Tag Archives: Kiruna

Epiroc makes the ‘impossible possible’ with launch of Boltec ABR

Epiroc has taken another significant step forward in its rock reinforcement automation journey with the release of the Boltec Auto Bolt Reload (ABR).

Combining the company’s ground support nous with its mechanisation and automation knowledge has resulted in a solution able to remove operators from the front end of the bolter – where personnel are most at risk of rock falls from unsupported ground – and increase bolting productivity, especially in poor ground conditions.

With mining operations steadily going deeper as they develop existing and newly discovered orebodies, the rock stresses associated with mining these orebodies are typically increasing, too. This often results in more challenging rock conditions with fractured rock mass, rock burst and squeezing ground, requiring more regular rehabilitation work. The Boltec ABR, with improved operator safety, flexibility and productivity, is the obvious choice for such conditions, Epiroc says.

Epiroc claims the Boltec ABR is the first ever underground rock reinforcement drill rig designed in such a way that the bolt type and machine work together in synergy to deliver optimal safety, performance and quality. The machine can also be equipped with a mesh delivery system.

This synergy also leads to improved accuracy in bolt installations and a reduced need for re-bolting, according to Peter Bray, Global Product Manager, Rock Reinforcement at Epiroc’s Underground division.

“By using a Boltec ABR, you are better able to install bolts and mesh correctly with high quality, reducing the need for re-bolting, re-meshing…and rehab work in the future,” he told attendees of a webinar announcing the product launch today.

The mechanisation of the bolting process – in tandem with the use of self-drilling anchors (SDAs) and pumpable resin – should provide operations with the comfort to follow recommended bolting patterns, reducing the need for the installation of additional bolts that go above and beyond optimal industry practice.

The main design feature of the Boltec ABR is the fully mechanised bolt reloading system. The system automatically feeds bolts from a large carrier magazine – able to hold 44 bolts in 2.4-m or 3-m lengths – to the feed magazine – able to hold eight bolts – all while the operator remains safe inside the cabin. This innovation removes the need for manually reloading the feed magazine, thereby reducing the associated risk to the operator.

The fast auto reloading sequence speeds up the production cycle, with a total of 52 bolts able to be installed in a heading before manual reloading of the carrier magazine. The carrier magazine is mounted on a swing arm that lowers the magazine to ground level for easy reloading behind the machine’s front support jacks – where ground support should already be in place.

Productivity can be further boosted with the operator carrying out the reloading process when bolting is being carried out in multi-bolt auto mode, according to Bray.

The Boltec ABR opens the door to other safety and productivity-enhancing autonomous functionalities previously not compatible with underground bolting machines, according to Epiroc. Tele-remote control and the aforementioned multi-bolt auto are now available options that can provide bolting potential during shift changes or when conditions preclude having an operator physically on the machine. The machine is also available with a battery-electric driveline.

Bray said the development and integration of SDAs and pumpable resin on conventional Boltec machines have been integral to achieving this new functionality.

“If you think about our face drills and long hole production rigs, they have had automation for many years,” he said. “There hasn’t been a mechanical reason why we couldn’t automate a bolting machine; the stopping point has been the type of legacy rock bolts used.”

SDA bolts, which, according to Epiroc, offer faster bolting times and higher quality installation, are not sensitive to varying conditions and will achieve consistently fast installation. This provides easier scheduling accuracy for mine planning and forecasting.

The pumpable resin, developed to address inconsistent and unreliable bolt installations as mines go deeper and rocks become less competent under added pressure, offers fast setting times and full bolt encapsulation, ensuring speed and quality of installation, the OEM says. An added plus is the resin’s insensitivity to wet ground conditions, which can be a desirable characteristic for many deep underground operations.

“Given that it is much cleaner and easier to use than traditional cement, the pumpable resin reduces hours spent on cleaning the machine,” Bray said. “Hence, it is increasing productivity by providing more bolting time.”

Like other Boltecs in the range, the Boltec ABR comes with a boom-mounted bolting system, providing flexibility in terms of coverage and bolt installation angles, according to Bray.

“It’s very rare that you have perfect straight drive profiles in underground mining,” he said. “The boom-mounted bolting system offers the flexibility to address this.”

LKAB, along with the European Institute of Innovation & Technology, have been key partners in the development of this machine, with the prototype tested out at both the Kiruna and Malmberget mines in northern Sweden.

Kiruna suffered a significant seismic event during May 2020 where several areas underground were adversely affected, providing a good test case for the new machine.

These affected areas required rehabilitation with bolts and mesh to make them safe for production again, according to Bray – a process the iron ore miner is continuing to carry out at Kiruna with the prototype Boltec ABR unit.

“The Boltec ABR was the perfect machine for the challenge; it has proven to allow safer operation and significant productivity increases when compared to LKAB’s conventional bolting fleet,” he added.

Epiroc said that up to double productivity gains were achieved in a trial with the Boltec ABR in LKAB’s Malmberget mine when compared with the miner’s conventional bolting fleet.

Bray concluded: “This solution has made the impossible possible. We can now install bolts where it used to be extremely difficult. Giving some relief to the bottleneck that rock reinforcement had become.”

Orica’s wireless blasting tech overcomes magnetite challenges at LKAB Kiruna

A four-year collaboration between Orica and LKAB has resulted in the first production blasts using wireless initiation technology at the Kiruna iron ore mine in northern Sweden.

These blasts – charged in the middle of May and blasted in early June – are going some way to support LKAB’s safety, productivity and long-term automation objectives, according to Abhisek Roy, EMEA Head of Marketing for Orica.

It has involved an extensive amount of work to get to this blasting milestone, according to Ingemar Haslinger, Technical Services Lead Europe at Orica.

He explained: “It all started in 2018 when LKAB showed interest in our new WebGen™ wireless technology. They could see the benefits in both safety and productivity with the new way of producing the ore.”

This saw Orica go to site at the Kiruna mine in March 2018 to begin with a signal survey, testing if the company could obtain a good signal between the antenna and the in-hole receivers.

WebGen provides for groups of in-hole primers to be wirelessly initiated by a firing command that communicates through rock, water and air. This removes constraints often imposed by the requirement of a physical connection to each primer in a blast. The wireless blasting system not only improves safety – by removing people from harm’s way – but improves productivity – by removing the constraints imposed by wired connections.

It is, therefore, considered, a critical pre-cursor to automating the charging process.

To this point, WebGen has fired over 100,000 units in over 3,000 blasts globally across customer sites, Orica says.

At Kiruna, however, the process from testing to technology on-boarding was less than straightforward.

“In the area of the mine where the signal survey was completed in 2018, it was discovered that the signal could not penetrate the magnetite ore at all,” Haslinger said. “This was the first time we had encountered this and was a setback for Orica and LKAB.”

At that time, Orica did not have the localised field equipment or advanced diagnostic tools to diagnose the antenna issue, making it difficult to ascertain the root cause.

“We had to go back to our global WebGen specialists and try to understand why this was happening, which we were successfully able to do,” Haslinger said.

After dedicated work from the global team, Orica went back to Kiruna in September 2020, looking to replicate the signal survey from 2018 and use its advanced diagnostic tools to measure the antenna performance and output.

“We also had the opportunity to test the signal behaviour in the holes, as well as measure the rock properties around the antenna and the in-hole receivers,” Haslinger added.

The survey proved successful, explaining why the signal could not go through the orebody. This allowed the global WebGen team to start developing solutions to overcome the signal problem, which it was able to do in short order.

In December 2020, the Orica team was back at the underground iron ore mine to test the new solution.

“The first trials with the new solution showed positive results and the global team continued to develop that further,” Haslinger said. “In May 2021, we tried the solution in many different conditions and applications to be sure that it would work in the mine. These trials gave us a lot more knowledge about the environment and how the new solution worked.

“In 2022, we were ready to test the system in active mine operations and it has been an extensive amount of work to get us to that point.”

Development of the WebGen wireless underground blasting technology is ongoing at the Kiruna mine

Michal Gryienko, Engineer at LKAB in Kiruna, said the first two production rings were charged using WebGen in the middle of May before blasting occurred in early June. This is one of the benefits of the system, with the wireless primers able to sit dormant in the blasting profile for around 30 days prior to blast initiation.

“The results look good so far,” Gryienko said. “In total, we will blast five production rings, and the final three are planned to be blasted in September.”

Among the benefits Gryienko highlighted were the reduction in risk associated with hole priming and the possibility of detonating more blast holes due to the ability overcome damaged or unstable blasting applications.

Orica’s Roy said the collaboration between the two companies has been “fantastic”.

“Despite the challenges around transmission of signal across the magnetite orebody that is a prerequisite for a successful wireless initiation, both companies have worked as partners for the last four years, finding practical and creative solutions,” he said.

“This hopefully is the start of a long-term sustainable wireless blasting solution that supports LKAB’s safety and productivity objectives and long-term automation goals.”

LKAB starts core logging automation, digitalisation process with Minalyzer CS

LKAB has become the first iron ore miner in the world to implement the continuous XRF scanner Minalyzer CS, starting the process of automating and digitalising its drill core logging workflow.

By collecting data in an automated system, LKAB is aiming to improve the consistency and efficiency of its core logging process, Minalyze said.

LKAB and Minalyze initiated the collaboration in March 2020 when the first scanner was installed at the Kiruna iron ore mine for a test. It was then expanded to Malmberget where data from the Minalyzer CS was used to help geological logging of the drill core. The focus for the tests was to assess the datasets: geochemistry, high resolution images, RQD and specific gravity generated by the scanner and to determine how these datasets can assist in the core logging process.

Following these developments, the two companies plus Sentian, in May 2021, said an artificial intelligence application developed by the trio would be trialled to make drill core analysis faster, with the time to evaluate a drill core reduced from weeks to minutes, with increased accuracy.

LKAB Senior Vice President Exploration, Strategy and Business Development, Pierre Heeroma, said: “The tests with the Minalyzer in Kiruna and the more complex Malmberget geology confirmed that this Swedish technology is disrupting the core logging process – now we have fast access to rich data as guidance when classifying the rocks. Our core logging is now consistent and efficient.”

Annelie Lundström, CEO Minalyze AB, said: “The rest of the iron ore industry should closely follow the transformation LKAB is undergoing. With the Minalyzer they have one of the more automated and digitalised core logging workflows in the world. And they are setting a new world standard for sustainable mining with the fossil-free iron ore and steel making.

“We are very proud to be part of LKAB’s transition into the future.”

LKAB to boost remote drilling operations with new Epiroc Boomer, Boltec and Simba rigs

Epiroc says it has won a large order for a variety of underground mining equipment including Boomer face drilling rigs, Boltec rock reinforcement rigs and a Simba production drilling rig from LKAB in Sweden.

LKAB, Europe’s largest iron ore producer, is set to use the rigs at its Malmberget and Kiruna underground iron ore mines in northern Sweden. The order is valued at SEK105 million ($12.2 million) and was booked in the third (September) quarter of 2021.

“Epiroc and LKAB have a long history together as partners around innovative technologies, always aimed at optimising operations in the most productive and sustainable way,” Epiroc’s President and CEO, Helena Hedblom, said.

The machines include many advanced automation features, according to Epiroc.

For example, the Simba production drill rig will be operated remotely from a control room in the Kiruna mine. This rig adds to LKAB’s existing fleet of six Simba production drill rigs that are remotely controlled from the control room and two that are remotely controlled in the mine environment.

One of the Boltec machines (an example pictured) will also be equipped with a new automated pumpable resin system, a key component in Epiroc’s automated bolting development. All the machines come with Epiroc’s telematics system Certiq, which allows for intelligent monitoring of machine performance and productivity in real-time.

LKAB to trial AI-backed XRF drill core logging with help of Minalyze and Sentian

LKAB, Minalyze AB and Sentian say they have joined forces in a consortium to develop the latest technology for scanning drill core.

In March 2020, LKAB started a test with the Minalyzer CS drill core scanner where the goal was to improve the workflow for core logging – ie how the results of exploration drilling are analysed. The test led to a permanent installation in Kiruna (Sweden) and expansion to Malmberget where data from the Minalyzer CS is used to help geological logging of the drill core.

The consortium of LKAB, Minalyze and Sentian are now set to take the use of data to the next level when boreholes in LKAB’s deposits are to be investigated. The new artificial intelligence application being developed by the trio will make the analysis much faster, with the time to evaluate a drill core reduced from weeks to minutes, with increased accuracy.

This could see Minalyze’s X-ray Fluorescence-backed CS scanner analyse LKAB drill core while leveraging Sentain’s industrial artificial intelligence solutions to make real-time decisions relating to drilling and exploration activities.

The technology development driven by the consortium will be a world first, changing the entire industry, the companies say.

Jan-Anders Perdahl, Specialist at LKAB’s Exploration Department, said: “With the collaboration, the core logging takes a big step through machine learning and artificial intelligence. The geologist can, at an early stage, place greater focus on the parts of the core that show chemical or other changes. Opportunities are opened up to gain increased knowledge about ore formation processes and alterations in a completely different way than before. One can also get indications that you are close to mineralisation and where it may be located, and thereby streamline exploration.”

The technological leap will give LKAB’s staff increased competence, increased quality in and efficiency of the work, as well as reduced need for other analysis methods, according to the companies.

Annelie Lundström, CEO of Minalyze AB, said: “We are at an interesting time when the hardware to extract consistently high-resolution data from drill cores is available and we can now take the next step and generate value from data together with our customers. In this collaboration, we will develop algorithms that can map rock layers in so-called lithological logs with very high confidence. This can only be done by combining expertise from all three parties.

“The results from our collaboration will forever change how drill core logging takes place everywhere and will result in a more efficient, non-subjective and consistent process.”

Martin Rugfelt, Sentian CEO, added: “We see great power in the application of modern artificial intelligence to data from the mining industry and there is major potential in further combining our machine learning technology with Minalyze’s unique capabilities in data collection and analysis.”

LKAB welcomes more autonomous LHDs at Kiruna ahead of electric machine arrivals

LKAB says it is now running six autonomous LHDs at its Kiruna iron ore mine, in northern Sweden, with battery-powered and cable-electric machines set to arrive at the operation later in the year.

The company has been stepping up its automation efforts at the underground mine, going from three autonomous loaders in November to five in December and, now, six as of this month.

These loaders have come from both Sandvik and Epiroc, with at least three of these being 21 t Sandvik LH621i LHDs and two being 18 t Epiroc Scooptram ST18 LHDs.

“For the time being, the loaders are diesel-powered, but battery-powered Epiroc machines and Sandvik’s larger electric loaders will be delivered this year,” the company said. “Safety and loading capacity will be tested and assessed, so that the vision of a carbon-dioxide-free LKAB can be realised.”

Magnus Lindgren, Production Manager for the remote-control centre at level 1365 in the Kiruna mine, said: “Our operators work in close collaboration with both Sandvik and Epiroc and, thereby, take part in these suppliers’ development. We test the systems and provide feedback, so we can eventually take delivery of a better product.”

LKAB conducts blasting at the mine each night. When the blasting gases have been evacuated and rock stresses have decreased, personnel can access the production area. With remote-control machines, LKAB can load, haul and dump crude ore without having to worry as much about these considerations.

Roger Lärkmo, Engineering Developer at LKAB, added: “Autonomous loading at night is optimal in terms of both safety and work environment, and from a productivity perspective. That doesn’t mean manually-operated machines are a thing of the past; it just means that we have more tools in the toolbox. Many parameters have to be taken into the equation for our loading operations to deliver an even flow of ore to the processing plants.”

This summer, the Konsuln mine will take delivery of its first battery-powered loader, the 14 t ST14 from Epiroc. Epiroc said last month it will also deliver a Minetruck MT42 Battery for use at the main Kiruna iron ore mine for production, and in the Konsuln test mine.

Preparations are now under way for the ST14 Battery’s arrival at Konsuln, from planning of the drifts where batteries will be exchanged, to risk analyses and simulations, LKAB said.

During 2021, three of Sandvik’s larger 625IE electric loaders, which have a 25-t payload capacity, will also be delivered to LKAB in Kiruna. The company took delivery of a “renewed” Sandvik LH625iE electric loader for field testing in 2020.

Lindgren said: “LKAB has been running loaders with electric power cables for more than 20 years, both manually operated and with remote control. Now we are going to test the new generation of electric loaders. These tests will begin in the autumn.”

Anita Oraha Wardi, Project Manager for autonomous, smart and carbon-dioxide-free machines at LKAB, said the company was participating in development work early on, so it can understand and influence performance, loading capacity and, not least, the safety aspects.

“We are going to test to see how battery-driven and electric loaders compare with diesel-powered machines, and how remote-control machines function in comparison with manually-operated loaders,” she said.

“One of several objectives is that operators, regardless of the make or model of the vehicle, should be able to run remote-control vehicles via the same system and in the same production area. Then, we will be approaching a world standard.”

LKAB leveraging Sandvik, Epiroc autonomous loading solutions at Kiruna

Autonomous operations are stepping up at LKAB’s Kiruna asset, in northern Sweden, with the underground iron ore mine adding another two autonomous loaders to its fleet this month.

The company says new technological solutions leveraging automation and digitalisation are needed as mining proceeds to ever greater depths at Kiruna.

“We are already operating three automated loaders, and, in December, we will scale up to five units,” Mikael Winsa, Production Manager at Kiruna, said.

LKAB is well acquainted with automated and remote loading, having started using this technology all the way back in 2000.

Magnus Lindgren, Production Manager for Remote Operations, says: “The infrastructure is much better today and there are better conditions for doing it really well. All of the components to make this work, for example, the network, are now more mature and stable.” Lindgren has been with LKAB since 1994 and worked with the first driverless loaders when they were introduced.

Today three 21 t Sandvik LH621i loaders are operated from a control room at level 1365 in the mine. Sandvik also provides the software that makes it possible to control the machines at some distance from the production area.

Winsa added: “The traffic system has revolutionised automated loading. It allows us to run several machines at the same time, in the same area, and back and forth to the same destination. This is a great leap forward in terms of technology and development.”

The automation system, Sandvik’s AutoMine® Multi-Lite, enables greater flexibility by creating better prerequisites for increasing production, LKAB says.

“We can boost production in one area from around 3,000 t to 5,000 t, since we can run more machines, even at night time,” Winsa says.

This mean significantly more buckets of ore can be hauled over a 24-hour period; something not possible after blasting with conventional loaders, since personnel cannot be exposed to blasting gases.

Lindgren says: “In some ways, this is a completely new approach to loading and production. It is very exciting to take part in this journey and contribute to a solution for mining at greater depth.”

Lindgren said the company is also in the initial phase of launching Epiroc’s remote loading system: “The system is now being fine-tuned and we plan to commission the traffic system early in the new year.”

The automated loaders navigate through the drifts safely and efficiently, according to LKAB. Cameras are installed at the front and back of the machine, which means the operator can follow the loading progression in real time. In addition, one operator can run several machines simultaneously.

“We are able to increase both availability and production by operating more automated loaders,” Lindgren said. “But this doesn’t mean that the manually-operated machines have outlived their usefulness. It just means that we have more tools in our toolbox.”

And the flexibility this enables is the key to mining the Kiruna orebody at greater depth, not least after the seismic event that occurred on May 18, which affected several of the production areas. This has meant fewer areas must produce more ore. In that context, automated loaders are a necessity.

Winsa concluded: “We are always taking small steps forward. It feels like we’ve crossed a threshold and can see many new possibilities leading into the future.”

LKAB plots carbon-free pathway with direct reduced iron switch

LKAB has presented its new strategy for the future, setting out a path to achieve net-zero carbon emissions from its own processes and products by 2045, while securing the company’s operations with expanded mining beyond 2060.

Jan Moström, President and CEO of LKAB, said the plan represented the biggest transformation in the company’s 130-year history, and could end up being the largest industrial investment ever made in Sweden.

“It creates unique opportunities to reduce the world’s carbon emissions and for Swedish industry to take the lead in a necessary global transformation,” he said.

The strategy sets out three main tracks for the transformation:

  • New world standard for mining;
  • Sponge iron (direct reduced iron) produced using green hydrogen will in time replace iron ore pellets, opening the way for a fossil-free iron and steel industry; and
  • Extract critical minerals from mine waste: using fossil-free technology to extract strategically important earth elements and phosphorous for mineral fertiliser from today’s mine waste.

The transformation is expected to require extensive investments in the order of SEK10-20 billion ($1.2-2.3 billion) a year over a period of around 15 to 20 years within LKAB’s operations alone. The company said the new strategy was a response to market developments in the global iron and steel industry, “which is undergoing a technology shift”.

The move could cut annual carbon dioxide emissions from the company’s customers worldwide by 35 Mt, equivalent to two thirds of Sweden’s domestic greenhouse gas emissions, it said.

Developments under the HYBRIT project, in which SSAB, LKAB and Vattenfall are collaborating on a process to enable the reduction of steel from iron ore using hydrogen instead of carbon, will be keenly observed following the miner’s announcement.

On top of this collaboration, LKAB is working with Sandvik, ABB, Combitec, Epiroc and several other industry leaders to develop the technology that will enable the transition to fossil-free, autonomous mines, it said.

Moström added: “The market for iron and steel will grow and, at the same time, the global economy is shifting towards a carbon-free future. Our carbon-free products will play an important part in the production of railways, wind farms, electric vehicles and industrial machinery.

“We will go from being part of the problem to being an important part of the solution.”

The market for steel is forecasted to grow by 50% by 2050. This growth will be achieved by an increase in the upgrading of recycled scrap in electric arc furnaces, according to LKAB. Today, the iron and steel industry accounts for more than a quarter of industrial emissions and for 7% of the world’s total carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, according to an IEA report.

The company said: “The global market price for recycled scrap is now twice that of iron ore pellets. The carbon-free sponge iron that will in time replace iron ore pellets as LKAB’s main export product is suitable for arc furnaces, allowing the company to offer industries throughout the world access to carbon-free iron.”

Moström said the switch from iron ore pellets to carbon-free sponge iron was an important step forward in the value chain, increasing the value of its products at the same time as giving customers direct access to “carbon-free iron”.

“That’s good for the climate and good for our business,” he said. “This transformation will provide us with good opportunities to more than double our turnover by 2045.”

During the transformation period, LKAB will supply iron ore pellets in parallel with developing carbon-free sponge iron.

To reach the new strategy’s goals, rapid solutions must be found for various complex issues, according to the company. These include permits, energy requirements and better conditions for research, development and innovation within primary industry.

Moström said: “Our transformation will dramatically improve Europe’s ability to achieve its climate goals. By reducing emissions primarily from our export business, we will achieve a reduction in global emissions that is equivalent to two-thirds of all Sweden’s carbon emissions. That’s three times greater than the effect of abandoning all cars in Sweden for good.

“It’s the biggest thing we in Sweden can do for the climate.”

Göran Persson, Chairman of the Board of LKAB, said: “What Swedish industry is now doing, spearheaded by LKAB, is to respond to the threatening climate crisis with innovation and technological change. In doing so, we are helping to secure a future for coming generations. This will also create new jobs in the county of Norrbotten, which will become a hub in a green industrial transformation. Succeeding in this will create ripples for generations to come. Not just here, but far beyond our borders.

“Now we are doing, what everyone says must be done.”

LKAB warms to Sandvik’s ‘renewed’ LH625iE as second electric LHD heads to Kiruna

Having been on a journey to electrify its operations with Sandvik since the mid-1980s, LKAB says the latest addition to its electric fleet, a Sandvik LH625iE, is performing well at its flagship Kiruna iron ore mine in northern Sweden.

The company took delivery of the “renewed” Sandvik LH625iE electric loader for field testing earlier this year and, according to Per Brännman, Section Manager for sublevel caving at LKAB in Kiruna, the machine’s performance has picked up recently after some adjustments, mainly to the cable reeling system.

“It has completed 350 hours without any error codes or stops, and loaded over 140,000 t of crude iron ore,” he said.

The machine in question is operating down on block 15, level 1022, at the iron ore mine, and the company is expecting to put another LH625iE into action on this level in early November.

“The future looks bright and carbon dioxide free,” Brännman said.

The underground loader, which features a 9.5 cu.m bucket and 25,000 kg payload capacity, is designed specifically to operate in the world’s largest underground iron ore mine. It comes with a total length of 14 m, bucket width of 4 m and cabin height of 3 m.

The basic LH625iE design is well-proven (and based on the LH625E), according to Sandvik, with the equipment manufacturer delivering electric loaders powered by a trailing cable for more than 35 years.

In addition to using the proven design and robust structures, Sandvik says its LH625iE belongs to its i-series, featuring advanced technology, the latest digital solutions and smart connectivity. This sees the new Sandvik LH625iE equipped with Sandvik Intelligent Control System and My Sandvik Digital Services Knowledge Box™ as standard. To use the payload capacity it offers, the loader can also be fitted with Sandvik’s Integrated Weighing System, as well as AutoMine® and OptiMine® solutions, Sandvik said.

Sandvik enters LKAB-led SUM project as Volvo Group departs

Sandvik has joined the Sustainable Underground Mining (SUM) project being run by LKAB at the same time as the Volvo Group has exited the Sweden-based collaboration.

The moves come as the iron ore miner looks to “further strengthen a joint endeavour towards sustainable underground mining at great depths”, it said.

To develop the digitalised, autonomous and carbon-dioxide-free mine of the future, in collaboration with other globally leading Swedish companies, LKAB initiated SUM in 2018.

After 2030, LKAB must be ready to mine iron ore deeper in the mines in Kiruna and Malmberget, in northern Sweden. For this, one of Sweden’s biggest industrial investments ever, decisions will have to be taken in the mid-2020s.

“This type of strategic collaboration project is very complex, each company contributes its specific expertise, and the partners will link together both digital systems and operations,” LKAB says. “Providing unique possibilities for SUM, the test mine, Konsuln, in Kiruna will serve as a real mine environment where technology, machines and working methods will be tested.”

Sandvik will be joining LKAB, Epiroc, ABB and Combitech in trying to achieve this goal. The Volvo Group’s earlier partnership in SUM will now take the form of other collaboration with LKAB, the miner said.

Jan Moström, President and CEO of LKAB, said: “In the coming years, LKAB must have a solution in place to be able to mine iron ore at depths approaching or exceeding 2,000 m in a cost-effective way by employing technology that is safe, autonomous, electrified, digitalised and carbon-dioxide-free.

“To enable this, collaboration with other leading industrial companies will be decisive. Sandvik’s longstanding experience of producing underground vehicle systems will complement the ongoing work in an important way.”

Stefan Widing, President and CEO Sandvik, said: “LKAB has used automated equipment from Sandvik for many years and we look forward to the opportunity to extend our collaboration and introduce new and advanced solutions that will set an industry standard.”

Epiroc and Sandvik will be relied on for battery-powered, autonomous and efficient mining equipment and related solutions that will ensure improved productivity and safety in LKAB’s mines. ABB’s role is to contribute knowledge and solutions for electrification, automation, service and maintenance. Combitech, meanwhile, will bring broad expertise and experience when it comes to connecting autonomous processes and people via so-called digital ecosystems.

LKAB says significant progress has been made on the project to date, including:

  • Successful establishment of the test mine, Konsuln, in Kiruna, where testing is carried out in a real mine environment;
  • An integration and collaboration platform, ‘LOMI’ (LKAB Open Mine Integrator) has been developed to enable an open systems architecture whereby all partners can develop modules and solutions that work together;
  • ABB has delivered ABB Ability System 800xA, the control-room console Extended Operation Workplace and a “Collaboration table” for visualising key functions and key figures in the mine, allowing the operator to monitor and control equipment in the best, most sustainable way. The ambition is that everything that is done in the test mine can be approved, planned and controlled via a project office at surface level, so that underground work can be done more efficiently;
  • Epiroc has delivered the drill rig Easer L and Scooptram ST18 LHD, both equipped for automation functionality, for the test mine, and operators and service personnel have been trained. The Easer L, commissioned in 2019, has shown good results in drilling over 50-m-long holes in the test mine, which is an important step for planning the future mine layout. For the loader, during Autumn 2020, the plan is to conduct tests with increasing complexity in terms of automation and interoperability; and
  • Combitech has delivered new solutions for systems platforms on an ongoing basis together with LKAB’s IT department. The aim is to synchronise new technology with existing systems.

In March 2020, the “Testbed for integrated, efficient and carbon-dioxide-free mining systems”, a part of SUM, received funding amounting to 207 million Swedish kronor ($23 million) from the Swedish Energy Agency.