Tag Archives: Hitachi

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.

North sets Ferrexpo on a course for ‘carbon neutrality’

Ferrexpo is used to setting trends. It was the first company to launch a new open-pit iron ore mine in the CIS since Ukraine gained its independence in 1991 and has recently become the first miner in Ukraine to adopt autonomous open-pit drilling and haulage technology.

It plans to keep up this innovative streak if a conversation with Acting CEO Jim North is anything to go by.

North, former Chief Operating Officer of London Mining and Ferrexpo, has seen the technology shift in mining first-hand. A holder of a variety of senior operational management roles in multiple commodities with Rio Tinto and BHP, he witnessed the take-off of autonomous haulage systems (AHS) in the Pilbara, as well as the productivity and operating cost benefits that came with removing operators from blasthole drills.

He says the rationale for adopting autonomous technology at Ferrexpo’s Yeristovo mine is slightly different to the traditional Pilbara investment case.

“This move was not based on reduction in salaries; it was all based on utilisation of capital,” North told IM. While miners receive comparatively good salaries in Ukraine, they cannot compete with the wages of those Pilbara haul truck drivers.

Ferrexpo Acting CEO, Jim North

North provided a bit of background here: “The focus for the last six years since I came into the company was about driving mining efficiencies and getting benchmark performance out of our mining fleet. This is not rocket science; it is all about carrying out good planning and executing to that plan.”

The company used the same philosophy in its process plant – a philosophy that is likely to see it produce close to 12 Mt of high grade (65% Fe) iron ore pellets and concentrate next year.

Using his industry knowledge, North pitted Ferrexpo’s fleet performance against others on the global stage.

“Mining is a highly capital-intensive business and that equipment you buy has got be moving – either loaded or empty – throughout the day,” North said. “24 hours-a-day operation is impossible as you must put fuel in vehicles and you need to change operators, so, in the beginning, we focused on increasing the utilised hours. After a couple of years, I noticed we were getting very close to the benchmark performance globally set by the majors.

“If you are looking at pushing your utilisation further, it inevitably leads you to automation.”

Ferrexpo was up for pushing it further and, four years ago, started the process of going autonomous, with its Yeristovo iron ore mine, opened in 2011, the first candidate for an operational shakeup.

“Yeristovo is a far simpler configuration from a mining point of view,” North explained. “It is basically just a large box cut. Poltava, on the other hand (its other iron ore producing mine currently), has been around for 50 years; it is a very deep and complex operation.

“We thought the place to dip our toe into the water and get good at autonomy was Yeristovo.”

This started off in 2017 with deployment of teleremote operation on its Epiroc Pit Viper 275 blasthole drill rigs. The company has gradually increased the level of autonomy, progressing to remotely operating these rigs from a central control room. In 2021-2022, these rigs will move to fully-autonomous mode, North says.

Ferrexpo has also been leveraging remotely-operated technology for mine site surveying, employing drones to speed up and improve the accuracy of the process. The miner has invested in three of these drones to carry out not only site surveys, but stockpile mapping and – perhaps next year – engineering inspections.

“The productivity benefits from these drones are huge,” North said. “In just two days of drone operation, you can carry out the same amount of work it would take three or four surveyors to do in one or two weeks!”

OEM-agnostic solution

It is the haul truck segment of the mine automation project at Yeristovo that has caught the most industry attention, with Ferrexpo one of the first to choose an OEM-agnostic solution from a company outside of the big four open-pit mining haul truck manufacturers.

The company settled on a solution from ASI Mining, owned 34% by Epiroc, after the completion of a trial of the Mobius® Haulage A.I. system on a Cat 793D last year.

The first phase of the commercial project is already kicking off, with the first of six Cat 793s converted to autonomous mode now up and running at Yeristovo. On completion of this first phase of six trucks, consideration will be given to timing of further deployment for the remainder of the Yeristovo truck fleet.

This trial and rollout may appear fairly routine, but behind the scenes was an 18-month process to settle on ASI’s solution.

“For us, as a business, we have about 86 trucks deployed on site,” North said. “We simply couldn’t take the same route BHP or Rio took three or four years ago in acquiring an entirely new autonomous fleet. At that point, Cat and Komatsu were the only major OEMs offering these solutions and they were offering limited numbers of trucks models with no fleet integration possibilities.

“If you had a mixed fleet – which we do – then you were looking at a multi-hundred-million-dollar decision to change out your mining fleet. That is prohibitive for a business like ours.”

Ferrexpo personnel visited ASI Mining’s facility in Utah, USA, several times, hearing all about the parent company’s work with NASA on robotics. “We knew they had the technical capability to work in tough environments,” North remarked.

“We also saw work they had been doing with Ford and Toyota for a number of years on their unmanned vehicles, and we witnessed the object detect and collision avoidance solutions in action on a test track.”

Convinced by these demonstrations and with an eye to the future of its operations, Ferrexpo committed to an OEM-agnostic autonomous future.

“If we want to get to a fully autonomous fleet at some stage in the future, we will need to pick a provider that could turn any unit into an autonomous vehicle,” North said. It found that in ASI Mining’s Mobius platform.

Such due diligence is representative not only of the team’s thorough approach to this project, it also reflects the realities of deploying such a solution in Ukraine.

“It is all about building capability,” North said. “This is new technology in Ukraine – it’s not like you can go down the road and find somebody that has worked on this type of technology before. As a result, it’s all about training and building up the capacity in our workforce.”

After this expertise has been established, the automation rollout will inevitably accelerate.

“Once we have Yeristovo fully autonomous, we intend to move the autonomy program to Belanovo, which we started excavating a couple of years ago,” North said. “The last pit we would automate would be Poltava, purely due to complexity.”

Belanovo, which has a JORC Mineral Resource of 1,700 Mt, is currently mining overburden with 30-40 t ADTs shifting this material. While ASI Mining said it would be able to automate such machines, North decided the automation program will only begin when large fleet is deployed.

“When we deploy large fleet at Belanovo and start to move significant volumes, we intend for it to become a fully-autonomous operation,” he said.

Poltava, which is a single pit covering a 7 km long by 2 km wide area (pictured below), has a five-decade-long history and a more diverse mining fleet than Yeristovo. In this respect, it was always going to be harder to automate from a loading and haulage point of view.

“If you think about the fleet numbers deployed when Belanovo is running, we will probably have 50% of our fleet running autonomously,” North said. “The level of capability to run that level of technology would be high, so it makes sense to take on the more complex operation at Poltava at that point in time.”

Consolidation and decarbonisation

This autonomy transition has also given North and his team the chance to re-evaluate its fleet needs for now and in the future.

This is not as simple as it may sound to those thinking of a typical Pilbara AHS fleet deployment, with the Yeristovo and Poltava mines containing different ore types that require blending at the processing plant in order to sustain a cost-effective operation able to produce circa-12 Mt/y of high-grade (65%-plus Fe) iron ore pellets and concentrate.

“That limits our ability in terms of fleet size for ore mining because we want to match the capacity of the fleet to the different ore streams we feed into the plant,” North said.

This has seen the company standardise on circa-220 t trucks for ore movement and 300-320 t trucks for waste haulage.

On the latter, North explained: “That is about shovel utilisation, not necessarily about trucks. If you go much larger than that 320-t truck, you are talking about the need to use large rope shovels and we don’t have enough consistent stripping requirements for that. We think the 800 t-class electric hydraulic excavator is a suitable match for the circa-320 t truck.”

This standardisation process at Poltava has seen BELAZ 40 t trucks previously working in the pit re-assigned for auxiliary work, with the smallest in-pit Cat 777 trucks acting as fuel, water and lubrication service vehicles at Poltava.

“The Cat 785s are the smallest operating primary fleet we have at Poltava,” North said. “We also have the Hitachi EH3500s and Cat 789s and Cat 793s, tending to keep the bigger fleet towards Yeristovo and the smaller fleet at Poltava.”

In carrying out this evaluation, the company has also plotted its next electrification steps.

“Given we have got to the point where we know we want 220 t for ore and 300-320 t nominally for waste at Yeristovo, we have a very clear understanding of where we are going in our efforts to support our climate action,” North said.

Electrification of the company’s entire operation – both the power generation and pelletising segment, and the mobile fleet – forms a significant part of its carbon reduction plans.

A 5 MW solar farm is being built to trial the efficacy of photovoltaic generation in the region, while, in the pelletiser, the company is blending sunflower husks with natural gas to power the process. Fine tuning over the past few years has seen the company settle on a 30:70 sunflower husk:natural gas energy ratio, allowing the company to make the most of a waste product in plentiful supply in Ukraine.

On top of this, the company is recuperating heat from the pelletisation process where possible and reusing it for other processes.

With a significant amount of ‘blue’ (nuclear) or ‘green’ (renewable) power available through the grid and plans to incorporate renewables on site, Ferrexpo looks to have the input part of the decarbonisation equation covered.

In the pellet lines, North says green hydrogen is believed to be the partial or full displacement solution for gas firing, with the company keenly watching developments such as the HYBRIT project in Sweden.

On the diesel side of things, Ferrexpo is also charting its decarbonisation course. This will start with a move to electric drive haul trucks in the next few years.

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.

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

“We know we are going to have to buy a fleet in the next couple of years, but the problem is when you make that sort of purchase, you are committing to using those machines for the next 20 years,” North said. “During all our conversations with OEMs we are recognising that we will need to buy a fleet before they have probably finalised their ‘decarbonised’ solutions, so all the contracts are based on the OEM providing that fully carbon-free solution when it becomes available.”

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 the transition to trolley assist makes 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.”

This is not all North offered up on the company’s carbon reduction plans.

At both of Ferrexpo’s operations, the company moves a lot of ore internally with shuttle trains, some of which are powered by diesel engines. A more environmentally friendly alternative is being sought for these locomotives.

“We are working with rail consultants that are delivering solutions for others to ‘fast follow’ that sector,” North said referencing the project already underway with Vale at its operations in Brazil. “We are investigating at the moment how we could design and deploy the solution at our operations for a lithium-ion battery loco.”

Not all the company’s decarbonisation and energy-efficiency initiatives started as recently as the last few years.

When examining a plan to reach 12 Mt/y of iron ore pellet production, North and his team looked at the whole ‘mine to mill’ approach.

“The cheapest place to optimise your comminution of rock is within the mine itself,” North said. “If you can optimise your blasting and get better fragmentation in the pit, you are saving energy, wear on materials, etc and you are doing some of the job of the concentrator and comminution process in the mine.”

A transition to a full emulsion blasting product came out of this study, and a move from NONEL detonators to electronic detonators could follow in the forthcoming years.

“That also led us into thinking about the future crusher – where we want to put it, what materials to feed into the expanded plant in the future, and what blending ratio we want to have from the pits,” North said. “The problem with pit development in a business that is moving 150-200 Mt of material a year is the crusher location needs to change as the mining horizons change.”

It ended up becoming a tradeoff between placing a new crusher in the pit on an assigned bench or putting it on top of the bench and hauling ore to that location.

The favoured location looks like being within the pit, according to North.

“It will be a substantial distance away from where our existing facility at Poltava is and we will convey the material into the plant,” he said. “We did the tradeoff study between hauling with trains/trucks, or conveying and, particularly for Belanovo, we need to take that ore to the crusher from the train network we already have in place.”

These internal ‘green’ initiatives are representative of the products Ferrexpo is supplying the steel industry.

Having shifted away from lower grade pellets to a higher-grade product in the past five years and started to introduce direct reduced iron pellet products to the market with trial shipments, Ferrexpo is looking to be a major player in the ‘green steel’ value chain.

North says as much.

“We are getting very close to understanding our path forward and our journey to carbon neutrality.”

MineWare Argus Wheel Loader achieves North America first with CAT 992 installation

MineWare’s new Argus Wheel Loader has made its debut in North America, with the OEM-independent wheel loader monitoring system having recently been installed on a CAT 992K operating at a gold mine in Nevada, USA.

The system, purchased to improve wheel loader truck payload management and performance at the operation, was installed in July by the company’s North America team.

On top of it being the first commercial deployment of MineWare’s Argus WL monitoring system in the North America region, it is also MineWare’s first system installation on a CAT 992K wheel loader, the company told IM.

The release of Argus WL in February followed 18 months of field trials conducted across three Western Australia mine sites.

Argus WL improves wheel loader efficiency, effectiveness and payload accuracy, according to the Komatsu-owned company. “The system weighs each bucket in real time, without the need to stop and calculate payload before dumping the load,” it said.

“Often dubbed as ‘support’ equipment, the wheel loader makes it possible for the primary loading and hauling equipment to do their jobs more efficiently,” MineWare said. “When a large wheel loader has the capacity to replace a small digger, it’s vital not to forget the importance of these assets and the impact they have on mining productivity and profitability.”

The company concluded: “MineWare’s Argus Wheel Loader system is OEM independent/agnostic. Our ‘all makes, all models’ approach gives customers the best opportunity to standardise systems across mixed fleets of equipment.

“For example, on this one particular customer site, MineWare supports three different equipment makes and models: Komatsu, Hitachi and CAT.”

Wenco fleet management solution to monitor, control production at Antofagasta’s Centinela

Thiess has chosen the Wenco Mine Performance Suite to run its operations at Antofagasta’s Centinela copper mine in northern Chile.

Centinela sits 1,350 km north of Santiago in the Antofagasta Region of Chile. Antofagasta Minerals has contracted Thiess, the world’s largest mining contractor, to develop the Encuentro Oxides pit, which will contribute to the mine’s production of 50,000 t/y of copper cathode for a planned lifespan of 15 years.

To monitor and control this production, Thiess is leveraging the Wencomine fleet management system. The system will optimise productivity and efficiency across the pit’s 56 active units, including 12 high-precision loading units and five high-precision drill rigs, according to Wenco.

Wenco’s data solutions are designed to boost productivity, decrease operating costs, extend equipment life, and give mining companies actionable insights into their operations. Its Mine Performance Suite consists of systems for fleet management, high-precision machine guidance, predictive maintenance, collision avoidance, and mining business intelligence.

Unlike other solution providers, Wenco, a Hitachi Group Company since 2009, has designed its systems with an “open systems philosophy” that, it says, “empowers customers to freely integrate systems to support their unique business processes, data requirements, and reporting needs”.

Thiess chose Wenco for its reputation in delivering strong production functionality and a streamlined implementation process with minimal impact on day-to-day mine operations, it said.

Wenco said: “Expanding the business relationship with Thiess in South America is strategically important for Wenco as well. Contractor-operated sites are common throughout the region and they stand as a significant growth market for the company. Likewise, contractor partnerships form a key part of the open and interoperable ecosystem of partners pushed by Wenco and its parent company, Hitachi Construction Machinery.”

Wenco Regional Manager — Latin America, José Eugenio Saravia, said: “We’re very pleased to implement the Wenco Mine Performance Suite at the Encuentro Oxides development.

“Wenco has worked with Thiess at various mining developments around the world and our solutions are ideal for the productivity improvements and ease of deployment they require. We’re looking forward to a long and profitable business together.”

This sale is another boon to Wenco in the region, following recent sales to Chinchillas and Pucamarca mines and a new partnership with Brazil mining solutions provider Tecwise.

“Contractors like Thiess are a major growth area for Wenco and the industry as a whole. We’re seeing a great many more opportunities of this sort throughout Latin America,” Saravia says.

“As well, we’re seeing more and more customers excited to partner with a Hitachi-owned company like Wenco, who can deliver the reliability and support only available from a major OEM and global mining leader.”

Epiroc and ASI Mining to automate Roy Hill haul truck fleet

Epiroc has signed a contract with Roy Hill to deliver a fully automated haul truck solution for the iron ore mining operation in Western Australia.

In partnership with automation specialist ASI Mining – which Epiroc owns 34% of – Epiroc is to convert Roy Hill’s haul trucks from manned to autonomous use. The two will deliver a safe and interoperable solution for Roy Hill’s mixed truck fleet, with an ability to expand to other mining vehicle types and manufacturers, and capability to integrate with existing Roy Hill systems, Epiroc said.

Epiroc and ASI Mining will also be working closely with Roy Hill and its partners Hitachi and Wenco on truck conversion and integration of the Wenco fleet management system.

The project will see a phased implementation, with testing and production verification of up to eight trucks undertaken in the initial phase prior to the second phase of full fleet expansion from mid-2021.

Helena Hedblom, Epiroc’s Senior Executive Vice President Mining and Infrastructure, said: “Epiroc is proud to collaborate with Roy Hill, ASI Mining and other partners to automate Roy Hill’s haul truck fleet, boosting safety and productivity for a crucial aspect of its mining operation. This is a very strong example of how automation will take a mining company’s operation to the next level.”

Roy Hill CEO, Barry Fitzgerald, said the mining company was well positioned to transition to automation. “Our teams on site and in our Remote Operations Centre (ROC) in Perth have demonstrated a clear capacity to deliver complex projects, sustainable change and operational excellence with the recent success of our autonomous drill program and fleet optimisation initiatives. Now is the right time to bring the combined expertise of Roy Hill, Epiroc, ASI Mining and Wenco together to convert our haul truck fleet.”

Fitzgerald added: “Care is one of our core values, with safety at the heart of everything we do. Roy Hill’s Smart Mine program is driving innovation across our business, and the automation of our haulage fleet is central to delivering safety and production improvements.”

Roy Hill is an iron ore mining project in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. Located 340 km southeast of Port Hedland, it has an integrated mine, rail and port facilities and produces 55 Mt/y of iron ore, with approval to increase to 60 Mt/y. Its ROC in Perth provides end-to-end integration of operations, according to Epiroc.

Demand for OEM simulators, conversion kits high, Immersive Tech says

Immersive Technologies says it has engaged in an “unprecedented level” of mining machine simulator development for a diverse range of original equipment manufacturers (OEM) over the past year.

This trend is set to continue with projects underway for new and existing customers to build simulators for heavy machinery manufactured by BELAZ, Caterpillar, Epiroc, Hitachi, Iveco, Komatsu, Liebherr, MACK and Volvo, the company said.

In the last 12 months, Immersive Technologies has released new simulator modules (Conversion Kits®), for Cat Line of Sight Remote Control, Cat 777E Truck, Komatsu 930E-5 Truck, Liebherr R9200 Excavator, Sandvik DD311-40C Jumbo, Volvo FH16 Light Truck and many more, it said.

Investment in Conversion Kits for multiple OEM machines is continuing unabated with projects in development within the next months for: BELAZ 75131 Truck, Cat 994K Wheel Loader, Hitachi EX5600-7 Shovel, Komatsu 730E-8 Truck, Letourneau L-2350 Gen 2 Wheel Loader, Liebherr R9800 Excavator, Mack GU813E Light Truck and others.

Projects are underway to produce simulators for machines manufactured by BELAZ, Caterpillar, Epiroc (formerly Atlas Copco), Hitachi, Iveco, Komatsu, Liebherr, MACK and Volvo.

Wayde Salfinger, Executive Director – Marketing at Immersive Technologies, said: “Our investment in simulators for a diverse range of OEM’s machines is increasing, driven by demand from our customers. Immersive has always and will continue to be focused foremost on the needs of our customers, most of whom operate mixed OEM fleets.”

Salfinger added: “Immersive Technologies’ acquisition by Komatsu will not change our strategy, we will continue to support machines from all OEMs; that’s what our customers expect.” Komatsu announced, just last month, that it would acquire the mining simulation and training specialist.

Immersive Technologies credits its ongoing growth in demand on its proven and verifiable success in increasing mine profitability by optimising the safety and productivity of equipment operators. “These results are driven by a clear focus on integrating people, process, and technology to reduce risk, quantify training impact and effectively managing the training process,” the company said.

NRW’s Golding to operate new trucks, excavators at Isaac Plains East coal mine

NRW Holdings’ wholly-owned subsidiary, Golding Contractors, has reached agreement with Stanmore Coal to increase overburden removal capacity at its Isaac Plains East mine in Queensland, Australia, with the addition of a third truck and excavator fleet.

During 2019, the mine has continued to increase production and the new contract mine plan is seeking to sustain current coal production volumes of around 3 Mt/y of run of mine (ROM) material.

The two companies, in November, agreed to extended the contract mining services contract for at least another five years.

The third fleet will commence operations in August, with Golding supplying an additional Hitachi EX3600 excavator, five EH3500 Hitachi trucks and the remainder of the ancillary fleet, the majority of which will be mobilised from NRW’s Middlemount project, NRW said, adding that the five EH3500 trucks will be replaced by 5 EH4000 Hitachi trucks as they become available from the Middlemount project.

Stanmore Coal has also entered into binding agreements to acquire a 600-t Caterpillar 6060 excavator for the Isaac Plains East mine from Cat dealer Hasting Deering. This will be commissioned later in the year, NRW said, with Golding operating and maintaining the machine. It will either move prime overburden in front of the dragline or overburden in dedicated excavator and truck pits uncovering coal, according to Stanmore Coal.

Stanmore said: “Once the environmental approvals are granted for the Isaac Downs project, it is planned that the excavator will transfer to Isaac Downs to commence the box-cut operation to establish the mine. Operations at Isaac Plains East will continue in parallel with the development of the Isaac Downs project.”

The total investment is expected to be A$13 million, which includes additional workshop facilities and associated equipment expenditure at Isaac Plains to support efficient maintenance practices, the company said.

The value of the increase in scope of the contract adds approximately A$450 million ($315 million) to the existing five-year contract Stanmore and Golding have in place, NRW said. The total contract sum is estimated to be around A$950 million at the current mine production levels.

NRW CEO and Managing Director, Jules Pemberton, said: “This amendment is built on the back of a productive relationship and a positive transition for both Stanmore and Golding to the Isaac Plains East operations. We expect our capital commitment to be very low at around A$10 million as we are able to utilise fleet secured through an agreed early release from the Middlemount Coal contract.

“The Middlemount contract is not formally due for completion until the end of the 2020 financial year, however we will be able to release certain fleet prior to that date and some fleet will also likely remain on site beyond the formal contract end date. As the Middlemount project is a maintained dry hire contract, the release of our fleet will enable us to re commit these assets to existing and new full-service contract mining opportunities in line with our mining divisions delivery model.”

Consultant Measured Group updated the Isaac Plains reserve in August 2018 with current estimates supporting over 10 years of open-pit mining at planned mining rates of 1.2-1.8 Mt/y of product coal. Total open-pit reserves as at August 2018 were 14.9 Mt (run of mine).

The contract amendment is tied to Stanmore Coal’s decision to defer the Isaac Plains Underground project and prioritise its Isaac Downs project, which has higher margin ROM coal to feed the coal handling preparation plant, Stanmore Coal says.

Stanmore Coal said the Isaac Plains Underground bankable feasibility study had been completed and confirmed a positive business case for the new underground mine with potential production ramping up to an average of 1.2 Mt/y of saleable coal from year two of the production plan.

“The quantum of product tonnes forecast for the underground combined with the open-cut sources exceeds the current CHPP and contracted port capacity. Stanmore Coal is prioritising its highest margin ROM coal at Isaac Plains East and Isaac Downs project, to maximise returns to shareholders. Accordingly, the Isaac Plains Underground project will be deferred until additional port and CHPP capacity are secured or until mining at the Isaac Downs project is largely complete, subject to prevailing business conditions.”

Anglo weighs up use of autonomous haul trucks at Dawson coal mine

Anglo American says it has commenced a study to determine the feasibility of an Autonomous Haulage System (AHS) for a portion of its truck fleet at its open-pit Dawson coal mine, in central Queensland, Australia.

The detailed study to replace 23 trucks with an AHS at Dawson will be finalised towards the end of this year, at which point a decision will be made about whether to proceed, Anglo said.

The timing of the Dawson study is aligned to a key decision on whether to undertake major overhauls on the ageing Cat 797 fleet or replace them, according to Anglo.

Operations at Dawson are made up of three operating pits; North, Central and South. First mined in 1961 for export coal to Japan, it was the first mine to introduce draglines into its operation in 1963, according to Anglo.

Each year, Dawson produces coking, soft coking and thermal coal, using open pit and highwall mining methods. Coal is railed to Gladstone for export to Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and India.

Chief Executive Officer of Anglo American’s Metallurgical Coal business, Tyler Mitchelson, said while no decisions had been made regarding the feasibility of the project, Anglo was conscious of the need to minimise the impact on its workforce.

“We’ve informed our workforce that, if the project proceeds, we would work through redeployment options for impacted employees and there would also be new roles created, leading to training opportunities,” Mitchelson said.

“We also understand the importance of locally-based employment to our communities, and we have reinforced to our community stakeholders that if the project proceeds, our intent is to protect local jobs and continue to undertake measures to encourage people to live locally.”

While AHS has been in use at other mining operations for many years, the technology has now progressed to the stage where Anglo American is assessing the “feasibility of operationalising it in open-pit coal mining”, the company said.

In addition to Anglo, Whitehaven Coal is trialling AHS with partner Hitachi at its Maules Creek operation in northwest New South Wales, Australia.

Anglo’s Mitchelson said the study was part of Anglo American’s FutureSmart Mining™ approach, which applies innovative thinking and technological advances to address mining’s major challenges.

“Anglo American has been at the forefront of embracing innovation to drive the next level of mine performance. This study will focus on whether an AHS has economic and practical application for our Dawson mine, in support of its journey to become a safer and more sustainable mine.”

Mitchelson explained that the company’s study is being run in parallel with a process to assess potential AHS providers.

“The accelerating pace of technological innovation, particularly in the digitalisation, automation and artificial intelligence areas, are opening up opportunities for the mining sector to be safer, more productive and sustainable,” he said.

Wenco makes Latin America expansion plans with TecWise partnership

Wenco International Mining Systems has announced a new partnership with TecWise Sistemas de Automação, a provider of technology and communications systems to the Latin America mining industry.

This new agreement makes TecWise the exclusive distributor of Wenco solutions in Brazil, paving the way for customers in the largest Latin American country to leverage “Wenco’s open and interoperable approach to mining technology”, Wenco said.

Wenco’s data solutions are designed to boost productivity, decrease operating costs, extend equipment life, and give mining companies actionable insights into their operations. Its Mine Performance Suite consists of systems for fleet management, high-precision machine guidance, predictive maintenance, collision avoidance, and mining business intelligence.

Unlike other solution providers, Wenco, a Hitachi Group Company since 2009, has designed its systems with an “open systems philosophy” that, it says, “empowers customers to freely integrate systems to support their unique business processes, data requirements, and reporting needs”.

“TecWise and Wenco formed this partnership based on their shared approach to delivering customer-focused solutions to the mining industry,” Wenco said. Founded in 1997, TecWise works closely with customers to design, deploy, and support fit-for-purpose, performance-driven technology that improves efficiency, safety, and productivity.

“The company’s history of strong support throughout Brazil made it a natural partner for Wenco as it expands through Latin America,” Wenco said.

Andrew Pyne, President and CEO of Wenco, said: “We’re excited to enter the strategic Brazilian mine market in partnership with TecWise. In line with our focus on growing our presence in Latin America, Brazil is a key strategic priority for Wenco, particularly as we collaborate with Hitachi Construction Machinery on their Solution Linkage for Mining platform.

“We have planned this collaborative entry into the Brazilian market for some time and we took our time to identify the right partner, which we found in TecWise. They will ensure our customers have knowledgeable, on-the-ground local support for Wenco solutions for the long haul.”

TecWise Business Director and CEO, Omar Garzedin, said: “The level of flexibility and openness of the Wenco solutions, the philosophy of interoperable standards – this is what initially caught our eye and made Wenco stand out among data solutions providers for the mining industry.

“Over the years, a common challenge for our mining clients has been the ‘closed stack’ approach of many suppliers – the difficulty in controlling and using their own operational data in the manner that they prefer.

“When we shared the Wenco philosophy – the ability to react to a client need in an agile manner, combined with a global track record – we all clearly saw new ways of addressing long-standing challenges in an innovative, scalable, and cost-effective manner.”

TecWise is in discussions with mines throughout Brazil to offer new ways to solve known problems, while extending new capabilities and options through Wenco’s open standard approach to mining technology, Wenco said.

Mine automation starting to take hold, RFC Ambrian says

In its second report in a series on innovation and new technology in the mining industry, RFC Ambrian has tackled the subject of autonomous mining equipment, which, the authors say, has reached an “important level of maturity”.

The report considered both surface and underground equipment, but most notably surface mine haulage trucks where there has been an area of significant focus for major mining companies.

As the authors said: “This has reached an important level of maturity, although it is still evolving and its penetration across the industry is still in its infancy.”

AHS

The Autonomous Haulage Systems (AHS) have evolved from improvements in GPS for positioning and navigation, developments in sensors and detection –particularly radar and LiDAR, improved computing power and on-board monitoring, faster and more reliable networks and internet connection, and the development of effective and accurate algorithms and software, the authors said.

“AHS has appeared , first, at large mine operations where the benefits have the largest impacts, due to the high component of fixed costs in an AHS operation, and in developed countries where there is a shortage of skilled workers and labour costs are higher,” they said.

Outlining the potential benefits of AHS is straightforward, but finding hard data to support it is more difficult, according to the authors.

“Companies have made suggestions about the scale of improvement, but they are light on detail, definitions are not clear, and the data varies between companies,” the authors said.

Suggested improvements in productivity have come from Caterpillar (15-20%), Fortescue Metals Group (30%), Komatsu (15%), and Rio Tinto (15%), according to the authors.

“These improvements are still meaningful, and corporate companies would argue that every mine is different and that the mining companies and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) that have so far implemented AHS have the right to guard this proprietary information and hold on to the competitive advantage,” the authors said.

Autonomy in other surface equipment

The authors said they are also now seeing this same technology used to automate other operations in the surface mine. This includes drill rigs, dozers, loaders and ancillary equipment.

“Much of this equipment is currently, at best, semi-autonomous, although a few mines have implemented fully-autonomous drill rigs and dozers,” they noted.

“Moving this equipment to full autonomy offers significant production improvements, although the scale of actual savings is not likely to be as great as those achieved with AHS,” the authors said.

“However, we have not yet seen quantified the downstream benefits of the resultant improved drilling and blasting.

“The automation of earth moving machines provides another step to increased productivity within the mine. However, loaders face additional challenges as a result of the variability of the loading face and the risk of collisions with the haulage trucks.”

Due to the complex nature of the bucket-media interaction, developing automatic loading functions that are better than or equal to expert manual drivers with regard to performance is a highly difficult task, according to the authors.

“As a result, fully-autonomous loading is not yet commercially available. Some observers suggest that the implementation of fully-autonomous surface loading is still some five years away, while others believe that full automation is unlikely.”

Underground mining

When it comes to underground mining, the authors of the report said, as with surface mining, full autonomy remains the goal.

“Mining companies and contractors are constantly looking to use technological developments to better utilise their investment in equipment and human resources and improve safety,” the authors said. “Particular features of traditional underground mines are: long unproductive periods caused by re-entry times required for operators after blasting; and higher health and safety risks due to geotechnical and environmental challenges.

“The use of autonomy underground aims to increase the productivity of the equipment and improve the safety of the operators.”

While the aims remain the same, full autonomy in the underground mine is not as advanced as in the surface mine, according to the authors.

“Haul trucks are used less frequently in underground mines, although a few mines are using haul trucks with AHS. More underground mines perform a short cycle of loading, hauling and dumping from a draw point to a tipping point with LHD equipment.

“Implementation of autonomous systems underground for LHDs is occurring, however, as with surface loading, one of the major hurdles to automating LHDs is replacing human judgement required for filling the bucket.”

This has seen full autonomy being used for the hauling and dumping cycle, but semi-autonomy usually used for loading, according to the authors. “Successful trials of fully- autonomous LHDs have been achieved and Sandvik i-series now offers an automated bucket filling assistant as a standard function,” they said.

Underground drilling operations, meanwhile, are achieving increased levels of autonomy but are also presently only semi-autonomous.

Robotic rail operations

The authors then looked at autonomous rail haulage systems, a segment of the market that has gained in prominence in the past few years thanks to initiatives such as Rio Tinto’s AutoHaul in the Pilbara of Western Australia.

The authors said: “There has been some form of automation on worldwide metro systems for many years, but one area where autonomous technology has yet to gain a foothold is rail freight. Trials are underway in Holland and Germany but implementing autonomous train driving on a complex rail network, with passenger trains and freight trains, is more difficult than on a metro system.”

The one exception to this is in the mining sector and AutoHaul, they said, where Rio has completed commissioning of the world’s first fully-autonomous, long distance, heavy-haul rail network which is now in full operation.

Pace of implementation

Despite the acclaimed success and the relative level of maturity of the technology, the wider implementation of AHS does not appear to be happening very fast, the authors argue.

“The systems of both the two main suppliers (Caterpillar and Komatsu) are well proven and have delivered positive results, although, according to consultants, both systems also have examples of less-than-expected performance.

“Nevertheless, the technical issues appear relatively minor and there is interest right across the industry but, in spite of the potentially significant benefits, more mines are not now using AHS.”

There are a number of likely reasons for this, the authors said, explaining that one of the most important is a lack of skilled personnel.

“We believe there is a lack of in-depth knowledge of the technology and limited personnel with the requisite experience, skills, and training throughout the industry’s hierarchy,” they said.

“Further, there is a shortage of skilled autonomous operators, developers, and consultants, some of who are moving to the autonomous auto market.”

Important factors in the success of AHS appear to be the level of management commitment, planning, and focus in the implementation, with the best results reported from well-operated mining sites, the authors said.

“Another factor is likely to be limitations on equipment supply from OEMs for new equipment and truck conversions, either due to manufacturing backlogs or maybe market caution, limiting investment. This is allowing the OEMs to be more selective in their customers.”

The authors cautioned: “However, if the existing suppliers do not develop additional capacity quick enough this could create opportunities for additional entrants in to the market.”

Capital availability in the mining industry could also be an issue holding back AHS advancement, they said, although it is less tight than it has been in recent years.

“Certainly, some lower-margin operations might struggle to finance the capital, although the uplift in relative profitability could be transformational, with relatively quick paybacks,” they said.
And the historical conservatism of the mining industry is also likely to be a factor, the authors said.

“There is still a natural reluctance within the industry to adopt new or unproven technology due to the high capital cost involved and the potential operational and reputational risks involved.

“This will be compounded if the organisation has limited experience and limited access to the technology.”

You can read the full report here.