardware and system, which would provide even more benefits to users.

Cisco IoT solution underwrites Boliden automation transition at Garpenberg

Cisco says it has helped Sandvik and Boliden deliver a safe, autonomous and efficient operation at the miner’s Garpenberg underground mine in northern Sweden.

The IoT solutions provider has installed a low latency IoT network with Cisco industrial switches and access points in the mine, which is more than 1 km underground, to facilitate this transition.

As Cisco says, Boliden was after a reliable industrial network architecture that can operate in its mine, could allow machinery to operate autonomously to keep workers out of dangerous areas, and could improve operational efficiencies in the mine while reducing costs.

Working with Boliden and Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology, one of Cisco’s first few Design-In Program partners, the company came up with a solution.

The network installed at the mine allows large machinery, such as Sandvik LH517s, to operate remotely and autonomously in areas that could be unsafe to send people. With the support of Sandvik’s AutoMine® for autonomous mining equipment and Sandvik’s OptiMine® software to analyse and optimise production, Boliden mining engineers can remotely (and safely) operate the machinery from a control room, it says.

This also makes it possible for Boliden mining engineers to work in a cleaner, healthier environment, according to Cisco.

Sandvik ramps up Automine truck automation efforts

Sandvik says it has released a new solution that will allow automated underground trucks to continue seamlessly through ramp portals to the surface to complete the dumping cycle.

Having offered a sneak peek of this product at the Digitalization in Mining event in Brisbane, Australia, in December, the company has now gone public with the launch.

AutoMine® for Trucks is a first for autonomous ramp haulage applications in the underground mining industry, providing autonomous truck haulage not only in underground environments but also now on the surface, according to the company. “It turns Sandvik’s intelligent mining trucks into unmanned robots; robots that keep running,” Sandvik said.

For many years, mining operations across the world have benefitted from Sandvik’s intelligent AutoMine systems for autonomous and unmanned truck haulage. “They help to reduce equipment damage, repair work and add the highest levels of efficiency and fleet utilisation, giving a lower cost per tonne,” the company says. They are scalable for different mining applications and can be supervised from remote locations.

Riku Pulli, Vice President, BU Automation, Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology, said: “Continuously setting the industry standard, we have now developed the industry-first, fully autonomous underground trucks that can operate in mining levels and mine declines including both underground and surface sections. These trucks are set to revolutionise the mining industry, bringing significant improvements in mine’s productivity and safety.”

A key requirement for an autonomous ramp haulage application is to enable the capability for trucks to operate autonomously not only underground but also on the surface. With this product release, Sandvik has unlocked this capability for its customers, it says.

The different elements of the newly added capabilities have been tested at many of mine sites with existing experience of AutoMine for Trucks, a Sandvik spokesperson confirmed.

A core innovation behind the new capability is the smart handover technology that allows trucks to switch from underground to surface navigation mode in real time. This allows trucks to continue through the ramp portal seamlessly to the surface to complete the dumping cycle.

AutoMine also connects directly to Sandvik OptiMine®, enabling production planning and automatic dispatching of tasks to AutoMine for production execution, according to Sandvik. The progress of production tasks is reported back to OptiMine giving mines real-time visibility of their automated and manual operations and enabling them to make informed decisions on their operation.

Other benefits of OptiMine include equipment and people location tracking, 3D mine visualisation and predictive analytics to transform data into actionable insights. Integration with My Sandvik Productivity allows mines to keep track of their trucks’ condition and know the real-time status of the fleet, the company says.

RCT tech-agnostic automation solutions find favour in USA

Having made a name for itself in Australia and elsewhere, RCT’s ControlMaster™ automation and control solution is revolutionising mining operations throughout North America, the company says.

ControlMaster is a technologically-agnostic solution with a history of managing heavy mobile mining plant on active mine sites throughout the USA, Canada and many other mines across the globe.

By utilising ControlMaster equipment, operators can manage mining plant developed by multiple manufacturers from the same operating platform, the Automation Center, RCT says. The Automation Center enables operators to manage multiple machines at once and in real time while located either on the surface of an underground mine, or in designated areas within the mine.

Once in the Automation Center, operators can access the full range of machine functions as if they were sitting in the machine’s cab, according to RCT.

“RCT is also the only supplier that has successfully implemented Multi-Fleet Select on active mine sites meaning operators can manage various machine types such as underground LHD loaders, water trucks and rockbreakers from the same secure station,” the company said.

RCT North America Operations Vice President, Clint Chapman, said the company has a strong history of developing innovative solutions that other companies have been unable to match.

“RCT is the only company with a proven history of delivering mixed, multi-fleet autonomous solutions into active mine sites in North America,” he said. “Our technology is designed to integrate seamlessly with all forms of heavy mining equipment and provide the same functionality promised by original equipment manufacturers.”

Chapman said the company can provide technical assistance on any mine site at short notice.

“We can deliver on-ground support through our experienced Field Service Technicians backed by professional support staff in our branches in Salt Lake City, in Utah, and Sudbury, in Ontario. We also have significant experience developing customised technological solutions to meet site-specific requirements and tailoring our products to operate in a range of rugged conditions often in very remote locations.”

RCT’s USA team has previously customised and commissioned its autonomous technology as part of a complex project for Alliance Resource Partners’ River View coal mine in Uniontown, Kentucky (pictured). This project involved the company retrofitting its ControlMaster Remote Dozer system (ATX2200) to Caterpillar D6T and D8R dozers that were pushing coarse coal refuse into a tailings pond at the site.

The River View underground mine uses continuous mining units employing room-and-pillar mining to extract high-sulphur coal. It is the largest mine of its type in the nation, according to Alliance Resources, with a preparation plant that has a throughput capacity of 2,449 t/h of raw coal.

RCT says it has also delivered a customised multi-fleet project for Western Contracting Corp to clear unexploded ordinance at the former army munitions facility Fort Wingate in New Mexico.

MTU and ASI Mining to offer ‘integrated future-oriented autonomous solutions’

Rolls-Royce and Autonomous Solutions Incorporated (ASI) have signed a memorandum of understanding enabling Rolls-Royce to offer autonomous-compatible, Mobius-ready MTU engine solutions for equipment in a wide range of mining applications.

As part of the agreement, ASI Mining, a subsidiary of ASI, has agreed to ensure compatibility of MTU engines and ASI’s Mobius command and control software for autonomous vehicles.

With its brand MTU, Rolls-Royce business unit Power Systems is a leading provider of advanced power solutions for a wide variety of applications, including mining equipment. ASI Mining, meanwhile, is an industry leader in the development and sales of high-tech autonomous solutions for mining equipment and other machinery in a wide range of applications. The companies plan to leverage their experience to offer customers engine solutions that are compatible with ASI’s vehicle automation software to help optimise vehicle power performance and efficiency, thus enabling more environmentally friendly and safer mining operations, the two said.

Scott Woodruff, Global Director for Mining and Oil & Gas at Rolls-Royce Power Systems, said: “We are excited to shape the mining industry’s future together with ASI and further leverage our advanced MTU technologies. Together we will offer our customers integrated future-oriented autonomous solutions. This agreement may help mining operators save big on operational costs and at the same time, reduce their environmental footprint by cutting emissions.”

Drew Larsen, Director of Business Development for ASI Mining, said: “We are excited to start these discussions with Rolls-Royce Power Systems. This is another testament to the interoperability of Mobius and real value it adds to our mining customers.”

One potential benefit to customers of Rolls-Royce and ASI Mining may be the ability to retrofit the power system on existing haul trucks and convert them to autonomous operation, the companies said. The companies are interested in exploring the value customers would receive by modernising their trucks with more efficient MTU engines along with implementation of ASI’s industry-leading autonomous mining solutions. Customers would thus save on operating costs and further benefit from the increased performance of the autonomously optimised MTU engines, they said.

MTU says its diesel engines have been setting the standards for performance and fuel efficiency in mining applications around the globe for decades. “They reliably power vehicles for underground and surface mining, including loading vehicles such as excavators and wheel loaders, transport vehicles such as haul trucks or blasthole drilling rigs, and other mining machines – diesel-mechanic, diesel-electric or diesel-hydraulic,” it said. “For these applications, MTU engines provide high performance, reliability and availability as well as a maintenance-friendly construction. Long service intervals and an efficient use of fuel provide for exceptionally low operating costs of machines powered with MTU engines.”

ASI Mining’s Mobius, meanwhile, leverages advanced multi-vehicle command and control software to set up and manage a coordinated system of haul trucks. The Mobius Haulage Platform manages autonomous traffic, coordinates manned or unmanned vehicles and regulates the haul cycle in the most efficient way possible. By employing Mobius software, mines can improve utilisation, along with increase safety and productivity.

Sandvik slots new DU412i automated drill into ITH longhole range

Sandvik says it has launched its first automation-ready underground ITH longhole drill for production drilling, service support and mechanised slot raising.

The DU412i is a “truly versatile automated ITH longhole drill for a wide range of ITH applications”, it said.

For the first time in the global market, the DU412i introduces mechanised pipe handling in V–30 slot raising applications, according to Sandvik.

Its first fully automated ITH longhole drill, the DU412i has a drilling module for fan or parallel Ø90-216 mm longhole drilling, using 3-8 in ITH hammers. Equipped with the V-30 head, the drill provides mechanised reaming of Ø30 in slot raises, it says.

The DU412i is available with high capacity on-board boosters and hammer pressure up to 28 bar. “This ensures higher penetration rates, drilling capacity and supports hammers up to 8 in at 24 bar pressure,” it said. “The increased boom offset of parallel holes to 3,000 mm allows more holes to be drilled each set-up.”

The DU412i has automation packages for repeating drilling cycles with speed and precision, Sandvik says. Unmanned drilling through breaks and shift changes increases fleet utilisation; one operator can supervise multiple units, improving product safety and productivity.

The drill is also equipped with a new, improved user interface on the drill or in the remote-controlled location.

The standard Silver drilling automation package features single-hole automation (including uncoupling of pipes), while the optional Platinum package delivers fan automation, drill plan management and as-drilled data download.

Teleremote drilling operation on the DU412i improves productivity and product safety, according to the company. “Radio-remote tramming gives the operator excellent visibility of the work area to safely tram the unit between fans and set it up very precisely without being in the operation area.” The tramming is possible on either diesel power or using the electric power pack, it said.

The FOPS/ROPS cabin on the DU412i is the safest and the most comfortable working environment in underground drilling, Sandvik claims. It offers a more open and spacious environment for the operator with increased visibility and low sound pressure level during drilling of <75 dBA.

An adjustable drilling control panel and seat improve operating comfort during operation, while tramming teleremote cameras are available, it said.

In the V-30 slot raising configuration, the unit is delivered with blind bore feed and split centraliser, spaced out RH6250 rotation head and PC225 carousel. The storing capacity of the carousel allows up to 40 m of continuous drilling and slot raising.

The unit is fitted with KSU34 on-board booster (34 m³/min at 28 bar) and single-hole automation for Ø6.5 in pilot hole drilling, while, for reaming, the pilot to Ø10 in can be used. Pipe handling during reaming the raise to Ø30 in with the V–30 head is mechanised, meanwhile.

The layout of the carrier allows ground access to all service points, while swing-out frames offer ease of access to other components and safety in service, Sandvik concludes.

Caterpillar to help Newmont’s Boddington gold mine go autonomous

Newmont’s Boddington operation, in Australia, is to become the world’s first open-pit gold mine with an autonomous haul truck fleet after the miner’s Board of Directors unanimously approved investment in an Autonomous Haulage System (AHS) from Caterpillar.

The move, which will enhance safety and productivity and is expected to be fully operational in 2021, will also see the Boddington mine life extended, according to Newmont.

Tom Palmer, President and Chief Executive Officer, said: “Not only does Boddington continue to deliver strong performance, our investment in autonomous haul trucks will generate an internal rate of return greater than 35% with a more controlled and efficient haulage operation.

“We are also uniquely positioned in the gold sector to support effective implementation and operation of the fleet thanks to the technical capabilities and previous experience of leaders in our business. Simply put, Boddington will be a safer, more productive world-class gold mine in a top-tier jurisdiction.”

Total net investment in Boddington’s AHS will be $150 million, with efficiencies expected to extend the mine’s life by at least two years, Newmont said. The project will involve adding some new AHS-enabled Caterpillar 793Fs to the haulage fleet and retrofitting some existing 793Fs with AHS capabilities, a Newmont spokesperson confirmed. The company said it also saw additional upside potential from the replication of the AHS at other Newmont operations.

The company said: “Boddington’s autonomous Caterpillar haul trucks will feature rigorous safety controls that reduce employee exposure to potential vehicle interactions. No injuries have been recorded from AHS operations since their introduction into the mining industry.”

Newmont said it is also executing a “robust people strategy” at Boddington, providing opportunities for reskilling and redeployment of haul truck drivers to other roles supporting the AHS.

Boddington is Western Australia’s largest gold producer, delivering 709,000 oz of gold and 77 MIb (34,927 t) of copper in 2018. The mine directly employs around 2,000 people and is located 135 km southeast of Perth in Western Australia.

BHP studying autonomous haulage at Eastern Ridge, Daunia

Having previously said it was weighing up a project to automate around 500 haul trucks across its Western Australia Iron Ore and Queensland Coal sites, BHP has shed more light on its autonomous haulage plans.

The company made the ambitious admission in May 2019. It has since said it will introduce autonomous haulage at the BHP Mitsuibishi Alliance Goonyella Riverside mine, in Queensland, in a staged project that will see up to 86 Komatsu trucks converted to autonomous mode.

In its half-year results released today, BHP said of the 500 haul trucks it previously spoke of 150 are currently “under feasibility or execution” and 350 are included in its “medium-term plans”. Two projects in the former category include the Eastern Ridge mine site, in the Pilbara, which the company is currently using as its proving ground for innovation, and the 4.5 Mt/y Daunia coal mine, in Queensland, which BHP opened in 2013 and has a fleet of 16 226-t payload trucks (including Cat 793Fs).

In terms of capital expenditure, these projects were expected to cost less than $800 million, including $250 million for sites in feasibility and execution and up to $550 million included in the medium-term plans, it said.

Emeco to go underground with Pit N Portal acquisition

Emeco Holdings looks to have found an entry into the underground contract mining and equipment rental space after having signed an agreement to acquire Pit N Portal in a deal that comes with an enterprise value of A$72 million ($49 million).

The binding agreement would see Emeco acquire Pit N Portal Mining Services and Pit N Portal Equipment Hire, two entities that come with over 100 pieces of specialised underground mining equipment, over 500 pieces of infrastructure equipment and employs more than 300 people across strategic locations in Perth and Kalgoorlie and customer sites across Australia.

Emeco made this announcement on the same day it issued its 2020 financial half year results, which saw the company post revenue of A$246 million (up 10% year-on-year), operating EBITDA of A$119 million (up 16%) and operating EBIT of A$67 million (up 12%). The company has, in the last few years, acquired Force Equipment and Matilda Equipment as it looked to strengthen its equipment rental business in surface mining.

The consideration for the acquisition consists of A$62 million in cash and A$10 million in Emeco shares to the vendors, with the buy expected to be earnings per share accretive on a financial year 2019 pro-forma basis, post transaction.

Emeco Managing Director and CEO, Ian Testrow, said: “Pit N Portal allows Emeco to leverage its current core capabilities and expand into a new market. The underground mining sector is undoubtedly growing, and this represents an attractive adjacency for Emeco, providing Emeco with a solid platform for growth. Pit N Portal also provides us with significant commodity diversification by immediately more than doubling our gold exposure with strong opportunities for further growth in hard-rock projects.”

Established in 2002, Pit N Portal specialises in the provision of hard-rock underground mining equipment and services to the Australia underground mining sector. Core operations include equipment rental as well as mining services and maintenance solutions for underground mines. It operates the largest underground equipment rental fleet in Australia, according to Emeco.

Continued growth in Pit N Portal is expected post-completion driven by new project and scope expansion opportunities, with major projects’ earnings realised in the 2021 financial year.

“Pit N Portal’s key services add to the core of Emeco’s existing business, including equipment hire and maintenance solutions,” the company said. “Pit N Portal also adds a vast array of additional value-added services to its customers, providing a complete mining services offering.”

Steve Versteegen, Co-Founder and CEO of Pit N Portal, said: “I truly believe the combination of the two companies will help accelerate the growth of Pit N Portal and am excited by the opportunity to extend the application of what we do to the broader Emeco business.”

Emeco said the transaction provides a strong platform for Emeco to grow as a provider of underground mining services with a solid tender pipeline, particularly in Western Australia-based gold, nickel and base metals projects. There are also potential operational advantages through Pit N Portal’s strategically located workshops in Perth and Kalgoorlie, it added.

It would also significantly diversify Emeco’s commodity exposure, with gold more than doubling immediately to from 12% to 27% of Emeco’s revenue and becoming the number two exposure.

Pit N Portal is also focused on innovation and technology, with tele-remote and autonomous equipment and delivers a wide range of specialised services, the company said.

Barrick continues to adopt new technologies at Kibali gold mine

Barrick Gold says its 45%-owned Kibali gold mine in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is continuing its technological advances with the introduction of truck and drill training simulators and the integration of systems for personnel safety tracking and ventilation on demand.

The mine, which is owned 45% by AngloGold Ashanti and 10% by SOKIMO, surpassed its 2019 guidance of 750,000 oz in 2019, delivering 814,027 oz in another record year, Barrick said this week.

Barrick President and Chief Executive, Mark Bristow, told a media briefing that Kibali’s continuing stellar performance was a demonstration of how a modern, Tier One gold mine could be developed and operated successfully in what is one of the world’s most remote and infrastructurally under-endowed regions.

He also noted that, in line with Barrick’s policy of employing, training and advancing locals, the mine was managed by a majority Congolese team, supported by a corps of majority Congolese supervisors and personnel.

Kibali is already one of the world’s most highly automated underground gold mines, with the operation’s backbone being Sandvik’s Automine Multi Fleet system, supervised on surface by a single operator. In a world first, it allows a fleet of up to five LHDs to be operated autonomously, 750 m below the surface, within the same 6 m x 6 m production drive while using designated passing bays to maintain traffic flow, the company says. A similar system is used in the production levels to feed the ore passes, according to Barrick.

The company said it had now introduced truck and drill training simulators and integrated systems for personnel safety tracking and ventilation demand control, adding that the simulators will also be used to train operators from Barrick’s Tanzanian mines.

Bristow also said that the company was maintaining a strong focus on energy efficiency at the mine through the development of its grid stabiliser project, scheduled for commissioning in the June quarter of 2020.

He said: “This uses new battery technology to offset the need for running diesel generators as a spinning reserve and ensures we maximise the use of renewable hydro power. The installation of three new elution diesel heaters will also help improve efficiencies and control power costs. It’s worth noting that our clean energy strategy not only achieves cost and efficiency benefits but also once again reduces Kibali’s environmental footprint.”

Bristow said despite the pace of production and the size and complexity of the mine, Kibali was maintaining its solid safety and environmental records, certified by ISO 45001 and ISO 14001 accreditations.