Tag Archives: future of mining

Steering the electric mine revolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HA: It’s Canada for two reasons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IM: Anything else to add on this subject?

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

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

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

Rio addresses STEM skills shortage with new educational program

Rio Tinto says it will work with leaders in Australia’s education and innovation sectors in a “new, disruptive approach designed to tackle a looming skills gap in the nation’s future workforce”.

The company will invest A$10 million ($6.8 million) in a four-year national program, targeted at school-age learners, that aims to fast-track the development of skills needed for the digital future, including critical thinking, problem-solving, automation, systems design, and data analytics.

Launched today at the Rio Tinto Centre for Mine Automation at the University of Sydney, and developed in partnership with startup accelerator BlueChilli and Amazon Web Services (AWS), the program will crowd-source and fund ideas from start-ups and schools, Rio says.

“Designed to prepare young Australians for work of the future, the initial phase of the program will identify existing EdTech projects aimed at enhancing future skills, that can be scaled-up quickly for the use of students, teachers and parents,” Rio said.

Data compiled by employment analytics firm Burning Glass shows there is a shortage of transferable, broad-based Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) skills, such as systems analysis and programming, and broader expertise, such as communication and problem solving, needed for the digital revolution.

An advisory board of Australian education, innovation and business leaders, to be announced early next year, will guide the accelerator program and recommend future areas for investment. In 2020, startups selected for the program will each receive a grant from Rio Tinto, as well as training and mentoring from experienced entrepreneurs.

Rio Tinto will also encourage other business, education and innovation leaders to join the program, it says.

Rio said: “The initiative complements the A$14 million Rio Tinto already invests in education programs each year with universities, schools, governments and the not-for-profit sector to help meet growing demand for new and emerging skills.”

The existing investment includes a partnership with the West Australian Government and TAFE to develop the first nationally recognised qualifications in automation.

Rio Tinto chief executive, J-S Jacques (pictured), said: “This new program takes a bold and disruptive approach to identifying solutions that will help equip young people with the knowledge and skills for a changing world.”

He said rapid technological change was transforming people’s lives, and the pace of change is only increasing, challenging the company’s ability to attract, develop and retain the talent needed to run our operations of the future.

“Workers with transferable skills including broad-based Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Maths are critical for Australia’s future productivity and global competitiveness,” he said.

He concluded: “Addressing the change in skills required by mining and other industries is a task that requires new thinking and genuine partnerships between business, governments and academia. This approach significantly expands the network of organisations focused on equipping people for a digital future.”

Amazon Web Services Head of Resource Industries for Australia and New Zealand, Sarah Bassett, said: “AWS is committed to helping Australians develop the skills needed to thrive in the future workplace and drive economic growth. We are delighted to work with Rio Tinto and BlueChilli, as well as some of the most innovative startups, to help enable their ideas through technology.”

University of Sydney Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), Professor Duncan Ivison, said the university has worked with Rio Tinto for over a decade in advanced robotics and AI technology.

“Programs like these are particularly important when you consider the automation of routine tasks will increase demand for higher order skills such as critical thinking and analysis,” he said. “We need to prepare young people for these changes and at a minimum ensure that with increasing digitisation of the workplace there is basic digital literacy across all workers.”

The Electric Mine charges on to Sweden

Following the success of the inaugural Electric Mine event in Toronto, Canada, in April, International Mining Events has wasted no time in confirming the 2020 follow up; this time in Stockholm, Sweden.

Taking place at the Radisson Blu Waterfront Hotel on March 19-20, 2020, The Electric Mine 2020 will be even bigger, featuring new case studies from miners implementing electrification projects and presentations from the key OEMs and service suppliers shaping these solutions.

A leading hub in Europe for mining equipment and innovation, Sweden was the obvious choice for the 2020 edition of the event. Miners including Boliden and LKAB have already made electric moves above and below ground, and the north of the country is set to host Europe’s first home-grown gigafactory, the Northvolt Ett lithium-ion battery cell facility.

Sweden and Finland also play host to Europe’s major mining OEMs such as Epiroc, Sandvik, Metso and Outotec (soon to possibly be Metso Outotec Corp), and the Nordic region has a rich mining innovation legacy.

Capacity crowd

The announcement of the 2020 Electric Mine edition comes hot on the heels of a hugely successful debut in Toronto.

With the Radisson Admiral, on Toronto Harbourfront, filled out to capacity, the circa-150 attendees were treated to more than 20 world-class papers from miners Vale, Goldcorp (now Newmont Goldcorp), Kirkland Lake Gold, Boliden and Nouveau Monde Graphite; OEMs Epiroc, Sandvik, Caterpillar, Volvo CE and BELAZ; and equipment and service specialists Siemens, ABB, GE Transportation (a Wabtec company). Presentations from Doug Morrison (CEMI), Marcus Thomson (Norcat), David Sanguinetti (Global Mining Guidelines Group), Erik Isokangas (Mining3) and Ali Madiseh (University of British Columbia), meanwhile, provided the R&D angle delegates were after.

The event was a truly global affair, attracting delegates and exhibitors from Africa, Australasia, Europe, North America and South America, all eager to hear about developments across the sector.

Bigger and better

International Mining Events is upping the ante for 2020, increasing the event capacity to 200 delegates and making plans for a possible site visit to witness electric equipment in action.

Talks from several miners, as well as global international companies, will again underpin the 1.5-day conference program, which will also expand to cover the use of renewable/alternative energy within the field.

There will, again, be opportunities for sponsorship and exhibiting, with several companies already in discussions about booking the prime opportunities for the event.

If you would like to know more about The Electric Mine 2020, please feel free to contact Editorial Director, Paul Moore ([email protected]) or Editor, Dan Gleeson ([email protected]).

In the meantime, we look forward to seeing you in Stockholm!

Newmont speeding up mine plan decisions with digital and VR technologies

Newmont Mining, in a recent blog, has provided more details of how it is using digital technology and strategic mine planning to improve decision making at its operations.

One of the examples the leading gold miner gave was how it is using Maptek’s Vulcan Stope Optimiser at its Tanami gold operation in Australia.

This software delivers full 3D capabilities on stope shape generation and block model analysis without manual digitising, according to Maptek.

“Used at our Tanami operation, Vulcan delivers an improved approach for open-pit ore control polygon optimisation and helps reduce design time by roughly 98%,” Newmont said, citing a Maptek case study.

Virtual reality is another technology helping the company make smarter decisions, faster, it added.

“Paraview software – an open-source, multi-platform data analysis and visualisation application – delivers 2D data maps at a 3D scale, helping engineers and technicians envision geology models with greater precision,” Newmont said.

“With virtual reality, we are better equipped to identify potential problem areas and make smarter planning decisions.”

Newmont says it makes investments in these technologies only after asking – and answering – this question: “Does it add value or reduce risk to the business?”

“To help us answer this question, we partner with academic and industry experts to develop, source and test tools for driving mine optimisation. Only after rigorous trials result in proven value creation can teams then consider a wider rollout across sites,” it said.

One example of Newmont’s technology research and development work is its partnership with Montreal’s McGill University to launch the COSMO Laboratory – a global consortium dedicated to advancing the mine of the future.

Future mining workforce set for substantial change by 2024, Accenture says

Miners must prepare their workforce today to meet the demands of tomorrow’s digital age, or risk future growth and innovation, according to Gaston Carrion, Talent and Organisation Lead for Accenture’s resources practice in Australia and New Zealand.

Carrion told delegates at the International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC) in Melbourne, Australia that, as the use of autonomous vehicles and other advanced technologies increases, the profile of the future mining workforce could change by up to 80% by 2024.

“The very concept of work is being redefined due to changing workforce demographics and rapid advancements in technology, and the Australian mining industry is no exception,” Carrion said.

He believes the future mining workforce will be highly connected, as people work in tandem with artificial intelligence (AI) to improve safety, productivity and profitability.

“Based on the current rate of technology adoption, the digital mine is no longer a pipe dream, so it’s crucial that miners review their attraction, development and retention talent approaches,” he said.

“Now, more than ever, mining and metals companies need to look at their future talent needs and establish workforce and technology strategies to ensure they have a robust and appropriately skilled supply of employees.”

Accenture’s recent Reworking the Revolution research further highlights the need for human-machine collaboration and reskilling, according to the company. It found 66% of Australian workers thought the share of roles requiring collaboration with AI would rise in the next three years and only 3% of CEOs planned to significantly increase investment in reskilling their workforce in the next three years.

Carrion outlined three key ways for mining companies to get ahead of the curve to foster this future workforce, centred around attraction, development and retention.

He explained that mining will need new skills in the future, from technologists and data scientists, to partnership managers and improvement specialists.

“Miners must reimagine talent attraction in a battle for the best and brightest. New talent pools should be established, both internal and external, with proactive sourcing key,” he said.

“Diversity should also be a priority for miners, and many companies have committed to fostering a more gender-balanced workforce. Ultimately, a diverse workforce is more engaged and productive, and will allow miners to navigate industry disruption far more effectively.”

Development will also be vital as a workforce strategy, in terms of reskilling programmes, career advancement and organisational culture.

Carrion said reskilling on digital, analytics, process improvement, remote operations and applications of AI is imperative, extending beyond employees and into contractors.

He also detailed the area of retention and stressed its importance, explaining that retention of high performers shouldn’t be an afterthought, and that new leadership can help refresh and empower the existing workforce to embrace innovation quickly.

The IMARC conference and exhibition, taking place this week in Melbourne, Victoria, is developed in collaboration with its founding partners the Victorian State Government of Australia, Austmine, AusIMM and Mines and Money.