Tag Archives: electric loaders

LKAB bolsters automated, electric Sandvik loading fleet at Kiruna iron ore mine

LKAB has ordered 12 Toro™ LH625iE cable-electric loaders and five Toro™ LH621i loaders, all equipped with Sandvik’s AutoMine® solution, for its Kiruna iron ore mine in northern Sweden.

The order will more than double Kiruna’s electric Toro LH625iE fleet to 20, all of which will now be automated, and its total Sandvik loader fleet to 28 by the end of 2025, the OEM said.

The orders were booked in the June and December quarters of 2023, with deliveries scheduled from January 2024 through the end of 2025. The investment follows a study by Sandvik’s Trans4Mine team and calculations by Polymathian that identified opportunities for Kiruna to increase production by as much as 15% through automation of its large electric loader fleet.

“Sandvik and LKAB have a shared goal to boost production at the Kiruna mine,” Magnus Backe, General Manager LKAB Kiruna, said. “This is a true partnership to increase tonnage and improve safety through automation.”

Developed in 2020 as a collaboration between LKAB and Sandvik to replace Kiruna’s ageing fleet of 17 Sandvik LH625E loaders, the 25-t-payload Toro LH625iE is a revamped version of the industry’s largest-capacity underground loader.

“This investment supports our strategy towards a more electrified, autonomous and safer mine,” Joel Kangas, Mine Manager at LKAB, said. “We need to excavate an enormous volume of rock from depths of up to 1,300 m, and we will mine even deeper in the future. These depths present a prohibitive ventilation challenge for conventional equipment of the size we need to meet production demands. We worked closely on a daily basis with the Sandvik experts on site to ensure a seamless implementation.

“Ever since we put the first Toro LH625iE straight into a production environment more than three years ago, these loaders have been the backbone in our production system, exceeding our expectations, and we look forward to incorporating these new automated units into our operation.”

Kiruna was among the industry’s earliest adopters of cable-electric loading, trialling its first Sandvik unit in 1985. The oldest of Kiruna’s Sandvik LH625E loaders was 13 years old and had more than 40,000 production hours when what began as a project to modernise the loader and a side project to enhance its cable reeling system ultimately evolved into a completely upgraded loader model with the latest technology and new components.

Sandvik collaborated closely with LKAB to customise the design of Toro LH625iE to meet Kiruna’s needs. These included better energy efficiency than the original model with the same payload capacity and a larger, more ergonomic operator’s cabin with a turning seat that swivels 180°.

Mats Eriksson, President of Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions, said: “[The] Toro LH625iE has proven itself at the Kiruna mine, delivering an unrivalled production capacity of up to 500 metric tons per hour. Not only are these automated loaders extremely productive, they improve underground conditions and operator comfort with less heat, fewer vibrations and lower noise levels. Our partnership will create value for LKAB for years to come, and we look forward to continuing to support LKAB’s goals to mine more sustainably and productively.”

The Toro LH625iE is 14 m long and features a 4-m-wide, 9 cu.m bucket and an energy-efficient, IE4 classified electric motor to deliver a low cost per tonne. It connects to Kiruna’s mine network via a 350-m trailing cable that enables an operating range of up to 700 m.

LKAB warms to Sandvik’s ‘renewed’ LH625iE as second electric LHD heads to Kiruna

Having been on a journey to electrify its operations with Sandvik since the mid-1980s, LKAB says the latest addition to its electric fleet, a Sandvik LH625iE, is performing well at its flagship Kiruna iron ore mine in northern Sweden.

The company took delivery of the “renewed” Sandvik LH625iE electric loader for field testing earlier this year and, according to Per Brännman, Section Manager for sublevel caving at LKAB in Kiruna, the machine’s performance has picked up recently after some adjustments, mainly to the cable reeling system.

“It has completed 350 hours without any error codes or stops, and loaded over 140,000 t of crude iron ore,” he said.

The machine in question is operating down on block 15, level 1022, at the iron ore mine, and the company is expecting to put another LH625iE into action on this level in early November.

“The future looks bright and carbon dioxide free,” Brännman said.

The underground loader, which features a 9.5 cu.m bucket and 25,000 kg payload capacity, is designed specifically to operate in the world’s largest underground iron ore mine. It comes with a total length of 14 m, bucket width of 4 m and cabin height of 3 m.

The basic LH625iE design is well-proven (and based on the LH625E), according to Sandvik, with the equipment manufacturer delivering electric loaders powered by a trailing cable for more than 35 years.

In addition to using the proven design and robust structures, Sandvik says its LH625iE belongs to its i-series, featuring advanced technology, the latest digital solutions and smart connectivity. This sees the new Sandvik LH625iE equipped with Sandvik Intelligent Control System and My Sandvik Digital Services Knowledge Box™ as standard. To use the payload capacity it offers, the loader can also be fitted with Sandvik’s Integrated Weighing System, as well as AutoMine® and OptiMine® solutions, Sandvik said.

Steering the electric mine revolution

Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology, last year, made a clear statement to the underground mining equipment sector with the acquisition of Artisan Vehicle Systems: the future is electric.

With this acquisition having bedded in and International Mining EventsThe Electric Mine 2020 conference, in Stockholm, Sweden, just around the corner, IM caught up with Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology President, Henrik Ager, to get his views on current industry demand for electric solutions and what other elements could come into the OEM’s electrification offering in the future.

IM: In your keynote presentation title for the upcoming conference you have highlighted two benefits to electrification, namely ‘productivity’ and ‘sustainability’. Would you say these are the two most important criteria for companies adopting, or thinking about adopting, electrification solutions?

HA: Productivity, or rather mining economics, is still the primary driver for any technology change. If applying new technology allows you to lower your cost or get more tonnes out of the operation, it tends to make sense. If it doesn’t, it rarely makes sense.

For electrification, we are getting to the point where, when you compare a diesel machine with an electric machine, the economics are starting to be on a par. The electric machines tend to be more expensive from a capital expenditure (capex) point of view, but this upfront capital is coming down; we haven’t yet made that many machines but when we scale up production the price will likely fall further.

Within this, the batteries are, of course, a big capex item. To get around this, we will most likely end up selling the battery as a service to customers, so they pay per kilowatt hour as opposed to investing outright in batteries.

Some of the benefits of using electric machines include the maintenance costs being significantly lower than with diesel-powered equipment. You are also seeing you can get more productivity out of the machines – with any electric motor, you get a lot of torque. This latter point is of use in many applications. For example, when you are running an underground loader and loading your bucket, torque control is very important. Being able to precisely control this and get as much traction from the tyres as possible allows you to more accurately load the bucket. We should, therefore, see better fill factors on the bucket with these electric drivetrains; if you end up getting 10% more in your bucket every time, it makes a difference.

From an economic point of view, you also have the potential ventilation benefits of having an electric drivetrain. The electric drivetrain will put out some heat, but it is about one eighth of what a diesel drivetrain puts out. Obviously, there are no diesel particulates either, so you need to ventilate a lot less. If you start inputting that into your mine plan, then you end up saving a lot of capex on ventilation shafts. That can bring an orebody into being economically viable where it wasn’t before. While that is not the case for all mines and orebodies, it is relevant for many of them.

IM: Does that total cost of operations argument overcome upfront capex concerns in countries that are known to be more price sensitive?

HA: There are some geographies where price is more prominent and others where it is less prominent. But, to put this into perspective, we predominantly make expensive and productive machines. We don’t make low cost or low productivity machines. So, we have been fighting with this same issue for a long time. Yes, it is more difficult to overcome capex issues in some places, but there are still customers in these areas that look at the full productivity dynamic and realise the cost of the machine is only one piece of the puzzle.

In general, the more you separate operations from procurement, the more the discussion shifts to price per machine. The closer the relationship is between operations and procurement, the more chance you have of entering a full productivity discussion.

IM: How widespread would you say interest is for mine electrification? You’re currently speaking to me from Cape Town, South Africa (at Mining Indaba), would you say it is penetrating that continent, as well as North America, Australia and Europe?

HA: Yes, is the short answer. This topic has pretty much been on the agenda in every discussion we have had this week.

One important thing often left out of this conversation is that, in southern Africa, electric loaders have been operating in mines for a long time, but they are cable electric. This is the case across the globe too. We delivered our first cable-electric machine in 1981 and have put out more of these loaders than anyone else. We have delivered 600 electric machines – most of which are tethered or cable loaders.

We have now developed a battery and cable combination machine so when you are underground in the section doing repetitive work – loading and dumping the bucket – you are on a cable, but then when you need to go to the workshop or need to move the machine to another section of the mine, you can unhook and operate on battery. The machine can also carry out a few cycles on battery-only, but this might not be as productive in certain operations.

IM: Out of those three – North America (Canada, more specifically), Australia and Europe – which region would you say is leading when it comes to adopting electrification solutions in mining? What do you put this down to?

HA: It’s Canada for two reasons.

One is the data around diesel particulates is that much more advanced in Canada. There are strict regulations for how much ventilation you need in underground mines to dilute diesel particulates and exhaust gases.

The second – which is also linked to the first one – is that many mines in Canada are going deeper or further away from existing ventilation and cooling infrastructure. As well as the obvious health benefits, the cost of new ventilation shafts and refrigeration can be offset by using electric machines, since they produce zero exhaust emissions and much lower heat.

IM: In terms of your mine electrification offering, Sandvik recently completed the acquisition of battery-electric vehicle leader Artisan, adding to the company’s long history of delivering cabled machines powered by electricity. Do you currently see any other technologies on the market that you might acquire/build to further your status as a leader in mine electrification solutions?

HA: We are looking at a diesel-battery hybrid as an option. We need to, again, see that the economics stack up as these will be more expensive machines to manufacture. We need to answer the questions: Will that machine be more productive? Will it be faster up the ramp? And will it be more practical than using battery-electric only?

We need to see what the case is here and work with our customers.

A couple of the mining contractors are really pushing for the development of these machines. It’s good to work with the contractors on such projects as they are so heavily focused on economics and productivity. They may bid on, for example, developing a 2 km decline into the mine. The cheaper they can do that from a complete project cost point of view, the more competitive they will be and the more projects they will win. So, they really know their numbers and can clearly factor in new technology to these calculations.

As previously mentioned though, if the economics on that machine don’t make sense, it is hard to make things work.

IM: Do you think this speaks to the fact there will be a variety of solutions that help miners ‘go electric’ in the future?

HA: Absolutely. It is not going to be one-size fits all. Some mines are going to go with battery-electric haulage and loading, some will go for hybrid solutions, others cable and some are just going to go with the cleanest diesel machine they can find and, in turn, ventilate as that is the only thing that practically works with them.

IM: Anything else to add on this subject?

HA: For me, it is important to balance the view of how fast the pickup of this technology will be.

It will take some time like it has with every other new technology in mining – it will be different solutions in different places – but I think there is a very bright future for electrification in mining. We simply have to move in that direction.

Henrik Ager will present ‘Productivity and sustainability through electrification’ in the keynote slot at The Electric Mine 2020 conference, in Stockholm, Sweden, on March 19. His presentation will also be streamed on Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology’s LinkedIn page. For more information on the event, click here.