Tag Archives: LTE

Why the Pilbara leads the way in haul truck automation

A presentation at last month’s AusIMM Iron Ore 2019 Conference, in Perth, Western Australia, made it clear that the state’s steel raw material miners are leading the way when it comes to applying autonomous haulage systems (AHS) in open-pit mining.

Richard Price, Manager of Projects for Mining Technicians Group Australia (MTGA), has been involved in this technology space for a number of years, having initially witnessed an automation trial involving two trucks at Alcoa’s Willowdale bauxite mine, in Pinjarra, all the way back in 1994.

At the conference, his paper set out the state of play in Pilbara when it comes to AHS, explaining: the first commercial scale trial in iron ore took place at Rio Tinto’s West Angelas operation in 2008, there are two original equipment manufacturer (OEM) AHS operating in the Pilbara – Caterpillar Command for Hauling and the Komatsu FrontRunner – and the three major iron ore miners (Rio Tinto, BHP and Fortescue Metals Group (FMG)) were leaders when it comes to using autonomous trucks.

FMG is the largest operator of autonomous trucks in the Pilbara – making it effectively the largest in the world – with 128 at the end of June (according to the miner’s June quarter results). Rio, meanwhile, had 96 up and running, with BHP having a total of 50, as per publicly released data.

“FMG has plans to automate all of their trucks, including the first non-OEM trucks on an alternate OEM system,” Price said, with him adding that the company has now automated a number of Komatsu 930E vehicles using the Caterpillar Command for Hauling AHS: a world first.

“Additionally, FMG is also operating multiple Caterpillar OEM trucks onsite, in another world first having three classes of truck on the one system at the same site (789D, 793F and 930E),” he said.

While Komatsu, historically, has more time in the field with commercial autonomous applications – it surpassed 2 billion tons of autonomous haulage in November – than Caterpillar, the Illinois-based OEM has received more global success, being able to point to AHS deployments in the oil sands of Canada, the coal mines of British Columbia and Vale’s iron ore operations in Brazil.

“With regards to the on-board AHS componentry, the Komatsu system is somewhat simpler than the Caterpillar system,” Price said. “The significant difference is that Caterpillar utilises a LiDAR (Velodyne 64-layer), with RADAR, whilst the Komatsu system uses RADAR only. However there are additional differences in the on-board controls – the Caterpillar system is known for having more significant vehicle on-board computing power, versus the Komatsu system which places greater reliance on the wireless network whilst performing most of the calculations on the server side.”

Even with the on-board computing power of Caterpillar’s system, the performance of these trucks only tends to be as good as the communications infrastructure they are tied to.

Presently, only the Komatsu system has announced successful trials of using 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) network technology as the communications system which commands the trucks, with the Caterpillar system presently reliant on wireless networking technology, “of which all current implementations rely upon (globally)”, Price said.

One of the issues with such technologies is the trucks stop driving, or operating, if they lose communications, with the trucks communicating, via this network, their position to each other and directional heading and speed.

The way the trucks re-start their driving routine is, at present, via manual visual inspection, which can be a process that takes time.

And, according to Price, a significant problematic issue with trucks stopping driving across all the Pilbara sites is the triggering of a false positive object detection.

“These are often referred to as ‘ODs’ on the various sites which utilise AHS,” Price said, with many operators blaming undulations in the road, pot holes, or small rocks for these occurrences.

Again, manual inspection is normally required as part of an operation’s procedure for re-starting the autonomous trucks.

Out in front

Despite these communication and OD problems, Western Australia still leads the way when it comes to automation with the Pilbara hosting around 75% of the circa-370 trucks operating globally.
What is the reason for this? Price highlighted five bullet points in his speech:

  • High cost of operators – annual salaries for truck operations are, in general, over A$100,000 ($68,882);
  • Ease of implementation – “the Pilbara miners generally have open ground, and have had an opportunity to trial the technology in a dedicated work area prior to a site-wide implementation,” Price said, adding that the topography has also made it simpler to install the required communications systems;
  • Scale and longevity of operations – Previously cost-benefit analysis of AHS included an approximate cutoff point of 12 Mt/y total material movement, which equates to six to eight off-highway haul trucks, Price said. All operations exceed this, as well as having long mine lives;
  • The fact that all the sites which have presently deployed AHS are currently fly-in/fly-out mines which transport the staff to site from their point-of-hire, and;
  • Experience of technology and processes in the Pilbara – miners in the region have long-term familiarity with fleet management systems and technology adoption.

Price said: “Western Australia does not necessarily have any unique or special advantage, however, it has made sense for Pilbara iron ore operators to implement AHS for the reasons outlined above.”

The benefits

MTGA’s Price pointed to several quotes from the mining companies themselves to explain the benefits of automation.

Rio Tinto, in 2018, said: “On average, each autonomous truck was estimated to have operated about 700 hours more than conventional haul trucks during 2017 and around 15% lower load and haul unit costs.”

FMG, in the same year, said it was seeing 32% productivity improvements with autonomous trucking.

Vale, meanwhile, previously told Mining.com: “The adoption of autonomous trucks at Brucutu (iron ore mine, in Brazil) is expected to reduce fuel consumption by more than 10%. Maintenance costs, in turn, should fall by another 10% and off-road truck tyres, which cost up to $40,000, are expected to have 25% lower wear. The overall gains translate into a 15% increase in equipment life, reducing investments in new acquisitions and reducing carbon dioxide emissions at the same time.”

Price said: “There are clearly differing metrics being monitored by these three operators at present. However, irrespective of the metrics monitored, AHS obviously has had a significant impact on the operating environment.

“It appears that the increase in utilisation of the autonomous trucks is the most significant benefit that they provide. The decrease in costs is also helpful, but the increase in predictability of the truck fleet is what drives the actual benefit.

“A number of materially measurable but difficult to quantify benefits exist from the rendering of trucks autonomous as well. These include less maintenance, better tyre wear (or increased tyre life), reduced fuel costs (for the same tonnage output) and better overall truck performance.”

For instance, Komatsu has previously said the optimised automatic controls of AHS reduce sudden acceleration and abrupt steering, resulting in a 40% improvement in tyre life compared with conventional operations.

And, of course, there are the numerous safety benefits that come with using automated haul trucks.

The future

While Price believes that mining will continue to become more autonomous, he said the mine of the future was likely to involve the automatic distribution of data files that trucks would work off without human involvement.

“For now, technologies such as LTE for better communications network coverage, the use of drones, long-range cameras or other autonomous ground vehicles to conduct the manual visual inspection and other autonomous equipment will be implemented,” he said.

He added: “It is likely that there will be a continuum of development over the next 20-30 years.

“Mining companies and OEMs will have a lot to learn from automotive vehicle automation. Obviously, there are more cars on the roads than there are off-highway haulage trucks on minesites. Therefore the general costs of automation kits will come down, and there will be an opportunity to conduct operations in a GPS-denied environment.

“Already, the costs of select items such as the LiDAR utilised by the Caterpillar system have halved in price since they were used a decade ago. Solid state LiDARs, as opposed to rotational, are being implemented in the automotive industry already.”

He pointed to MINExpo 2016, in Las Vegas, when Komatsu showcased its cabless, driverless truck as one development to look out for.

“It is predicted that in the longer-term future (ie 20-30 years’ time), cabs will be an additional and expensive option to add onto an off-highway heavy haulage truck,” he said.

“Whilst the future is autonomous, it will be technologically more advanced than the present technologies,” he concluded, adding that, given its head start, one would expect the Pilbara iron ore industry to deploy these technologies first.

MTGA’s Richard Price has also written a business case study on AHS, published by AusIMM – www.ausimmbulletin.com/feature/autonomous-haulage-systems-the-business-case/ – and, in partnership with Whittle Consulting’s Nick Redwood, put together an Autonomous Haulage Systems Financial Model Assessment – www.whittleconsulting.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Autonomous-Haulage-Study-Report-Rev-F.pdf

Telstra LTE solution improving communications at Newcrest’s Lihir gold mine

Telstra Mining Services says it has implemented Papua New Guinea’s first private 4G LTE (Long-Term Evolution) mobile network at Newcrest’s Lihir gold mine.

The next generation wireless communications platform will allow for greater levels of safety, remote operation and automation, according to Telstra, which worked with Newcrest to provide design, staging, site deployment and testing of the network.

Every kind of production vehicle asset, including trucks, drills, excavators, dozers, shovels and barges have now been connected and operationally proven over LTE. This process has revealed significant performance improvements in terms of reliability, speed and latency, according to Telstra. “The network has been able to resolve challenges with existing Wi-Fi connectivity and is making Newcrest’s safety and productivity systems more effective,” Telstra said, adding that fleet efficiency and real-time visibility have benefited from an 80% improvement in communications reliability on LTE-enabled assets.

The gold deposit at Lihir is within the Luise Caldera, an extinct volcanic crater that is geothermally active, and is one of the largest known gold deposits in the world, according to Newcrest. Most of the ore is refractory and is treated using pressure oxidation before the gold is recovered by a conventional leach process.

In the financial year ending June 30, 2018, Lihir produced 955,156 oz of gold. Since production commenced in 1997, the site has produced more than 10 Moz of the yellow metal.

Dr Jeannette McGill, Head of Telstra Mining Services, said Newcrest’s decision to invest in Private LTE technology further validates it as a dependable and scalable networking platform for the mining industry and one that enables mining houses to digitally transform.

“We’ve provided Newcrest with a tailored platform that will underpin its safety and digital mining ambitions and will help improve productivity and deliver new value and efficiencies to the business,” she said. “They’ll be using it to further modernise the mine site to enable the use of current and future mining applications, including tele-remote and autonomous systems, more extensively.”

The platform is completely independent from public mobile networks, according to Telstra, with Newcrest having been provided with its own dual-frequency base stations, LTE core and SIM cards, with the network’s configuration and coverage designed and implemented to meet the Lihir mine’s safety strategy and long-term mine plan.

Telstra Mining Services’ solution also includes ‘HetNet’ functionality that allows the Newcrest vehicle fleet to seamlessly switch between LTE and existing Wi-Fi networks without impacting critical mining applications.

Newcrest complemented the LTE technology solution by implementing new towers, data centres and redundant power systems across the site, according to Telstra.

McGill added: “Newcrest and Telstra Mining Services took what has become a best-in-class preliminary deployment approach with the network. Designing it for full production but initially deploying at two sites allowed Newcrest to validate the design principles, implementation techniques and practical capabilities of LTE before scaling their investment.”

Newcrest’s pragmatic approach, combined with flexibilities in the solution from Telstra Mining Services, enabled the desired outcomes and learning to be achieved within a relatively short timeframe, despite the remoteness of the Lihir operation, according to Telstra. Future phases of the project will further enhance coverage in-line with Lihir’s 20-year mine plan, and provide for expansion of coverage and capacity across the mine, processing plant, port and camp.

Chris Jordaan, General Manager, Newcrest Lihir, said: “The Lihir mine extends 300 m into a volcanic crater and our workers can often be exposed to elevated temperatures. Tele-remote and autonomous mining technologies are fundamental to working the hot work areas that will become more dominant features of our operation in the future.

“The Private LTE network will be a great enabler for these technologies and, coupled with the existing in-pit Wi-Fi network, we have been able to create a heterogeneous network that covers the whole mining lease.”

Gavin Wood, Chief Information & Digital Officer at Newcrest, said: “Safety is Newcrest’s number-one priority and the network Telstra Mining Services has built with us at Lihir will enable safer and more efficient mining using new technologies. The success of this project was 100% driven by leadership and personal commitment of the Lihir’s OT/IT team working together with Telstra Mining Services.”

LTE is a future-ready platform for wireless communications in mining, providing dependable and scalable communications that the next generation of machines, systems and workforce applications will require. Having been proven in carrier networks, it’s now seen as the mining industry’s next step for connectivity.

Boliden trials first automated electric drill at Aitik copper mine

Boliden says it has completed a world first with the trial of an autonomous electric Epiroc 351 Pit Viper drill at its Aitik copper mine in Sweden.

The trial ran through the month of March and was part of a three-year staged approach to autonomous drilling in Aitik that started in April 2017, Boliden said. The first part entailed tele-remote drilling, with the results from that setting the stage for stage two; a trial of single line autonomous drilling. “The third stage will evaluate the extent to which a whole pattern can be drilled with an electric autonomous drill,” Boliden said.

The drill, an Epiroc Pit Viper 351, is currently running successfully and achieving 30% increase in productivity compared with the manned equipment (190 m/d), according to Boliden. With the success of the project and positive feedback from the operators, a trial of autonomous drilling on two single passes (as opposed to multi-pass drilling) was expected to be performed shortly. There will also be a test performed with the soon to be commissioned LTE network in Aitik.

The KPIs were to be reviewed at a steering group meeting on May 7 when a decision was expected on whether to approve the investment to upgrade the remaining fleet, which could start as early as October. It is not yet known what the results were.

Shane Leighton, Senior Engineer Technology/Mine Automation at Boliden, said the trial represented a world first using an autonomous electric Pit Viper drill.

“There are a quite a few mines in the world running diesel-powered automated drills; this is the first automated electric 351 Pit Vipers. What we have learned from the trial in Aitik will support an upgrade to the 4 x 271 Pit Viper fleet in Kevitsa to an automated fleet that is scheduled to start in 2020,” Leighton said.

The trial must achieve a number of key performance indicators covering three different areas – safety, production and arctic weather conditions – to move onto a full investment. Currently, only single line drilling uses autonomous mode, the company said.

“Since we have never used this type of technology before, we wanted to be 100% certain that we could be successful before deciding to upgrade our entire fleet of Pit Vipers. The trial addresses that,” Leighton explained.

With regard to the safety, the same call-up procedures will apply when approaching the autonomous drill as for a manned drill. In addition, overview cameras mounted at various locations around the pit will allow the operator to gain a full overview of what is happening around the drill with four cameras located on the drills, Boliden said. A laser-based system for obstacle detection and a proximity detection solution are also new features designed to detect personnel; these will require staff to wear a tag that vibrates when entering the drill pattern.

The project team includes Boliden Project Manager Peter Palo, Niklas Johansson, representing the drillers, Shane Leighton from Technology, and Fredrik Lindstrom, Product Manager for Automation at Epiroc, Boliden’s supplier for the drills and technology. The project was partially funded by Boliden’s Mine Automation department.

Agnico Eagle talks LTE, automation and ore sorting in Q1 results

Agnico Eagle Mines highlighed a number of initiatives in its March quarter results as the company continues its ambitious growth plan to hit the 2 Moz production milestone in 2020.

The headline numbers might have disappointed investors – net income dropped to $37 million from $44.9 million a year earlier, on the back of lower gold sales volumes, realised gold prices and by-product revenue – but there was plenty to be excited about for the future.

Group output of 398,217 oz in the first three months of the year puts the company on track to achieve 2019 production of 1.75 Moz of gold (1.63 Moz in 2018), Agnico Eagle said, while the company’s Meliadine gold mine in Nunavut, Canada, was due to achieve commercial production next month. This is expected to be followed by the company’s nearby Amaruq project producing first gold in the September quarter.

On the technology front, Agnico reported on its communication infrastructure efforts at its deep LaRonde gold mine in the Abitibi region of Quebec, Canada.

Following the successful deployment of its LTE network at LaRonde Zone 5, the company deployed an LTE network at the LaRonde mine below level 269 in 2018. Extension of the network in the ramp area from level 269 to surface and at LaRonde 3 will take place throughout 2019, Agnico said.

“The LTE network facilitates the integration of automation technologies currently being tested at LaRonde Zone 5, which are expected to allow the company to maintain similar productivity levels at LaRonde 3 as it historically achieved in the shallower portions of the mine,” the company said.

And, on those automation trials at LaRonde Zone 5, Agnico said: “Integration and pilot testing of automated mining equipment (two trucks and one scooptram) continued in the first (March) quarter of 2019 and will be ongoing over the balance of the year.”

Last year, Agnico Eagle confirmed its ore sorting plans at its Pinos Altos operation in Mexico. This included the installation of a pilot plant at the mine.

The company said, in its March quarter results, samples will be processed from all of the orebodies at Pinos Altos and La India in 2019 to determine the merits of implementing the technology at its Mexican operations.

“To-date, sorting of open-pit ore from the Sinter deposit has yielded favourable preliminary results,” it said, adding that similar ore sorting pilot testing is being considered at the company’s other operating regions.

Hard-Line’s Teleop system receives LTE certification with Redline partnership

Redline Communications Group and HLS Hard-Line Solutions have successfully integrated the operation of Hard-Line’s Teleop Teleremote Control System with Redline’s industrial Private LTE solution, enabling tele-operation of heavy mining machinery from a remote-control station.

This integration will allow machinery such as rock breakers, drills, excavators, wheel loaders and dozers to be operated by operators totally out of the proximity of danger, in addition to “more easily expand a mine’s progression”, Redline said.

“The system saves time, heightens operator safety, improves comfort, and allows a greater percentage of the workforce to operate equipment,” the company said. “Together, the companies demonstrated they could deliver safe, reliable and cost-effective remote operations, on a fit-for-purpose, secure private LTE infrastructure designed for the mining environment.”

Hard-Line is certified for installation of Redline Private LTE networks and is partnering with Redline to deliver communications infrastructure solutions to the mining industry. Its latest Teleop Auto system delivers 2D and 3D views, with ‘real-time’ operator control achievable when the system is coupled to robust communication networks.

Louis Lambert, Senior Vice President, Business Development for Redline Communications, said: “As the mining industry progresses through digital transformation to enable ‘smart mining’, private LTE is surfacing as the wireless technology of choice to deliver robust, reliable and secure mobile communications.”

Hard-Line’s, Scott Whelan, Vice President of Sales, said: “As a result of our collaboration with Redline, Hard-Line is now certified in both Wi-Fi and LTE solutions to satisfy our customers’ needs. This enables our customers to have the flexibility to operate our products on the solution and infrastructure of their choice.”

In addition to the collaboration with Hard-Line, Redline continues to invest to further develop communication solutions that are fit-for-purpose for mining companies to deliver on smart mining initiatives globally, it said.

Komatsu’s FrontRunner autonomous haulage system and Nokia make mining LTE history

Komatsu America Corp’s FrontRunner autonomous haulage system (AHS) has achieved a mining industry first, after the system qualified to operate on private long-term evolution (LTE) mobile broadband technology.

This makes it the sector’s first AHS enabled to run on private LTE in commercial operations, paving the way for ultra-high system availability and reliability, while adhering to Komatsu’s renowned safety standards, the company said.

Komatsu’s FrontRunner AHS allows unmanned operation of ultra-class mining trucks. It delivers significant benefits, including reduced worker exposure to harm, protocols designed to constantly improve mine-site safety, reduced operating costs, and increased productivity and efficiency. The company completed a year-long qualification programme at the company’s proving grounds in Tucson, Arizona, conducting extensive testing of the FrontRunner AHS on Nokia’s Future X infrastructure, a leading provider of private LTE communication solutions for the mining industry.

Komatsu said: “Mining operators demand wireless networks with high-availability, seamless mobility, world-class quality of service, and the ability to support multiple applications and services simultaneously. Accordingly, the industry is moving away from less predictable wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi, and towards private LTE networks, that improve security, capacity, and overall performance within a multi-application environment.”

Luiz Steinberg, Komatsu Global Officer and President/CEO of Modular Mining Systems, said: “This industry milestone represents a key step in Komatsu’s exploration of private LTE and highlights Nokia’s role as the leading global supplier of mission-critical solutions and services for the mining industry.

“As the leader in autonomous haulage technology, we are firmly on our way to helping the industry move the next billion tons of material with autonomous technology. We have come together with Nokia to further this vision of delivering increased value to the mining industry.”

Kathrin Buvac, President of Nokia Enterprise, said: “We are excited to be engaging the mining automation market with Komatsu, a powerhouse in the industry, to further highlight the benefits of Future X for mining companies as a strategic advantage in their operations.

“Private LTE is a key element in the Nokia Bell Labs Future X architecture to help industries, such as mining, create an intelligent, dynamic, high-performance network that increases the safety, productivity and efficiency of their business.”

Komatsu pioneered the first AHS for the mining industry with a commercial deployment in 2008 at Codelco’s Gabriela Mistral (Gaby) copper mine in Chile. In November, the company’s FrontRunner AHS system marked the movement of 2 billion tons (1.81 Bt) of surface material moved.

Epiroc and Ericsson connect on 5G and LTE technologies for mining

Epiroc has signed a cooperation agreement with leading communications technology provider Ericsson to jointly help mining companies achieve optimal wireless connectivity in their operations through Long Term Evolution (LTE) and 5G technologies.

Key advantages of LTE and 5G solutions compared with other wireless solutions include better coverage, higher reliability and stronger security, especially when machines are in the same area and share information, according to Epiroc.

The technology, which is for both underground and open-pit mines, has already been tested on Epiroc’s machines at the company’s test mine in Kvarntorp, Sweden, with further testing scheduled before providing solutions to customers.

Epiroc said: “Mining companies are increasingly seeking to digitalise and automate their operations to increase productivity, enhance operator safety and lower cost. This includes, for example, remotely operating machines from a control room, and collecting machine performance data to optimise use of the equipment.”

All of this creates a need for reliable, high-performance wireless connectivity at the mines, it said.

Helena Hedblom, Epiroc’s Senior Executive Vice President Mining and Infrastructure, said the mining OEM is happy to team up with Ericsson so that its mining customers can get the most reliable and high-performing wireless connectivity possible.

“This is a crucial step in our ongoing work to ensure mining customers reap all the benefits, including higher productivity and better safety, made possible by digitalisation and automation,” she said.

Åsa Tamsons, Ericsson’s Senior Vice President and Head of Business Area Technologies & New Businesses, said cellular technology and the introduction of 5G is critical to realising the full value of digitalisation and automation “for smart industries”.

“By combining our expertise in connectivity and Epiroc’s cutting-edge technology in mining equipment, we will be able to ensure stable and secure mining operations, leading to increased utilisation, improved productivity and reduced costs.”

This connectivity tie-up follows a recently-signed agreement between Sandvik and Nokia to further develop solutions for private LTE and 5G technology.

Aitik gets connected to LTE network as Boliden looks at 5G future

Boliden has, for the past few years, been testing out 4G and 5G networks at its mines in the Nordic region and recently went live with 4G (LTE) network services at its Aitik open-pit copper mine in Sweden, Fredrik Kauma, Project Manager, told attendees at the recent Mines and Technology conference in London.

The company, one of the mining sector’s leaders when it comes to employing innovative technology, installed its first underground Wi-Fi network in 2013 and has since come a long way on this connectivity journey.

Today, all of Boliden’s mines have complete Wi-Fi coverage, with the network consisting of some 3,000 installed access points and additional hardware, Kauma said. The company uses this for voice communication and positioning, but also other services such as remote control, machine-to-machine interactions and general data or information access.

In 2016, the company installed a small 4G network in one of its underground mines. Now, multiple upgrades later, the network includes the latest 4G features, in addition to elements considered “borderline” 5G, Kauma said. He credited a close co-operation with Ericsson and its research organisation for this installation as well as the Swedish mobile network operator Telia.

The 4G/5G network covers about 1.8 km of tunnels plus 10,000 m² of other areas (production/workshop/offices/canteen) with relatively few pieces of radio equipment, according to Kauma.

Coverage of a similar area with Wi-Fi would require about three times as many access points, he pointed out.

Kauma said: “We use our 4G/5G network to:

  • “Test and compare connectivity-related capabilities – network speed, coverage, quality, etc;
  • “Learn about operation and maintenance; how to roll systems out, what to monitor, key performance indicators, etc;
  • “Understand more of the business side – what work to do in-house/outsource, what should be part of a service level agreement, etc.”

A direct outcome of this test network has been the recently addition of 4G network services at Aitik, one of Europe’s largest and most efficient open-pit copper mines.

This will allow the company to, primarily, carry out accurate remote control of its fleet of Epiroc Pit Viper blasthole drill rigs.

“But, long-term we believe it will replace our existing production Wi-Fi network,” Kauma said.

The future in 5G

While Wi-Fi does offer Boliden much in terms of connectivity, it cannot match 4G/5G when it comes to robustness and coverage. This is part of the reason the company is pursuing developments with 5G technology.

Equipment tracking is one area that could potentially be improved with 5G, Kauma said.

Today Boliden currently uses “passive” Wi-Fi tags for this task, with active antennas mounted on mining vehicles. The signal reflection is only picked up if the tags face the direction of the active antenna and the vehicle with antenna passes close by. While this system adds a lot of value, it does not currently offer the reliability Boliden would like to see, he said.

With 5G, Boliden expects to have “active”, as opposed to passive, tags, which transmit information on a pre-determined basis.

What Kauma termed “advanced remote control” operation is another area set to benefit from 5G connectivity.

The company already has remote control operations today, but it is either line-of-sight or a pre-determined, repetitive type of remote operation; not advanced.

In advanced remote operations, the performance of the wireless communications network has a direct impact on how well the operator can handle the machine, with control responsiveness and picture quality the main factors here.

According to Kauma, low latency will greatly improve the real-time aspects required for secure and efficient handling of vehicles, machinery and other equipment such as drills, hammers, shovels, etc.

In addition, the Quality of Service concept, where priority of connection is given to certain customers, will guarantee bandwidth needs for a detailed enough video stream to the remote operator – even on a heavily loaded network, he said.

“Higher data rates and increased network capacity will enable remote control on a larger scale than what’s possible on today’s 4G technology,” Kauma said.

The improved connectivity expected to come with employing 5G will also be beneficial for wearable technologies, which Boliden has been trialling to help improve the safety and well-being of employees.

The company recently tested out use of a prototype “smart vest” at one of its underground mines for, primarily, proximity detection, but also to “gain a better understanding of other possibilities that comes with this technology”, Kauma said.

The prototype vest was the result of research cooperation between Boliden, Ericsson, clothing company Helly Hansen and technology firm LightFlex Sweden AB.

In addition to the standard proximity detection functions, lights or reflectors warn the wearer as well as surrounding personnel of potential dangers through different flashing/blinking patterns.

Together with advance camera technology, the lights also aid autonomous machinery to automatically detect humans in dark environments.

Boliden would like to, in the near-future, use wearable technology for the monitoring of employees in physically-demanding environments; for analysis of the immediate environment surrounding employees (extreme temperatures, dangerous air quality, strong vibrations or sounds); and for positioning and situational awareness (ie warnings for approaching vehicles).

Key ingredients to make this a reality include a reduction in power consumption – low power means smaller and longer lasting batteries – a fall in cost, enabling the company to equip its entire workforce, and better network coverage and reliability – hence the use of 5G.

“If 5G delivers on its promise, it will be a critical component enabling wearable technology in an industrial environment like ours,” Kauma concluded.

Sandvik and Nokia team up to offer miners LTE and 5G networks

Sandvik has signed an agreement with Nokia to further develop solutions for private LTE (Long Term Evolution) and 5G technology, continuing its focus on IoT solutions for the mining industry.

The Nokia Digital Automation Cloud (NDAC) platform offers pervasive connectivity enabling advanced applications and will initially be implemented and tested in the Sandvik test mine in Tampere, Finland, Sandvik said.

“Sandvik’s decades-long work in automation has grown to include robust data analytics and process optimisation offerings, where connectivity and local computing power are crucial. Applications requiring high capacity and low latency are becoming increasingly important,” the company said.

“Private LTE networks bring reliable and secure high capacity, low latency and wide coverage mobile broadband to serve mission and business critical industrial connectivity needs and offer a variety of terminals, sensors and other devices,” Sandvik added.

The Nokia digital automation platform will operate both underground and in open-pit mines and offers a flexible connectivity platform for testing and developing Sandvik technology, according to Sandvik. “This network enables operation of autonomous vehicles, real-time monitoring of underground and outdoor premises to keep people and equipment safe, remote diagnostics and predictive maintenance, as well as asset management, control and authentication,” the company said.

Riku Pulli, Vice President, Automation, Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology, said: “Our cooperation with Nokia is another important part of our strategy to develop open, interoperable solutions for future mining needs. Enhanced connectivity is critical for smarter and safer underground operations, and we’re proud to work with Nokia to develop these enhanced connectivity options for our test mine and mining industry going forward.”

Stephan Litjens, General Manager, Nokia Digital Automation, said: ”Pairing Sandvik solutions with 5G-ready NDAC architecture has proven to be an excellent match. We are truly motivated to continue collaborating to develop technology that meets the requirements of the often-harsh conditions they operate in – be it moist, hot, cold, and/or dusty.”

Sandvik’s Pulli concluded: “Sandvik is a leader in mine automation and digitalisation, and Nokia offers leading technology in wireless connectivity. Together, we create innovative solutions for mining customers.”

Recently Agnico Eagle Mines, which is pilot testing automated mining using the Sandvik AutoMine system at its La Ronde Zone 5 mine, confirmed it would install an LTE network at the operation in Quebec, Canada.

Agnico Eagle Mines looks to roll out innovation across its operations

Automation, ore sorting, continuous mining and renewable energy solutions are all being examined by Agnico Eagle Mines as the company looks to the future of its gold operations in Canada, Finland and Mexico.

The company is already in the process of installing a Long Term Evolution (LTE) network at its La Ronde Zone 5 (LZ5) project in northwestern Quebec, Canada, which will be rolled out with an autonomous loading and hauling pilot later this. This will make LaRonde the first operation to use Sandvik’s AutoMine® system with an LTE communication network underground on a production scale.

In a company update this week, Agnico Eagle said two production trucks, one scooptram and the required material for automated mining at LZ5 were expected to be on site this quarter and testing was expected to take place in the December quarter. Sandvik originally said it would provide one LH517 17 t LHD and one TH551i 51 t haul truck as part of the initial pilot.

Now, even before the pilot has started, Agnico has said it is examining the potential to use the same LTE infrastructure as part of an automated loading and hauling solution at its La Ronde Zone 3 (LZ3) project.

LZ3 is envisaged as a phased development that could extend mining at La Ronde from 3.1 km to 3.5 km below ground and provide two or three additional production levels through 2022.

At the same time as this, representatives from Agnico Eagle Finland said on a site visit to the Kittilä gold mine in the north of the country – organised as part of the Finland Mine Safari tour for analysts and investors – that the company was weighing up autonomous hauling and loading solutions as part of the €160 million ($185 million) expansion to increase production capacity at the mine to 2 Mt/y by 2021.

With Kittilä set to go down to around 1.15 km below ground and mining due to take place in four distinct zones as part of this expansion, an LTE network will most probably be required for effective use of this technology.

And, this is not all in terms of technology and innovation at Agnico Eagle.

In its latest corporate update, the company said it was evaluating the use of Rail-Veyor technology at its mines across the group. A 3 km underground Rail-Veyor system is already hauling tonnes at the Goldex operation in Quebec.

And, Agnico is preparing to implement a pilot plant for ore sorting technology to potentially boost low-grade ore, while it is closely following a technology pilot for mechanical cutting.

Lastly, the company said it is looking at renewable energy solutions for its operations in Mexico and Nunavut, Canada.

This is part of a global approach to reduce energy costs at select regions by up to 30% and lower greenhouse gas emission, Agnico said.

The areas of study in Nunavut, where the company is currently building out a major production hub, include wind and solar power, the use of LNG and potential hydro options. The power solutions are also likely to include some sort of battery storage.

In Mexico, meanwhile, where the company operates its Pinos Altos gold mine, it is looking to solar power as a way of cutting its greenhouse gas emissions.