Increased uptake of autonomous loading and hauling technology at the LaRonde (pictured) and Kittila gold mines has helped Agnico Eagle Mines post a record quarter of production for the last three months of 2020.
Payable gold production in the fourth quarter of 2020 was 501,445 oz at all-in sustaining costs of $985/oz, the company reported. This compared with 494,678 oz at an AISC of $1,039/oz in the prior-year period.
Homing in on LaRonde Complex (including the LaRonde mine and the LZ5 Mine), in Quebec, Canada, Agnico put the good performance at LaRonde – production of 105,729 oz during the quarter, down from 112,704 oz in the prior-year period when gold grades were 7.3% higher – down partially to the automation strategy that, the company said, had helped improve productivity and allow continuation of mucking activities during non-entry protocols related to seismicity.
In 2020, 13% of tonnes mucked from stopes at the LaRonde mine were carried out in automation mode and, in December 2020, a record 39% of the production mucking at the LaRonde mine was carried out from surface, which included 100% of the production mucking from the West mine area.
At LZ5, in 2020, 14% of tonnes mucked and hauled to surface were accomplished in automated mode with operators based on surface. This surpassed the 15% target the company had set. For 2021, it is expected 17% of the tonnage will be mucked and hauled remotely to surface and the production rate is expected to be sustained at around 3,000 t/d. “The LZ5 automation team will continue optimising the automated mining techniques,” Agnico said.
Agnico said the target for 2021 is to muck over 17% of the total tonnage for the LaRonde Complex from surface. The company said it is also carrying out work to perform production drilling using automation.
In a January presentation, Agnico stated that 10 LHDs and four trucks had been equipped with Sandvik’s AutoMine® system. Back in 2018, Sandvik announced that the LaRonde mine would become the first operation to use AutoMine with LTE communication network underground on a production scale.
To continue tailings deposition through the LaRonde Complex life of mine, Agnico is also constructing dry-stack tailings facilities, which are expected to be operational by the end of 2022. Dry stacking will help limit the footprint of the new tailings facility and improve the closure of the main tailings ponds, Agnico said.
Moving to Finland at the Kittila gold mine, the use of automation also paid off.
The company said Kittila continued delivering strong performance in the December quarter of 2020, with production above forecast by around 6,000 t. This also coincided with the commissioning of the expanded mill at Kittila, which is now ramping up towards the design capacity of 2 Mt/y.
The mine delivered a record full-year ore production of around 1.85 Mt in 2020, according to the company.
“This performance (in Q4) is driven by an improved fleet management and an increased usage of automation,” Agnico said.
Kittila has been testing autonomous hauling trucks and tele-remote equipment and is targeting to achieve 50% of production drilling and 15% of hauling remotely in 2021, it said.
On top of this, Agnico said the mill had consistently increased availability and the company was evaluating the implementation of advanced process control in 2021.