Tag Archives: Kiruna

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.

Emesent builds mining connections as Hovermap autonomy takes off

Having recently helped DJI’s M300 drone fly autonomously underground (through its Hovermap Autonomy Level 2 (AL2) solution) and signed an agreement with Deswik to provide surveyors and planners with more accurate data from inaccessible areas, Emesent has been on a roll of late. IM put some questions to CEO, Dr Stefan Hrabar, to find out more.

IM: First off, if no communications infrastructure is in place at an underground mine, how do Emesent’s drones stream a 3D map of the environment back to the operator’s tablet?

SH: Hovermap is smartly designed to operate beyond the communication range of the operator. The operator does not always need to see a live map since Hovermap is navigating by itself. The user can place a waypoint beyond the current limits of the map, and beyond line of sight and communication range. Hovermap self-navigates towards the waypoint, avoiding obstacles and building the map as it goes. Once it reaches the waypoint (or if the waypoint is impossible to reach), it automatically returns back to the operator. The map data is stored onboard Hovermap and when it returns back to within Wi-Fi range the new map data is uploaded to the tablet. The operator can then see the new areas that were mapped and place a new waypoint in or beyond that map, sending the drone back out again to explore further.

IM: What results have you so far received from using AL2 for Hovermap at mine sites? Were the results PYBAR got from trials at Dargues and Woodlawn in line with your expectations?

SH: Last year’s trials at Dargues and Woodlawn showcased some great outcomes for the PYBAR team, including the ability for Hovermap to capture valuable data using Autonomy Level 1 (AL1). The team saw great potential in the technology, leading to the purchase of two systems for their use. Earlier this year, AL2 flights were conducted at Dargues during the final pre-release testing phase. Even the first stope at Dargues that was mapped using AL2 highlighted the benefit of the system over traditional CMS (cavity monitoring systems). A large area of overbreak was identified in the Hovermap scan. The same stope had been mapped with a CMS, but this area was not visible from the CMS scan location so the overbreak was not identified.

A number of mines have been using AL2 to map their stopes and other areas beyond line-of-sight. With AL2, they can send Hovermap into places that previously would have been inaccessible, enabling them to obtain critical data in real time without risking the machine or personnel.

The AL2-based stope scans have been more detailed and complete (lack of shadowing) than ever before. A beyond line-of-sight flight down an ore pass was also conducted recently, with Hovermap guiding the drone down 120 m and returning safely to produce a very detailed scan.

The high level of autonomy provided by AL2 also allows remote operation of the drone. We recently completed a trans-continental demo, with a customer in South Africa operating a drone in Australia using our AL2 technology and standard remote collaboration tools. The remote operator in South Africa was able to use their laptop to experiment with the technology from the other side of the world, sending Hovermap exploring down a tunnel.

This is a taste of what’s to come, with drones underground being operated from the surface or from remote operation centres thousands of kilometers away. This will remove the need for skilled personnel on site, and reduce the time spent underground.

IM: What had been holding you back from achieving AL2 with drones/payloads? Is it the on-board computing power needed to that has been the issue?

SH: Flying underground where there is no GPS, the space is tight and there are hazards such as mesh, wires, dripping water and dust is very challenging. We overcame many of these with AL1, which makes it safe and easy for a pilot to operate the drone within line-of-sight (Hovermap provides collision avoidance, position hold and velocity control). AL1 has been deployed for 18 months with many customers around the world, clocking up thousands of hours of use. This helped to improve the robustness and reliability of the core flight capabilities.

Emesent CEO, Dr Stefan Hrabar

AL2 builds on this mission-proved base capability to provide additional features. AL2 allows the system to fly beyond line-of-sight and beyond commination range. This means it’s on its own with no help from the operator and needs to deal with any situation it comes across. There are many edge cases that need to be considered, addressed and thoroughly tested. A significant amount of effort was put into these areas to ensure Hovermap with AL2 is extremely robust in these challenging environments. For example, the drone downwash can kick up dust, blinding the LiDAR sensor. We’ve implemented a way to deal with this, to bring the drone home safely. Other considerations are returning in a safe and efficient way when the battery is running low, or what to do if waypoints cannot be reached.

IM: How do you anticipate your partnership with Deswik impacting the mine planning and survey process? Do you see this reducing the amount of time needed to carry out this work, as well as potentially cutting the costs associated with it? Have you already carried out work at mine sites that has proven these benefits?

SH: Our commitment is to help mining companies increase safety and production while reducing costs and downtime. We do this by providing surveyors and planners with more accurate data from inaccessible areas, allowing them to derive new insights. Our partnership with Deswik means we’re able to provide a more comprehensive end-to-end solution to the industry.

We see this as a very natural partnership that will improve the overall customer experience. Hovermap excels at capturing rich 3D data in all parts of the mine (whether drone based, hand-held, lowered down a shaft on a cable or vehicle mounted). Once the data is captured and converted to 3D, customers need to visualise and interrogate the data to derive insights. This is where Deswik and other mining software vendors come into play. They have powerful software tools for planning, survey, drill and blast, geotechnical mapping and a host of other applications. We’re partnering with these vendors to ensure seamless integration between Hovermap data and their tools. We’re working with them to build automated workflows to import, geo-reference, clean and trim the data, and convert it into formats that are suitable for various tasks.

Surveyors at Evolution Mining’s Mungari operation have been using this new process in Deswik. Previously they needed a third software tool to perform part of the workflow manually before importing to Dewik.CAD. The intermediate steps have been eliminated and others have been automated, reducing the time from more than 30 minutes per scan to five minutes per scan.

IM: Since really starting to catch on in the mining sector in the last five years, drones have gone from carrying out simple open-pit surveys and surveillance to drill and blasting reconciliation platforms to reconnaissance solutions carrying out some of the riskiest tasks in underground mining. In the next decade, how do you see them further evolving? What new tasks could drones carry out to improve safety, cut costs or increase productivity?

SH: Emesent’s vision is to drive forward the development of ‘Sentient Digital Twins’ of industrial sites to future-proof the world’s major industries, from mining to energy and construction. These industries will be able to move to more automated decision-making using high-quality, autonomously collected data across their sites and tapping into thousands of data points to make split-second decisions about potential dangers, opportunities and efficiencies using a centralised decision-making platform.

We see our Hovermap technology being a key enabler for this future. Drones and other autonomous systems will become an integral part of the mine of the future. Drones will be permanently stationed underground and operated remotely, ready for routine data collection flights or to be deployed as needed after an incident.

Hovermap is already addressing some of the biggest challenges in mining — including safety and operational downtime. It improves critical safety to mines, keeping workers away from hazardous environments while providing better data to inform safety related decisions such as the level of ground support needed. This then feeds into better efficiency by helping mines to more accurately calculate risks and opportunities, aid decision making and predict situations.

Hovermap can significantly reduce downtime after an incident. For example, it was used to assess the level of damage in LKAB’s Kiruna mine after a seismic event. More than 30 scans were captured covering 1.2 km of underground drives that were not safe to access due to fall of ground. In another case, one of our customers saved around A$20 million ($14.6 million) after an incident, as they could use Hovermap to quickly capture the data necessary to make a critical decision.

IM: In terms of R&D, what future payload developments are you investing in currently that may have applications in mining?

SH: We’ll keep adapting our Hovermap design to suit new LiDAR improvements as they are released. More importantly, we’ll improve the autonomy capabilities so that even more challenging areas can be mapped with ease. We’re also adding additional sensors such as cameras, as these provide additional insights not visible in the LiDAR data. Our colourisation solution is an add-on module for Hovermap, which uses GoPro video to add colour to the LiDAR scans. This allows the identification of geological and other features.

LKAB uses drones to inspect Kiruna workings after tremor

LKAB says it is using drones equipped with scanners to survey much of the area recently affected by seismic activity at its Kiruna iron ore mine in Sweden.

On May 18, a major tremor measuring 3.3 magnitude caused extensive and widespread damage to the mine. Since then, the company has been trying to secure the mine with rock technicians surveying the workings.

Per Brännman, Section Manager for sublevel caving at LKAB in Kiruna, said the use of drones and scanners for surveying was a safe and efficient way to work.

“No one carrying out inspection work will be exposed to any kind of risk,” he said.

Principally, the inspection involves surveying the damage to obtain a solid reliable data for decision-making with respect to, for example, rock reinforcement, LKAB says.

“The drone is a good tool, but the scanner is truly revolutionary. The drone is actually only the vehicle that carries the equipment,” Brännman said.

For this particular task, the company looked to Sweden-based AMKVO AB – which specialises in geodata and remote sensing – and its UAVs.

LKAB said, in terms of safety and technology, use of drones and scanners represent a major step forward. It is also a very effective means of investigating difficult-to-access areas, ore passes and areas affected by rock bursts.

“For example, we have been able to look at one of our loaders, which sits in an area that cannot yet be accessed physically,” added Brännman.

Drones and scanners can be made ready for deployment in barely 15 minutes. The technology is very precise, functioning well without detailed instructions from the pilot, according to LKAB.

Mirjana Boskovic, Seismology Specialist at LKAB in Kiruna, explained: “It works much the same way a bat navigates. The scanner helps us to form a wide picture of the area that is very useful in our work.”

Using sound waves, the drone finds its way around using “echolocation”. And, like a bat, a drone equipped with a scanner can navigate in its surroundings while avoiding obstacles with precision, LKAB said. This means that a scanner-equipped drone can fly into very confined, difficult-to-access damaged areas, which personnel cannot enter.

“There are many advantages with this type of technology, particularly in terms of safety,” Boskovic said. “When we inspect an area, we have to consider seismicity, the condition of rock and safety in an area. That’s the first step of our work. With this technology, we don’t even have to enter an area.”

Film sequences from the affected areas can be stored and used over the long term to discover changes in, for example, structures. The sequences can also be successively compiled to form a single, large model of the mine.

Boskovic added: “The rock bursts that we have discovered with the help of drones are to be expected after this type of event.”

Material from the drone flights is already being analysed, which means that the damage survey can be carried out more efficiently, safer and faster than before.

In just over a week since being deployed, much of the mine, from the Y15 to Y31 blocks, has been scanned, according to LKAB. The inspection area covers about 1.5 km and includes several levels and production blocks.

However, the company has not been possible to inspect block 22, the part of the mine that was the epicentre of the event.

Brännman said: “At this point, everything that we have been able to scan has been covered and, looking forward, we will be able to start scanning the ore passes.”

This means, in all, some 13 km of ore passes will be investigated in detail this summer.

“We have seen fantastic commitment and willingness to help on the part of so many people,” Brännman said. “About 15 people have been involved in conducting the flights and measurements.”

The scanner is here to stay and will be used for a range of purposes in the future, according to LKAB.

“This is a major step forward for safety in conjunction with inspection of affected areas of the mine,” it added.

Sandvik’s largest electric LHD receives an upgrade as it heads to Kiruna

Sandvik says it is preparing to deliver its renewed Sandvik LH625iE electric loader for field testing at the LKAB-owned Kiruna mine, in northern Sweden.

The unit to be tested is the 600th electric loader from Sandvik, and is custom-designed to meet the needs of the underground iron ore mine, it said.

The underground loader, which features a 9.5 m³ bucket and 25,000 kg payload capacity, is designed to operate in the world’s largest underground iron ore mine.

The basic LH625iE design is well-proven (and based on the LH625E, pictured), 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, today’s Sandvik LH625iE belongs to its i-series, featuring advanced technology, 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 utilise 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.

With a total length of 14 m, bucket width of 4 m and cabin height of 3 m, the LH625iE is able to offer a roomy, ergonomically designed operator’s compartment, Sandvik said. “For example, the spacious cabin is equipped with a unique 180° turning seat which significantly improves operator ergonomics because it can be turned to face in the direction of travel rather than requiring over-the-shoulder visibility. The upgraded Sandvik LH625iE has an IE4 classified energy-efficient electric motor, with a further significant improvement being the totally new, low-tension reeling system to increase the trailing cable’s lifetime. “

The collaboration between Sandvik and LKAB’s mine in Kiruna dates back 20 years, during which time Sandvik has delivered a total of 28 loaders.

Michael Palo, Senior Vice President, Northern Division at LKAB, said: “We are satisfied with the loaders delivered from Sandvik, with 14 still in production today. We have had a long and good collaboration and look forward to a good continuation.”

Sandvik concluded: “The Sandvik LH625iE is living proof that it is possible to achieve enormous carrying capacity and productivity without the use of traditional diesel engines and fossil fuel.”

Battery-electric loaders are also providing evidence of this, with Sandvik saying it had received positive results from its testing of Artisan A10 battery-electric loaders in Canada.

LKAB takes to the skies to find new orebodies around Kiruna

LKAB, in tandem with representatives from the University of Münster (Germany) and Luleå University of Technology, LTU (Sweden), recently flew a helicopter-borne survey system, around 90 m above the ground, around its Kiruna area in northern Sweden.

The process works where a helicopter flies past 90 m above the ground with a survey instrument in tow. During a week in October, the helicopter flew in the Luossavaara area near Kurravaaravägen in and around the Varggropen/Nukutus outdoor leisure area and Lake Tuollujärvi.

LKAB said: “The method is unique and was conducted as a research study – one that can help safeguard LKAB’s future.”

The area surveyed was around 40 km², but two weeks preparation was necessary before flying could begin. First, a 2 km cable was laid out in various places in the terrain. Iron digging bars for conducting electrical current into the earth were attached to each end of the cable.

Niklas Juhojuntti, Geophysicist at LKAB, said: “It creates an electromagnetic wave that emits a signal that penetrates the ground. The signal is captured by sensors in the survey instrument suspended beneath the aircraft.”

Based on the aircraft test results, the project group in Germany will put together a 3D model which could reach down to a depth of around 1 km. The survey results will show if there are any electrical conductors, which could indicate the presence of an orebody.

“If this is the case, we will have to drill to find out more precisely what it is. Magnetite is a great conductor,” says Juhojuntti.

LKAB anticipates the results from the aerial survey in January or February 2019 at the earliest. Scientists from LTU will also compile the results from surveys carried out on the surface.

“By piecing together all of the results, we can gain a better picture. From what we’ve seen so far, all the survey data looks good and provided a clear signal,” says Juhojuntti.

LKAB took responsibility for certain parts of the logistics in Kiruna, but the research project paid for the surveys.

“They wanted to demonstrate that there survey methods work, and now they’ve been able to fly in an area where we know mineralisation is present,” Juhojuntti said.

“In Germany, it’s not as easy to find areas like this, and nor is everyone there quite as well disposed toward this method. They were extremely pleased with the Kiruna residents, who left their equipment well alone. They enjoyed a great reception by the people out in the field.”

The results from the flights can help LKAB in its hunt for new orebodies and create a more secure future, the company says.

“I’m hoping this method will allow us to detect any indications concerning unknown major orebodies at depth. We still haven’t done much work at depth north of Nukutus,” Juhojuntti says.