Tag Archives: Electrification

Epiroc trusting its 6th Sense on mine automation, electrification, digitalisation developments

During an enlightening Capital Markets Day, in Stockholm, Sweden, Epiroc backed up its credentials as a leader in the mine automation, digitalisation and electrification spaces, outlining its progress to date and its medium- and long-term plans to capture more market share.

A few weeks after putting on the investor showcase – but before Helena Hedblom was announced as the incoming President and CEOIM spoke with President and CEO, Per Lindberg, and Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications, Mattias Olsson, to get some detail behind the presentation slides.

IM: Automation featured very widely in the capital markets day (CMD) presentations earlier this month: In general, how would you characterise the mining industry appetite for this new technology? Where is the average customer on your automation scale?

PL: First of all, the appetite is very large; most customers are looking at automation in one way or another.

It is hard to do a mathematical average when it comes to where the industry currently is, but the average miner is probably down on the left-hand side of that scale (pictured below) – somewhere in between tele-remote and single machine automation.

IM: Over the next five years, where do you see most potential growth for autonomous solutions in terms of underground or open-pit mining? What market dynamics are accelerating this uptake?

PL: Most likely it will happen in both surface and underground. The potential for productivity and safety improvements is probably greater in underground, though.

This trend is clearly driven by productivity, cost efficiency and safety. Those would be the key drivers for automation. It is about taking people out of the line of fire, as well as having close to 24/7 production.

IM: Following the 34% stake acquisition of ASI Mining last year, would you say the project Epiroc and ASI are working on at Ferrexpo’s Yeristovo mine is representative of how you envisage doing business together in the future?

PL: That is the reason that we initially acquired the 34% stake in ASI Mining; we wanted to go in that direction. In that respect, I think the Ferrexpo example is representative of how we will cooperate with ASI.

Of course, ASI can also offer a standalone solution without Epiroc being present on the automation side, so we are also promoting their offering too.

IM: How does Epiroc, as an OEM, balance its machine building and maintenance service offering? Does the ability to keep machines working longer through sophisticated monitoring systems and better manufacturing somewhat inhibit your ability to sell new machinery?

PL: To a certain extent, we are probably cannibalising our new machine sales with increased service intensity and improved servicing products. That is most likely the consequence. On the other hand, we also feel that it is only right to offer this type of aftercare and servicing.

Yet, you cannot continue to prolong the life of a piece of equipment forever. It needs to be replaced at some point.

Overall, the servicing offering works well for us and, we think, it is good for our customers in terms of increasing the life of their equipment.

IM: Factoring this in, what percentage of revenue is your aftermarket business likely to represent in the next 10 years (from 65% today)?

PL: It’s difficult to say if it is going to be higher, or not, but it is likely that the volume of service will increase. That is based on what we are talking about – the intensified servicing we are offering, the products we have developed and the fact that we are increasing the market share within our own fleet.

Whether it continues to be 65% of the overall business depends on activity in the rest of the group.

IM: Along these lines, how long does the company anticipate its new battery-electric loading fleets lasting compared with, say, the diesel-powered fleets you were selling 10 years ago?

PL: The wear and tear of the actual machine will be the same – that is not going to change because of the drivetrain.

But, having an electric drivetrain is different from diesel; we have to see what the long-term maintenance needs are compared with diesel. The life of the drivetrain also depends very much on the utilisation of the machine.

IM: Of the recent innovations the company has launched (or is about to launch) – 6th Sense, a semi-automated explosives delivery system (with Orica), Scooptram Automation Total, Powerbit, etc – which has the strongest business case in mining?

PL: I think 6th Sense is really a packaging of all of our different offerings within automation. In that regard, it is has the highest potential. Which components of 6th Sense have the highest potential? We’ll have to wait and see.

The semi-automated explosives delivery system with Orica is a very specific innovation, but we very much believe in automating this mining process because of the safety and productivity benefits it brings. But we are only just starting this development compared with 6th Sense, which has already launched.

Powerbit is, again, very specific, but…allows us to deliver a complete offering both in terms of machine and consumables that will enable higher productivity and automation. That should have a high potential in the market.

IM: What does the Epiroc mining roadmap look like for the next 10-30 years? I imagine wider adoption of hard-rock cutting, automation, electrification and digitalisation are in there, but what other technology evolutions are being planned for?

PL: We have to continue to work with all of those three – automation, electrification and digitalisation – as they will deliver significant benefits for the industry. That is where we need to focus over that 10-year timeframe.

These three also have the potential to further integrate the value chain in mining within the future digitalisation space. We need to both continue to work with these technologies and our customers to ensure we have greater market penetration in all these areas.

IM: And, hard-rock cutting? Is this as important as these three?

PL: For specific applications, mechanical cutting and the Mobile Miners have their relevance and work well. But we believe for the foreseeable future, the majority of hard-rock excavation will be carried out by drilling and blasting in the mining and tunnelling sectors.

IM: During the CMD there was mention of “cost per measure” contracts under the digitalisation heading. Could you go into some detail about how the company is offering these and if they are tied in with financing agreements for your equipment?

PL: In terms of cost per measure, one example would be cost per metre contracts in consumables and rock drilling tools.

MO: We also provide finance for equipment and it could be that the equipment is financed and we have a cost per metre contract in place. Those two are not connected or tied, though.

It could be that there is more of this ‘pay-for-performance’ type of contract in the future – where you charge per tonne of ore excavated, for example – but, if it does come, I don’t think it will happen quickly.

IM: Similarly Epiroc talked about “new business models” in 2020 for underground equipment at the CMD. What might these new business models be? What is the need for them?

PL: It could be revenue streams into software, to information management, to advanced service agreements, to Batteries as a Service for battery vehicles.

The reasons for establishing these models is the continuous development of software, new updates for machines, etc that require different models.

When it comes to Batteries as a Service, it is a different model again looking to transfer the energy cost of the battery from capex to opex in order to facilitate the timely decisions for customers and reduce the cost of operation for our customers.

These new models are all based on development of technologies.

Growth and innovation on the agenda, Epiroc’s incoming CEO says

The timing of the announcement of Helena Hedblom becoming Epiroc President and CEO might have caught investors off-guard, but the actual appointment is no big surprise.

The news came just 12 days after the company held its second annual Capital Markets Day where Hedblom and Per Lindberg, current President and CEO, gave investors an update on the progress the company has made on its strategy since starting operations under the new brand in November 2017.

Hedblom, who currently heads up the mining and infrastructure divisions for Epiroc and is due to take on the top role from March 2020, has been a major part of Epiroc’s Group Management team since it was formed. Her ties to Atlas Copco, meanwhile, date back to 2000, with her roles including Head of Research and Development and General Manager for rock drilling tools business Secoroc and, then, becoming President of Atlas Copco Rock Drilling Tools.

Epiroc has launched a number of new initiatives in the mine automation, digitalisation and electrification spaces since the end of 2017, and Hedblom has been instrumental in all of these, spelling out the business case to investors, making sure the engineering capacity is available and taking all of the technical questions that may come Epiroc’s way.

With mining making up 76% of order intake for Epiroc in the nine months to the end of September – and the company keen to build on its leading position in the sector – it is logical for someone with Hedblom’s experience to take the top job following the successful establishment of Epiroc under Lindberg.

On a conference call today following the announcement, Ronnie Leten, Chairman of Epiroc, said current company head, Per Lindberg, had achieved the goals set for him by the board and that Hedblom had been given a new mission: to achieve “higher levels” of growth for Epiroc.

That is a bold statement considering the company has achieved a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10% over the period from 2015 to 2018 through a number of organic and inorganic investments, and a 14% CAGR in the 12 months to end-September 2019. This is all while retaining a comparatively high average operating margin of 18.3% and 20.1%, respectively, over those same timeframes.

Hedblom, speaking to IM shortly after that call, explained the growth mission given to her by her incoming Chairman.

“It’s a combination of organic initiatives within the company, as well as inorganic initiatives,” she said. “But, of course, within that, the big technology shifts with automation, digitalisation and electrification give us an opportunity to help our customer gain safety, productivity and energy benefits. That is a big focus area for us.”

She is also looking to grow the company’s aftermarket business – which already accounts for 65% of revenue – explaining: “This is where we can make a difference with our customers and really be a productivity partner. It also gives us resilience across the cycle.”

Looking to the “initiatives”, specifically, she said there could be some organic product developments to close some “gaps we have in the portfolio”, but also strengthening “our presence… in some areas where we don’t have the market reach today”.

While these growth initiatives will most likely be in markets the company has already deemed to be core, she said all divisions within the company had a roadmap looking into opportunities that are “adjacent to core”.

One area of Epiroc investment Hedblom was keen to talk up was R&D, which in recent years has enabled the company to retain a leading position in the likes of autonomous surface drilling, battery-powered underground vehicles, and mine digitalisation and automation.

“We have a good level of investment in R&D,” she said, adding that, at the moment, it is heavily skewed towards automation, digitalisation and electrification.

“Bear in mind that 65% of our revenue is in the aftermarket and we are already investing 2-3% of revenue in R&D – that represents quite a big investment on the capital equipment side,” she said.

She concluded: “That (R&D investment) is needed. For me, innovation is key. That is how we stay ahead of technology leaders in all of these areas.

“I expect R&D investments to stay at this level, and this is extremely important to creating sustainable growth for the company over the long term.”

Mining EPC/EPCM space in transition mode, Ausenco’s Ebbett says

The past 12 months has been an interesting period for the mining EPC/EPCM space with miners looking to offload more risk and leverage new technology to improve design accuracy, reduce cost and shorten the time between construction and production.

Ahead of the annual focus on this sector, to be published in International Mining’s December issue, IM heard from Ausenco’s Vice President of Global Project Delivery, John Ebbert, on the recent trends affecting the project design, construction and delivery market.

IM: In the past 12 months, how has the market for mining EPCM contracts evolved? Do some of the big contract awards to the likes of WorleyParsons (Koodaideri), Bechtel (QBII) indicate a shift in the type of contracts/services some of the big projects/companies are now looking for?

JE: These large project awards are in line with increased mining investment. The market is moving towards a greater level of integration between owners and EPCM service providers with a focus on minimising risks typically associated with mega projects. This is not only the case in the mining sector; we are seeing similar trends in other sectors. This shift reflects the capacity of each contracting party to accept risk. During periods of reduced activity, contractors need to accept greater risk (EPC) to protect their revenue and margins. Conversely in periods of greater project activity, contractors are able to realise similar margins on a risk-free basis (EPCM).

IM: Over the same time period, has automation become more firmly entrenched in mine engineering plans? Are big open-pit mines now being designed to facilitate autonomous equipment or a combination of manned and autonomous equipment?

JE: Automation is considered at all stages of project development. The productivity and efficiency gains afforded by automation and digitisation help de-risk or improve return on investment, something owners always aim to achieve. The level and application of automation ranges from simply reducing dependency on operators, through to the creation of digital twins that support asset optimisation using advanced analysis techniques. Not only are we designing mines that support and enable automation, we are also designing to enable advanced data and analytics processes.

IM: For underground mine design, how has the evolution of mine electrification influenced design? Is the use of this equipment enabling mines to go deeper on ramps than they were previously able to (thanks to reduced ventilation needs)?

JE: The evolution of mine electrification emphasises the need for flexible mine design that will accommodate new and emerging technology predicted to be mainstream in the not-so-distant future. Adequately ventilating underground mines is a challenge due to the sheer volume of power required to move and potentially cool the air. Not only does the shift away from diesel-powered equipment towards electrification have well documented health and environmental benefits, it also allows greater flexibility in development cycles, mining at greater depths and increased productivity as ventilation requirements to maintain a safe environment for personnel are lower.

IM: In terms of the project pipeline, what are the big contract awards to look out for in the mining space over the next 12 months?

JE: From a global market perspective, we are expecting continued demand for and investment in metals such as copper, lithium and cobalt in line with the increasing global demand for electric vehicles. Similarly, due to global trade and market uncertainty, gold is likely to remain a strong player in the next 12 months.

Nornickel reveals ambitious technology – as well as production – plans

Technology looks like playing a pivotal role in Norilsk Nickel’s ambitious growth plan to boost its mined ore volumes at the renowned Taimyr operation, in Russia.

After revealing a target to up production to 30 Mt/y by 2030, from 17 Mt/y in 2017, at its Capital Markets Day in London this week, IM spoke with First Vice-President and Chief Operating Officer, Sergey Dyachenko, to find out how technology was helping the company achieve this target.

Dyachenko listed off several impressive feats the company has achieved in the past 18-24 months that would pave the way for this growth.

First off, Norilsk has digitised nearly all of its operations as part of its Technological Breakthrough program – aimed at designing, planning and operational controls of its mining activities.

It has shifted its mine planning from a shift-based system to an hourly scheduling program, is carrying out dynamic simulations of mining activities on an as-needed basis to visualise the effects of mine plan changes, has installed proximity detection and collision avoidance systems (with a 50 m personnel detection range) at all of its underground mines, and has commissioned a real-time dispatch system to optimise its operations.

With digital centres built or being built in all of its major mining hubs, and Wi-Fi rolled out across its underground operations, all of its processes are now very much ‘connected’.

Dyachenko said these initiatives were already paying off, with a 7% increase in nickel-equivalent production between 2017 and 2019, partly attributable to the digitisation and automation programs. He could also point to a productivity increase – the output of nickel equivalent per employee rising 15% over this same timeframe.

While the company has come a long way since it started its Technology Breakthrough program in 2014, it is ready to leverage more technology over the next five years (and beyond).

Dyachenko spoke of transitioning from dynamic 3D mine models to the use of digital twins for mine plan optimisation at all of its mines and, excitingly, plans for a “fully autonomous smart digital mine” at its Skalisty nickel-copper-PGM underground project at the Polar Division, Norilsk’s key production asset on the Taimyr Peninsula.

Skalisty, at more than 2,000 m below ground, will be the company – and one of Russia’s – deepest underground mines. This fact is making Norilsk reconsider its normal mine development and operation route.

The company is currently engaged on a prefeasibility study at Skalisty, however it has already carried out 966 m of shaft sinking to bring the #10 ventilation shaft down to 2,056 m, and plans to start horizontal development at the project next month. Completion of the main shaft is scheduled for 2021.

“We have a task to make our Skalisty underground mine an autonomous mine,” Dyachenko said, explaining that the depth and accompanying temperature that comes with it made it a difficult environment to operate in.

Added to this, Dyachenko said the “demographics” of the future workforce and the need to provide an “interesting environment” at Skalisty made it a necessity to at least relocate machine operators to a control room on surface.

Norilsk will not be working on this ‘task’ alone. In addition to using consultants for the prefeasibility study, it is has also engaged an OEM with experience of automating underground operations in Mali and Sudbury (Canada) at this stage.

“We want to have a very clear concept…and find out the economic impact and best configuration for the mine,” Dyachenko explained.

The Norilsk COO said engaging such an OEM at this point in the mine development process also provided the manufacturer with the required time to “customise” a solution that fitted the Skalisty orebody and infrastructure.

“Not all of this will be off-the-shelf,” he commented on the equipment and infrastructure required for Skalisty, adding that battery-electric vehicles could also come into the mining equation.

Speaking of time, Dyachenko said the company expected to recover the first ore from development at the deep mine in 2023, followed by first “production” ore in 2024.

The new Skalisty mine is expected to eventually ramp up to production of ~2.5 Mt/y.

Ground support, electrification, automation, digitalisation all part of MacLean’s PERUMIN 34 showcase

The upcoming PERUMIN 34 mining convention in Arequipa (September 16-20) is providing Canada-based mining vehicle manufacturer MacLean Engineering a chance to share its latest field data and learnings from product development efforts in the areas of ground support, electrification, automation, and digitalisation.

This includes face bolting, full-fleet battery electrification, tele-remote and driver assist vehicle operation, real-time vehicle monitoring, and virtual reality training.

MacLean’s participating delegation includes a full contingent of sales and product management specialists both from the MacLean Peru branch, in Lima, as well as from head office in Canada.

The company first established a branch in Lima in 2012 to provide technical and sales support to the local mining industry. Since that time, the company has grown its in-country staffing contingent to over 50 employees, including over 40 mining vehicle technicians who provide site-level service and support to mines throughout the country.

Peru is also the first international mining jurisdiction where MacLean has sold and commissioned its latest ground support installation option – face bolting on the 975 Omnia scissor bolter – with two units currently working underground for bolting the face within the underground mining cycle. At least one of these is at the Nexa Resources’ owned Atacocha zinc-copper-lead-silver-gold operation in the Peruvian Andes (pictured).

MacLean President, Kevin MacLean, said the company’s Lima branch is at the heart of its commitment to underground mining, not only in Peru but also across South America.

Tony Caron, MacLean’s Vice President of Latin America, Quebec and Nunavut, said: “Our approach in Peru has stayed faithful to our approach to building a lasting business in other international markets, which is to establish local roots and take a long-term view, focusing on nurturing customer partnerships.

“From the Abitibi region of northwest Quebec to the nickel basin and gold mines of northern Ontario; from the Kivalliq region of Nunavut in the Canadian Arctic to Nevada, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Australia – in each of these unique mining geographies, geologies and cultures, the one constant is the importance of in-country service and support.”

MacLean’s Product Manager for Bolting, Stephen Denomme, said the MacLean bolter is the benchmark for ground support installation safety, productivity and versatility in Canadian hard-rock mines. “With our latest face bolting design, we are able to offer up to the mining industry in Latin America, a semi-mechanised bolting option where the operator is always working under protected ground, where you get best-in-class productivity for bolts and screen installed per shift, along with the versatility of multiple bolt-type installation and a deck configuration that allows for the storage of a full shift of consumables,” he said.

“This is the MacLean bolting approach and technology that we look forward to sharing with industry colleagues during the week of PERUMIN 34 in Arequipa.”

RNC Minerals studying trolley assist, automation at Dumont nickel-cobalt project

The latest feasibility study on RNC Minerals’ jointly-owned Dumont nickel-cobalt asset in Quebec, Canada, has identified the potential for both electrification and automation of the open-pit haulage fleet at the project.

The DFS, completed by Ausenco, showed that initial nickel production at Dumont could come in at 33,000 t/y, before ramping up to 50,000 t/y in a phase two expansion. This would result in some 1.2 Mt of nickel in concentrate output over the 30-year life, with an initial capital expenditure estimate of $1 billion.

This initial investment would be paid back with a $920 million after-tax net present value (NPV, 8% discount) and 15.4% post-tax internal rate of return, factoring in a nickel price of $7.75/Ib (>$17,000/t) and a US$/C$ exchange rate of 0.75, the company said.

Dumont, as envisaged in the DFS, would use conventional drilling and blasting, with loading by a combination of hydraulic excavators and electric rope shovels into trucks ranging in size from 45 t to 290 t. The process plant will be constructed in two phases. Phase one will have an initial average throughput of 52,500 t/d using a single SAG mill and two ball mills for grinding, desliming using cyclones, conventional flotation and magnetic separation, to produce a nickel concentrate also containing cobalt and PGEs. Phase two throughput will be doubled to 105,000 t/d in year seven by mirroring the first line.

Around 42 Mt of overburden will be pre-stripped prior to start-up of operations. The life-of-mine plan excavates 2,100 Mt of material, including 1,000 Mt of ore, over an open-pit life of 24 years. After open-pit operations cease in year 24, 398 Mt of stockpiled ore will remain to support continued production through year 30.

One of the noticeable changes to the previous feasibility study from 2013 was the electrification of the fleet in the mine plan.

The company, which jointly owns Dumont with Arpent Inc, currently plans to increase the electrification of Dumont by incorporating trolley assist on the planned main ramps. RNC said this will reduce cycle times, and reduce diesel consumption by over 35% (approximate reduction of 450 million litres over the life of mine), which, in turn, will cut greenhouse gas emissions by 1.2 Mt of CO2 equivalent, the company said.

And, among three “additional upside opportunities” listed in the DFS highlights was the use of haulage automation, which could potentially improve the NPV by some $75-115 million, the company estimated.

RNC said: “As autonomous equipment has been employed in open pits for over a decade and the global fleet currently approximates a combined 400 units of haul trucks and blasthole drills, automation is rapidly becoming proven technology.”

As a result, the company engaged an industry expert, Peck Tech Consulting, to assess the suitability of Dumont for automation.

“Based on Peck Tech’s prefeasibility-level assessment, the implementation of an Autonomous Haulage System could reduce the peak truck fleet by 20% and reduce site-wide all-in sustaining costs by over 3%,” RNC said.

“Further potential could be achieved with an Autonomous Drilling System (ADS),” the company added, saying it is continuing discussions with various mining equipment suppliers to understand the impacts and benefits in greater detail.

Dana builds out China electrification capabilities

Dana has added five facilities in China since the start of 2019 as it looks to strengthen the company’s capabilities for electrification and hybridisation across several markets, including the off-highway sector, throughout the region.

The expansion is the result of Dana’s recent acquisition of the SME Group, as well as the Drive Systems segment of Oerlikon Group, including the Graziano and Fairfield brands, Dana said.

The added facilities expand Dana’s engineering, manufacturing, testing, and aftermarket service in China, and are located in:

  • Shanghai, which engineers and manufactures SME AC electric motors, inverters, controllers, and accessories;
  • Changshu, which produces planetary gear reducers for e-Drives;
  • Baoding, which will make e-Axles for new energy buses, and;
  • Suzhou, one which produces city bus axles; and a second that produces drives, axles, and gears primarily for off-highway mobile equipment and industrial machinery.

Dana’s footprint in China now encompasses more than 6,750 employees at 23 operations, including those in which Dana holds an interest.

Jim Kamsickas, President and CEO of Dana, said: “Dana has been operating in China for more than 25 years and we see a strong opportunity to accelerate our growth in the Asia-Pacific region.

The addition of these facilities shows how Dana will continue to invest in expanding our capabilities for vehicle manufacturers in China – especially for those that are bolstering their electrification initiatives.”

Dana invests in electric hybrid vehicle conversion specialist Hyliion

Dana has entered into a strategic partnership with Hyliion, which will see the New York-listed company take an equity position as a lead investor in the Class 8 electrification company.

Dana said: “The investment is another step in a cadence of strategic transactions to position Dana as the leader in e-propulsion.”

Under the agreement, Dana will become Hyliion’s source for traditional driveline components, as well as fully integrated e-axles – which include motors, inverters, controls, gearboxes, and thermal-management technologies.

Hyliion, founded in 2015, develops intelligent, electric-hybrid architectures for Class 8 vehicles that can be installed on new trucks or retrofitted on existing trucks. This could, essentially, see it turning a traditional 6×2 truck into a 6×4 hybrid. “The Hyliion 6X4HE features the company’s proprietary machine-learning algorithms and battery technology to optimise fuel savings and vehicle performance for reduced emissions and a better driver experience,” Dana said.

Mark Wallace, President of Dana Commercial Vehicle Driveline Technologies, who will become a member of Hyliion’s board of directors as part of the deal, said: “Dana’s investment in Hyliion continues to expand our growth and leadership in electrification across all vehicle segments and partners us with a front-runner in the hybridisation of Class 8 vehicles for fleets ready to adopt electrified vehicles today.

“Together with Hyliion, we have a unique opportunity to develop long-haul solutions that revolutionise power conveyance and support fleets in meeting their efficiency goals, while simultaneously advancing de-carbonisation efforts.”

With its investment in Hyliion, Dana is positioned to supply customers with complete hybrid systems through Hyliion’s intelligent electric-hybrid controls, proprietary battery technology, and integration capabilities, along with Dana’s offering of Spicer® Electrified e-Axles; TM4® motors, inverters, and power electronics; Long® thermal-management solutions; auxiliary system motors through Dana’s acquisition of SME Group; and traditional Spicer® axles and driveshafts, Dana said.

Thomas Healy, CEO of Hyliion, said: “Dana’s wealth of knowledge and extensive strategic experience in the commercial-vehicle market creates a dynamic combination for our Class 8 hybrid platform. We are excited to be joining forces to offer a go-to-market solution for fleets seeking e-propulsion technologies available today in the Class 8 segment.”

Dana’s established field service specialists will work together with Hyliion’s team to jointly call on fleets throughout North America, Dana said.

Hyliion offers fleets a way to decrease fuel expenses and lower emissions by turning semi-tractors into intelligent electric hybrid vehicles. Its patented technology can be used on new or existing vehicles. Requiring no driver training, Hyliion products reduce fuel consumption, reduce emissions, and provide a positive return to fleets and the environment immediately, Dana said.

Wood Mackenzie poses mine electrification and automation question

Electrification and automation will be key priorities for mining companies in 2019, new research from Wood Mackenzie has claimed.

In reviewing the research firm’s ‘Global trends: what to look for in 2019’ report, Wood Mackenzie Research Director, Prakash Sharma, said: “Building a world-class low-cost mining business seems to be the mantra.

“Major players, such as BHP, Rio Tinto and Vale, are increasing the share of electricity and automation in mining operations. The objective is to not only reduce scope 1 emissions (from their own activities) and air pollution, but also to lower human involvement and operating expenditure.

“By employing data analytics, companies are chasing productivity and efficiency and lowering costs as a result. The aim is to stay at the lower end of the cost curve should demand for traditional mining commodities fall.”

In 2017, BHP set a long-term goal of achieving net-zero scope 1 and 2 emissions in the second half of this century, while, in 2018, Rio Tinto announced successful deployment of AutoHaulTM (pictured), “establishing the world’s largest robot and first automated heavy-haul long-distance rail network in the Pilbara region of Western Australia”, Sharma said.

“The key question will be whether other mining majors follow this trend in 2019.”

In terms of adopting automated technologies, BHP and Rio are far from being alone.

Vale’s Brucutu iron ore mine in Minas Gerais, Brazil, is set to go fully-autonomous this year – as a fleet of seven new Caterpillar 240 ton (218 t) 793F CMD fully autonomous trucks is expanded to 13 – Fortescue Metals is continuing its manual-to-automation fleet conversion at Christmas Creek, in Australia, and Norilsk Nickel recently told IM it was looking to introduce a “fully-automated mine”.

This is only the start.

NGEx Resources and Filo Mining, which are looking to develop open-pit copper operations in South America, confirmed in the past few months they were looking to incorporate autonomous haul truck technology from the off. These admissions came in their prefeasibility studies, which are likely to pre-date mining operations by three to five years.

And, underground, Resolute Mining and Sandvik plan to fully-automate the Syama block cave mine in Mali this year. The mine started commissioning at the back end of last year, hit the first production stopes in December and is expected to ramp up to steady-state output of over 300,000 oz/y by June.

This is but a handful of trials and projects going on in the automated mining space, with the process plant end also seeing a number of innovative trials or installations to move away from manual mode.

On the electrification question, specifically, Sharma told IM that grid-connected mines were acting faster when it came to adoption compared with those operating remotely. “Shovels and drilling machines at surface mines are already using electricity. Up to 100 t dump trucks are using electric-motors (battery-operated) at some mines in China,” he said.

“At underground mines, electric machines are increasingly used but batteries are yet to take off.”

The latter isn’t the case in Ontario, Canada, where Goldcorp (Borden) and Kirkland Lake Gold (Macassa) are using battery-powered equipment underground in their load and haul and utility fleets. In Sudbury, Canada, too there have been a number of deliveries of such machinery to some of its world-renowned base metal mines. (You can hear more about this at the inaugural Electric Mine conference in April).

As with the majority of technology projects, finance is the biggest hurdle for widespread adoption, according to Sharma.

“Another issue is around the financial health of the mining companies. Some are not willing to re-invest due to uncertainty around the commodities they mine. Some are focused on diversification of portfolios. There are others who want to act quickly, consolidate and take first mover advantage to decarbonise,” he said.

“We believe the electrification and automation in mining will continue to expand and tightening environmental policies will drive the shift. But a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach will not work,” he concluded.

ABB reaffirms four pillar strategy following Power Grids sale to Hitachi

Hitachi has agreed to acquire 80.1% of ABB’s Power Grids division in a deal that come with an enterprise value (EV) of $11 billion.

ABB says this divestment is an expansion of its existing partnership with Hitachi that dates back to 2014. The EV is equivalent to an EV/operating profit EBITA multiple of 11.2 x 1, ABB said.

ABB said: “Since 2014, Power Grids has been significantly improved under the ownership of ABB. The latest results (Q3, 2018) are at the target margin corridor, having more than doubled margins, with positive third party base order development recorded for the last six consecutive quarters.”

The Power Grids division serves utility, industry, transportation and infrastructure customers and is focused on addressing key areas such as the integration of renewable energies, growing network complexity, grid automation, and micro-grids.

ABB continued: “In the fast-changing world of energy infrastructure, with a shifting customer landscape and the need for financing and increased government influence, ABB believes Hitachi is the best owner for Power Grids.

“As a stable and long-term committed owner, with whom ABB has developed a strong business partnership since 2014, Hitachi will further strengthen the business, providing it with access to new and growing markets as well as financing. Hitachi will accelerate Power Grids to the next stage of its development, building on the solid foundation achieved under ABB’s previous ownership.”

As part of the deal, ABB will initially retain a 19.9% equity stake in the joint venture, but the transaction agreement includes a pre-defined option for ABB to exit the retained 19.9% share, exercisable three years after closing, at fair market value with floor price at 90% of agreed EV.

The joint venture will be headquartered in Switzerland, with Hitachi retaining the management team to ensure business continuity.

ABB says this deal is all part of its efforts to simplify its business model and structure. Effective April 1, 2019, ABB will discontinue its “legacy matrix structure”, allowing its four leading businesses to serve customers even better, it said.

These businesses are the Electrification, Industrial Automation, Robotics & Discrete Automation and Motion.

“Each business will be either the global #1 or #2 player in attractive markets with strong secular drivers. ABB’s established domain know-how, world-class engineering and technology expertise, will position the four businesses well to deliver innovative products and solutions for enhanced customer value,” the company said.

“Based on ABB’s common digital platform ABB Ability™, the businesses will provide tailored digital solutions, driving enhanced customer value. Building on emerging technologies including artificial intelligence and its strong software offering, ABB Ability will meet the increasing demand from ABB’s customers for digital solutions in the rapidly changing industrial world.”

ABB CEO, Ulrich Spiesshofer, said: “Our four newly shaped businesses, each a global leader, will be well aligned to the way our customers operate and focus stronger on emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence. The continued simplification of our business model and structure will be a catalyst for growth and efficiency in our businesses. Our businesses will be further supported through the transfer of experienced resources from today’s country organisations.”

The Electrification business, which presently has an addressable market of $160 billion, will have strong exposure to rapidly growing customer segments including renewables, e-mobility, data centres and smart buildings, ABB said. It will be led by Tarak Mehta, currently President of the Electrification Product division.

The Industrial Automation business will include ABB’s industry-specific integrated automation, electrification and digital solutions, control technologies, software and advanced services, as well as measurement and analytics, marine, and turbo-charging offerings. The addressable market of $90 billion is expected to grow on average by 3-4%/y over the long-term. The business will be led by Peter Terwiesch, currently President of the Industrial Automation division.

The Robotics and Discrete Automation segment has digital solutions and services that provide customers with enhanced safety, efficiency, up-time and speed, and cater to the growing customer demand for flexible and integrated manufacturing solutions, ABB says. It will be led by Sami Atiya, currently President of the Robotics and Motion division.

The Motion business, meanwhile, will provide customers with a range of innovative electrical motors, generators, drives, and service, as well as integrated digital powertrain solutions. It will be the number one player in the sector and be led by Morten Wierod, currently Managing Director Business Unit Drives.

ABB intends to host a strategy update alongside its December quarter results, expected on February 28.