Tag Archives: LTE

Gold Fields keeps modernising Granny Smith with Mobilaris solutions

Gold Fields has implemented both Mobilaris Onboard and Mobilaris Situational Awareness at its Granny Smith underground mine in Western Australia as part of an ongoing modernisation program.

In 2018, Gold Fields launched a five-year modernisation program for the site. The first phase’s ambition is to ensure cost efficiency, productivity and a safe work environment by integrating data-driven solutions into the mine.

Michael Place, Mine Manager at Granny Smith, said Gold Field has three dedicated full-time personnel to work on the modernisation program. It has also employed external consultants and contractors to assist with the integration.

“Together, we integrate an underground LTE system to have full connectivity in the mine,” he said.

Gold Fields’ investment will also have environmental effects over time as its digitalisation allows the company to work more sustainably.

“Moving into a more digital world is going to make sure that we are sustainable long-term,” Place said. “For instance, we can maintain our cost profile during expansion and follow up on our environmental footprint.”

Historically, underground blasting has been one of the biggest time thieves in the Granny Smith Mine, with the operation currently losing four hours of production in a 24-hour period due to the firing. With the ongoing modernisation program, Place looks for the mine to become more efficient than before.

“Integrating technology into the mine allows us to look at options to reduce the inactive time,” he said. “We can increase efficiency through autonomous equipment, remote operations, and digital solutions. The expected outcome is a 5-15% increase in productivity.”

The Granny Smith Mine has close to 4,000 different locations, with over 100 employees underground at the same time. It already runs 1.2 km deep and, like many mines, is under constant development.

Michael Place, Mine Manager at Granny Smith

In 2019, a group from Gold Fields Granny Smith, including General Manager, Andrew Bywater, visited Boliden in Sweden to study the use of the Mobilaris product suite, with focus on Mobilaris Onboard and Mobilaris Situational Awareness in the Kristineberg mine.

Mobilaris Onboard, working as a machine navigator underground, creates traffic awareness and a safe and effective traffic flow, according to the company. Based on real-time data, Mobilaris Situational Awareness enables transparency and awareness. The information makes it possible to control the operations and resources, and people can quickly act upon what is happening and make smart decisions faster, Mobilaris says.

Because Mobilaris data and positions were shared in real time, the operation had seen an increase in safety and efficiency, according to Mobilaris.

This visit has since led to Gold Fields implementing both Mobilaris Onboard and Mobilaris Situational Awareness at its underground operations at Granny Smith.

Place said: “Mobilaris Onboard allows us to navigate to all locations underground quickly and efficiently. It will improve our productivity and decrease inactive time by reducing traffic congestion and finding equipment and machines faster.

“We are a haulage-constrained mine and, by reducing the cycle time of our haulage fleet, we can raise our productivity. It is a significant benefit.”

Strong customer relations allows Mobilaris to develop and test all products in real environments, as well as the possibility to bring companies to customer’s sites to experience the products in use, Mobilaris said.

“Our close relationship with the customer is a crucial success factor for Mobilaris,” Pascal Hansson, Sales Director, Mobilaris Mining & Civil Engineering, said. “All our solutions are tested in Boliden’s and other companies’ underground mines. This gives us the confidence to deliver what we promise to our customers.”

Gold Fields has plans to use Mobilaris Situational Awareness as its number one source of information and integrate it with fleet management, inventory systems, and the daily shift scheduler, according to Mobilaris. The mine’s digital investment is expected to pay off within a year, it added.

Place explained: “The location data will synchronise with daily schedules to ensure real-time data is captured from the time jobs are planned and executed. We are looking at efficiency improvements, but we are currently introducing this technology to maintain our production profile with the increasing depth and costs.”

The Gold Fields modernisation program has full support from top to bottom and is expected to be finished over the next two years, Mobilaris said.

During the research process, Gold Fields discovered that Mobilaris Onboard addresses specific safety issues. By sharing positional data and navigation in 3D, drivers can avoid traffic congestion and find shelter during emergencies.

Place said: “We have installed tablets in all our heavy vehicles. With Onboard’s traffic awareness feature, we can minimise the vehicle-vehicle interaction and the vehicle-personnel interaction. The application also tells us where to find the three nearest refuge chambers to our location. So, if there is an emergency, we can get the quickest path to safety.”

3DP confronts mining-specific challenges with tailiored LTE solution

While LTE provides undeniable benefits to users of all kinds – including a high level of predictability, quality of service and connectivity at longer distances than Wi-Fi style networks – its application in mining creates some specific challenges regarding its use, 3DP reports.

First, LTE has been developed with a bias for consumers to download information from the network (using the downlink) while mining applications typically upload data to the network (using the uplink). So, there is an asymmetry aspect at play with LTE.

This is exacerbated as most industrial LTE User Equipment (UE) is not operating in a MIMO antenna configuration in both downlink and the uplink, 3DP says. As the technology is geared towards downloading from the network to the UE, the UE (alternatively called the LTE modem or CPE) will use both of its antennas to receive the signal, which aids in higher throughput transmission of data. When operating in the uplink mode only, one antenna will transmit to the LTE network. “Another way of explaining it is that with two antennas typically available, both are physically capable of receiving but only one is physically capable of transmitting,” the company says.

This can be problematic in mining as the size of the vehicles can effectively shadow the single transmit antenna on one side of the vehicle from the LTE base station it needs to connect to.

This issue is solved with the Osprey Intelligent Endpoint®, according to 3DP, as the company has designed an intelligent dynamic switch for the transmit function of the endpoint. This RF switch is implemented independently from the LTE modem, providing flexibility in the choice of modem integrated into the Osprey.

The RF switch implementation includes a hysteresis algorithm to prevent flapping between transmit antennas.

“This means that if the switch’s decision to change antenna was based on just connection quality every time the machine moved it would switch antennas, flap, and create a loss in performance,” 3DP says. “The hysteresis algorithm has a configurable threshold so that a switch will not happen unless the performance increase is significant. We’ve also implemented a configurable delay that can be set to match the dynamics of the movement of the environment. The result is an endpoint that is responsive to the mining environment but not at the cost of performance.”

As an example, miners that only have access to public LTE will typically be dealing with network coverage and capacity that was never intended for the purpose of mobile mining applications. In contrast, purpose designed and built private LTE networks should be more performant in relation to these applications, 3DP says.

“The ability to configure the Osprey to adapt to either scenario, or anything in between, means that our customers will get the most out of their network regardless,” the company says.

Challenging the L2/L3 VXLAN solution

The second challenge refers to the fact current mining applications are layer 2; that is, they operate at the MAC level of the network, according to the OSI 7-layer model.

LTE is a layer 3 technology, which uses segmented routing over IP.

To solve this issue a layer 2 fabric needs to be created on top of the layer 3 network. Traditionally there are multiple ways of doing this: GRE, L2TP and IPSEC are all examples of “old school” tunnels very much like a VPN.

“The problem with these options is that they aren’t ‘stateless’ and this creates more complication around how detection of broken tunnels is performed and connection re-establishment time,” 3DP says. “This incurs lost connection time and ultimately dropped packets – which equals poor performance.”

The mining industry looked to L2 technologies that came about from large-scale data server deployments. A tunneling protocol called VXLAN has become the prevalent solution in mining but the solution isn’t cut and dry, according to 3DP.

“VXLAN doesn’t support packet fragmentation and reassembly, and that creates problems for our miners using LTE as the network technology,” 3DP says. “Typical LTE deployments only support a maximum MTU packet size of 1,500 bytes so if a packet from an application operating over the network is larger than that, the packet will be dropped. One somewhat clunky workaround is to manually set applications to send smaller packets or to lower MTU size on a per device basis.”

Tunneling solutions require a back-office appliance that supports the tunnel creation and operates as a concentrator for all connections out in the field, according to 3DP. It needs to know what client devices are operating over the network and, again, this is not a seamless problem to solve with VXLAN. The appliance needs to be constantly updated with the list of operating devices.

“We’ve chosen a different approach, and importantly, one that solves both of these issues natively, without any additional manual effort or per-device configuration of the layer 2 fabric,” the company says.

Comilog enlists help of JRC, Geka Telecom for Moanda 4G/LTE infrastructure

Comilog, a leading manganese miner and part of Eramet Group, has decided to build a Private 4G/LTE network in Moanda, Gabon, as part of an effort to modernise the operation.

JRC (Japan Radio Co Ltd) and Geka Telecom were selected to provide a turnkey solution. JRC will provide the LTE infrastructure for hundreds of subscribers and 4 RF sites, while GEKA Telecom will provide the full services.

Comilog, as part of its modernisation efforts, is investing in a modern and secured LTE infrastructure. This will see field staff equipped with ruggedised tablets and smartphones, with a target to digitalise the various processes to increase efficiency and reduce its use of paper. This is part of an overall project called Comilog 2020 to increase the capacity of the mine and to enhance the operation’s local added value.

JRC LTE infrastructure was chosen for the quality of its offer, JRC said. The proposed LTE infrastructure is designed to meet mission critical environment and performance. GEKA Telecom will provide its expertise for the settings of the network and the installation.

“We are very proud to contribute to the Comilog 2020 project,” Sato Katsuhiko, General Manager of 5G Project at JRC, said. “We are a specialist of wireless communication for mission critical networks. Projects such as Comilog 2020 are crucial for us. We aim to grow our private LTE/5G business significantly in the EMEA region.”

The Moanda mine is currently undergoing an expansion that will see a new mine open up on the Okouma plateau, 13 km to the north of Moanda. This could lead to 7 Mt/y of products being available for sale in 2023, compared with just over 4 Mt/y currently.

JRC, or Japan Radio Co Ltd, is a specialist of wireless infrastructure founded in 1915. Based in Japan and with offices across the world, it has provided complete Private LTE/5G networks since 2015.

GEKA Telecom, founded in 1982, has specialised in telecommunication networks in Africa, the Indian Ocean, Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe, to facilitate access to communication for all.

Aqura to supply LTE equipment to Iron Bridge magnetite project

Veris Ltd subsidiary, Aqura Technologies, has secured a contract to supply advanced LTE equipment for the Iron Bridge Magnetite project, a joint venture between Fortescue Metals Group subsidiary FMG Magnetite Pty Ltd and Formosa Steel IB Pty Ltd, in the Pilbara of Western Australia.

The A$2 million ($1.4 million) contract reflects Aqura’s strong focus to understand the evolving technology needs of the project and demonstrate its industry-leading capability to identify and design robust technology solutions that will support clients’ future operational strategies, the company said.

Aqura Technologies CEO, Travis Young, said: “This contract award is a great validation of the strategy the Aqura team are pursuing to leverage their expertise to enable other organisations to achieve positive business outcomes with leading-edge technology. We are very pleased to be supporting the great work of FMG and look forward to assisting them with their longer-term technology transformation program.

“Aqura continues to lead in high-performance industrial connectivity with advanced engagements for new rollouts, and other developments such as the imminent completion of our first 5G-enabled LTE network to bring the benefits of private LTE to a broader spectrum of businesses.”

The $2.6 billion Iron Bridge Magnetite project is expected to see a new magnetite mine developed to support production of 22 Mt/y of high-grade concentrate, according to Fortescue. First concentrate is expected to be produced by mid-2022.

Revolutionising operations through the ‘Connected Mine’ of the future

With mining operators under growing pressure to perform in the face of falling ore grades, the need to drill deeper in search of new resources and an industry-wide skills shortage, the ability to leverage reliable and flexible communication systems is growing in importance, writes Martin Killian*, IoT Solution Architect at Speedcast.

Leading mining operators have already started on a digital transformation, as they look to create the so-called ‘Connected Mine’. Building on the necessary communications required for every day workings of the mine with layers of applications and systems such as sensors and surveillance systems, this concept will transform their overall performance. In fact, the World Economic Forum forecasts that $425 billion of value will be added to the industry over the next five years through digitalisation.

As the industry looks to improve efficiency and worker safety, several technology trends have emerged – three of which we explore below:

Digital twins for optimised production

NASA introduced the concept of creating a digital replica of an asset or system to help enable operations, maintenance and repair of physical assets in space. When applied to mining, data from operations can be harnessed through different technologies to create a replica in which certain scenarios can be tested. Operators are beginning to adopt this technology at a rapid rate and are harnessing the benefits of eliminating errors and hazards before on-site implementation, while enabling the ultimate predictive maintenance to minimise downtime of any equipment.

Environmental monitoring for occupational health and safety

Using sensors, such as those which detect combustible gas levels, airflow velocity, and temperature variations for example, to check environments are safe to work in is not new. But the increasing use of sensors on a range of devices, such as when Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology is embedded into miner’s safety helmets, puts strain on the networks that support them.
When RFID readers are deployed within the mines, the connected mine then becomes aware of who is in different locations at a given time. This data can be combined with data from environmental sensors to identify exposure to a potentially hazardous condition. The key to extending the range and applications of environmental monitoring solutions is the introduction of new sensors and technology which are compatible with the wireless solutions being used.

Martin Killian, IoT Solutions Architect at Speedcast

Private LTE enabling big data connectivity

Unlocking the power of the connected mine takes more than just the technology involved – it requires a shift in connectivity. Due to the mission-critical communication in mines, any service must be reliable and able to flow at high volume with no interruptions. For years, the staple of on-site connectivity has been Wi-Fi supported by point-to-point microwave, but now LTE technology is being rapidly adopted, bringing advantages such as wider and deeper coverage, more predictable performance for multiple users, and military-grade security using SIM authentication and E2E encryption, as well as providing one network for all applications. It also provides a roadmap for future upgrades to 5G which will drive productivity to new heights with super-low latency and high bandwidth.

Mining operators must also consider integrating multiple communication technologies, which deliver high-performance connectivity to remote locations. Incorporating key elements such as multi-mode terminals, a dedicated global network and intelligence that identifies the best transmission routes and automatically switches services for best performance at lowest cost will deliver the best return.

Theory put into practice

One of the world’s largest gold mining company, Australia’s Newcrest Mining, collects data from over 100,000 sensors to create digital twins and to build predictive maintenance models. The company’s CIO estimated these data initiatives will have saved the company over $50 million in 2018. Being able to diagnose problems straightaway has also reduced machinery downtime at one of Hecla Mining’s operations in Canada and added an extra hour per day to its operations.

Huge advantages for efficiency were seen when Goldcorp (since acquired by Newmont) incorporated environmental monitoring remotely controlled underground ventilation at one of its mines in Canada. This created better control of potential ventilation hazards and more efficient energy usage, which saw its electrical consumption cut in half.

While a private LTE deployment by Telstra at the Lihir mine in Papua New Guinea has improved levels of safety, remote operation and automation thanks to the connection of equipment, such as excavators, bulldozers and excavators. The network’s reliability, speed and latency has delivered significant performance improvements and is designed to meet Lihir Gold Ltd’s long-term plan.

The future

Mining is an industry which will remain cyclical in nature as commodity prices, productivity levels and access to reserves change. However, the connected mine puts predictability within the grasp of operators, helping to make mines safer and more responsive to changes within the market. The deeper insights afforded to managers bring many benefits, which signal a bright future for the sector, by making best use of assets and employees and being able to best manage safety and environmental impacts.

*Martin Killian has more than 16 years in the satellite communications industry and is currently the IoT Solutions Architect at Speedcast.

Macmahon, Flanders help automate Cat drills at Tropicana gold mine

The rollout of a A$6 million ($4.3 million) autonomous drill fleet at the Tropicana gold mine in Western Australia is believed to be an industry first for hard-rock mining, according to the mine’s contractor, Macmahon Holdings.

Macmahon says the use of hammer drilling versus the more traditional rotary concept when it comes to blasthole drilling is unique in the hard-rock space.

AngloGold Ashanti Australia (AGAA), with support from Flanders, a technology innovator and leader in autonomous drilling, and Tropicana Mining Alliance partner, Macmahon Holdings, now has five autonomous CAT MD6250 drill rigs and seven manned rigs as part of its drilling fleet.

Mining at Tropicana, which is 70% owned and managed by AngloGold Ashanti Australia and 30% by IGO, is carried out by Macmahon.

The fit out of the fifth rig in August comes only four months after the first rig was commissioned on April 27 and incorporates the ARDVARC drill control system with multi pass and down-the-hole modes to provide seamless operations with the site’s recently-installed long term evolution (LTE) telecommunications network, Macmahon said.

The project was initiated by AGAA Manager: Technology, Martin Boulton, who developed the original project scope before engaging Macmahon to further develop the business case.

He has been integral in developing the roll out schedule and managing the various technical linkages such as running the solution on the Tropicana LTE platform, according to Macmahon. This work led to the project taking out the AngloGold Ashanti Zero HARM (Hazard & Risk Management) Award in 2020.

“The autonomous drill fleet roll out has had many benefits with increased operating efficiency and asset utilisation as the equipment can operate through lightning and inclement weather, explosive detonation and eliminates the need for operator fatigue breaks,” Boulton said.

It also introduces a safer, risk-reduced method in production drilling, increases asset availability and operating efficiency and decreases asset wear, according to Macmahon.

While still early days, the autonomous fleet has already recorded an 8% increase in instantaneous penetration rates compared with the manned rigs, along with a 14% reduction in delay times in June compared with May.

These improvements can be attributed to the rigs’ ability to continue to drill safely during live blasts and lightning storm, while delays have also been removed from water refills and shift changes, the company said.

Tropicana Autonomous Drilling Systems Specialist, Richard Hill, said the autonomous project was testament to the team on site and at Flanders, and had come a long way in a relatively short period of time.

One person (drill controller) can operate up to five rigs from the one console located in the administration building at Tropicana with the automated rigs supported by two ground crew on the pit floor. To date, up to three rigs have been operated from the one console.

With roster changes on a two weeks on and one week off swing, that equates to three crews (with one back-up per crew).

“The plan is to have six drill controllers when fully mobilised, one main controller and a backup per crew,” Hill said.

However, like any new concept, it was not without some early teething problems.

The first was rod feed rates, particularly when it came to transitional ground, but the solution came with development of a new bit chasing logic and the plan is to also develop an automated bit changer that would further reduce delay times, Macmahon said.

Another challenge was managing the autonomous operating zones, which are currently required to run separately from the manned rigs as they were not equipped with collision avoidance software.

“We are working on that now and within the next couple of weeks should be able to incorporate those in the collision avoidance, and that will then increase our production as we will not have to change work areas as often,” Hill said.

Manning has also been an issue in terms of availability of ground crews to support the drill controller, but the role will now be classified as an entry-level position with a clear career pathway progression for new entrants.

Macmahon General Manager Plant & Maintenance, Mark Hatfield, said the company was thrilled with the overall performance of the fleet having achieved full conversion from design to installation and commissioning of the drill and remote operation centre in just eight weeks.

“The Flanders team have worked alongside our people providing specialist support for the duration of the trial on site, and remotely, and will work to provide continuous improvements in the coming months,” he said.

“The system provides an agnostic solution with a customisable capability, with all available drill data providing valuable insights for analysis and improved planning, and importantly, improving site safety conditions for our people.”

Nokia’s Jadoul on keeping miners safe amid COVID-19

Workplace safety is a major objective of every mining company on the planet, but with the COVID-19 pandemic, for the first time perhaps, the primary danger may simply be getting too close while talking to our fellow team members, Marc Jadoul*, Strategic Marketing Director at Nokia, says.

In the mining industry, we are going to have to adapt our business practices to accommodate the current pandemic, and we have to be better prepared for similar events in the future. The pandemic has led to a re-thinking of certain safety protocols, procedures and personal protection, and it is accelerating the adoption of recent innovations that will improve workplace safety in other ways as well.

As the world has re-opened the economy, organisations such as the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in the US and the World Health Organization (WHO) have published recommendations for how to operate manufacturing and other business operations while still practicing social distancing and other aspects of workplace safety. These include having office employees telework where possible, staggering shifts to reduce the number of workers using lunch, break and washrooms at the same time, increasing physical space between employees in the workplace, wearing masks and even downsizing operations if necessary.

Given COVID-19’s ability to be spread by individuals who do not show symptoms, it is generally acknowledged that tracking contacts will be a key way to identify those who might have been exposed to a sick employee. Knowing the cost to the business of having to shut down a facility due to illness, management will need to work with public health authorities to implement practices that allow for the quick identification of suspected contacts, allow for testing and quarantine of workers in the case of an outbreak in their operation and, in some jurisdictions, be able to show compliance with these practices.

Marc Jadoul, Strategic Marketing Director at Nokia

The technologies needed to do this are not so far away. In fact, they already exist in industries where operating environments have residual risks or require robust control measures in ways that are similar to what will be needed to protect people from contracting the virus. Some of these practices have already been implemented in mines as well as nuclear facilities and high-tech chip fabricators. With some adaptation, it is not hard to see how these technologies can be adapted more broadly to make the mine workplace of the future nearly virus-free.

From a larger safety management perspective, the ultimate goal is to create a real-time, dynamic picture of what is happening with people, assets and environmental conditions at all times – what is known as ‘situational awareness’. It is crucial for conducting forensic analysis to understand the pattern of interactions and identify possible transmission paths so as to limit exposure and trigger remediation protocols, including testing and quarantining. Much of this already exists, but simply needs to be adapted to the current outbreak.

The ultimate objective of situational awareness is having 360° visibility of people, assets, infrastructure and environmental conditions. Because what you don’t see, you can’t manage. Which is important, not only for saving lives, but also for preventing productivity losses and increasing operational efficiency.

This full digital awareness of everything going on in the workplace is the main thrust of Industry 4.0, which brings together several technology streams: low-powered IoT sensors, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, edge computing and next-generation wireless connectivity. These technologies combine to allow for the automation of repetitive processes, improved efficiency of operations, preventative maintenance of assets, quality control and enhanced situational awareness.

Applying these technologies to deal with COVID-19 will help to solve many of the new workplace constraints identified above. For instance, there are types of digital smart personal protective equipment (PPE) that incorporate wearable sensors and communications devices. They communicate with the operations control centre and could be used to trace employee movements, enforce geo-fenced areas deemed too dangerous for entry, or sense environmental contaminants and warn employees who have had excessive exposure to leave the area and follow decontamination protocols.

With some small adjustments, smart PPE and wearables could be deployed in many operations to enforce safe distancing between employees, using software to digitally map out work zones. They could warn employees when they are entering crowded areas or no-go zones. They could improve safety and efficiency during mustering and evacuation. And they could also enable management to forensically track past exposure of employees to those who have tested positive for the virus.

With the ongoing spread of COVID-19, mining companies need to find ways to enforce physical distancing among miners in order to keep operations open and miners safe

If sifting through location data for all the employees in a large mine sounds like a nightmare, this is where AI comes to the rescue. Sophisticated analytics software already exists that can analyse location data to look for correlations. It isn’t much of a stretch to adapt this software to smart PPE data that tracks worker movements in the facility – as long as unions and laws allow for it. This kind of software also exists to analyse video footage from CCTV cameras. All of this analysis can be used to trace infection vectors and to re-assure health authorities that protocols are being enforced on the job site.

One of the important enablers of Industry 4.0 use cases is the existence of highly reliable, secure wireless connectivity. The key to end-to-end awareness of operations is ubiquitous connectivity. Because of privacy concerns, that connectivity should be very secure. To support video and the large amount of data that can be generated within a fully automated facility, it also has to have bandwidth capacity as well as be able to support low latency edge computing. Geo-positioning and geo-fencing services for employees and mobile machines need more precise coordinates than can be provided by GPS – and need to work underground and in-building as well as on surface.

Delivering all these essential capabilities is fortunately available with today’s 4.9G/LTE and tomorrow’s 5G industrial wireless networks. Early generation wireless technologies, such as Wi-Fi, were designed for connectivity to best-effort networks. They are not highly reliable, secure or capable of providing mobility and geo-positioning services. Cellular-based 4G services, on the other hand, have been used in public mobile networks for a decade and have never been compromised. 5G is designed to be even more secure and has a number of features, like ultra-low latency, that are specifically intended for industrial automation use cases.

COVID-19 is likely to be a reality we have to live with for several years. If we are lucky and develop a vaccine quickly, it may be a short-term problem. But the scientists have been warning us about the possibility of pandemics of this nature for decades. This will not be the last. The good news is that the same Industry 4.0 technologies that are transforming our workplaces can be harnessed in this fight. Industrial IoT, edge computing, AI/machine learning and industrial-strength wireless networking will play a key role in ensuring the safety of our workers and our ability to come out of this crisis stronger than before.

*Marc Jadoul leads Nokia’s marketing efforts for the mining industry, working with key stakeholders across the business to evangelise digital technologies for creating safer, more efficient and productive mines

Alamos’ Island III goes on sinking mission for more gold

Having weighed five scenarios for a Phase III expansion at the Island gold mine, in Ontario, Canada, Alamos Gold is proceeding with a plan to carry out a blind sink down to the 1,373 m level, build a paste plant, and expand the mill and tailings facility at the operation to boost production.

The company is no stranger to shaft sinking; its Young-Davidson mine, also in Ontario, has just had its Northgate shaft commissioned after Cementation used large diameter raiseboring technology to establish it as part of an engineer, procure and construct contract.

Yet, the shaft sinking route was not a foregone conclusion, with three of the five scenarios involving ramp haulage.

The Phase III Expansion Study, carried out with assistance from Hatch, Cementation, Airfinders, Golder, Halyard, SRK and DRC Estimating, looked at these scenarios using Deswik planning software to find further growth at the mine.

Having added 900,000 oz of the yellow metal to its reserve base already this year and hit a rate of 1,240 t/d in the March quarter (ahead of the nameplate 1,200 t/d rate), the company was keen to leverage these ounces at the same time as come up with a sound economic proposition for expanding and extending the mine.

Of the five scenarios, three involved ramp haulage (two retaining the 1,200 t/d capacity and one at 1,600 t/d) and two would see a shaft installed (at 1,600 t/d or 2,000 t/d). All apart from one option included the addition of a paste plant.

The company settled on expanding throughput to 2,000 t/d, from 1,200 t/d, through a shaft and paste plant build, explaining that this option presented the best economics.

As a result, the Phase III expansion will involve an initial blind sink down to 1,373 m, that new paste plant, and an expansion of the mill and tailings facility.

These investments, which would see the mine life double to 16 years from the eight years currently outlined in the reserve base, are covered in the total capital of $1.07 billion, which the company says is offset by the lower sustaining capital and operating costs of this scenario versus all that were evaluated.

Following the completion of the shaft construction in 2025, it is envisaged the operation will transition from trucking ore and waste to skipping ore and waste to surface through the new shaft infrastructure.

Output would rise to 236,000 oz/y starting in 2025, 72% higher than the mid-point of previously issued guidance for the mine in 2020, while mine-site all-in sustaining costs would fall to $534/oz, a 30% drop on the 2020 guidance.

Combined, this made for an after-tax net present value (NPV) of $1.02 billion at a 5% discount rate, and an after-tax internal rate of return of 17%, using a base case gold price assumption of $1,450/oz.

“These are also the lowest costs of any scenario evaluated reflecting the significant productivity improvements, decreased ventilation requirements, increased automation, and higher throughput rates associated with the shaft,” the company said.

While the company did not spell out what automation elements would be included in this expansion, on a webcast discussing the results, Chris Bostwick, VP, Technical Services, included details of an LTE network underground installation at Island as one continuous improvement project for 2020.

An Alamos Gold spokesperson later confirmed to IM that the LTE network was in the process of being installed with the project expected to be completed by the end of this year. “The network is primarily being installed for voice communications and real-time data gathering,” the spokesperson said.

Asked whether it was a pre-cursor to the use of autonomous haulage at the operation ahead of the expansion, the spokesperson replied: “We don’t have any firm plans for increased automation of our mobile equipment currently, but are actively monitoring the progress with the technology and this remains a potential down the road.”

With regards to automation within the expanded mine scenario, the only aspect currently being considered is the automation or tele-remote operation of the rock breakers and skipping, the spokesperson confirmed.

“Some of the trucking requirements could be automated down the road as noted above,” the spokesperson said. “The shaft expansion will make the entire operation more automated and productive.”

John A McCluskey, President and Chief Executive Officer of Alamos Gold, reviewing the study, said Island Gold had proven to be a “tremendous acquisition” for Alamos.

“We acquired Island Gold in 2017 at a cost of approximately $600 million when it had 1.8 Moz of mineral reserves and resources,” he said. “This high-grade deposit has more than doubled to 3.7 Moz and we expect further growth yet.”

While the planned expansion would make Island more profitable through increased production and lower costs, it would also “best position the operation to benefit from additional exploration success”, he said.

Long-hole open stoping will continue to be utilised as the primary mining method at Island, however, increased development and key infrastructure changes including the addition of a paste plant and shaft will allow for mining rates to increase to 2,000 t/d, it said.

The addition of paste fill underground will allow for faster stope cycling, thereby supporting higher mining rates and providing increased geotechnical stability, according to Alamos. It will also increase mining recovery, resulting in an additional 100,000 oz of gold recovered over the life of mine (from existing pillars). This represented an in-situ value of $145 million at a gold price of $1,450/oz.

The paste plant will have a capacity of 2,000 t/d and capital cost of $34 million with the plant expected to be completed in the December quarter of 2023, Alamos said.

When it comes to the shaft options, which Alamos Gold evaluated with the help of Cementation, it was decided that a conventional blind sink methodology would be used to provide “improved schedule reliability with minimal impact on existing operations”.

A combined raisebore from the 840 m level, and blind sink option below the 840 m level was evaluated, however, this option would significantly impact existing operations, Alamos said. “The cuttings from the raisebore in the upper mine, and waste generated from the conventional sink in the lower mine, would displace underground throughput capacity and significantly reduce mining rates below 1,200 t/d by as much as 400 t/d over the next several years,” it said.

The settled-on option will see a 5 m diameter concrete-lined shaft constructed with a steel head frame. The shaft will house two 12 t skips in dedicated compartments for ore and waste movement and a double-deck service cage for the transport of personnel and materials.

The company estimated an overall shaft sinking rate of around 9.6 ft (2.9 m)/d, which included a ramp-up period.

While the shaft will be sunk to an initial depth of 1,373 m, the hoisting plant will be designed for an ultimate depth of 2,000 m providing flexibility to accommodate future exploration success, the company said.

At the initial depth of 1,373 m, the shaft has a capacity of 4,500 t/d, more than sufficient to accommodate the peak mining rates of 3,300 t/d (ore and waste), according to Alamos.

The underground ore and waste handling and loading pocket will be a conventional configuration like that of Young-Davidson, the company said.

Once skipped to surface, ore will be trucked to the expanded mill circuit.

On top of the payback being sweeter for the shaft expansion, ventilation requirements are also lower than under the ramp scenarios given the significantly smaller mobile fleet, Alamos said. This allows the shaft to serve as the only new required fresh air source.

The total construction capital for the shaft installation including all supporting infrastructure is anticipated to be $232 million.

Further, 56% of tailings will be placed underground reducing tailings dam raise requirements, a capital saving of $13 million, according to Alamos.

The mining rate ramp-up to 2,000 t/d after the shaft expansion will be supported by a total of five 42 t haul trucks. This compares with a peak of 18 haul trucks required to sustain ramp haulage at 1,200 t/d and 25 haul trucks for ramp haulage at 1,600 t/d, the company said.

“This contributes to the lower ventilation requirements with the shaft expansion, and significantly lower diesel usage and greenhouse gas emissions,” the company said.

The mill expansion will include upgrading the crushing circuit, adding a second parallel ball mill, and a new elution and carbon in pulp (CIP) circuit with carbon screens. The total cost of the mill expansion is expected to be around $40 million.

The flowsheet of the new circuit includes upgrades and expansions for the following major process operations:

  • New vibratory grizzly feeder;
  • New primary crusher;
  • New fine ore stockpile and conveyors;
  • Additional primary ball mill;
  • Primary ball mill screen for both ball mill circuits;
  • Existing thickener converted to high rate thickener;
  • Two additional leach tanks;
  • New elution plant and kiln (ADR); and
  • Tailing pumps.

Mill recoveries are expected to average 96.5% over the life of mine, consistent with the historical performance of the existing operation, it said.

To accommodate the increased electricity requirements with the larger mill and shaft, the power line to site will be upgraded at a cost of $14 million, it added.

Despite the backfill options with the envisaged paste plant, an expansion of the existing tailings impoundment area is underway and required under all scenarios to accommodate the growth in the deposit over the last several years, Alamos said.

“With two planned future raises beyond 2020 and the addition of the paste plant, the tailings facility has sufficient capacity to accommodate existing mineral reserves and resources,” it added.

Strata Worldwide takes advantage of Geoverse ‘5G-ready’ solution

Geoverse, a leading provider of private LTE/5G solutions and the largest neutral host carrier in the US, has announced support for licensed wireless spectrum on its existing GeoCore™ network service platform.

This solution combines low-band licensed spectrum with Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) to form a high performance and reliable private LTE/5G network that enables the adoption of Industry 4.0 for mining, oil and gas exploration, utilities, and other industries, it said.

“It merges the power of CBRS with the performance of licensed 600 MHz and 700 MHz spectrum to guarantee a reliable network where it is needed, supporting voice calling, high-speed broadband and critical low-latency IoT,” the company added.

One company taking advantage of GeoCore and the combined spectrum offering is mining-focused Strata Worldwide.

Tom Michaud, CTO of Strata Worldwide, said: “In such extreme environments, the performance and reach of the low-band spectrum can make it a preferred option for select applications. And, it complements CBRS quite well so collectively they can serve a variety of use cases found across our remote locations, providing a high-performance service connecting users, devices and even delivering highly reliable service for our automated equipment.”

Geoverse offers an option to use its unique GeoCore service platform to deploy the licensed 600 MHz and 700 MHz spectrum from their solutions across 14 western states in the US. “The best part is that since the network uses licensed spectrum it belongs exclusively to the enterprise it serves,” the company explained.

It added: “Industries such as mining, oil and gas exploration, energy, and more have turned to a variety of wireless solutions to try to keep their daily operations flowing smoothly. However, this patchwork of networks can be costly and difficult to manage, while still falling short of the various connectivity requirements. In the era of automation and the digital workplace, inadequate coverage and inconsistent performance can disrupt operations to reduce productivity and impact the bottom line.”

Rod Nelson, CEO and Co-Founder of Geoverse, said private LTE networks meet the design, operational, and performance requirements that heavy industry needs, while giving them authority over coverage, capacity and function.

“By combining the coverage and exclusive use of licensed spectrum with the capacity depth provided by CBRS, we create one private LTE/5G networking solution to satisfy many needs,” he said.

CBRS enables enterprises to deploy and maintain their own networks. Now, with the addition of licensed spectrum, these same networks can do even more, all from a single, scalable, and secure network, the company said.

“The Geoverse 5G-ready solution provides a unique opportunity for enterprises to digitally transform their business,” it added.

Talking mining truck automation with China’s pioneer TAGE Idriver

In a world first, Paul Moore spoke to the senior management of TAGE Idriver, in Beijing, the leading Chinese player in mining truck autonomy solutions, both for new machines and retrofits. CEO Professor Yu Guizhen, CTO Huang Liming and Head of Marketing Li Qingshe gave their insight on this huge and rapidly growing market.

PM: Can you give some background on TAGE Idriver as a robotics solution company and how you came to be active in the mining sector?

TAGE Idriver CEO, Professor Yu Guizhen

YG: Founded in 2016, Beijing TAGE Idriver Technology Co Ltd (hereafter referred to as TAGE) is a high-tech enterprise focussed on the research and development of autonomous driving technology for open-pit mining vehicles. Open-pit mining is regarded as one of the most ideal applications for autonomous driving technology implementation as it involves a relatively restricted area where vehicle speed is low and the transportation routes are well managed. As such, we took the unmanned robotic mining truck as our chosen breakthrough point, to try to help to solve the long standing issues with open-pit mining haulage such as frequent accidents, driver recruitment difficulty and persistently high cost. And we have achieved a lot so far – our system has already been successfully implemented in the Bayan Obo iron ore and rare earths mine (Baogang Group) and the Huolinhe coal mines (SPIC) in Inner Mongolia.

PM: It seems only recently the major mining equipment OEMs in China were working on their own autonomy solutions, but now independent players are dominating…what has changed?

YG: Unmanned transportation solutions for open-pit mines involve complex systems requiring not only vehicle technology, but also autonomous driving technology, dispatching and fleet management technology, and vehicle communication technology. To independently build all those capabilities into one platform is a tough challenge for the Chinese traditional mining equipment OEMs. This is why independent players with advanced autonomous driving technology but working in close cooperation with the OEMs are in a more competitive position to deliver open-pit mine unmanned transportation solutions in China.

PM: The market for these independent autonomy system tech providers seems very competitive in China; several other companies are also active – what would you say makes TAGE Idriver stand out from the rest?

HL: First I would say system integrity. As the earliest player engaged in the development of unmanned transportation solutions for open-pit mining and the first to put them into practical operation in China, TAGE has delivered complete solutions and has a mature product portfolio including OBU (Onboard Unit) product series, RSU (Road Side Unit) and Cloud Control Platform. The OBU product series includes unmanned mine truck terminal products, bulldozer vehicle terminal products, excavator vehicle terminal products, crushing station terminal products and external on-road vehicles terminal products. Then there is functional adaptability. Open-pit mine transportation is complex, especially in China. On the basis of intellectualisation and interconnection of the unmanned mine trucks and the cloud based dispatching control platform, TAGE’s products seamlessly connect every step of mining transportation process, so as to make the system capable of working in an actual operational scenario, which is extremely critical for commercial implementation.

TAGE Idriver CTO, Huang Liming

Then there is system reliability and multiple safety aspects. TAGE’s OBU products are designed in accordance with vehicle grade certification to meet the operational reliability requirements of the harsh environments (low temperature, vibration, etc) in the mining area. Our system has achieved multiple redundant security designs, which mainly includes CCU (Central Control Unit) security redundancy, wireless network redundancy, cloud platform DHBS (Dual Machine Hot Backup System) redundancy, etc. Finally I would mention engineering design ability. TAGE has a vertically structured and expert team in the open-pit mining industry, who have rich experience in engineering design and system simulation verification of unmanned transportation in mining.

PM: Is the main potential currently working with equipment OEMs or the mines directly, or both?

YG: Both, I have mentioned already Baogang and SPIC as mining customers we have ongoing projects with and we are also closely cooperating with top Chinese OEMs like Inner Mongolia North Hauler (NHL), XCMG and Shaanxi Tonly.

PM: The Chinese market is also very price sensitive. How is it possible to provide these complex technologies to these mines at a low enough price they will accept?

TAGE Idriver Head of Marketing, Li Qingshe

LQ: In China, the ordinary consumer market is very price sensitive, but for high-tech production equipment, price is not the decisive factor. TAGE’s unmanned system is capable of creating substantial additional benefits to customers such as labour cost savings, increased operation time, reduced fuel cost and tyre wear cost reduction, and most importantly, zero accident risk to operators. Meanwhile, our prices are still very competitive – the ROI of our system is very attractive to most of our potential customers.

PM: Chinese mines are not known for having extensive comms networks or using the latest fleet management systems. How do you ensure your mining customers meet the minimum standards your systems need to work in terms of networks?

HL: When it comes to telecommunication, China has a good upstream and downstream ecosystem, and wireless communication networks have been widely deployed in mining areas in China. Some large state-owned mining areas have already deployed 4G wireless private networks, so as to realise fleet management and video monitoring under manned transportation conditions. Along with the rapid introduction of unmanned transportation in China’s open-pit mining areas, 4G private networks or 5G networks have been mainly chosen as the mainstream choices for new mining area construction and existing mining area network upgrades. Currently, the major equipment manufacturers and communication service operators are actively cooperating with us to promote unmanned transportation and 5G.

PM: Are Chinese mines now widely trialling LTE and 5G networks? Do you think many mines will go straight to these latest technologies?

HL: As I said, telecommunication technology in China is developing rapidly. China’s Government has spared no efforts to promote the macro strategy of ‘New Infrastructure Construction’. In this positive environment, many mine areas have begun promoting 5G demonstration projects, and TAGE has also carried out 5G demonstration implementation at one of our unmanned transportation projects.

PM: Is there potential for autonomous mining in Chinese underground mines and is this something already happening? Is it a market TAGE Idriver is involved in yet?

YG: China has a large number of underground mines but in many of them mechanised hauling with mobile vehicles is not the major means of transportation – many of these mines instead use conveyors, skip haulage, etc. But we are aware that a variety of autonomous transportation equipment types are being experimented with in Chinese underground mining, however, TAGE is currently focusing on the open-pit mining industry only.

PM: How would you say your system differs from those offered in the global market by Cat, Komatsu, Hitachi and ASI?

Wide-body dumpers, sometimes called tippertrucks, are used in their 100s at many Chinese mines, so their automation is a big part of the unmanned projects taking place in China

HL: To start with, TAGE’s system designs are based on China’s unique mining area circumstances and transportation process requirements, which are often more difficult and more complex than the mining situations in which overseas counterparts are working. In order to ensure continuity, efficiency, and reliability, we must consider in our offering allowing switching between various driving modes (such as from manned to unmanned or to remote control etc) so as to adapt to the unique characteristics of China’s mining areas. Secondly, the vehicle models utilised in China’s mining areas are quite diverse. There are many brands and types of rigid mine trucks but also many types of non-rigid wide-body dumpers, sometimes called tipper trucks, in China, so our OBUs have to adapt to the control characteristics of various truck models to serve the different customers. In the mining areas where wide-body dumpers are deployed, there are usually hundreds of them in the fleet and sometimes more than a thousand, which places harsh requirements in terms of capacity and reliability on the cloud-based dispatching and control system. Finally, there are a large number of existing mine trucks in China, so to offer autonomous modification solutions ie retrofits for those existing trucks has huge commercial potential. We have already accumulated rich engineering experience and made considerable commercial progress in this field.

PM: What is making big mining groups in China look at automation, is the major push a drive towards safety or productivity, or both?

YG: Both. Productivity is obviously important, but safety is probably the top concern as the Chinese Government has issued strict legal rules that impose stringent safety requirements on mine management.

PM: Most of the Chinese examples of autonomous fleets I have read about seem to be closed loop trials – are any Chinese mines actually using autonomous fleets in normal production yet?

LQ: The attempts at unmanned transportation of mining vehicles in China started much later than that in other countries. The whole industry is still in the transformation stage from small batch trial operations to large scale commercial implementation. As the leading player and the first to get commercial contracts in China, TAGE is standing at the forefront of the industry both in terms of technology maturity and user acceptance. We achieved multi-fleet unmanned operation in Bayan Obo iron mine in 2019, and by the end of 2020, all the mine trucks there will have been modified and fully put into unmanned transportation. For the non-rigid wide-body dumpers, we recently signed a large contract for 200 unmanned dumpers in the Ordos coal mining region. This project will be completed within two years, and the first batch of 50 dumpers will be in operation by the end of 2020. Some other contracts are also under negotiation, so we can say that the large scale commercial implementation phase is already underway.

PM: I have not seen reference to autonomy being applied at some of the largest operations like the Zhungeer, Pingshuo coal mines or the Julong Copper mine in Tibet, are these operations also looking at autonomy?

LQ: TAGE’s existing customers like Baogang and SPIC are giants in their respective fields. And the large mining groups Zhungeer, Pingshuo and Julong that you mentioned have also been paying close attention to unmanned transportation. We are communicating with them closely and they have clearly expressed their intention to carry out unmanned transportation projects going forward.

PM: The focus currently seems to be mining trucks. What about blasthole drill or excavator autonomy – is this an area you are also working on and can you give any examples?

HL: At present, in order to ensure the high efficiency of transportation, we have only developed and deployed unmanned systems on mine trucks. As for blasthole drill rigs, excavators, bulldozers and other auxiliary equipment, although they are still operator controlled, we have upgraded them with vehicle terminal devices to enable them to locate and interactively cooperate with unmanned mine truck fleets.

PM: On the truck side, is the focus mainly on larger trucks or are you also working on projects involving smaller trucks, eg 100 t class and smaller, including the tipper non-rigid trucks that are very common in Chinese mines?

HL: Our current solution is adaptable to both large mine trucks and non-rigid wide-body dumpers. The two types of truck are mainly different in terms of vehicle control. In addition, the transportation technical procedure is different in the mine areas using the two types of truck, so we have to do adaptive development to meet the specific needs of each fleet type.

TAGE Idriver says it is at the forefront of the mining truck autonomy industry in China both in terms of technology maturity and user acceptance

PM: How significant is your recently signed deal with NHL to work with them to produce a new NTE200AT truck – is this the first time your system will have been applied to a ‘new’ mining truck as opposed to a retrofit?

YG: Yes and no, we started to modify NHL’s existing mine trucks with unmanned technology via retrofit in 2018, and have also jointly developed drive-by-wire trucks with a pre-installed unmanned system. This year we are confident we will carry out pre-installation with our proven solution on a large scale with the new NTE200AT 186 t truck fleet for SPIC, which will be a new milestone for us and for NHL.

PM: Do you see a lot of opportunities for TAGE Idriver outside of the China market such as where Chinese trucks are being sold (eg the new NHL deal with Yancoal), or where you are able to work with older or more basic truck designs, such as in India?

YG: We hope of course to work together with Chinese mine equipment OEMs to serve their customers both in China but also all over the world, as the use of Chinese mining trucks in the global market is increasing.