Tag Archives: Electrification

Sleipner premieres fully electric, autonomous transport system for mines

Sleipner Finland has, this week at The Electric Mine 2024, unveiled a new generation of fully electric and autonomous transport system for moving mining and construction equipment.

The world premiere of the new emission-free transport system took place on Tuesday in Perth, Western Australia, at the event, organised by International Mining Events. The first deliveries are planned for 2026.

The new autonomous and emission-free electric transport system is aimed at mines that already use automated equipment, such as drills, and therefore have the infrastructure to support autonomous solutions. Several patents are pending for Sleipner’s transport solution.

Autonomous mining requires all equipment to be automated – from the giant vehicles that transport blasted rock and the drills. The entire site can be operated and monitored remotely and safely without mining personnel having to work among the automated vehicles, Sleipner says.

“There are already dozens of autonomous mines around the world, and more are coming all the time,” Jukka Koponen, CEO of Sleipner Finland, says. “Australia is one of the pioneers. Currently, the big mining companies are the driving force in autonomous mining, in part due to their emission reduction targets. By 2030, the goal among mining companies is to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by half and, at the same time, automate operations as much as possible. We want to be a pioneer in this development and a market leader in mobilisation solutions.”

He continued: “Several large equipment manufacturers have already been interested in our new transport system concept, and cooperation discussions are currently underway. We plan to deliver our first autonomous and electric transport system as early as 2026.”

The new transport system that has been unveiled by Sleipner Finland is battery-powered, which enables the use of renewable energy for the autonomous transport of mining and construction equipment.

Teijo Höylä, CTO at Sleipner Finland, explained: “Our new transport system makes it possible to eliminate carbon dioxide emissions completely when transporting equipment, whereas current solutions consume significant amounts of diesel. In the future, it will be possible to move machines with battery-powered, environmentally-friendly solutions. At the same time, the productivity of the equipment being transported will also improve by about 5%, while life cycle costs will decrease by up to 10%.”

The company says that the new autonomous and electric transport system will be scaled to different weight classes, and the autonomous control system interface will be brand independent.

Höylä says: “The autonomous and electric transport system can also be connected to the ecosystems of other OEMs since it has an open interface. Versatility and future needs have been taken into account in the design. The transport system can be used to transport, for example, drills, bulldozers and also battery packs at mines. In this way, battery power can be provided on a large scale, which helps in the electrification of mines and the efficient operation of battery-powered equipment.”

Like all other Sleipner Finland products, the new lowbed trailer is designed to operate reliable in temperatures ranging from -40 to +50°C, which is taken into account in the high-quality materials and components. Components from well-known manufacturers are also used, ensuring maintenance is as smooth as possible globally.

Sleipner Finland says it continues to grow steadily, with new products and market openings having – and will continue to have – a growing impact on employment both in production and in its globally expanding cooperation network, as well as in the future in connection with its autonomous control systems. Sleipner Finland’s most recent market openings have been in Poland and Canada. In addition to the Nordic countries, Sleipner Finland already has a strong presence in markets such as Australia and Africa.

Koponen emphasises: “The new transport system supports our growth strategy. We are investing significantly in product development and our cooperation network. Our goal is to be the strongest trendsetter within our own narrow field as a provider of transportation solutions for mining equipment. Thanks to our innovative R&D, we are able to serve the mining companies of the future in their emission reduction targets and operational efficiency.”

In addition to reducing emissions, the automation of mines is also a solution to the prevailing labour shortages in the sector. Technological advances also have an impact on occupational wellbeing.

Höylä explains: “Finding sufficient personnel for mines is a global challenge. Automated machines and equipment, such as our new transport system, enable mines to be operated by remote control. In this way, personnel do not have to be exposed to dust and vibration, which improves their wellbeing. Similarly, personnel do not have to work in the field among large machines, which increases safety. If a worker needs to enter the area, all activities must be stopped completely within a certain safety radius. Automated equipment, on the other hand, can work with each other with only certain limitations.”

Michael Wright on Thiess’ sustainable mining mission

It has been a busy few months for mining services provider, Thiess, having announced a planned acquisition of Australia-based underground metals business PYBAR Holdings Limited and its 100% subsidiary Pybar Mining Services Pty Ltd, plus released a comprehensive sustainability report detailing its progress towards its 2025 decarbonisation target.

The company also celebrated its 90th anniversary earlier this month, paying respects to its origins as a small farming and roadworks company, Thiess Bros, which began operating in rural Australia in 1934.

IM recently put some questions to Michael Wright, Thiess Group Executive Chair and CEO, on the company’s sustainability plans and what PYBAR could bring to the group.

IM: How do you see the addition of PYBAR complementing your sustainability aims/targets? Has PYBAR been engaged on underground mining services contracts looking to leverage low- (diesel-electric/hybrid) or no-carbon (battery) solutions for load and haul, for example?

MW: The acquisition of PYBAR further accelerates our strategy to diversify our commodities portfolio and bring a increasingly greater focus on metals and minerals. PYBAR has significant expertise developing underground copper and gold projects, such as the Eloise Mine, owned by AIC, and the Carrapateena Mine, owned now by BHP.

Michael Wright, Thiess Group Executive Chair and CEO

We are currently planning and engaging with PYBAR, prior to them joining the Thiess Group once the customary sale conditions are satisfied and the acquisition process is finalised.

Thiess Group companies all play a part in efforts to improve the sustainability of mining globally, and to achieve our target of net zero Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions from diesel combustion by 2050. Once PYBAR is part of the Group, we will work with them on initiatives to achieve this target.

IM: How do you see your new underground offering competing with the likes of Barminco, Byrnecut and Macmahon? What will your unique proposition be to the market?

MW: One of PYBAR’s key competitive advantages is their long-standing client relationships. They have a well-deserved reputation for being an experienced underground metals and minerals hard-rock mining specialist.

Thiess currently operates underground in Mongolia, and having PYBAR as part of the Thiess Group will re-establish our presence in the Australian underground mining market, and enable us to expand our service offering to our clients.

Thiess Group companies will work with PYBAR to optimise efficiencies and leverage opportunities from our combined strengths and client relationships, while maintaining and growing the PYBAR business.

IM: Are there any technology areas that PYBAR has been involved with in the underground mining space that complement your own surface mining work with automation and electrification?

MW: Thiess has been on an autonomous mining journey since 2012, and today our fleet includes 21 autonomous haul trucks, nine autonomous drills and six semi-autonomous dozers. Through MACA also, the group has progressed vendor-agnostic autonomy and electrification. So as a group, we have a strong team and strong focus on both autonomy and electrification.

Similarly, PYBAR has been on a technology journey. In 2019, they deployed two Cat R1700 underground loaders at Dargues Gold Mine to prepare for its advanced underground automation. The new machines were equipped with Cat’s next generation Command for underground technology, enabling the machines to be remotely controlled from the surface from early-2020 – realising significant productivity, efficiency and safety gains.

There is significant opportunity bringing PYBAR into the Thiess Group.

IM: Following the publication of your 2023 sustainability report, can you tell me anymore about the hybrid excavator trial you are planning in Indonesia? Also, what vehicles are to be involved in the battery-powered light/medium trucks in Australia work you are due to carry out this year? What about the plans for MACA’s fleet retrofit solutions in Australia? Are these solutions soon to start up at Karlawinda?

MW: Our hybrid excavator trial started last month at one of our Indonesian projects. Two 30 t hybrid excavators are being tested as part of our commitment to reduce our emissions. We’re monitoring the trial progress, and will provide an update in our 2024 sustainability report.

We have two light battery-electric trucks due to arrive in Australia in coming weeks, which will be deployed to two of our projects, and are progressing the installation of the charging infrastructure at the selected sites.

Work also continues at MACA to develop a retrofitting solution for existing fleet to reduce emissions at a lower initial capital cost and in a shorter time frame than new electric haul trucks. We’re continuing detailed engineering studies, with the plan to deliver the first project in coming months.

IM: Anything else to add on the topic of mining technology as it relates to your net-zero journey?

MW: Our ambition is to achieve net zero Scope 1 and 2 emissions, and Scope 3 emissions from diesel combustion in our operated fleet. We are pleased with our progress to date and are on track to meet our 2025 Scope 1 and 2 emissions target (excludes Scope 1 and 2 emissions from MACA civil projects. We will look to develop a Scope 1 and 2 emissions reduction target for MACA civil division in 2024).

We continue to invest in and trial a range of transitional lower carbon technologies with gas and hydrogen trickle feed options. In 2021, we joined the Hydra Consortium, which is investigating the use of renewable hydrogen to power mining fleets. After construction and trial of their first hydrogen fuel cell-based powertrain prototype, Hydra is now working on phase 3 of the trial to continue to improve and test the technology.

As well, the Thiess Group recently became Toyota’s first customer for its locally-assembled hydrogen fuel cell stationary power generator, which we plan to trial in our mining operations in New South Wales.

We are also exploring dual-fuel vehicles. In 2023, Thiess successfully converted and trialled a dual-fuel Caterpillar 793F at a mine site in the Bowen Basin, with demonstrated reductions in emissions and diesel consumption. We continue to explore expansion opportunities for this and other technology trials.

Thiess’ sustainability drive accelerates in 2023

With the release of its 2023 sustainability report, Thiess says it has advanced its journey towards sustainable mining, reducing its emissions and diversifying its commodities and services.

Further progress was made towards its 2025 decarbonisation target, reducing Scope 1 emissions by 21% and Scope 2 emissions by 12% during 2023.

These efforts were further enhanced by the group’s diversification of its commodities and services, to rebalance its thermal coal revenue to less than 25% by the end of 2027, which is tracking ahead of schedule. Recognising this, the group has now set an additional diversification target to rebalance its portfolio to consist of less than 20% thermal coal revenue by the end of 2030.

“The group remains committed to supporting a smooth energy transition and will continue to provide sustainable mining services to its thermal coal clients as the use of this commodity continues to support economic growth in many societies,” it said.

These goals have been set alongside the release of Thiess’ 2023 sustainability report, which, itself, reported on several projects helping the decarbonisation cause.

To progress its target of 85% of light vehicles being electric or hybrid by 2030, Thiess began battery electric and hybrid light vehicle trials in Australia, North America and Chile, in 2023, with similar trials expected to begin in Indonesia in 2024.

In Chile, Thiess formalised an agreement to lease two Voltera R6 electric cars, each with a range of 280-300 km, which were delivered to the Llanos copper project in October. This initiative aims to reduce emissions by approximately 7.2 t CO2-e each year. Thiess also partnered with Hualpen, a Chile-based transport company, to trial the use of an electric bus to transport personnel during shift change from the city of Calama to the Llanos copper project, in Minera Centinela, approximately 100 km away. The use of the electric bus results in an estimated emissions saving of approximately 140 kg CO2-e per trip, which Hualpen estimates will result in a total emissions saving of approximately 15 t CO2-e per year.

In the US, Thiess investigated the application of an electric 4×4 light vehicle in the challenging weather conditions at its molybdenum site. The site is around 3.5 km above sea level with temperatures often dropping to -20°C. The chosen engineered solution uses a Hypercraft electric drive system to convert a heavy-duty designed Ford F-250 Super Duty 4×4 (pictured). This fully-electric solution provides a range of 160-225 km and was deployed in December 2023.

At the Mt Pleasant operation in New South Wales, Australia, Thiess has introduced two electric vehicles (EVs) – a Polestar 2 and Kia EV6 – and a hybrid Mitsubishi Outlander, as pool cars. The vehicles provide personnel with an opportunity to trial the experience of driving an EV to encourage wider adoption. Two ABB 22 kW electric chargers were installed to support the trial with a third installed for use by employees and visitors who drive EVs to site.

Outside of light vehicles, Thiess, through MACA, welcomed the first Liebherr R 9300 250-t excavator in Australia into its growing fleet at the Karlawinda gold project in Western Australia. Commissioned in August 2023, the R 9300 uses innovative technology to provide improved performance and better fuel efficiency, Thiess says. Thiess also introduced Komatsu 930E-5 electric drive trucks, with tier 4 engine technology, at two Australian projects to enhance operational efficiency. The trucks are expected to deliver a 5% reduction in fuel consumption compared to other trucks in their class, it says.

In 2023, the MACA team at the Okvau gold project in Cambodia worked with its supplier to reduce the compressor power of all drill rigs to 90% to improve efficiency and reduce fuel consumption and emissions. Since the implementation of the initiative in June 2023, fuel consumption across all six Epiroc drill rigs has been reduced by an average of 20%. This equates to an annual saving of approximately 165,000 litres of fuel and 570 kg of CO2-e emissions. Thiess said: “MACA intends to continue with the reduced compressor power as there has been no adverse effects since the initiative was implemented. Drill performance in normal conditions has been unaffected and no maintenance issues have been reported.”

Building on the success of the initiative, the aim is to extend the modifications to remaining drill rigs of the same model within its fleet.

Also during 2023, Thiess completed a study to determine the optimum horse power (HP) setting for the Cat 794AC trucks at a Queensland project based on application, production capability and fuel burn. The study allowed Thiess to identify the most appropriate setting, considering tonnes moved and fuel consumed, and calculate component life targets based on each setting. The trial resulted in fuel savings of 15.79% across a fleet of seven 794ACs by reducing the HP setting from 3,500 HP to 3,100 HP. According to internal calculations this equated to a saving of A$1.68 million ($1.11 million) per year in fuel, $180,000 in life extension and an annual reduction in emissions of 3,790 t CO2-e.

The site team concluded there was no reduction in asset performance, however the trial indicated a reduction in truck productivity of 4.72%. Although this is a bespoke situation, Thiess says it will look to identify similar cases at other sites where the trial findings may be utilised.

In September 2023, Thiess launched the Thiess Remote Operation Centre (TROC) In Jakarta, Indonesia. Using leading technology, TROC supports fleet management at the Wahana mine over 1,000 km away. This remote technology can help to improve efficiency and productivity of the mining fleet, Thiess says.

Thiess will look to implement the technology at its MSJ mine next, allowing TROC to support additional mines as Thiess continues on its digitisation journey.

Thiess also completed a hydrogen trickle feed trial on 40% of its haul fleet at the Prominent Hill operation in South Australia, in 2023 (now owned by BHP). Findings have been leveraged with the aim to initiate a second trial at a New South Wales project in 2024.

In 2024, Thiess plans to begin trials of hybrid excavators in Indonesia and battery-powered light/medium trucks in Australia, continue dual fuel trials and MACA’s pursuit of fleet retrofit solutions in Australia, complete an additional hydrogen trickle feed technology trial and investigate more fuel-efficient options for its asset rebuilds, it says.

ABB joins Euromines’ sustainable mining drive

ABB says it has joined the European Association of Mining Industries (Euromines), the recognised representative of the European metals and minerals mining industry.

Euromines’ main objectives are to promote responsible industry practices and engage with EU institutions on mining-related policy matters. Euromines also promotes the benefit and value of both the products and the industry to society, which are critical to boosting European competitiveness.

It serves as a cooperative network of members focused on sharing responsible raw material mining practices. It also evaluates the impact of European and international policies and legislation on the industry and defines industry policy positions and actions. It represents large and small companies and subsidiaries in Europe and in other parts of the world.

Euromines has recently launched the Sustainable Mining Initiative in which members share insights on circular economy, nature restoration, decarbonisation and community.

ABB business leaders will contribute to the association’s efforts to improve responsible mining in Europe and provide examples of how innovative technologies for the processing of raw materials have been developed by ABB or in collaboration with customers, ABB says.

Joachim Braun, Division President, ABB Process Industries, will attend the Euromines Policy Committee. Max Luedtke (pictured), Global Business Line Manager for Mining at ABB, joins the Euromines Sustainability Group while Sylvain Froin, Global Head of Communications and Marketing for Mining at ABB, joins the Euromines Communication Committee.

“Raw materials are essential for industry and critical to Europe’s climate goals and strategic autonomy,” Braun said. “We are pleased to join Euromines and are looking forward to contributing with best practice examples of technologies that drive increasingly sustainable mining activity in Europe and around the world. ABB automation, electrification and digital technologies enable a more sustainable and research-efficient future; we are already helping and collaborating with customers to decarbonise and reduce energy consumption across the mining industry and across all processes from pit to port.”

Euromines provides services to its members with regard to EU policy and serves as a network for cooperation and for the exchange of information throughout the sector within Europe. The association also fosters contacts with the mining community throughout the world. Euromines represents an interface between the European extractive industry and the European authorities and international or intergovernmental bodies and advocates the extractive industry.

Testing: the secret sauce of Sandvik R&D

Jani Vilenius has his plate full at Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions. As Director of Research and Technology Development, he is brought into most conversations the business area has about future mining products.

In fact, he even works across the Sandvik Rock Processing business area on occasion, as well as overseeing the design centre in Bangalore, India, which provides “value engineering” across Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions divisions.

“We coordinate research programs and projects, not products,” Vilenius told IM recently in the company’s newest office in Tampere, Finland. “This may be overseeing the concept machines that we have been producing for several years, as well as technology partnerships with universities.

“We aim to think long term within the Research and Technology Development and Services team, but not too long term as the world is much more agile nowadays than it used to be.”

This means Vilenius’ team has to coordinate all of the activities taking place at the Test Mine in Tampere, provide a ‘steer’ on engineering services and safety processes needed to satisfy today’s and tomorrow’s requirements and regulations, drive cybersecurity and sustainability developments across Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions in the R&D phase, plus integrate the thinking between the rapidly-expanding Digital Mining Technologies division within Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions and the R&D team.

And, as of a month ago, his team also coordinates testing at the new Surface Test Pit: a new surface mining test bed being developed 40 km northwest of the underground test mine.

This is all underwritten by the strategic priorities across the business area he primarily works in, as well as the Sandvik group goal of ensuring 25% of revenue comes from products that are less than five-years-old.

To tackle these tasks, he has a sandbox (soon to be two) that all equipment providers would like to have.

The Test Mine in Tampere comes with 6 km of tunnels at a depth of 40 m, with potential to expand further. Positioned beside a glass factory and close to the company’s rock drills factory, this test mine offers the company and its customers everything they need to make strategic business decisions in an environment that can, for instance, replicate the heat and humidity of a deep underground mine in South Africa, as well as the biggest and widest mine galleries the industry has on offer.

This facility – which has everything your typical underground mine has except a daily throughput target – allows the company to run all its underground drills through a rigorous testing procedure prior to customer dispatch. It also allows the various divisions under the business area a chance to test out prototypes, applications and products from time to time.

For the concept machines Sandvik is becoming renowned for, the test mine acts as a place to validate conceptual thinking in a real-life environment, helping engage customers in detailed discussions as to what on-board and off-board technology elements would provide the greatest value to their operations in the near-, medium- and long-term.

The aim is to replicate this process on surface with the Surface Test Pit, providing the catalyst the company needs to reach its ambitious surface drilling market goals over the next several years.

IM sat down with Vilenius to find out how he coordinates all this R&D work, and how day-to-day testing works from a practical perspective.

IM: I imagine your department is inundated with requests from various business lines when it comes to testing. How do you go about prioritising these requests and turning them into an easy-to-follow roadmap that can lead to commercial solutions?

JV: I’ll answer that by taking a step back.

We have a technology focus built on supporting both Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions and Sandvik group strategy. We then have roadmap items where we try to leverage technologies across many applications. These technology platforms are not always 100% suitable for both surface and underground mining, but there are elements that have similarities. For example, our latest electric concept surface rig uses the same thinking and philosophy used on other concept machines for underground. Of course, there are new elements included, but the platform thinking remains in place.

Jani Vilenius, Director of Research and Technology Development

Based on this, we have different forums and conversations with the divisions and the R&D heads, discussing together where we need to put the focus in terms of testing. There are, of course, differences in sizes of the division with those who invest a bit more in R&D entitled to more access, but we also have to remain strategic about how to capture the market attention within Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions; knowing when and what to launch, as well as what developments will allow us to achieve the required technology momentum to support both our own internal goals and the goals set by our customers.

With all these technology developments – projects, concept machines, theoretical testing – there needs to be a value proposition. For the concept machines, for instance, there is value from a marketing perspective to showcase Sandvik as a technology leader, but there is also the value of engaging with customers in conversations that, through the actual machine development, allow them to comprehend what the technology may mean for them on a practical operational level.

This rapid agility – which I would say is unique to Sandvik – means we can receive valuable customer feedback on these concept machines before we commercialise certain elements. It allows us to effectively manage risk in a market calling out for technology breakthroughs to solve complex challenges.

IM: How many tests/trials can you have going on at the same time at the Test Mine?

JV: It varies. All underground drill products are tested there before they go out to customers, which puts a lot of load on the facility, while ensuring that when customers get these units, they have been run in an environment similar to a real-life mining operation.

Then we have new prototypes not under my remit that are tested ahead of becoming ‘products’, for example in underground drilling. Then, we have several technologies we test on a daily basis with different types of test benches and subsystems.

The reality is that we would not be as agile as we are without this test mine. It is not easy to go to a customer site and get permission to test equipment as it can negatively impact their (the customer’s) production. The ability to test at our own facility gives us a layer of comfort and confidence ahead of getting to the customer site.

We cannot try or test every application in our test mine, but those scenarios we do test provide real value.

IM: Are there plans to expand the test mine further?

JV: We have a roadmap for our test mine, but this is determined with a cost versus value equation. We don’t want to have empty tunnels without testing going on regularly.

We have all the opportunities to have a third, fourth and fifth level at the Test Mine. We have, for example, recently expanded into a new area to support our underground drill products to allow testing for that. This is a function of the offering getting wider and the need to expand the tunnels to make sure the new products receive the same testing opportunities as the existing ones.

We have expansion plans focused on automation and electrification too.

IM: Speaking of automation, is fully automated (without any personnel involved) battery swapping one of the ongoing projects you are working on?

JV: I can say we have some ideas on this. It is a topic that needs addressing and discussing as automation is coming on all our equipment and all processes in the future.

Fully automated battery swapping testing is, of course, part of the roadmap.

IM: I also understand that your team originally came up with the MineGame tool for modelling battery-electric equipment fleets and infrastructure. What was this designed for?

JV: Yes, this is a tool we needed to develop to support fleet-wide electrification. It is not designed to recommend the type of machine you will get; it is more about how you implement the many electric machines in the mine, what impact this has on infrastructure, how many tonnes we can get out of different fleets, etc.

This modelling tool gives comfort to customers about the value proposition of fleet-wide electrification, while also showcasing how new, developing technologies can be implemented in greenfield and brownfield mines.

This tool – on top of those from Deswik and Polymathian within the Digital Mining Technologies division – will be a game changer for us.

IM: What about the interaction of manual and autonomous equipment? Is this something you are already testing at the Test Mine?

JV: This is an ongoing requirement from customers, who look to always alleviate production stoppages.

It is not an easy challenge to address though. Everyone knows we want to get safe systems in place with a mixed fleet as not all machines are currently automated.

There is obviously a value case for this, and the Test Mine is a good place to test it out.

All I can conclude with is to say we have many tests going on in the Test Mine…

IM: A cheeky question, I know…What will be the next concept vehicle? You’ve set yourself a big challenge with bringing one of these out every year. How are you keeping up with this?

JV: We have smaller concepts, and we have bigger concepts on the table. We need to ensure we develop the technology to get those concepts done in a timely manner and in a way that, as I keep saying, provides value.

Maybe the next one coming out will be one of those smaller concepts.

Then, of course, we have wild ideas for underground equipment further down the line.

IM: The Digital Mining Technologies division is becoming a much bigger part of SMR. Do you see a point where you will start using the day-to-day data coming off sensors on your machines to revamp existing machine designs and come up with new machines?

JV: Yes, this is mandatory for us to do at some point in time. Integrating data from the field and systems into the engineering process is a tried and tested policy in many industries – some of which Sandvik are serving – so we need to do that more in mining.

The big step I foresee on this front is when we truly understand the value of using artificial intelligence in mining. Leveraging these tools will ensure there is a continual optimisation loop that goes throughout our software, hardware and services.

Sandvik to explore surface drilling automation, digitalisation, electrification advances at new testing facility

In support of the shift towards electrification and the advancement of autonomous and optimisation technologies in surface drilling, Sandvik has acquired a new testing facility in Finland to develop and prove future surface drilling technologies.

The surface test mine is 40 km northwest of Tampere and Sandvik’s underground test mine. The area, which has previously served as a quarry, will be developed by its own drilling plan. The site is Sandvik’s first dedicated exclusively to surface drilling on such a large scale.

Petri Virrankoski, President, Surface Drilling at Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions, said: “The development of comprehensive solutions that not only harness the latest technologies but also deliver productivity and reliability in our customers’ real-life applications and conditions requires a real-life test environment. The surface test mine will facilitate the exchange of our deep know-how in equipment manufacturing, rock tools, automation and digitalisation, supporting the design and development of even more new products and solutions in the future.”

Sandvik is currently developing the site, officially known as Sandvik Test Pit, and testing its first drills there. Over the next two years, the company plans to construct permanent office buildings and designated customer facilities at the location.

Sandvik will use the test mine for R&D as well as hosting customers for technology demonstrations, particularly those related to automation, digitalisation and electrification of surface drills. The site will enable technology development and training for both surface boom and rotary drill rigs, as well as rock tools, parts and services and related digital technologies such as automation and fleet telematics and monitoring solutions.

The test mine will also allow Sandvik to explore and demonstrate power source alternatives in a real-world environment, in which infrastructure to support both boom and rotary drilling electrification can be provided.

Dave Shellhammer, President, Rotary Drilling at Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions, said: “Decarbonisation is accelerating across our industry, and the role of electrification in surface mining sustainability will help guide our development of new systems and solutions. Testing is a major part of our R&D cycle. This new test mine will help us shorten time to market and verify even more swiftly that we’re delivering the safest, most reliable and productive drill rigs to our customers.”

Mark Norwell on the Perenti mining services differentiator

Perenti continues to make inroads across the mining value chain, reflected of late with the recent acquisition of DDH1, record 2023 financial year results and deployment of some of its initial artificial intelligence-backed solutions from the idoba technology business.

Against this busy backdrop and a keynote address at IMARC in Sydney, IM caught up with Mark Norwell, Managing Director & CEO of Perenti, to talk technology in the mining services space.

IM: The contract mining and mining services business is a very competitive space (especially in Australia). How are you readily leveraging technology for your mining clients as a competitive advantage?

MN: The industry has always been competitive, and that global competition continues to evolve.

I would say Barminco has been at the top of the game for three decades. Having that technical competence, the process, the scale and the people drives competitive advantage in its own right. As we have seen some shift in technology and new technology initiatives, the adoption has added to productivity and, therefore, our competitive advantage has grown again.

In terms of how we are adopting technology, there are a couple of areas to mention.

To come back to Barminco, one aspect has been through deploying point solutions for productivity improvement. This has been ongoing and part of our DNA.

More broadly, when we launched the idoba technology division a few years ago, we took the view that as we see greater shifts and acceleration of technology opportunities in mining, we needed the internal capability to drive that change from the inside out; not from the outside in.

We have the deep domain expertise in mining that, when combined with our technology business, further improves our existing contracting services, as well as creates new potential lines of business.

The differentiator for idoba is the ability to develop products and trial them within our own captive ‘sandpit’. A lot of technology companies don’t have this option. They develop solutions and go to mining companies with a great idea that lacks the evidence of trial data needed for many mining companies to implement the solutions. As a result, the trials never get off the ground. We don’t have that problem given we have operations – and supporting clients with matching values – to allow us to trial products in the field. This has been witnessed of late where we are rolling out some products to test across our underground mines in Australia (idoba recently announced that its Mine Performance Navigator AI-powered decision-support and analysis tool had been rolled out to a dozen underground Barminco-operated mine sites).

IM: In terms of automation, digitalisation/digitisation and electrification, where are you looking to take the lead for your mining clients?

MN: They are all interconnected to some extent. Digitisation, for example, really drives the value from deploying automation and electrification. That digital platform is imperative for mines of the future and is where idoba comes into play.

We want to be at the forefront with digitisation and the digital platform; likewise with electrification.

With our Barminco business, we are one of the world leaders in hard-rock underground mining, and electrification just makes sense for underground hard-rock mines – there are so many benefits. What’s also important is the collaboration associated with that. We heard this week from Perenti, ABB and IGO on the IMARC panel discussion that no-one has all of the capabilities to effectively electrify a mine, so choosing partners is crucial to execution.

Under an agreement between mine owner AngloGold Ashanti, Barminco and Sandvik, the Sunrise Dam gold operation in Western Australia began trialing the prototype 65 t Sandvik TH665B on September 14

When it comes to automation, it is an area we are working through. We have established teleremote and remote operating centres in the recent past – operating multiple machines at remote mine sites from Perth, for example – but, at this stage, we are not accelerating these developments at the same pace as electrification and digitisation due to timing really being of the essence for these two.

Saying that, our work with Sandvik and Newtrax on Level 9 collision intervention is related to this, being a building block of automation more broadly as well as a major game changer from the safety perspective. Once we nail that with a digital platform, we will continue to advance automation more broadly. We are closing in on that with Level 9 collision intervention trials expected to take place in the near term.

When we look at idoba and the work we are doing on DiiMOS (Distributed, Intelligent, Integrated Mining Operating System), we are agnostic to the equipment, the mine planning software and the broader mining processes at play. If we are not agnostic, we could end up locking our clients into one route that potentially ends up destroying value. We are also building out a capability where some clients can pick and choose, or take the full suite, from idoba.

The focus is on providing solutions bespoke to the mine’s needs.

IM: How are you balancing your close relationships with the technology vendors and your own internal technology developments through idoba? Who are the most obvious first customers for the idoba platform?

MN: There is always going to be some overlap and crossover, but we come at this with an operator mindset, where technology can augment this. The OEMs come at it from an equipment mindset with associated technologies to bolt on. The combination and partnership of these two approaches makes sense as you have the equipment, technology and operations covered.

There will be areas where we still have some competition but, ultimately, it is limited.

The full value is going to be generated through how we partner and collaborate with all the companies within the value chain. We have a long history of collaborating with Sandvik, for instance, as well as recent history with ABB, and everyone brings something different to the table. Without that combination of capabilities, we are not going to see the industry shift at the rate it needs to.

Our starting point for idoba will be servicing our current customers as we develop new products and support them on their journey. We will see some clients want more of our solutions than others. As we service our current clients with these, we can take what we have learnt to service new clients. The new clients might be mine operators themselves, where we provide digital solutions as a software-as-a-service. This opens up new potential markets to us, which goes to the broader strategy we set in 2019. This recognises the deep domain expertise we have in mining – which has served us extremely well and is not something everyone has. The plan back then was to leverage this and build out the services beyond that current offering; technology being one of those.

As we develop this new technology, we have learnt that we have the ability to offer lower capital intensity solutions that can serve us well throughout the mining cycles.

IM: Looking at decarbonisation and, more specifically, the agreement you have in place with ABB to ‘reduce the risk and uncertainty of electrifying both green and brownfield operations’; could you talk me through what risk mitigation processes you will be using as part of this? How do you tackle the uncertainty associated with making investments in infrastructure, people and technology against a very ‘fluid’ technology backdrop?

MN: There are a couple of areas that need to be front and centre through that journey. The digital integration platform is one of those – the complexity of what we’re solving for these days is far greater than what we were used to. Whether you are putting in a point solution, or a whole mine to electrify, having a digital platform is critical to making the right decisions at the right time.

As the technology evolves, this digital platform is even more integral to reinforcing decision making. If you go straight to the hardware without the digital backbone and the distributed network of energy needed to electrify, you are setup to fail in the long term.

idoba recently announced that its Mine Performance Navigator AI-powered decision-support and analysis tool had been rolled out to a dozen underground Barminco-operated mine sites

The other aspect that needs consideration from a risk mitigation perspective is having the leadership and culture in place to see these projects through. Leaders have to be ready to unlearn and relearn throughout this process.

Not only that you need to try to engineer out risk wherever possible through critical trials, a strong operational methodology and an assessment of the causal factors of what can go wrong and where those points are within the design. This could be through a traditional engineering methodology or technology adoption.

IM: You set up the Denver office a few years ago now. Outside of Hemlo and Red Chris, what does the pipeline of opportunities look like in North America? Does this client base require a different type of offering to what you traditionally have in Australia?

MN: We’re currently about A$100 million ($64 million) of revenue between those two agreements. We are looking for that to grow to A$400-500 million over the next three to four years. We see the pipeline in Canada and the US as significant. We have also installed the former head of AUMS in this business, looking to replicate the success we had in Africa over eight years in North America.

It’s fair to say the contractor model for Barminco is well understood in Australia and Africa; more so than in North America. In North America, they have a contract model that tends to be based on a charge-by-the-hour type of agreements, whereas we are looking to bring a technical approach to all our contracting.

At the same time as looking to grow this business, we are conscious of growing too quickly. Bringing in a new mining methodology takes a lot of change management. We don’t want to go too quick and have a misstep.

IM: What about ongoing M&A? Are there still gaps in the portfolio you are looking to fill?

MN: In terms of our strategy, we have said we will continue to build our portfolio to leverage our core competency in mining and adjacent areas to add value. We ultimately want a complete portfolio of businesses that have adjacencies to our core businesses.

We are still open to further M&A as long as it leverages our core capabilities and makes sense to our investors.

3ME Technology, UMS partner on mission to electrify Australian heavy-duty equipment space

3ME Technology and UMS have announced what they say is a groundbreaking partnership to electrify Australian heavy-duty equipment and revolutionise energy storage in the country with a partnership that sees UMS Australia established.

The partnership Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) is looking to solve the problem of competitive, turnkey, battery-electric solutions for the Australian heavy-duty vehicle market.

The primary objectives of UMS Australia are to deliver market-leading electrification solutions tailored to the Australian construction sector, surface mining equipment and residential energy storage systems.

Initially, UMS Australia will offer production-ready, battery-electric solutions for OEMs and distributors of heavy-duty machines. Electrification kits immediately available include the Liebherr A916 and R922/924, Bobcat E19, DAF LF Electric, Dakar MKR, DYNAPAC SD2500CS, HAMM HW90, Hyundai HX85A, Hyundai HX260AL, Junttan PMX22, Knikmops 130 & 180, Manitou, Magni RTH 6.25 and PV-E Cranes EC 80 & 160.

On top of this, the joint venture will introduce innovative battery swapping solutions, ensuring a continuous power supply while reducing emissions at construction sites and for equipment generators, the partners say.

Justin Bain (second from right), CEO 3ME Technology, said: “This partnership has been six years in the making, and we’re thrilled to kick off production and scale up in the Australian market. The timing is perfect. With our joint expertise and strong OEM customer demand, we’re set to begin production immediately. The combined capabilities will solidify UMS Australia / 3ME Technology as Australia’s premier off-highway electrifier.”

This alliance represents a significant stride toward a cleaner and more sustainable future for the Australian construction and mining industry, they say, underscoring the commitment of 3ME Technology and Urban Mobility Systems (UMS) to environmental stewardship, innovation and the delivery of practical solutions that instigate transformative change.

Ampcontrol expands Western Australia presence on mine site electrification demand

Ampcontrol says it has significantly expanded its presence and skilled workforce in Western Australia, relocating to larger facilities in Kewdale to meet industry demand for mine site electrification.

In addition to moving to a new 9,500 sq.m manufacturing site, Ampcontrol has expanded its services to include a cable workshop, bringing more than 20 years of cable service and management experience to customers in Western Australia.

The expansion of Ampcontrol services in Western Australia follows the company announcement on September 27 of a new company vision to lead the global energy revolution with strategic plans for growth and expansion into new markets, geographic locations, and innovative energy transition solutions for the resources sector.

Ampcontrol is focused on diversifying and growing the business with a key focus on renewable energy manufacturing and how it can support customers in decarbonisation and mine site electrification.

Rod Henderson, Ampcontrol Managing Director & CEO, said: “We want to collaborate with our customers to help them solve their most complex problems in energy. With an industry-wide push towards decarbonisation, it is a natural progression in the growth of our business to extend our service offerings to support mine sites in Western Australia to meet both customer and industry needs.”

Local access to cable products and services from Ampcontrol will support surface applications and underground applications with decarbonisation efforts, with a fully stocked store of spare parts and consumables for cables, the company says. With the industry-wide push in Western Australia seeing machines becoming electrified, additional engineering designs and functions need to be used.

Customers in Western Australia will have local access to Cable Track, an Ampcontrol product that provides a full lifecycle of cables from new to grave, which will assist mine sites with forward planning their assets and future-proofing their business.

From the sale and repair of power cables to the development of transportation solutions and predictive and preventative maintenance programs, Ampcontrol says it can devise a custom cable systems management approach to suit any site, including mining, tunnelling, defence and industrial applications.

Henderson added: “Ampcontrol has been working with cables for more than 20 years; we bring an abundance of domain expertise on cable management systems which will be applied locally in Western Australia. We have the people, the equipment, the cable management expertise using the latest repair techniques and philosophies as we collaborate with customers to aid their decarbonisation efforts.”

IOCA names REGROUP Australia as preferred primary contractor for Hancock iron ore project

Alien Metals Ltd’s wholly-owned subsidiary Iron Ore Company of Australia Pty Ltd (IOCA) has named REGROUP Australia as its preferred primary contractor to undertake the construction works, mining operations and haulage services for its flagship Hancock iron ore project in the Pilbara of Western Australia.

IOCA has conducted a competitive market engagement over the previous six months to identify commercially and technically adept contractors to undertake works as part of the Hancock development and operations. This process has involved pre-qualified and targeted proponents submitting bids for specific scopes of works and agreeing to key commercial terms.

REGROUP is, Alien Metals says, a highly renowned and experienced civil construction, mining operator and haulier, having executed projects that exceed A$100 million ($64 million) on multiple occasions. It operates one of the largest privately and independently owned fleets in Western Australia, with clients that include Newcrest Mining, Roy Hill and Element 25.

The selection of REGROUP allows the company to update its financial model as part of the definitive feasibility study (DFS) work streams, Alien Metals says.

As part of the preferred construction contractor award, REGROUP would be in charge of construction of an intersection of the project area at the Great Northern Highway and construction of an access track from the Great Northern Highway to the mine site.

REGROUP has also been selected as the preferred operations contractor for:

  • Mining services (that is inclusive of any drilling and blasting activities); and
  • Haulage services for the haulage of ore from the mine site to Port Hedland.

The award of this contract remains subject to the completion of a positive DFS, approvals, funding and the Board making a final investment decision.

The 2021 scoping study on Hancock showcased a 1.25 Mt/y production profile that would sustain an eight-year life of mine with current resources. The company has said it plans to make its first shipments in 2023, leveraging its direct shipping ore options.

Troy Whittaker, Chief Executive Officer of Alien, said: “Securing REGROUP as a key contractor for the Hancock project is a significant milestone for the company…This is the first step in locking in relationships with contractors on the back of the IOCA sourcing process, securing competitive pricing from contractors, which moves planning for the project forward.

“We are excited to partner with REGROUP, a company that shares our values. REGROUP has set the goal of becoming carbon neutral via the use of a fully battery-powered fleet and the utilisation of solar and wind to help power their sites. That combined with their commitment to advancing indigenous businesses, notably through the championing of Maramara in Western Australia, a majority Indigenous-owned Pty Ltd company, is one of the reasons why we teamed up with REGROUP.”

Michael Still, Managing Director of REGROUP, said: “REGROUP is looking forward to working with IOCA, firstly in the establishment of their mine, as well as the long-term success of the operations from pit to port. We also see a great opportunity to support First Nations business, Maramara, in delivering the civil scope of this exciting project. We would utilise our expertise as a Pilbara-based business and being a partner of a values-based miner such as IOCA, we are eager to see the impact we know this project will have on the Pilbara communities.

“In being a greenfields site, the Hancock project lends itself well to autonomous and electrified solutions for both the mining and bulk haulage fleet. We will continue to work with our partners in Scania and Janus to integrate new and emerging technologies where practical, both on-site and in Port Hedland. The consolidation of the construction and operational activities under one group will facilitate speed to market for IOCA and provides us with the opportunity to embed our expertise early in the project.”