Tag Archives: Epiroc

Epiroc Canada launches RAC Teams, Control Tower to aid mining’s digital transformation

Epiroc Canada, adapting to changing technological trends in the mining sector, has introduced Regional Application Center (RAC) teams to, it says, assist in the industry’s new digital transformation.

“Across the board, mining projects are continually pushing for increased production while prioritising safety,” the company said. “With this in mind, Epiroc has assembled specialised automation and digitalisation support systems in strategic locations across the globe to help improve customer processes and boost productivity.”

The result, Epiroc says, is a heightened level of production that keeps workers out of danger zones on site while providing enhanced strategic direction for customers. Interoperability improvements have reduced variability and allow project planners to move towards their targets with renewed confidence.

Martin Champagne, Application Center Manager at Epiroc Canada, said: “Our RAC team gives new perspectives on achieving efficiency for the organisations we partner with. The team itself utilises members from a wide range of disciplines; from data analysts and project engineers to network specialists, software developers, IT specialists and digital product managers – the support system is always available when customers need it.”

Epiroc’s Canadian Customer Center has successfully applied this technology since the late 1990s, when the RCS Rocket Boomers with advanced boom controls and autodrill features were first introduced. In 2005, Canadian operations implemented one of the first Epiroc Scooptram Radio Remote Controls using long-range Bluetooth technology; 2009 for the first fleet of semi-autonomous Epiroc Scooptram implementations; 2012 for the first fleet of Pit Viper 235s with tele-remote systems; and 2019 for the first SmartROC D65 autonomous drill.

With Epiroc’s 6th Sense offering, the shift towards automation, digitalisation and interoperability is already underway, and the Regional Application Centers work collaboratively with many industry partners across the globe to achieve their goals, Epiroc said.

It added: “While working together with customers, Epiroc has initiated the move from machine autonomy to process autonomy, which consists of automating a complete process and allowing different kinds of equipment to communicate with each other effectively.”

To help support these functions, a newly renovated Control Tower located at Epiroc’s Lively, Ontario facility now acts as a home base for the RAC team, who are continually collecting data and developing innovative techniques to improve performance.

“Customers utilising this service for their projects can now turn their focus to other areas of the business with the knowledge that Epiroc’s team of experts are carefully monitoring progress on site and offering solutions in real time,” Epiroc concluded.

Evolution Mining studying open-pit, underground expansion options at Cowal

Evolution Mining says it is embarking on a prefeasibility study to further expand its Cowal open-pit mine as part of a plan to build towards 350,000 oz/y of sustainable, reliable, low-cost gold production from the New South Wales operation.

Currently on the E42 stage H cutback, Evolution said during a recent site visit that there is potential to further the life of the open pit by accessing feed from the E41 and E46 satellite pits. The study looking into a possible expansion is due later this year, with the company saying it could provide long-term base load ore feed for the operation.

The mine produced 262,000 ounces in Evolution’s 2020 financial year.

The Stage H cutback the company is currently pursuing is expected to see increased ore volumes and grade mined in the first six months of this year, with the strip ratio to fall below 1:1 in its 2023 financial year, Evolution said. It also says an equipment strategy review is underway, with opportunities to “rationalise fleet” with reduced re-handling.

The haulage and loading fleet at Cowal currently consists of 20 Cat 789C dump trucks, three Cat 785C trucks, four excavators (one Liebherr 9400, one Liebherr 994B, one Liebherr 9200 and one Hitachi EX1200), plus three Cat 992G wheel loaders. It also has six hired Epiroc SmartROC surface drills at the operation, one Drill Rigs Australia GC600 drill rig, five Cat D10T tracked dozers and one Cat 834H wheel dozer.

The open-pit expansion is only part of the expansion story at Cowal, with a feasibility study underway on an underground operation. This is factoring in 3 Moz of resources and 1 Moz of reserves, with high-grade orebodies open at depth, the company says.

A second decline (Galway) is due to be developed at Cowal this year, with diamond drilling set to commence next month. The 14,300 m of planned drilling will, the company says, help confirm optimal grade control parameters and convert resources to reserves.

Evolution Mining also has a permit to increase processing capacity at Cowal to 9.8 Mt/y, with near-term incremental improvements targeting a circa-9 Mt/y rate.

The process flowsheet at Cowal includes primary crushing with a Metso Outotec 54-75 Superior MK-II gyratory, grinding with an FLSmidth 36 ft (11 m) x 20.5 ft (6.2 m) SAG mill and FLSmidth 22 ft x 36.5 ft ball mill, and screening with Schenck and Delkor screens. Sandvik H6800 hydroconecone crushers, Metso Outotec flotation cells, a Metso Outotec Vertimill, and Metso Outotec stirred media detritors also feature.

Evolution also said it is testing technology that uses glycine and cyanide during the cyanidation process of gold ore at Cowal for potential significant cost savings and environmental benefits.

Lab trials with the GlyCat™ technology from Australia-based Mining and Process Solutions have been completed successfully, it said, with the next phase being pilot plant trials to assess variability tests and long-term environmental impacts.

Epiroc to acquire Meglab as part of battery-electric mining equipment push

Epiroc has agreed to acquire Meglab, a Canada-based company with expertise in providing electrification infrastructure solutions to mines, as it looks to further support mining customers in their transition to battery-electric vehicles.

Meglab, based in Val-D’Or, Quebec, Canada, is a technology integrator that designs, manufactures, installs and supports practical and cost-effective electrification and telecommunications infrastructure solutions to customers in several countries. Its products and solutions include system design, substations, switchgears and automation system solutions, enabling the infrastructure needed for mine electrification and equipment charging solutions, as well as for digitalisation and automation of operations, Epiroc says. It has more than 240 employees and had revenues in 2020 of about C$49 million ($39 million).

Helena Hedblom, Epiroc’s President and CEO, said: “Epiroc is proud to be the leader in providing battery-electric vehicles for the mining industry, improving customers’ work environment and lowering their emissions while increasing their productivity. The acquisition of Meglab will strengthen our capacity to provide the infrastructure required as mines transition to battery-electric vehicles.”

The acquisition is expected to be completed in the June quarter, with the purchase price not material relative to Epiroc’s market capitalisation, the mining OEM said. The business will become part of Epiroc’s Parts & Services division and will continue to be based in Canada.

In a separate release, Meglab said the two comapanies collective goal is to develop the mine of the future, with the organisations pooling its respective assets and expertise in pursuit of this target.

“Together, we will position ourselves as the leaders of all-electric and intelligent mines,” it said. “This synergy will provide various growth opportunities worldwide, both for Meglab and for the team members that will collaborate with their co-workers in this new expanded team.”

Ferrexpo confirms trolley assist scoping studies at Poltava

Ferrexpo, as part of its efforts towards integrating into a ‘Green Steel’ supply chain, is embarking on scoping studies looking at installing trolley assist technology at its Poltava mine in Ukraine.

The iron ore miner produced 11.2 Mt of iron ore pellets in 2020 from its Yeristovo and Poltava mines, up from 10.5 Mt in 2019. With iron ore prices on the rise and costs down during the 12-month period, the company recorded underlying EBITDA of $859 million, 46% higher than 2019.

During 2020, the company achieved material reductions in its carbon footprint per tonne for both Scope 1 (8%) and Scope 2 (21%) emissions, with a similar trajectory expected in 2021, Lucio Genovese, Non-executive Chair of Ferrexpo, said.

In the future growth investment program of its 2020 annual results statement, the company unveiled several projects to boost production, operating efficiency and sustainability.

The first one up was its mining fleet automation project.

In December 2020, the company commenced Phase 1 deployment of autonomous trucks at its Yeristovo iron ore mine, also in Ukraine. This project saw Caterpillar 793 haul trucks retrofitted with autonomous haulage capabilities through an agreement with ASI Mining.

The company said: “Phase 1 deployment of autonomous trucks commenced in December 2020, with an expectation to deploy additional autonomous Cat 793 haul trucks to production areas throughout 2021 (Phase 1), delivering gains in both safety and productivity.”

The autonomous truck deployment represents a significant milestone, with Yeristovo becoming the first mine in Europe to successfully invest in this modern technology, Ferrexpo said.

Deployment of autonomous haul trucks follows Ferrexpo’s investment in semi-autonomous/autonomous drill rigs (with Epiroc) and drone surveys since 2017 and 2018, respectively, which have brought significant safety improvements, it said.

“We expect to see similar benefits throughout our mining department as further automation investments are realised,” the company added.

On the trolley assist project at Poltava, Ferrexpo said scoping studies were underway to install a pantograph network of overhead cables in the group’s mines, which would enable haul trucks to ascend the open pit using electricity rather than diesel. It noted benefits were expected in its C1 cost base and Scope 1 carbon footprint.

In December, Ferrexpo Acting CEO, Jim North, told IM that the company planned to move to electric drive haul trucks in the next few years as a precursor to applying trolley assist at the operation.

Power infrastructure is already available in the pits energising most of its electric-hydraulic shovels and backhoes, and the intention is for these new electric drive trucks to go on trolley line infrastructure to eradicate some of the operation’s diesel use.

“Initially we would still need to rely on diesel engines at the end of ramps and the bottom of pits, but our intention is to utilise some alternative powerpack on these trucks as the technology becomes available,” North said at the time.

He expected that alternative powerpack to be battery-based, but he and the company were keeping their options open during conversations with OEMs about its fleet replacement plans.

With around 15% of the company’s carbon footprint tied to diesel use, this could have a big impact on Ferrexpo’s ‘green’ credentials, yet North said the transition to trolley assist made sense even without this sustainability benefit.

“The advantages in terms of mining productivity are huge,” North said. “You go from 15 km/h on ramp to just under 30 km/h on ramp.”

Another carbon-reduction project the company is pursuing is the development of a 5 MW pilot solar plant positioned at its concentrator. In its 2020 results statement, the company said procurement for this project was expected in the second half of the year.

There was $4 million of capital outstanding associated with this project in 2021, with the pilot looking to investigate the potential for industrial-scale generation of solar power at the company’s operations, commencing with the 5 MW pilot plant.

Ferrexpo said: “Electricity consumption accounted for 55% of the group’s Scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions in 2020, with solar power offering significant potential for cutting the group’s carbon footprint.

“Should this trial be successful, we will look to significantly expand this particular project.”

Epiroc commits to ‘next generation’ of underground mining with new Boomer M20

Epiroc has taken what Niklas Berggren, Global Product Manager for Face Drilling Equipment, says is the next logical development step in underground face drilling design by creating a new Boomer with protected hydraulics, sensors and cables.

The Epiroc Boomer M20 is designed and built to minimise unplanned stops and maximise uptime and performance in highly demanding operations by removing what is thought to be the biggest downtime drain in underground face drilling – the need to stop production for hose changes.

Epiroc explains: “A challenging part of underground work is the everyday wear and tear on hydraulic hoses. Falling rocks and debris, and the continuous wear against the tunnel floor and walls, means constant hose repairs.”

The Boomer M20’s heavy duty hose-less boom design minimises unplanned stops for hose repairs, keeping the rig up and running even in the toughest conditions, the company said.

Developed in close collaboration with key customers, the Boomer M20 is the result of extensive research and real-world testing, according to Berggren.

“This is the perfect choice for mining houses and contractors that want to out-drill the competition through innovation,” he said.

High drilling precision and performance are ensured thanks to on-board automation features, tele-remote capabilities and digital drill plans, which give higher reliability and quality of the full drill cycle, Epiroc claims.

By utilising high performance mine development options, such as Epiroc’s ABC Regular for longer rounds, higher accuracy, reduced overbreak and better quality tunnels, the Boomer M20 allows the operator to adjust and download drill plans directly at the face, eliminating the need for adjustments on the surface, Epiroc says.

“With digital drill plan handling, drill rounds will be longer, more precise and give far less overbreak,” Berggren said. “We have seen total cost savings of up to 25% and up to a 40% productivity increase.”

He added: “This is a very well-functioning option; on the Boomer M20, we have reinforced the technology on the face drilling rig itself so that we can utilise this option better in a harsh mining environment.”

The Boomer M20 is designed with safety at its core.

Through tele-remote capabilities, operators can drill from a safe distance away from hazardous areas at the tunnel face, while also keeping production going over shift changes. Multi-functional joysticks mean operators can always keep their eyes on the task. The cabin, reinforced with noise and vibration dampening materials to keep noise levels as low as 65 db, meanwhile, is designed for optimum visibility.

The safe bolting platform is another great safety feature that avoids operation under unsupported rock.

Such options set the Boomer M20 up to “take the lead for face drilling automation features into the future”, Berggren said.

Epiroc is continuing its charge towards electrification in underground mining with the new Boomer M20, providing a battery-electric driveline option to allow the machine to tram to the drill location on battery power and carry out drilling while plugged into the mine’s electrical infrastructure.

“A battery-powered Boomer M20 brings additional savings on health, maintenance, ventilation and cooling,” Epiroc said.

Berggren added: “With the on-board charger, the operator does not need to plan for charging as it automatically takes place while connected to the grid for drilling. Thanks to the high-capacity battery, the Boomer M20 has a fantastic driving range, and there is nothing to disturb the drift cycle.”

Epiroc President and CEO, Helena Hedblom, who stars in a campaign video for the Boomer M20 that sees the face drill balancing on its booms on a mountain top, said: “The Boomer M20 is another great example of how we make a difference through innovation.”

The Boomer M20 is available for commercial sales in the September quarter of 2021, and will shortly head to a customer site in Australia for tests, followed by trials at customer sites in Spain and Sweden.

Epiroc says it plans to rollout the new internal hydraulics design across the future Boomer range.

Pucobre takes the rapid mine development route with Epiroc

Faced with the challenge of boosting productivity and lowering costs, Chile-based copper miner Pucobre has teamed up with Epiroc to implement the first Rapid Mine Development (RMD) project in the country.

Combining technology and changes in mindset to build high-quality mine infrastructure, the company is now on a path to become a 4.0 mine, Epiroc says.

In 2016, Pucobre, a selective underground copper mining company, was faced with a conundrum: grades at its deposits were falling, and global red metal prices were unstable.

The company knew it needed to change to remain competitive and began looking for ways of working that were more productive, efficient and cost effective. That is when the idea of Rapid Mine Development (RMD) appeared on the horizon, Epiroc said.

“RMD is a method for making higher-quality tunnels, faster in the underground mine development cycle,” it said. “What previously depended largely on the skill and experience of the drill operator and explosives technician are now computer-supported tools for standardisation and optimisation.

“For Pucobre, RMD has meant not only a change in technology but also a cultural change oriented toward quality and discipline.”

The project started as part of a strategic partnership with Epiroc, unique in Chile, which commenced with a contract in 2017 to replace Pucobre’s truck and loader fleet with Minetruck MT65 trucks and Scooptram ST18 loaders, vehicles with higher capacity.

The partnership was unique because it guaranteed the mechanical operability of the equipment over its working lifetime, Epiroc said. This is nine years in the case of the trucks, and 5-6 years for the loaders. The previous vehicles used by Pucobre had to be changed every 2-3 years, which led to the first in many steps of change management for Pucobre, with more focus on complete maintenance of the vehicles to ensure their longevity.

On its premises in Atacama desert, Pucobre set up a training centre with simulators to instruct drivers how to handle these new vehicles, installed a maintenance workshop, and had Epiroc staff permanently on site to jointly solve problems that might arise. Encouraged by this experience, Pucobre and Epiroc began to explore new ways to streamline the operation.

Sebastián Ríos (pictured below), CEO of Pucobre, said: “Epiroc has always shown a great disposition for solving problems and working to ensure that the trucks and loaders are successful.”

According to Marco Troncoso, Pucobre’s Mining Operations Head, before embarking on RMD, the company’s way of working was “very dependent on specific skills of its people”, with Pucobre keen to leverage technology and improve the efficiency of its workers.

Troncoso said: “Epiroc said to us: ’let us help you build the new house in which you will live for the next 30 years.’ Once you get used to doing things in a quality way, the results improve.”

Epiroc visited Pucobre’s three site operations near the northern city of Copiapó, and Pucobre came up with a three-year development plan (2019-2021) to boost productivity by 40% and reduce costs by 25%.

Pucobre and Epiroc went on site visits to Australia, Nevada (USA), Sweden and Canada where the company could see leading mining companies using Boomer face drilling rigs in action, as well as the new concepts of mine management, which would also be adopted.

Two alternatives were proposed to help Pucobre meet its goals. One was to use multi-role face drills, like in Australia, which combine blasthole drilling and rock reinforcement such as scaling, bolting and meshing in a single rig. The other alternative was RMD, a method which promises longer rounds, higher accuracy, reduced overbreak and better quality tunnels, Epiroc said.

“Most importantly, with the latest Boomer S2 rigs – equipped with ABC Total, a smart function that allows for complete automation of the drilling process – RMD offered a path that would enable the machinery to operate autonomously during lunch breaks and shift changes, thereby resulting in more productivity gains,” the company said.

Once Pucobre had opted for RMD, the company invested in four of the latest Boomer face drilling rigs and three Simba production drill rigs. To monitor development and meet key performance indicators, Pucobre went digital, building a new Mining Operations Centre on site. In the future, the company is expected to deploy Epiroc’s 6th Sense Mine Management Solution, which combines the Mobilaris scheduler and other task management and reporting features, as well as the Certiq telematics solution, which gathers, compares and communicates vital equipment information to the surface.

Investing in and betting on RMD has meant a major leap of faith on the part of Pucobre. The total investment over the nine-year contract period is likely to reach $60-70 million, factoring in machinery, spare parts and technology. There have also been major time investments in training and change management.

Ríos said: “This is the biggest change in Pucobre in the last 30 years.”

A big challenge for Pucobre was the increased development rates over the coming years, which came with a significant cost increase. Cost estimations prior to project start showed significant cost savings by using RMD to prevent this.

So, the alternative – to keep doing things the way they had before – was not compelling. According to Epiroc’s calculations, without RMD, Pucobre’s annual development costs would have increased 3%/y from $25.5 million in 2019 to $27 million in 2022. With RMD, development costs are projected to fall to $21.3 million in 2022.

Change management has been the other major challenge on this journey, adapting attitudes and skill sets to the new ways of working. Pucobre introduced Short Interval Control (SIC), which is a structured process that measures short intervals of production to identify opportunities for improvement.

To manage the operation, it is necessary to have as much information online as possible, such as the location of vehicles and work plans for the day, so that personnel in the Mining Operations Centre can make decisions and improve productivity.

Ríos said: “The engineering department had to modify how it plans, now with shorter intervals. What was previously done in the field now has to be carefully planned and coordinated before it is executed.”

Cultural differences between the Swedish and Chilean way of doing things have required compromises on both sides and commitment and team work to make this unique joint venture successful.

The RMD project at Pucobre is being implemented in four stages. After getting used to using standardised, computerised drill plans using navigation methods, the project has now moved to a second stage – to optimise the machinery to extend explosive rounds to 4.4 m, from 3.8 m. The goal is to reach 95% of the blasting target with less than 5% underbreak or overbreak and to increase development rates from 1,100 m/mth to 1,400 m/mth.

Stage 3 is continuous improvement, leveraging reported data from the rigs to correct divergence using Rig Remote Access (RRA), which enables two-way communication between the drill and the RRA server using the site W-LAN wireless network.

But the principal objective is to reach stage 4, where drills can operate autonomously during lunch and shift breaks using the ABC Total smart function.

Progress has been fast, according to Hilario Arce, Head of Pucobre’s mining operations. With the Minetruck MT65 trucks and Scooptram ST18 loaders, Pucobre has already increased its monthly mineral extraction to 460,000 t, from 333,000 t previously. Two of the three mining sites are now operating 100% RMD, the third one is coming soon. Operators are getting close to the 95% blasting target, and Arce is confident 60-70% of drilling will be automated come March 2021.

The Epiroc Simba 7 long-hole rigs are the most advanced to date in Punta del Cobre in terms of the use of ABC Total, but the system will start implementation in Boomer rigs in December.

Working closely together has been key for Epiroc to build trust, says Charlie Ekberg, General Manager of Epiroc Chile, who underscores that demonstrating success with Pucobre will be key for winning similar projects elsewhere in Chile. Epiroc is also betting on introducing teleremote technology for mine loaders and battery-powered trucks in Chile next year.

“That’s why we put so much effort into training,” Ekberg said. “It’s not just about selling the machine. We want the equipment to work and, if a machine is standing idle, we want to know why. We’ve had to learn how the customer thinks and always be one step ahead.”

In terms of results and costs of the overall project, Pucobre is still only halfway to where it wants to be, according to Ríos. But he knows Pucobre is on the right path.

He said: “There are still gaps. Sometimes the trucks aren’t loading to their full capacity, or the loading cycle and return to the surface is taking longer than planned. That equation still has room for improvement.”

It has been a learning experience for both Epiroc and Pucobre. Overly ambitious KPIs and targets set at the beginning have had to be modified to suit the pace of progress and time needed to train with this new way of doing things. That is where change management has been one of the biggest challenges.

“There are many things that change in the day-to-day operation,” Ríos said. “You contract new people, new technology, there is a change in planning. You have to look at the way that people adapt to this new way of working.

“You have to support people in this process so that it flows with the help of the human resources department. Change is difficult. It’s like working from home, which many people have done this year. You have to manage it well, for it to be successful. We trust our people will do it.”

This first appeared as an Epiroc customer story here.

Barminco to debut Epiroc Diamec Smart 6M in the Goldfields of Western Australia

Barminco says it has become the first company in the world to debut the new generation of Epiroc’s Mobile Carrier Rig (MCR) – the GEN 2 Epiroc Diamec Smart 6M.

This second-generation underground mobile core drill rig uses the drilling capacity of the Diamec Smart 6 automated operating system, and the mobility and sturdiness of the S2 Boomer carrier with the addition of Epiroc’s automated rod handler, the contractor said.

Epiroc says the the Diamec Smart 6M combines the best of two worlds – the high productivity and accuracy of a Diamec core drilling rig, with the mobility of a robust carrier designed for underground use.

The Rod Handling System, coupled with the Smart 6 Rig Control System, allows for full automation, increasing operator safety and productivity, according to Barminco.

The company said: “Combining Epiroc’s cutting-edge technology of their drilling and rod handling operating systems brings the underground drilling industry a step closer to having ‘no hands on steel’ and taking a giant step forward towards a safer environment for the operators.”

The contractor is due to commission the rig next month at a client site in the Goldfields of Western Australia.

Barminco added: “The addition of the Epiroc GEN 2 MCR to our state-of-the-art fleet supports our Diamond Drill team to Enable Tomorrow, work Smarter Together and take No Shortcuts. Following these Barminco Principles will help create a safer environment for our people and will assist our client in consistently achieving production targets.”

Epiroc continues to build equipment order book in Q4

Epiroc continued to register strong demand for its equipment in the December quarter, with the mining OEM’s order intake increasing both in the underground and surface mining segments, the company reported today.

Headline numbers from the December quarter included a 1% year-on-year increase in orders received to SEK9.3 billion ($1.1 billion), a 5% drop in revenues to SEK9.8 billion, a 10% increase in operating profit to SEK2.2 billion and a higher operating margin of 22.6%, compared with 19.6% a year earlier.

In terms of its equipment, Epiroc said orders received increased 26% organically to SEK2.97 billion in the last quarter of 2020.

Speaking to IM shortly after the results were released, Helena Hedblom, Epiroc CEO, explained: “The equipment orders…were across our portfolio, and the good thing is there were not that many large orders in the quarter; it was many small- and medium-sized orders.”

This would imply the strength in equipment demand – which came from both the underground mining and open-pit mining segment – is broad across the industry, coming not just from the major miners.

This pattern was also seen in the September quarter of 2020 when the company recorded a 25% year-on-year organic increase in equipment orders in the period, with the majority of orders coming from small- to medium-sized contracts of, say, one or two pieces of equipment, Hedblom said at the time of the results release.

Looking at the wider equipment and service segment of the business – which provides rock drilling equipment, equipment for mechanical rock excavation, rock reinforcement, loading and haulage, ventilation systems, drilling equipment for exploration, water, oil and gas, as well as related spare parts and service for the mining and infrastructure industries – Epiroc said the share of orders from equipment in this segment was 43% in the December quarter. Service, meanwhile, represented 57% of the orders.

Epiroc said it expected demand, both for equipment and aftermarket, to remain stable in the near term, while cautioning: “Uncertainty, however, still remains regarding the COVID-19 development and any further related restrictions.”

In the results release, Hedblom said automation, digitalisation and electrification solutions were in high demand over the quarter, with the company connecting more and more machines over this time frame.

“We continue to win orders and we are proud of our market-leading solutions that are globally deployed and proven,” she said. “They enable increased productivity, safety and sustainability for our customers.”

When questioned about the planned acquisition of MineRP, announced late in the quarter, Hedblom said the combination of the MineRP platform with its own digital solutions would allow Epiroc to “become a better productivity partner” in a mine’s digital journey.

IM also got Hedblom’s thoughts on if there was a regional difference in the speed of uptake of ‘new technology’ in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak. She said: “I see this technology shift coming in a different light with the pandemic. Sustainability is coming in; digital tools are becoming more and more natural as we need them.

“There is maybe an acceptance that the technology is here to stay, is available and customers want to jump on this journey now. I see it across all regions, which is a bit different to how the mining industry has adopted new technologies in the past.

“We have good traction everywhere now when it comes to new technologies.”

And, on the subject of ‘new technology’ uptake, IM asked Hedblom if she saw any parallels between the evolution of automated equipment adoption in the mining sector – which started with solely new autonomous equipment purchases to improve operations and moved towards a combination of retrofits and new equipment as the technology gained traction – and how companies may look to leverage mine electrification underground.

She answered: “I think it is too early to say yet. If I look into the coming 5-10 years, conversion of existing fleet will be one way to speed up the electrification journey. That is also why we are investing and developing these types of products to allow us to offer retrofits as part of the mid-life rebuild process, for example.”

The company confirmed back in November that its battery-electric retrofit solution for diesel-powered machines is expected to launch in the March quarter of 2021.

Artisan battery-powered Z50 truck on its way to Kirkland Lake’s Macassa gold mine

Kirkland Lake Gold says it is expecting to receive a 50 t battery-powered Z50 underground haul truck at its Macassa gold mine, in Ontario, Canada, this quarter, following a purchase agreement signed last year.

The gold miner’s Macassa operation has been a leading adopter of new electric equipment and already has four 40 t battery-powered machines at the underground mine. These are matched by many battery-powered LHDs made by likes of Artisan Vehicle Systems and Epiroc.

The latest 50 t vehicle will come from Artisan, a Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions business unit.

The Z50 haul truck is a ground-up design that seamlessly integrates the most capable and proven battery-electric powertrain available in the mining industry with the latest and most coveted features of any haul truck on the market today, according to Sandvik. The 50 t machine is based off the existing design for the Z40 truck, which Artisan released back in 2018, but features a stretched rear frame (close to 19 in).

It is equipped with AutoSwap, a patented self-swapping system for the Artisan battery pack. This makes battery swapping faster and easier with a minimum amount of manual handling: changing the battery only takes about six minutes, and it can be done in a passing bay or old re-muck bay with no overhead cranes or external infrastructure needed, Sandvik says.

The news of the pending arrival of this electric vehicle came at the same time as Kirkland Lake released its 2020 production results. The company produced 369,434 oz of gold in the December quarter to make a total of 1.37 Moz of gold in 2020, 41% higher than the total in 2019, which was in line with its full-year 2020 guidance of 1.35-1.4 Moz.

Autonomous drilling transition sets IAMGOLD’s Essakane up for longer mine life

The roots of IAMGOLD’s automation ambitions at the Côté gold project in Ontario, Canada, can be traced back to remote and auto drilling developments at its 90%-owned Essakane mine in Burkina Faso, which, according to a recent presentation from Zhi Jun Zhu, has resulted in significant operational benefits.

IAMGOLD launched the first automated drill rig in West Africa with assistance from Epiroc back in February at Essakane. This followed a series of automation steps carried out on the company’s fleet of Epiroc PV235 blasthole drills, beginning with the ‘Operator Assist’ phase back in 2016.

Added to the seven PV235 blasthole drills on site are five Sandvik D45KSs. These drills are working in medium-to-hard material of 100-250 Mpa rock where they drill 229 mm and 152 mm diameter holes on 10 m benches. They come with a single pass limit of up to 12.2 m in down-the-hole drilling mode.

The business case for adopting automation at the site, which began operating in 2010 and was expanded in 2013 to reach a mining capacity of 55 Mt/y, was centred around a capex versus opex dynamic – should the company purchase a new rig to increase drilling performance by 15%, or try to increase the use of automation on its existing seven PV235s to hit this goal?

Alongside this, the company wanted to provide its best drillers with the ability to operate multiple rigs simultaneously, enhance operational safety, support continued sustainability, and improve performance and productivity.

Zhu, who worked at Essakane as Technical Services Coordinator for five years prior to his current role as Autonomous Systems Engineer at Côté, explained during the recent GMG-led Autonomous Drills Virtual Forum: “During the start-up of the mine, the required fragmentation size was difficult to achieve because the ore was coming from the soft area where it was highly weathered and fractured. As the mine depth increased, the material got harder. As a result, the blasting fragmentation became harder to achieve. At the same time as the percentage of hard material increased, productivity of the crusher became a concern and bottleneck.”

With the last life of mine study in 2018 showing a required increase in the total material mined to keep up an average gold production rate of 400,000 oz/y – and the requirement to strip hard material from phase four, five, six and seven to reach a new ore zone from 2026 – the company needed to embed a suitable level of blasthole drill automation in advance of another expansion in the mine life.

Prior to 2016, Essakane required two people to operate a PV235 – one to guide the machine to the desired location and another to operate it.

This was neither safe or efficient, Zhu said, adding that hole deviation and sub-optimal fragmentation were also common with this setup.

Breaking down the project key performance indicators after the initial ramp up of remote and autonomous operation, Zhu said the company was looking for:

  • An improved drilling penetration rate of 15%:
    • 23 m/operating hour (propel + setup + drill); and
    • 28 m/drilling hour.
  • Improved drilling productivity from 63% to 75%:
    • Eliminate stoppage delays associated with lunch and shift change;
    • Lean drilling, less propel/tram and setup/positioning time.
  • Increased drilling capacity from 81,714 to 108,800 drilling meters/rig/year.

Having progressed from the ‘Rig Operator Assist’ mode in 2016, which used Epiroc’s Rig Control System, Surface Manager, Auto Level, first generation AutoDrill module, and Hole Navigation; the company has progressed to the ‘Rig Remote Operation’ phase where (Multi) Remote and AutoDrill generation two functions are employed.

This second-generation system represents a “big advance”, Zhu said.

“The system is very smart and could continuously optimise the engagement to deliver the desired result,” he said. “The only manual input required is the ‘aggressiveness’ setting, which balances the bit life with the penetration rate.”

This led to the launch of its first fully automated drill rig on February 8.

While the project is on course to hit all the above-mentioned KPIs, there have been other benefits including an operating hours improvement of 645 hours/year/rig; a 14,835 m/year/rig drilling metres gain; a $356,040/rig incremental annual production benefit; and a net cost saving of $202,794/rig compared with the equivalent rental equipment drilling cost.

All of these add to fewer people being in dangerous areas on the mine site – with all operators in remote operating centres – more consistent operation from a fuels/lubricants and drilling consumables perspective and, of course, less maintenance.

Reflecting on the implementation, Zhu noted several key required inputs for a successful automation implementation program.

“It is a critical requirement to have a reliable network connection between the on-board device and the remote operations office,” he said.

On top of this, the sensors on the machines need to be kept in top shape, meaning maintenance teams should evaluate their health on a regular basis and always keep spare parts available.

And, while fewer people will be needed to oversee drilling in autonomous mode, the skills level of the required personnel will be that much greater.

Some of the next steps at Essakane include improving the bandwidth and latency time for real-time control of multi-automated drills, developing a preventive maintenance system checklist, and carrying out a business case study on upgrading four PV235s to either Teleremote/AutoDrill 2 operation.

Zhu will no doubt bring these learnings and opportunities to the Côté gold development in Canada, which is expected to operate six blasthole drills in fully autonomous mode when ramped up, alongside more than 20 fully automated haul trucks. These will help the mine reach an average production rate of 367,000 oz/y of gold.