Tag Archives: Boliden

Boliden joins the ICMM as it looks to bolster sustainable metal production

The International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) says Boliden, the Sweden-based producer of zinc, copper, nickel and more, has become its 28th company member.

In line with ICMM’s member admission process, Boliden underwent a rigorous independent assessment to ensure it adheres to ICMM’s Mining Principles. Based on the recommendation of the independent review panel, ICMM’s Council, represented by the CEOs of each company member, approved Boliden’s admission.

The Boliden Group is a leader in sustainable metal production. The company’s core competence is within the fields of exploration, mining, smelting and metals recycling with five mining units and five smelters across Sweden, Finland, Norway and Ireland. Boliden’s operations are dedicated to producing metals with a low carbon footprint, with a target of reducing its CO2 intensity by 40% by 2030 through decreasing its usage of fossil fuels and improving energy efficiencies.

Tom Butler, CEO of ICMM, said: “We are delighted to welcome Boliden to ICMM. We look forward to learning from their innovative and modern approach to sustainable metal production and their circular approach to resource management. They will bring new perspectives to ICMM, where partnership, innovation, knowledge sharing, and learning are integral to everything we do.”

Mikael Staffas, President and CEO of Boliden, said: “Our vision is to become the most climate friendly and respected metal provider in the world and the membership in ICMM is an important step in that direction. Our performance within sustainable metal production is strong already today, but we will continue to seek improvements and contribute to the aim of ICMM.”

By becoming a member, Boliden, the ICMM says, commits to ICMM’s Mining Principles which define good practice Environmental, Social and Governance requirements for the mining industry through a set of 38 performance expectations. They apply at asset level and include third-party assurance and validation. Applicable to all ICMM company members, they therefore apply to around 650 sites in 50 countries.

Tackling the big mine electrification questions

“There is consensus in the industry that once we start doing electrification, we will innovate much more in other areas of the mining space.”

If anyone in the mining sector thought electrification was not in their wheelhouse, Theo Yameogo’s words might make them think again.

Yameogo, Partner and National Mining & Metals Co-Leader at EY Canada, made such a statement during The Electric Mine Virtual Conference earlier this week. The event, organised by International Mining Events, brought leaders in the electrification space together to discuss the latest developments in the industry, of which there were many.

The stage was set for mine electrification reveals, and Henrik Ager, President of Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology (soon to be Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions), did not disappoint, acknowledging that the company is currently working on development of what would be its largest underground truck: a battery-powered 65 t vehicle.

This was all part of the company’s aim to have a “full range electrified offering by 2022”, he said.

Azizi Tucker, Co-Founder and CTO of XING Mobility, was next up, providing an overview of the Taiwan-based company’s offering in his presentation: ‘Electrification from prototype to mass production’.

With a remit to provide commercial, industrial and specialty vehicle makers with modular, high power and safe battery and powertrain technologies, XING is making an entrance into the mining space at just the right time.

Tucker talked attendees through the elements that make the company’s IMMERSIO™ battery solutions ideal for the mining sector: “With the modular size and shape of our batteries, we can really suit any vehicles. We find this very popular with the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) as they can utilise their existing chassis.”

The elimination of corrosion, ability to operate consistently in high-temperature environments, a variety of sealing techniques and the use of nickel-manganese-cobalt lithium-ion chemistry has allowed the company to provide the safe and enclosed battery solution miners are looking for.

He concluded by saying XING was in conversation with a variety of mining companies, mining OEMs and mine site operators about deploying solutions in the space.

Attendees were then treated to a demonstration of Tembo 4×4 e-LV’s Electric Cruiser via video during the session: ‘Green conversions: the Tembo 4×4 e-LV electric light utility vehicle platform’ (pictured below). They got up close and personal with the battery-electric utility vehicle as it travelled on- and off-road close to the company’s Netherlands HQ.

After a 15-minute demo showing off the Electric Cruiser’s attributes, Paul Smeters, Tembo 4×4 e-LV’s Marketing Manager, and Alexander Haccou, Tembo 4×4 e-LV’s Technical Director, joined the event to answer audience questions.

The inevitable query came up early during the live Q&A: have you tested this vehicle in an underground mine?

Haccou was prepared for this, explaining that Boliden’s Tara underground zinc-lead mine in Ireland was the first recipient of the company’s Electric Cruiser, and a unit had been operating there for a few years now observing many of the maintenance benefits battery-electric machines are becoming renowned for.

The Electric Cruiser has also been tested in Australia and Canada with the help of Tembo 4×4 e-LV partners in those regions, he added.

“We don’t use fast charging or battery swapping,” Haccou said in response to another question. “What we have seen in several mines is the daily amount of usage is less than the battery’s full capacity.”

After several questions related to an active thermal management system for batteries had come up in previous sessions, Nicolas Champagne’s entrance to the virtual event proved timely.

His presentation, ‘Battery thermal management system using a highly advanced dielectric fluid’, homed in on the use of a dielectric fluid with specific features to allow direct cooling of the battery electrochemical cells.

Champagne, Formulation Team Manager of the R&D department for TOTAL Lubricants, revealed results from use of the fluid in bench tests and simulations at the battery pack level, extrapolating what these results could mean for battery-powered vehicles in the mining sector.

He said the company is in discussions with at least one mining customer about deploying its fluid on a battery-powered vehicle.

After previous sessions had discussed the potential for fast charging and battery swapping, Champagne made clear that TOTAL Lubricants’ solution would prove beneficial in all battery-powered applications throughout the mining sector.

 

Following a lunch break, it was the turn of Epiroc’s Anders Hedqvist (Vice President of R&D, underground) and Franck Boudreault (Electrification Transformation Lead, underground) to deliver a scoop (pun intended).

The pair, during their presentation, ‘From one generation to the next – learnings from zero emission mining’, took it in turns to provide updates.

Boudreault revealed the company’s plan to create battery-electric conversion kits for not only Epiroc diesel-powered equipment out in the field but other OEMs’ machines, before Hedqvist disclosed the company’s in-development battery-electric 18 t LHD would be trialled at LKAB’s Sustainable Underground Mining (SUM) project in Sweden. Epiroc has already delivered a diesel-powered Scooptram ST18 to be trialled in autonomous mode at the SUM project.

It was Yameogo, a mining engineer with much experience operating in underground mines in Canada, that provided the event’s big picture talk in his presentation, ‘Will electrification spark the next wave of mining innovation?’

He talked up the need for industry collaboration between miners, OEMs and service providers in not only electrifying equipment and operations, but also other types of technology.

“That type of collaboration and co-creation framework will actually help mining companies also think about innovation and other items part of electrification and equipment, in general,” he said.

The focus narrowed slightly to open-pit electrification during Dr Bappa Banerjee’s talk, ‘An electric future for mine haulage’. Dr Banerjee, General Manager of Mining Equipment for Wabtec, emphasised from the off that there was no one-size fits all solution to going electric in this sector.

“It’s becoming clear to us…that perhaps it will be a combination of technologies that really help us get to a solution that is feasible,” he said.

This solution, he said, depended on the mine application and haulage scenario, underlining the need for technology flexibility.

In his presentation, Dr Banerjee pitted a diesel-powered haul truck with 2,500 horsepower (1,864 kW) as his baseline solution against a hybrid solution with a 2,500 hp diesel engine and 200 kWh battery as one alternative, and all-electric truck platforms equipped with trolley assist (with 800 kWh battery) and stationary charging (1,200 kWh battery).

The energy cost versus productivity outcome he showed proved his earlier point about different applications suiting different solutions, with varied results depending on if these trucks were deployed on downhill, uphill or flat hauls.

GE Transportation, since merged with Wabtec, has previously demonstrated a battery-diesel hybrid solution on a Komatsu 830E-1AC and Wabtec has plans to release trolley solutions for Komatsu 830E-5 and 930E-5 haul trucks in 2021, so this analysis includes hard industry data.

Dr Banerjee concluded on the decision-making aspect of going electric: “These are not just point in time decisions we have to make regarding the CAPEX and where we are in the lifecycle of the mine, but decisions across decades sometimes.

“Perhaps the best way to approach this would be to start with a technology that is more flexible up front or has more options.”

Brian Huff, Vice President of Technology for Artisan Vehicle Systems, a Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology business unit, used his presentation to reinforce that battery-powered solutions were the way forward in the underground environment.

‘Rethink the machine, not the mine’ was the title of his presentation and Huff stayed true to it from the off: “The basic message is that this is not as hard as you think it is. There is a real big change coming to the mining industry, but it may not be as difficult as you think to accomplish a conversion to battery-electric equipment.”

Similar to Hedqvist’s mention of the newfound freedom available to engineers when designing these next generation battery-electric machines, Huff explained that Artisan’s generation three BEV blueprint started with a battery-electric driveline and built from there.

“Major parts of the frame can be removed to facilitate swapping…[and you can have] double to triple the power density of the machine (compared with the diesel-powered equivalent) to improve performance,” he said.

He moved on to tackle the usual range anxiety question head on, displaying a video of a 13 km haul on a one-in-seven grade. Within this, he showed that the ability to swap batteries during the uphill haul meant there was no loss in haulage productivity when compared with the a similar payload diesel-powered machine.

The time losses related to battery swapping – around six minutes per swap with the Z50 – were more than offset by the increased haulage speed, according to Huff. “It is about 10% faster on the climb,” he said when comparing the BEV unit with a conventional diesel truck.

Productivity could be further boosted with the introduction of Artisan’s patented AutoConnect system. Fitted on the company and Sandvik’s newest 18 t payload LH518B LHD, this system allows the battery swap to be completed in well under five minutes, according to Huff. IM understands an AutoConnect retrofit option could allow the Z50 haul truck to match that swap time.

Add to this productivity benefit, decreases in operating cost and total cost of ownership, and it is hardly surprising Barrick recently signed off on a trial of four of these Z50s at its Turquoise Ridge joint venture gold mine in Nevada.

Safety, cost, maintenance, productivity and even battery life; you name it, The Electric Mine Virtual Conference discussed it.

The good news is a second dose of electrification talk is only four months away, with The Electric Mine 2021 conference taking place on March 15-16, 2021, in Stockholm, Sweden.

Boliden and Luleå University of Technology enter into a collaboration agreement

Boliden and Luleå University of Technology have entered into a long-term strategic collaboration agreement that could help deepen the work the two have been pursuing in the fields of mine automation and optimal resource utilisation within the smelting process.

The new agreement means collaboration will be enhanced “in terms of competence provision and competence development, as well as research and innovation towards leading positions within automation and resource utilisation”, Boliden said.

The miner has long collaborated with Luleå University of Technology, with a focus on developing technology and strengthening competence in both mining and smelting operations. The university has also been an important recruitment base for Boliden.

Mikael Staffas, President and CEO of Boliden (left, pictured with Birgitta Bergvall-Kåreborn, Luleå University of Technology’s Vice Chancellor), said: “Attracting and further developing skills and technologies is an important part of Boliden’s strategy and requires long-term work. We are already a leader in areas such as climate performance and I look forward to future efforts to further develop the business.”

Some examples of projects the two are working on include process automation and digital twins, human-machine interaction in automation, and sustainability management and social acceptance.

Pär Weihed, Professor and Pro Vice-Chancellor, Luleå University of Technology, said: “In connection with the climate transition, we are seeing there is substantial demand for metals and minerals. At the same time, Luleå University of Technology and Boliden have a long and successful history, and together we can create better conditions for a more sustainable supply of raw materials.”

Metso Outotec and Boliden renew service contract for Aitik copper mine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Swick Mining working on drilling and technology business demerger

Swick Mining Services says it is working towards a demerger of its drilling and mineral technology businesses following a strategic review.

The announcement came at the same time as the ASX-listed METS firm revealed Drilling Business revenue and EBITDA results of A$149.6 million ($111 million) and A$24.6 million, respectively, for its 2020 financial year. A 9% increase in underground metres drilled saw the company beat its 2019 financial revenue total of A$142.9 million, while the impacts of COVID-19 and ramp-up costs at the Pogo mine contract (Northern Star Resources) saw EBITDA drop from A$28.2 million in the previous financial year.

During this period, the company’s deep exploration division launched new DeepEX rigs, which Swick says are the world’s most powerful underground mobile rigs with capacities to drill exploration holes up to 3,000 m of NQ2 core. Two DeepEX hybrid rigs are currently deployed at client sites, it said.

And the company successfully completed on-site trials of its Orexplore technology, the major technology underpinning its mineral technology business.

These site-based trials were undertaken at Sandfire Resources’ DeGrussa copper-gold mine, in Australia, for a three-month pilot project and at Sweden-based mining and smelting company Boliden for a five-month paid pilot project.

“The first trial at the DeGrussa mine resulted in approximately 9,000 m of core scanned in total, generating 20 TB of 3D data – the largest and most continuous dataset of its kind in the world for a single mine site,” Swick said. “With the trial complete, Orexplore has engaged two world-class subject matter experts to assist Sandfire and other potential clients understand the benefits of a comprehensive Orexplore data set.”

Earlier this month, Swick said Orexplore had been awarded its first in-field commercial agreement with St Barbara Ltd at the Gwalia mine in Leonora, Western Australia.

Despite these wins over the last year-and-a-bit, the company said a strategic review had recommended the company carried out a demerger of the Drilling Business and the Mineral Technology Business.

This could be tied to the fact that, at a group level, Swick reported a net loss after tax of A$6 million in the 2020 financial year, which, it said, reflected the lower Drilling Business earnings and ongoing investment in the company’s Mineral Technology Business, Orexplore.

Swick Managing Director, Kent Swick, said: “Financial year 2020 has presented a unique and challenging set of circumstances with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The business has quickly adapted during this difficult period, ensuring we maintained continuity of operations and protected our people on site both internationally and locally.

“I am pleased with the ability of our Drilling Business to deliver robust earnings in this environment and secure new work with existing clients, including our two largest contracts for Northern Star and BHP, which provide a strong platform for the business as we enter the 2021 financial year.

“Meanwhile, our efforts in the Mineral Technology Business are starting to show value, with successful site-based, paid trials in the year for our Orexplore technology and the award of our first ever in-field commercial agreement earlier this month.

“We have a clear strategy for these two businesses and are now progressing with the outcome of our strategic review to demerge the Drilling Business and the Mineral Technology Business to allow them to pursue their respective strategies and ultimately deliver the greatest value to Swick shareholders.

“Meanwhile, Swick is in a strong financial position, with gearing excluding AASB16 lease liabilities reduced to A10.6 per cent in the year. Swick has A$12.7 million cash and A$18.5 million in undrawn facilities, providing the liquidity that has enabled us to win and deliver on new work, invest in new technologies including DeepEX and Orexplore, and continue providing value for shareholders in these uncertain times through dividends and share buybacks.”

Metso Outotec SMD mills to boost output at Boliden’s Harjavalta concentrator

Boliden Harjavalta has chosen Metso Outotec’s SMD grinding mills to improve the capacity of its slag concentrator, in Finland, the mining OEM says.

Boliden Harjavalta produces high-quality metals for European industrial customers, churning out 120,000 t of copper and 26,000 t of nickel in 2019.

The purpose of the slag concentrator is to recover copper from the slag produced in the copper smelter and to return it to the copper production cycle as high-quality slag concentrate, Metso Outotec said, with grinding being an essential part of the slag concentration process.

The raw materials of the Boliden Harjavalta smelter consist of concentrates and recycled metals, according to Boliden, with the company’s two mines in Finland – Kylylahti and Kevitsa – providing the smelter with concentrates. Concentrates are also purchased from external mines, Boliden says.

The order has been booked in Metso Minerals’ June quarter 2020 orders received.

Based on tests, Metso SMD (stirred media detritor, specialised for fine grinding applications) was chosen as the grinding technology, Metso Outotec said.

“Maintenance for the SMD is safe and cost-effective thanks to the simple mechanical structure of the mill and the smaller number of moving parts compared to traditional grinding mills,” the company explained.

Timo Sarvijärvi, Metso Outotec’s Head of Mining in the Nordics market area, said the company, at testing stage, noticed slag could be processed very efficiently using SMD technology.

“Now the slag concentrator can process larger amounts of material, without compromising the targets set for copper recovery,” Sarvijärvi said.

Visualising the future of particle measurements with 3DPM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This shows 3DPM can be used for multiple purposes.

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

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

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

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

The vision system can be tailored to each application.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ABB envisages eliminating diesel from the open-pit mining mix

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reduced diesel consumption at Boliden mines

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

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

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

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

Today’s mine design

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

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

Constraint management

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

Switching OEMs on to electrification

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sandvik trialling Stage V engine technology at Boliden’s Tara mine

Sandvik is continuing its sustainability drive, announcing that it is trialling its first Stage V compliant underground truck at the Boliden-owned Tara zinc mine in Ireland.

The company, in December 2019, launched its first Stage V compliant underground LHDs for hard-rock mining applications following extensive testing. Back then, it said its newest intelligent loaders, the Sandvik LH517i and Sandvik LH621i, would receive the Stage V treatment in early 2020.

Now, Sandvik’s flagship truck, the TH663i, equipped with brand new Stage V Volvo Penta engine technology, is undergoing an extensive field trial period at Tara, allowing the company to obtain first-hand customer feedback on its technical and operational performance. Sandvik said this was “an integral part of Sandvik’s way of working and customer-focused mindset”.

The Stage V engine in the 63 t truck is expected to deliver lower emissions, contributing to reduced mine ventilation rates.

“Designed to fit seamlessly together with the truck and to perform specifically in underground use, the engine system includes built-in fire prevention solutions, increased wiring protection with shrink mesh wiring harness and electric hardware that is specifically designed for demanding conditions, with corrosion, heat and water resistance,” it said. “The new Stage V, requiring ultra-low sulphur fuel and low-ash engine oil to operate, will be an optional engine for the TH663i.”

To reduce particle emissions in the lower Stages/Tiers, standard engines on both the TH663i and TH551i trucks can be equipped with a diesel particulate filter (DPF), according to Sandvik. The company explained: “Based on studies conducted, the optional sintered metal DPF reduces particle mass by approximately 99%. From a reliability and maintenance viewpoint, the DPF is well protected but still designed for easy cleaning to reduce downtime and operating costs. The DPF is also available as retrofit kit.”

Pia Sundberg, Product Line Manager for Trucks at Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology, says thorough field tests are valuable to both the OEM and customer: “We want to allow enough time for sufficient testing of new technology, since it is of benefit to both sides.

“Possible hiccups that can often occur when developing something new are identified prior to the product being fully commercialised, which enables us to serve our customers better in the long run.

“Based on the feedback that we receive, we are still able to do some modifications if necessary and thereby make sure that the TH663i meets expectations when it is released to the market with the latest engine technology at a later stage. Of course, there is also some additional new technology on the test truck that we are testing at the same time.”

The TH663i also benefits from the recent improvements in Sandvik’s AutoMine® offering, as AutoMine for Trucks now enables autonomous truck haulage not only underground but also on the surface.

Sandvik said interesting glimpses into the company’s future truck offering have also been seen in Australia, where the Artisan Z50 battery truck from Sandvik carried out an extensive tour in early 2020 and gathered customer feedback for the new upcoming battery generation.

The company has also recently deployed a Z50 into Barrick Gold’s Turquoise Ridge underground gold mine, in Nevada.

Epiroc Pit Vipers pass automation test at Boliden Aitik

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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