Tag Archives: Newcrest Mining

Newcrest plans for ZERO Automotive, MacLean ML5 battery-electric trials at Cadia

Having committed to and benefitted from the use of battery-electric haulage at its Brucejack underground mine in Canada, Newcrest Mining is now looking into equipment electrification options at its Cadia underground mine in Australia.

In its recently published annual report, the company confirmed it was planning for electric vehicle trials at the mine in New South Wales. This follows the deployment of a fleet of Sandvik Z50 battery-electric trucks at Brucejack, along with a trial of Sandvik’s LH518B battery-electric loader.

Newcrest, which is currently the subject of a friendly takeover from Newmont Mining, continued to progress its “Net Zero by 2050” goal during its financial year to June 30, 2023, with the scoping and planning of key trials and studies to implement the Group Net Zero Emissions Roadmap continuing.

A company spokesperson confirmed to IM that its plans at Cadia – a block cave operation that is currently being expanded – could see a ZERO Automotive battery-electric light utility vehicle deployed for trials in its current financial year. This comes alongside plans to test out MacLean’s battery electric ML5 Multi-Lift, also in FY2024.

ZERO Automotive has made inroads into the Australian underground mining space, deploying vehicles at multiple OZ Minerals (now BHP) sites, in addition to bringing an ultra-safe ZED70 Ti battery-electric converted utility vehicle, using LTO battery technology, to IGO’s Nova project in Western Australia.

MacLean’s ML5, meanwhile, is the newest addition to the company’s utility vehicle product line, initially designed as a safe and purpose-built alternative to the use of integrated tool carriers in underground operations across Australia. This specific application context – mine services installation and repair work from a certified elevated work platform with a 6.5-m working height and a 4.5-t payload – was the foundation of the ML5’s engineered design for safety, productivity and versatility.

Newcrest’s plans to incorporate more electric equipment into its operating fleet have – most likely – been influenced by the impressive results the company has seen at Brucejack, with the battery-electric trucks expected to improve truck productivity, lower unit costs and abate approximately 65,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions through to 2030.

IOCA names REGROUP Australia as preferred primary contractor for Hancock iron ore project

Alien Metals Ltd’s wholly-owned subsidiary Iron Ore Company of Australia Pty Ltd (IOCA) has named REGROUP Australia as its preferred primary contractor to undertake the construction works, mining operations and haulage services for its flagship Hancock iron ore project in the Pilbara of Western Australia.

IOCA has conducted a competitive market engagement over the previous six months to identify commercially and technically adept contractors to undertake works as part of the Hancock development and operations. This process has involved pre-qualified and targeted proponents submitting bids for specific scopes of works and agreeing to key commercial terms.

REGROUP is, Alien Metals says, a highly renowned and experienced civil construction, mining operator and haulier, having executed projects that exceed A$100 million ($64 million) on multiple occasions. It operates one of the largest privately and independently owned fleets in Western Australia, with clients that include Newcrest Mining, Roy Hill and Element 25.

The selection of REGROUP allows the company to update its financial model as part of the definitive feasibility study (DFS) work streams, Alien Metals says.

As part of the preferred construction contractor award, REGROUP would be in charge of construction of an intersection of the project area at the Great Northern Highway and construction of an access track from the Great Northern Highway to the mine site.

REGROUP has also been selected as the preferred operations contractor for:

  • Mining services (that is inclusive of any drilling and blasting activities); and
  • Haulage services for the haulage of ore from the mine site to Port Hedland.

The award of this contract remains subject to the completion of a positive DFS, approvals, funding and the Board making a final investment decision.

The 2021 scoping study on Hancock showcased a 1.25 Mt/y production profile that would sustain an eight-year life of mine with current resources. The company has said it plans to make its first shipments in 2023, leveraging its direct shipping ore options.

Troy Whittaker, Chief Executive Officer of Alien, said: “Securing REGROUP as a key contractor for the Hancock project is a significant milestone for the company…This is the first step in locking in relationships with contractors on the back of the IOCA sourcing process, securing competitive pricing from contractors, which moves planning for the project forward.

“We are excited to partner with REGROUP, a company that shares our values. REGROUP has set the goal of becoming carbon neutral via the use of a fully battery-powered fleet and the utilisation of solar and wind to help power their sites. That combined with their commitment to advancing indigenous businesses, notably through the championing of Maramara in Western Australia, a majority Indigenous-owned Pty Ltd company, is one of the reasons why we teamed up with REGROUP.”

Michael Still, Managing Director of REGROUP, said: “REGROUP is looking forward to working with IOCA, firstly in the establishment of their mine, as well as the long-term success of the operations from pit to port. We also see a great opportunity to support First Nations business, Maramara, in delivering the civil scope of this exciting project. We would utilise our expertise as a Pilbara-based business and being a partner of a values-based miner such as IOCA, we are eager to see the impact we know this project will have on the Pilbara communities.

“In being a greenfields site, the Hancock project lends itself well to autonomous and electrified solutions for both the mining and bulk haulage fleet. We will continue to work with our partners in Scania and Janus to integrate new and emerging technologies where practical, both on-site and in Port Hedland. The consolidation of the construction and operational activities under one group will facilitate speed to market for IOCA and provides us with the opportunity to embed our expertise early in the project.”

BluVeinXL: aiming for benchmark status in the haulage fleet electrification game

Since being named one of eight winning ideas selected to progress to the next stage of the Charge On™ Innovation Challenge in 2022, BluVeinXL has done more than most, assembling a consortium of major mining partners focused on accelerating BluVein’s standardised dynamic charging technology to decarbonise the mining sector.

Late last year, Austmine, which manages the BluVeinXL project, welcomed Rio Tinto, OZ Minerals, BHP, Newcrest Mining, Evolution Mining and Freeport-McMoRan to the consortium of funding members to fast-track the BluVein technology. It has since welcomed Vale to the consortium.

These companies have backed the vision of BluVein, a joint venture between Olitek (Australia) and Evias (Sweden), to dynamically power mixed-OEM haul fleets while in motion, enabling smaller on-board battery packs, faster vehicle haulage speeds up ramp, grid load balancing, elimination of static fast charging, maximum fleet availability and – most importantly – the complete elimination of diesel.

These consortium partners are focused on delivering BluVein’s fleet electrification solution to Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 6 with a minimal viable product (MVP) demonstration, ahead of full commercial deployment of the technology.

BluVeinXL leverages much of what was developed for BluVein1, the primarily underground solution using the BluVein Rail™ slotted power rail system and the on-vehicle BluVein Hammer™ to simultaneously charge and power mining fleets ‘on the go’. The Rail is an enclosed electrified e-rail system mounted above or beside mining vehicles while the Hammer connects the electric vehicle to the Rail.

In underground scenarios, BluVein’s technology completely removes the need for battery swapping or static fast charging while allowing the use of smaller, lighter and lower cost batteries in continuous and high-duty applications, according to the company.

In open-pit operations, BluVeinXL will be similarly transformative, offering a next-generation alternative to what BluVein refers to as “the cumbersome, inflexible and expensive conventional catenary wire trolley systems that are currently hampering mines from fully decarbonising their haulage operations”.

To get the latest on the BluVeinXL open-pit electrification solution, IM caught up with James Oliver, CEO of BluVein.

IM: Now you have the founding consortium members confirmed for BluVeinXL, where do you go from here? Are you currently engaged with major OEMs on creating a standard design that can fit on any truck?

JO: Seven consortium members is just the start, and we will be announcing additional members very soon. We greatly value our members as it is ensuring we get ‘voice of industry’ and the key technical requirements during this critical stage. One of the major benefits our members see in BluVein is our standardisation, meaning our technology can be used with mixed-OEM fleets, mixed machine types and can even be used to make alternative clean fuel use more efficient and cost effective.

We are currently working with two to three major fleet OEMs and progressing agreements related to integration and demonstration of the BluVeinXL technology. We are confident we will be able to demonstrate with at least one OEM as the MVP, and hopefully more during the current project. Once we agree with each OEM the agreed interface point, then the BluVeinXL integration with the various fleet types becomes quite simple. To do this our technical team works closely with the OEMs on all aspects of the integration including Hammer, Rail and the control systems. By standardising with our various OEM fleet partners, we are delivering on what the mining customers are demanding – a truly standardised dynamic charging system.

James Oliver, CEO of BluVein

IM: How are you managing to engage OEMs that are also providing their own trolley assist applications that, they believe, may be suitable for similar haul truck propulsion setups to BluVeinXL?

JO: BluVein’s safe and proven electrification technology is based on over a decade of research and development undertaken for electric highways by our joint venture partner Evias. We are confident in our system’s ability to deliver high power transfer whilst also delivering on the safety and robustness requirements demanded by mining customers. Critically, the high-power transfer characteristics of BluVein’s slotted rail system enables simultaneous on-ramp hauling and charging of multiple closely spaced mining haul vehicles. This is a game-changing capability and of high interest to our mining partners. The conventional catenary wire-based trolley systems have limitations on power delivery capacity, earthing and other critical safety elements, and, therefore, are not as favoured by miners.

We do, however, see benefits of OEMs trialling a range of different mine electrification approaches, as long as we can all agree on a common vehicle connection point, specifically at the dynamic charge interface. This will ensure the end customer is able to select the best solution for their individual sites. We understand that BluVein will not be everything to everyone, but for the applications it does suit, we are confident it will be a true game changer over conventional catenary and static fast charging options for haul truck fleets.

We hope to be able to demonstrate BluVeinXL side by side with a catenary wire system to showcase the competitive advantages BluVeinXL has – that is higher power transfer; safer, easier to install, use and relocate; and overall lower cost. Ultimately it will be up to the customer to choose based on the performance of the system and we think this will stack up in BluVeinXL’s favour.

IM: Can you expand on how your system alleviates the requirements on haul road conditions that typically comes with the current generation of trolley assist technology? Do you see your Rail and Hammer technology being able to work in any conditions (the Arctic included)?

JO: Part of our current package of work is to understand with our mining partners what these extremes are to ensure we are developing a solution that has minimal up-stream and down-stream impact on operations. The vision is to have a deployable solution that suits all climates and terrains.

Our core technology partner, Evias, has spent over a decade developing BluVein’s core technology to function effectively in icy and muddy conditions. By building on these learnings, we are confident that BluVeinXL will work in the vast majority of terrains and climates experienced in mining – from the hot and humid Pilbara region of Australia to the coldest parts of northern Canada.

It is BluVein’s safe slotted e-rail technology that enables it to be located near to the ground to the side of haul roads. Our Hammer and Arm is being designed to cater for the full range of haul road conditions, thereby reducing the burden on mines to maintain haul road conditions to perfection as is required with conventional overhead wire catenary systems.

Our consortium members have very good geographic spread to help us understand and test in these conditions. Part of our current work is to clearly understand from our mining partners what these environmental extremes are to ensure our solution will function effectively in all operations.

IM: Has your work to this point indicated how small the on-board batteries could be in a typical open-pit scenario for 220-t-payload trucks?

JO: We have taken a technology-agnostic approach to what on-board power and storage system we are supplying; our current focus is getting enough energy onto the vehicle as efficiently and safely as possible to power drive motors and charge smaller batteries if and when available. While we cannot reveal exactly how much smaller we can make the batteries, early studies show the batteries can be reduced as much as 60% when coupled with dynamic charge that has enough capacity to power the drive and charge the battery.

BluVein1 for underground and quarries can provide up to 3 MW of power sufficient for up to 100-t payload vehicles

IM: So what payloads do you think you could be providing this solution for?

JO: The BluVein Rail and Hammer design is completely scalable. BluVein1 for underground and quarries can provide up to 3 MW of power sufficient for up to 100-t payload vehicles. The BluVeinXL system can offer in the range of 4-7 MW, sufficient for up to 250-t payload vehicles. Our engineering team plan to use BluVein1 and BluVeinXL as stepping stones for an eventual introduction of a BluVein solution suited to ultraclass fleets with 9-12 MW of capacity sufficient for up to 350-400 t payloads.

IM: Where are you with your field trials on this solution? Do you expect these to commence this year?

JO: The targeted ‘wheels on track’ for BluVein1 is 2023, followed closely in 2024 with the BluVeinXL MVP demonstration. Right now I cannot reveal too much but there are some exciting partnerships being progressed to achieve this.

In terms of field trials, our ideal setup – and I think one the industry really wants – is a single site where all key mine electrification technologies can be tested out side-by-side. There are some very positive conversations going on between all three parties – the solution OEMs, truck OEMs and mining companies – on this front, which is exciting for BluVeinXL.

As has been said many times, there is no ‘silver bullet’ when it comes to mine decarbonisation. We know that BluVein’s dynamic charging solutions will tick a lot of boxes, but not all. So, it’s great if we can work together to ensure we cover any gaps. There is just too much at stake to try and go it alone.

IM: Anything else to add on the subject of electrification and dynamic charging?

JO: One question we have been asked is does BluVein’s Hammer and Rail technology only support dynamic charging? While power transfer while in motion is our obvious advantage, our system is basically an automated IP2X-rated power connection that can transfer more than 4 MW of energy. Could we use this for automated static fast charging also? Our answer to that is absolutely.

Newcrest’s Brucejack mine nears battery-electric truck milestone, establishes BEV loading trial

Having made significant progress on converting its full underground truck fleet to battery-electric operation, Newcrest Mining’s Brucejack gold mine in British Columbia, Canada, is starting the process for its loading equipment.

Brucejack is a high-grade underground gold-silver mine using long-hole stoping and a combination of longitudinal and transverse mining, depending on zone width and orientation. The ore is crushed underground and conveyed to surface where the fully-enclosed mill produces gold-silver dore bars and flotation concentrate.

Despite a stoppage for an extensive safety review in the December quarter – which followed a tragic fatality in October – the mine is expected to produce 320,000-370,000 oz of gold in the year to the end of June 2023.

In the company’s half-year 2023 financial year results, released this week, it confirmed its final Sandvik Z50 50-t payload battery-electric truck was due on site in March. The arrival of this vehicle – the eighth at Brucejack – will complete the full truck fleet at the mine.

Alongside this, the company says it is set to commence a trial with a battery-electric LHD that arrived on site this month.

Newcrest later confirmed to IM that the vehicle in question was a Sandvik LH518B, an 18-t payload machine that features a 600 kW drivetrain to allow for higher acceleration than conventional loaders as well as fast ramp speeds. Courtesy of its space-efficient battery system and driveline, it is the most compact 18-t loader on the market, capable of fitting in a 4.5 x 4.5 m tunnel, the OEM claims.

On the expected benefits of the new BEV truck fleet, Newcrest said it was anticipating improved truck productivity, lower unit costs and the abatement of approximately 65,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions through to 2030.

The project is being partly funded thanks to a C$7.95 million ($5.9 million) investment from the CleanBC Industry Fund.

It is also part of a wider transformation program Newcrest established for the asset following the acquisition of former owner Pretium Resources in 2022.

In addition to the BEV truck and LHD work included in this program, the company is also rolling out the “NewSafe program” to reinforce safety culture, carrying out a debottlenecking study set to investigate a mill capacity increase to 4,500-5,000 t/d, and conducting trials of ore sorting technology to classify and separate mineralised material to deliver more consistent mill feed grades.

Newcrest to leverage ‘steep wall technologies’ on Lihir Phase 14A project

The Newcrest Mining Board has approved the Lihir Phase 14A feasibility study, endorsing the Papua New Guinea project into full implementation.

As part of the study, site investigation and trial works have been completed and a plan has been developed which extends the Phase 14 cutback and safely steepens the walls of the pit using civil engineering techniques, the company says.

Completion of a drilling program has significantly improved the geotechnical knowledge of the cutback area and enabled refinement of the anchor design and placement to better suit the geotechnical conditions.

Ground anchors will be installed in the upper benches of the cutback to support the steeper wall angles in these areas. The slope angles of the lower benches will be similar to the existing walls in Phase 14. The upper Argillic horizons without ground support typically have an unsupported slope angle of circa-45°, which has been increased to circa-68° using ground anchors. The improved geotechnical knowledge has enabled the study design to reduce slope angles from circa-77% in the prefeasibility study while improving overall stability.

The study outlined a project with estimated total capital expenditure on a real basis of circa-$280 million and a nominal basis of circa-$296 million. For this, the company is looking at circa-400,000 oz/y of incremental Phase 14A gold output from the 2023-20226 financial years. On a life of mine basis, this incremental production would increase to circa-800,000 oz/y.

Newcrest Interim Chief Executive Officer, Sherry Duhe, said: “The development of Phase 14A is another innovative step forward in realising the full potential of Lihir. The findings of the study are expected to deliver gold production from an additional high-grade ore source which would have otherwise been inaccessible through standard mining techniques.

“The study outlines an updated life of mine plan, with upside potential. The application of steep wall technologies, together with an alternative, lower cost and simpler seepage barrier design have the potential to enable access to additional high-grade zones outside the current ore reserve and extend the elevated production profile beyond the 2031 financial year.

“Our team continues to work diligently to maintain a strong focus on capital discipline, placing several recovery improvement capital projects on hold that currently do not meet our investment criteria. The Phase 14A ore zone is now well informed by geotechnical drilling that underpins the design and stability of the cutback, and we expect Phase 14A to be delivering higher-grade ore from financial year 2024.”

Through an early works program, mining of Phase 14A commenced in the June 2022 quarter and will continue through to the 2027 financial year. Ore mined from Phase 14A will displace lower-grade ore feed to the processing plant, with circa-13 Mt of high- and medium-grade ore from Phase 14A expected to be fed through to the 2026 financial year to produce that incremental circa-400,000 oz of gold. Lower grade material will be stockpiled and fed progressively over the remaining mine life.

The Lihir gold production schedule forecasts mining rates to increase up to 55 Mt/y over the coming years. Ore from Phase 14A is expected to be mined between the 2022 financial year and the 2027 financial year with high-grade ore fed directly to the mill while the lower-grade ore will be processed over the life of mine.

Mining rates for Lihir are expected to continue to increase over the coming years through a combination of equipment capacity and mining efficiency projects. Additional mining capacity has been delivered following a program of truck re-builds and the replacement of primary dig units completed in the 2022 financial year. In combination with a “maintenance excellence program”, mechanical availability has increased to 84% from 79% over the last 12 months, Newcrest said.

Mine efficiency improvements identified in the most recent study have also been realised including improved fleet utilisation and effective dispatch tactics to reduce equipment delays. Open-pit productivity continues to advance with Lihir delivering strong improvement in ex-pit movements during 2022.

Further application of the civil steep slope technology used in Phase 14A is being assessed to potentially unlock additional high-grade mineralisation outside the current ore reserve in the northern and eastern extents of the Kapit orebody, Newcrest says. This work has the potential to improve the production profile beyond the 2031 financial year, before the high-grade ore from Kapit declines. The design optimisation and associated impact on the longer-term production profile is expected to be completed in the second half of 2023.

“In addition, following completion of the Seepage Barrier Feasibility Study in October 2021, an alternative seepage barrier design, the Nearshore Soil Barrier (NSB) option, is currently being studied,” the company said. “The NSB would sit between the No Coffer Dam limit and the existing shoreline of the Inner Harbour, approximately 500 m west of the proposed Kapit Seepage Barrier (KSB).

“Initial work indicates that the NSB would be a simpler solution, faster to construct and less costly. A prefeasibility study (PFS) level assessment of the NSB option is currently underway and is expected to be completed in 2023.”

Newcrest said the study production profile has been updated, with mill throughput rates revised to incorporate increased ore hardness based on an improved geometallurgical understanding. Mill operating time has been revised to reflect current mill performance with a more progressive ramp up in improvement. Options to increase throughput rates continue to be assessed going forward. Recovery assumptions have also been adjusted, with several recovery improvement capital projects no longer meeting Newcrest’s investment criteria following the inclusion of cost inflation pressures into estimates. These projects have been placed on hold and will continue to be assessed for potential inclusion into the mine plan at a later date, it said.

Miners need to address workplace culture, diversity issues, IMARC panel says

There has been keen focus on workplace culture and diversity on the final day of the International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC) in Sydney, Australia.

Throughout the conference, mining leaders have acknowledged that if the industry does not act now to fix and change the culture, they will not be able to attract the staff required for the new resources boom.

Chief People Office at IGO, Sam Retallack, told the conference: “We as industry have broken the psychological contract of trust that we have with the community. We are seen as a cause of climate change, not as a solution. We are seen as an unsafe workplace for females, we are seen as inflexible with our rostering and that you must commit to FIFO work. It’s not a particularly attractive proposition for new workers.”

Danielle Martin, Director of Social Performance at ICMM, spoke to the substantial issues facing the industry as workforce skills change and evolve.

“The competition for talent will be tricky for mining because the skills in many cases are less specific to mining and are applicable across other sectors,” Martin said. “Because of the culture and perception of mining, it is a less attractive industry for many workers who could work in other industries.”

All is not lost, however. Stuart Jenner, General Manager of Capability and Culture at Gold Road Resources, reflected on the cultural issues the Australian Defence Force faced 20 years ago. Changes to workplace culture will likely lead to an increase in the recruitment of new staff and the retention of key talent as the competition for skills intensifies, he argued.

Jenner said the Defence Force “recreated its brand and aligned it with its purpose and mining needs to do the same”.

He added: “We need to be upfront, honest and transparent to establish that purpose. The Defence Force pays nowhere near what the mining industry does but because of their purpose, they have a huge amount of success in attracting talent.”

There is a realisation from the sector the industry must act now and push for the acknowledgment that these issues need to be addressed from the top down.

Gavin Wood, Chief Information Officer at Newcrest Mining, explained to the delegates at IMARC the work the company is doing to change culture with their existing workforce.

Wood said many of its existing staff grew up in mining areas and communities and the company needed to give them the skills to interact with other aspects of business and by virtue society.

“If we do not give them these skills the culture will not change,” he said.

Over the three-day conference, mining leaders from across the globe have challenged the current standard of culture within the sector and have discussed ways to make the industry safer for all.

Trimble scanning solution helps steer Havieron copper-gold project progress

A unique underground mine tunnel scope, a tight schedule and demanding conformance specifications made the Havieron copper-gold exploration decline project in Western Australia as complex as it is necessary, according to Trimble distributor HL Geospatial.

To build the 2.5 km box cut decline tunnel, surveyors and operators were challenged to establish a technology-enabled workflow that would keep this project on track and within specification, the company said.

The Havieron copper-gold deposit is in the Paterson region of Western Australia. Through a joint venture, Greatland Gold and Newcrest Mining are looking to develop the deposit. The regulatory approvals for Havieron’s construction were provided at the end of 2020. Soon after, the joint venture was ready to begin construction. The large cylindrical deposit sits under about 450 m of sedimentary cover and the mineralisation extends over deep intervals to at least 600 m below the base of sedimentary cover, according to the jv.

The first phase of the underground mine development is the construction of a box cut, an approximately 2.5 km decline and associated surface infrastructure at the site to support an exploratory drill platform.

Mine Survey Plus, a mine surveying specialist, was contracted to provide continuous survey data and model-to-design comparisons to various stakeholders. The company has worked in more than 90-plus mines spanning nine different countries since its inception in mid-2017.

When asked about Havieron, Mine Survey Plus’s Senior Mine Surveyor, Justin Hearn, explained: “This is not a traditional hard-rock mine. It’s a soft-rock mine, which lends to a unique profile. Digging the decline tunnel is much like working a civil earthworks project as compared to a traditional drill-and-blast scenario in a hard-rock mine.”

To build the decline for the drill platform, crews must dig through the deposited materials, which has its challenges for both operators and surveyors. For operators, the challenge is to see as-built conditions as work is completed to ensure design conformance while digging through the soft materials. For surveyors, the challenge is to measure as-built conditions with speed and accuracy.

Scanning for opportunities

The Havieron decline profile is arched along the entire length to the footings, instead of the more conventional mining decline profile of square shape with a semi-arch rounded back for ground support. That custom profile requires a different setup – and for Mine Survey Plus some different technological capabilities, HL Geospatial says.

With help from HL Geospatial, a part of UPG Solutions, Mine Survey Plus had evaluated the Trimble® SX12 scanning total station.

MSP surveyor Ian Thomson uses the Trimble SX12 scanning total station to establish survey control at the Havieron project

Brett Grocock, Owner of Mine Survey Plus, said: “I trust and often call on HL Geospatial. Our success is at the forefront of their minds, and that’s reassuring – and the SX12 is just one example.”

Beneficial in underground applications, the SX12 scanning total station includes a small green laser spot (3-mm diameter electronic distance measurement (EDM) laser spot at 50 m), provides precise and clear set-out of tunnel construction points, and robotic technology to withstand the harshest conditions such as dust and moisture, according to Trimble.

In the case of the Havieron decline, Grocock noted: “We wanted the ability to check headings in real time. With this technology, we are able to do a complete setup and scan that is automatically georeferenced to the location.”

Real-time collaboration

To begin the Havieron decline construction, geotechnical engineers provided Mine Survey Plus surveyors a design profile for both excavation and the final shotcrete surface.

Hearn then used the Trimble Business Center Tunneling module to design the alignment. The resulting model is uploaded to the Trimble TSC7 controller with Trimble Access™ field software. Using the Trimble Access Tunnels module provides purpose-built tools for tunnel survey operations, according to the company.

Combined with the SX12 scanning total station, surveyors can automate the as-built data collection process and provide instant feedback to the excavator operators – typically one of the most time-consuming tasks in tunnel construction.

“We check the excavated profile using the Tunnel Auto Scan Function, and then scan existing conditions with the SX12 scanning total station at various cuts along the face,” Hearn said. “The scan data is then compared against the design profiles to verify conformance – all while in the field. We don’t need to take data into the office for verification; we can do it live.”

Access to data in the field has been hugely appreciated by the machine operators who are used to seeing a straight-line conformance check, according to HL Geospatial. The 3D scan provides an added layer of visual communication and immediate feedback on any course correction that may be needed.

“In the early stages, we were all – surveyors and operators – getting used to the different methodology and profile style,” Hearn noted. “With the conformance comparisons on the controller, the operators can visually see where they might need to do a little more work. Many times, they are standing next to me checking their work. They love that we’re able to give them near real-time feedback in the field. It’s a whole new concept in this realm. We’ve seen greater turnaround and increased precision in a very short time because of the in-the-field visuals.”

The engineering team is also taking advantage of the scan data. Hearn added: “They’re looking at our data showing the different strata as a way to confirm the initial geological model and verify the design. Essentially, they’re using our scans to create a better model of the area.”

Entering the Havieron mine

Mine Survey Plus is also using Trimble Access’ Continuous Topo feature to conduct a regular pickup. The Job XML file is imported into Trimble Business Center for a visual comparison against the tunnel alignment, while the string data is imported into Deswik, a CAD program for mining applications.

Heran said: “With the latest release of Trimble Access, I am looking to utilise the Half Dome Scan with LAS exporter and Scan to Surface functionality, with the eventual goal of using the scan data alone to generate the 3D models in Deswik.”

Meanwhile, Hearn and Grocock continue to support the Havieron decline construction, which is currently on track for completion in 2023.

As of July 2022, Greatland Gold reported the decline construction has advanced 489 m, with 111.5 m since the last report a month prior. The progress reflects the highest daily advancement rate during a single reporting period since commencement of the exploration decline.

Shaun Day, Managing Director of Greatland Gold, said: “The observed acceleration of the decline advancement is particularly pleasing. The improved advancement productivity is consistent with the expected improvement of ground conditions with depth.”

Newcrest grads underline automation possibilities with SmartHog development

The use of an all-terrain unmanned ground vehicle, incorporation of military spec hardware and sensors, a bank of lead/acid batteries, and the ingenuity of three mechatronics graduates have brought Newcrest Mining closer to its goal of automating the PC1 extraction level at its Cadia East gold-copper underground mine in New South Wales, Australia.

The company has progressively been rolling out automation-focused technologies at this mine steered by its Mining Innovation and Automation (MIA) Team.

Last year, this team, with the help of Epiroc, successfully implemented the first semi-autonomous integrated production level at the mine, with, at the time, an autonomous Scooptram ST18 capable of full 24/7 production across seven drives of a whole panel cave at the operation.

It is a slightly smaller machine that is helping the company progress from the automation of production and support equipment at the mine to autonomously completing a range of inspection tasks on the fully-autonomous PC1 extraction level.

The seeds for the SmartHog vehicle – a WartHog all-terrain unmanned ground vehicle with ‘smarts’ – were sewn back in early 2021, when Cadia’s first mechatronics graduate arrived to join the MIA team.

“A challenge was set to build an automated underground inspection robot utilising a WartHog chassis,” Aaron Brannigan, Cadia General Manager, told IM, explaining that the challenge provided a hands-on task for the graduate that would result in a solution that was beneficial in realising the team’s key focus of improving safety through technology and innovation.

The new graduate began to design this robot with the WartHog chassis as the base and, over time, was joined by two more mechatronics graduates – one with a dual computer science degree – where the conceptual work behind the robot really started to accelerate.

In early 2022, the three started to build the robot from a range of hardware, all based on military specifications to withstand the underground environment.

Brannigan explained: “To achieve this, the graduates made every cable themselves, crimped every connector, assembled all the components and sensors and wrote the software code for various aspects of the sensor outputs.”

Since the inspection robot was designed to replicate tasks typically performed by people on the level, it had to be fitted with a range of sensors including LiDAR, Radar, a PTZ camera, stereoscopic camera, LED spotlights and a weather station for wet bulb temperatures and measuring wind velocity for ventilation purposes, the company explained. Powered by a bank of lead/acid batteries, the SmartHog was commissioned on surface and, in June 2022, completed trials underground, including being ‘checked in’ to the autonomous system.

“With some further testing and improvements, the SmartHog will soon live permanently underground in the autonomous zone and will be able to complete a range of inspection tasks,” Brannigan said. “This moves us closer to our goal of automation at the extraction level and is a key focus of improving operational safety and sustainability through technology.”

IM put some questions to Brannigan to find out more.

IM: How are you leveraging technology from the automotive sector in the SmartHog? What kind of adaptations are required for this to work underground?

AB: The SmartHog utilises automotive industry radars as a way of localising its position underground. LiDAR is vulnerable to interference from dust and moisture in the air, whereas radar can ‘see’ through these, allowing the SmartHog to continue to navigate and know its position underground when these are present. We believe the use of radar in this context is industry-leading and our intent with this is twofold: first, it demonstrates the advantages and reduced downtime of radar over LiDAR and, second, it encourages original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to move from LiDAR to radar for their autonomous equipment so they can take advantage of the benefits it offers.

IM: What existing underground communications infrastructure is in place at PC1 to help facilitate the real-time transmission of data from the SmartHog?

AB: Our underground PC1 level has Wi-Fi throughout which forms the basis of the autonomous system, and this is connected to the surface via fibre optic cables.

IM: How are you using the new data you are collecting with the SmartHog at Cadia? What tasks is it allowing you to do that you couldn’t previously carry out (or conducted differently)?

AB: The primary purpose of the SmartHog is to undertake a range of tasks that a person has usually performed in the past, improving both safety and efficiency. One example is geotechnical inspections of draw points and extraction drives. In the past when it was necessary for a Geotechnical Technician to undertake an inspection, the autonomous level would need to be deactivated and the autonomous equipment removed to ensure there was no risk of vehicle on person interaction. This is a time-consuming process and means production is stopped for the duration, not to mention the potential risk to the person entering the level on foot.

With the various sensors fitted to the SmartHog, it can scan and photograph the draw point (using the conventional digital camera and stereoscopic camera) and send this information to the surface where a Geotechnical Engineer can review it, all while autonomous loading operations continue.

As the SmartHog is ‘checked in’ to the autonomous system and is ‘seen’ by the other equipment, it can operate independently but also become part of the autonomous traffic management system. Should the Geotechnical Engineer require further information about the draw point, the SmartHog can return and drive up to the limit of the draw point and capture further data from the range of sensors.

IM: Are there other projects outside of the PC1 where you could use the SmartHog?

AB: We anticipate in the future that each panel cave could have their own SmartHog, so that a range of tasks can be completed as previously outlined.

IM: Are there plans to make more SmartHogs? Could they be adapted to carry out other tasks?

AB: The way we have developed the first SmartHog may look very different to how any future SmartHogs may look. The value the graduates gained from solving a current problem using a hands-on approach is priceless and helps demonstrate the value of the graduate program. We believe the graduate program at Newcrest is industry-leading given the types of challenges our graduates can address and solve using the skills recently acquired at university on real-world challenges.

Given the SmartHog is battery powered, as battery technology improves, the next generation of SmartHogs will be able to carry lighter and higher capacity batteries allowing for larger payloads and longer run times. This could allow the inclusion of other sensors and different types of cameras, such as infrared and thermal, which are traditionally heavy items and would limit the range of the current battery performance. The options available are endless once battery technology improves to the point where runtimes are increased and recharge times are reduced. This is not far off given the speed at which battery technology and design is improving.

Electric Mine Consortium launches Surface Long Haul EV Challenge

The Electric Mine Consortium (EMC) – made up of Evolution Mining, South32, Newcrest and a total of 21 major industry players – has launched a Surface Long Haul EV Challenge, calling on the automotive and electric vehicle (EV) industry for solutions in its mission to establish decarbonised mine sites.

The EMC’s call out to companies in the tech, renewable and manufacturing industries is looking for ground-breaking solutions to long haul EV trucks and associated charging infrastructure for mine sites and global supply chains.

Driven by collective demand for electric equipment across the EMC’s operating sites, spread over six continents, the consortium is looking to form synergies between mining and non-mining industries to accelerate decarbonisation solutions across the industry – the mining industry currently contributes 8% of the globe’s emissions.

EMC Founder and Director, Graeme Stanway, explains there’s currently no equipment and associated infrastructure solution that’s available at scale, in line with mining companies’ operational needs.

“The mining industry’s path to electrification is where the car industry was 10 years ago,” Stanway said. “We have the technology, but it needs acceleration and adaptation to meet the needs of varied mine sites across the world.”

He says there’s a big opportunity to recreate mining from a place of siloed communication between companies to a point where collective strategy drives the industry to drastically reduce and ultimately eliminate carbon emissions, through electrification.

“We have the world’s largest data platform of shared knowledge surrounding renewables in mining,” Stanway said. “Through the Surface Long Haul EV Challenge, we’ll be working to accelerate, pilot and convert all new fleets to electric with detailed use case studies for knowledge sharing across the industry.

“If we can solve this for our freight in mining, imagine the impact we can have on the rest of the transport market. Mining has a great opportunity to flip the perception…from being seen on the wrong end of the ledger, to being a leader.”

The EMC is now seeking businesses who can design or supply electric long-haul equipment solutions.

BluVein’s underground dynamic charging developments accelerating

BluVein, after officially receiving agreement and project approval from all project partners, has initiated the third phase of technology development and testing of its underground mine electrification solution, BluVein1, it says.

BluVein is a joint venture between Australia-based mining innovator Olitek and Sweden-based electric highways developer Evias. The company has devised a patented slotted (electric) rail system, which uses an enclosed electrified e-rail system mounted above or beside the mining vehicle together with the BluVein hammer that connects the electric vehicle to the rail.

The system, which is OEM agnostic, provides power for driving the vehicle, typically a mine truck, and charging the truck’s batteries while the truck is hauling load up the ramp and out of an underground mine.

The underground-focused development under BluVein is coined BluVein1, with the open-pit development looking to offer dynamic charging for ultra-class haul trucks called BluVein XL. This latter project was recently named among eight winning ideas selected to progress to the next stage of the Charge On Innovation Challenge.

The purpose of the third phase of the BluVein1 technology development is to:

  • Conduct a full-scale refined hammer (collector) and arm design and testing with a second prototype;
  • Execute early integration works with mining partners and OEMs;
  • Provide full-power dynamic energy transfer for a vehicle demonstration on a local test site; and
  • Confirm a local test site for development.

IM understands that the company is close to sealing an agreement for a local test site where it will carry out trials of the dynamic charging technology.

James Oliver, CEO, BluVein, said the third phase represents an essential final pre-pilot stage of BluVein1.

“It excites me that the BluVein solution is becoming an industry reality,” he said. “The faster BluVein1 is ready for deployment, the better for our partners and the mining industry globally.”

BluVein recently entered a Memorandum of Understanding with Epiroc, where the Sweden-based OEM will provide the first ever diesel-to-battery-converted Minetruck MT42 underground truck for pilot testing on the slotted electric rail system from BluVein.

“This MoU also ensures that we are designing and developing the system into a real-world BEV for full-scale live testing and demonstration on a pilot site in 2023,” BluVein says.

In addition to Epiroc, IM understands BluVein is working with Sandvik, MacLean, Volvo and Scania, among others, on preparing demonstration vehicles for the BluVein1 pilot site.

The BluVein1 consortium welcomed South32 into the project in May, joining Northern Star Resources, Newcrest Mining, Vale, Glencore, Agnico Eagle, AngloGold Ashanti and BHP, all of which have signed a consortium project agreement that aims to enable final system development and the construction of a technology demonstration pilot site in Australia.

The project is being conducted through the consortium model by Rethink Mining, powered by the Canada Mining Innovation Council (CMIC), which CMIC says is a unique collaboration structure that fast-tracks mining innovation technologies such as BluVein and CAHM (Conjugate Anvil Hammer Mill).

Carl Weatherell, Executive Director and CEO, CMIC/President Rethink Mining Ventures, said: “With the urgent need to decarbonise, CMIC’s approach to co-develop and co-deploy new platform technologies is the way to accelerate to net zero greenhouse gases. The BluVein consortium is a perfect example of how to accelerate co-development of new technology platforms.”

Oliver concluded: “The BluVein1 consortium is a great reminder that many hands make light work, and through this open collaboration with OEMs and mining companies, we’re moving faster together towards a cleaner, greener future for mining.”