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Pucobre takes the rapid mine development route with Epiroc

Faced with the challenge of boosting productivity and lowering costs, Chile-based copper miner Pucobre has teamed up with Epiroc to implement the first Rapid Mine Development (RMD) project in the country.

Combining technology and changes in mindset to build high-quality mine infrastructure, the company is now on a path to become a 4.0 mine, Epiroc says.

In 2016, Pucobre, a selective underground copper mining company, was faced with a conundrum: grades at its deposits were falling, and global red metal prices were unstable.

The company knew it needed to change to remain competitive and began looking for ways of working that were more productive, efficient and cost effective. That is when the idea of Rapid Mine Development (RMD) appeared on the horizon, Epiroc said.

“RMD is a method for making higher-quality tunnels, faster in the underground mine development cycle,” it said. “What previously depended largely on the skill and experience of the drill operator and explosives technician are now computer-supported tools for standardisation and optimisation.

“For Pucobre, RMD has meant not only a change in technology but also a cultural change oriented toward quality and discipline.”

The project started as part of a strategic partnership with Epiroc, unique in Chile, which commenced with a contract in 2017 to replace Pucobre’s truck and loader fleet with Minetruck MT65 trucks and Scooptram ST18 loaders, vehicles with higher capacity.

The partnership was unique because it guaranteed the mechanical operability of the equipment over its working lifetime, Epiroc said. This is nine years in the case of the trucks, and 5-6 years for the loaders. The previous vehicles used by Pucobre had to be changed every 2-3 years, which led to the first in many steps of change management for Pucobre, with more focus on complete maintenance of the vehicles to ensure their longevity.

On its premises in Atacama desert, Pucobre set up a training centre with simulators to instruct drivers how to handle these new vehicles, installed a maintenance workshop, and had Epiroc staff permanently on site to jointly solve problems that might arise. Encouraged by this experience, Pucobre and Epiroc began to explore new ways to streamline the operation.

Sebastián Ríos (pictured below), CEO of Pucobre, said: “Epiroc has always shown a great disposition for solving problems and working to ensure that the trucks and loaders are successful.”

According to Marco Troncoso, Pucobre’s Mining Operations Head, before embarking on RMD, the company’s way of working was “very dependent on specific skills of its people”, with Pucobre keen to leverage technology and improve the efficiency of its workers.

Troncoso said: “Epiroc said to us: ’let us help you build the new house in which you will live for the next 30 years.’ Once you get used to doing things in a quality way, the results improve.”

Epiroc visited Pucobre’s three site operations near the northern city of Copiapó, and Pucobre came up with a three-year development plan (2019-2021) to boost productivity by 40% and reduce costs by 25%.

Pucobre and Epiroc went on site visits to Australia, Nevada (USA), Sweden and Canada where the company could see leading mining companies using Boomer face drilling rigs in action, as well as the new concepts of mine management, which would also be adopted.

Two alternatives were proposed to help Pucobre meet its goals. One was to use multi-role face drills, like in Australia, which combine blasthole drilling and rock reinforcement such as scaling, bolting and meshing in a single rig. The other alternative was RMD, a method which promises longer rounds, higher accuracy, reduced overbreak and better quality tunnels, Epiroc said.

“Most importantly, with the latest Boomer S2 rigs – equipped with ABC Total, a smart function that allows for complete automation of the drilling process – RMD offered a path that would enable the machinery to operate autonomously during lunch breaks and shift changes, thereby resulting in more productivity gains,” the company said.

Once Pucobre had opted for RMD, the company invested in four of the latest Boomer face drilling rigs and three Simba production drill rigs. To monitor development and meet key performance indicators, Pucobre went digital, building a new Mining Operations Centre on site. In the future, the company is expected to deploy Epiroc’s 6th Sense Mine Management Solution, which combines the Mobilaris scheduler and other task management and reporting features, as well as the Certiq telematics solution, which gathers, compares and communicates vital equipment information to the surface.

Investing in and betting on RMD has meant a major leap of faith on the part of Pucobre. The total investment over the nine-year contract period is likely to reach $60-70 million, factoring in machinery, spare parts and technology. There have also been major time investments in training and change management.

Ríos said: “This is the biggest change in Pucobre in the last 30 years.”

A big challenge for Pucobre was the increased development rates over the coming years, which came with a significant cost increase. Cost estimations prior to project start showed significant cost savings by using RMD to prevent this.

So, the alternative – to keep doing things the way they had before – was not compelling. According to Epiroc’s calculations, without RMD, Pucobre’s annual development costs would have increased 3%/y from $25.5 million in 2019 to $27 million in 2022. With RMD, development costs are projected to fall to $21.3 million in 2022.

Change management has been the other major challenge on this journey, adapting attitudes and skill sets to the new ways of working. Pucobre introduced Short Interval Control (SIC), which is a structured process that measures short intervals of production to identify opportunities for improvement.

To manage the operation, it is necessary to have as much information online as possible, such as the location of vehicles and work plans for the day, so that personnel in the Mining Operations Centre can make decisions and improve productivity.

Ríos said: “The engineering department had to modify how it plans, now with shorter intervals. What was previously done in the field now has to be carefully planned and coordinated before it is executed.”

Cultural differences between the Swedish and Chilean way of doing things have required compromises on both sides and commitment and team work to make this unique joint venture successful.

The RMD project at Pucobre is being implemented in four stages. After getting used to using standardised, computerised drill plans using navigation methods, the project has now moved to a second stage – to optimise the machinery to extend explosive rounds to 4.4 m, from 3.8 m. The goal is to reach 95% of the blasting target with less than 5% underbreak or overbreak and to increase development rates from 1,100 m/mth to 1,400 m/mth.

Stage 3 is continuous improvement, leveraging reported data from the rigs to correct divergence using Rig Remote Access (RRA), which enables two-way communication between the drill and the RRA server using the site W-LAN wireless network.

But the principal objective is to reach stage 4, where drills can operate autonomously during lunch and shift breaks using the ABC Total smart function.

Progress has been fast, according to Hilario Arce, Head of Pucobre’s mining operations. With the Minetruck MT65 trucks and Scooptram ST18 loaders, Pucobre has already increased its monthly mineral extraction to 460,000 t, from 333,000 t previously. Two of the three mining sites are now operating 100% RMD, the third one is coming soon. Operators are getting close to the 95% blasting target, and Arce is confident 60-70% of drilling will be automated come March 2021.

The Epiroc Simba 7 long-hole rigs are the most advanced to date in Punta del Cobre in terms of the use of ABC Total, but the system will start implementation in Boomer rigs in December.

Working closely together has been key for Epiroc to build trust, says Charlie Ekberg, General Manager of Epiroc Chile, who underscores that demonstrating success with Pucobre will be key for winning similar projects elsewhere in Chile. Epiroc is also betting on introducing teleremote technology for mine loaders and battery-powered trucks in Chile next year.

“That’s why we put so much effort into training,” Ekberg said. “It’s not just about selling the machine. We want the equipment to work and, if a machine is standing idle, we want to know why. We’ve had to learn how the customer thinks and always be one step ahead.”

In terms of results and costs of the overall project, Pucobre is still only halfway to where it wants to be, according to Ríos. But he knows Pucobre is on the right path.

He said: “There are still gaps. Sometimes the trucks aren’t loading to their full capacity, or the loading cycle and return to the surface is taking longer than planned. That equation still has room for improvement.”

It has been a learning experience for both Epiroc and Pucobre. Overly ambitious KPIs and targets set at the beginning have had to be modified to suit the pace of progress and time needed to train with this new way of doing things. That is where change management has been one of the biggest challenges.

“There are many things that change in the day-to-day operation,” Ríos said. “You contract new people, new technology, there is a change in planning. You have to look at the way that people adapt to this new way of working.

“You have to support people in this process so that it flows with the help of the human resources department. Change is difficult. It’s like working from home, which many people have done this year. You have to manage it well, for it to be successful. We trust our people will do it.”

This first appeared as an Epiroc customer story here.

Nornickel bolsters modernisation and automation efforts with new equipment, solutions

MMC Norilsk Nickel says its Polar Division has received a new batch of equipment to improve the efficiency of operations as part of a group-wide program aimed at the modernisation and automation of its production facilities in Russia.

In addition to the new equipment deliveries at the Polar Division, autonomous vehicle devices have reached the second stage of testing at the Severny mine at Kola MMC, the company noted.

Under the equipment renovation program, the Polar Division received 25 units of mobile equipment for various purposes in 2020. The total value of the equipment delivered to the Polar Division amounts to around $8 million.

“This year, we received two Sandvik TH545 dump trucks, and they went into operation at the end of October,” Alexander Chistyakov, Deputy Director of the Severny Mine, said. “The third vehicle is under customs clearance and will soon be at the disposal of the miners.”

In addition, the company is also planning to purchase 20 55-t payload BELAZ 7555B mining trucks, plus seven Liebherr PR 764 dozers and two Caterpillar 990 Series II wheel loaders.

In all, Norilsk Nickel plans to spend about $20 million on the purchase of the equipment, with over 90% of the specified equipment to be transferred to the Taimyr region by the end of November.

Chistyakov added: “At the heart of the program for replacing self-propelled diesel equipment is an increase in the volume of cargo transportation, which is solved by increasing the volume of the cargo area. The new dump truck is distinguished by its structure and dimensions. The main advantage is the increased carrying capacity, which is 45 t.”

The fleet of self-propelled diesel equipment at the Severny mine is being replenished with various new types of machinery. Two Epiroc Boomer S2 face drilling rigs and an Epiroc Simba rotary drilling rig are expected to arrive by the beginning of 2021.

The total cost of the mining equipment expected to arrive by the end of 2020 at Severny is estimated at more than $6.5 million.

Meanwhile, the second stage of tests of autonomous vehicle devices has been launched at the Severny mine in the Kola region, Nornickel said.

The Nornickel Digital Laboratory is in the process of developing an advanced autonomous vehicle platform for deployment in the company’s mines. The project is being carried out within the framework of the company’s strategic goals, aimed at maximising automation and digitalisation of production processes, and ultimately achieving unstaffed mining operations.

Kola MMC has been closely cooperating with the Digital Laboratory since 2018. A joint pilot project – ‘Monitoring Compliance with Personal Protective Equipment’ – was launched as part of the cooperation effort. Further plans include the implementation of the ‘Remote control of self-propelled equipment at the mine’ project, Nornickel said.

Epiroc ‘new generation’ Boomer drill rig to launch in 2021

Epiroc is planning a “new generation” Boomer face drilling launch in 2021 as it looks to capture more market share in the underground mining contractor market.

Speaking at Epiroc’s Capital Markets Day Fika 2020 event on Monday, Sami Niiranen, President of Epiroc’s Underground division, said the new rigs would be designed for increasing both production and safety.

The company referred to the machine in presentation slides as a “true development rig, fully equipped for multi-task operation and automation”, with Niiranen adding that the Boomer will come with a battery-electric driveline option.

During his presentation, Niiranen also provided investors and interested parties with the latest numbers on Epiroc’s digitalisation and automation solutions.

He confirmed that more than 1,000 machines were now connected to the company’s Certiq telematics system, while there were circa-90 production Simba production drills operating autonomously. This came alongside around 50 automated underground LHDs and some 670 drills with full automation capability.

Epiroc loaders and drills set for Codelco El Teniente underground copper mine

Epiroc says it has won a “large order” from construction company Züblin International GmbH Chile Spa for equipment to be used for the expansion project at Codelco’s El Teniente copper mine in Chile.

Züblin International GmbH Chile, owned by STRABAG Group and the contractor for Codelco, has ordered multiple drill rigs and loaders for use in the El Teniente underground copper mine, with Epiroc’s state-of-the-art equipment ensuring “high productivity and safe operation as the mine will be deepened, extending its lifespan by an estimated 50 years”, Epiroc said.

The order totals around SEK135 million ($14.03 million) and was placed in the June quarter. It includes different models of the Boomer face drilling rig (including the Boomer E2), Simba production drilling rig and Scooptram loader, as well as on-site technical support.

The machines will be equipped with the Epiroc telematics system Certiq, allowing automated and intelligent monitoring of productivity and machine performance. Epiroc said delivery has started and will take place through early 2020.

Helena Hedblom, Epiroc’s Senior Executive Vice President Mining and Infrastructure, said: “We are proud to play a vital role as the El Teniente mine is expanded and gets to thrive for many more years in a productive and safe manner.”

Dirk Pförtner, Commercial Managing Director at STRABAG Spa Chile, said Epiroc had been able to put together a comprehensive offer that included not just equipment but also service support and in-depth training.

Epiroc to connect machines, systems and people with ‘6th Sense’

Epiroc is presenting a new approach to the mining and infrastructure industries that combines digitalisation and automation to, it says, boost its customers’ performance.

The “6th Sense” solution addresses a growing need for the two industries to look to digital technologies to enhance productivity, sustainability and safety, according to the company. The approach is the Epiroc way to optimise customers’ processes by connecting machines, systems and people using automation, information management and system integration.

“With 6th Sense comes a great focus on system connectivity, using interoperability to unlock the full potential of automation for production gains at lower operating costs,” the company said.

Helena Hedblom, Epiroc Senior Executive Vice President Mining and Infrastructure, said: “6th Sense is a formula we have developed for getting the right solutions in place and achieving operational excellence in mining and infrastructure operations.

“The name 6th Sense implies that the solution brings something extra and that is just what it does, providing a significant advantage such as track and respond to real-time working conditions and equipment needs.”

One example of Epiroc’s focus on automated and productivity-enhancing solutions comes from the Hollinger mine in Timmins, Canada. Together with long-term partner Newmont Goldcorp, Epiroc has put the world’s first fully autonomous SmartROC D65 surface drill rig in production, it said. The operator can be positioned remotely and perform other tasks while the drill rig completes a full drill pattern autonomously. “Besides increased operator safety, this boosts productivity thanks to Global Navigation Satellite System accuracy, non-stop operations and less wear and tear on drilling tools, reducing production costs and improving reliability,” Epiroc said.

Another example is the new Teleremote e-tramming option for Epiroc’s range of Simba long-hole underground drill rigs. The automation package includes functionalities to monitor, plan and automate drilling operations from onboard the rig or from a remote location. “Not only is the tramming process faster and simpler, the e-tramming function also provides a safer work environment and reduces variability in performance,” Epiroc said.

Hedblom said: “The 6th Sense approach is based on our customers’ needs for implementing digitalisation, automation and new process integrations. We are continuously rolling out new innovative features, always with the customers’ needs in mind.”

Epiroc expands production drilling capabilities with Simba teleremote e-tramming option

Epiroc says it is looking to maintain a leading position in the development of innovative equipment for use in mining and production drilling with the release of a new teleremote e-tramming option for its Simba series of rigs.

In the Simba Automation package, multiple automation functions are available to optimise the drilling process, according to Epiroc. With the recent addition of the e-tramming function the production drilling process can be handled in an even safer and more continuous way, the company said.

This will allow a Simba rig to be operated remotely and work more productively in a continuous “ring-to-ring” fashion, Epiroc said. “After drilling a ring and retrieving the rods, the rig can be tele-remotely trammed to the next ring, saving time and work effort. Not only does the tramming process become faster and simpler, the teleremote e-tramming function also provides a safer work environment since the operator can control the machine out of harm’s way, even between rings.”

Guilherme Paiva, Global Product Manager of Automation at Epiroc, said: “Our Simba drill rigs are globally recognised as the best in their class, and we continue to strive towards even smarter and faster solutions. Teleremote e-tramming makes for an easier, safer and more continuous drilling process. Fewer disruptions mean greater productivity.”

Simba rigs that feature Epiroc’s Rig Control System can be operated through a control panel from onboard the rig or from a remote location where potentially hazardous work conditions can be avoided. With information provided by laser sensors and cameras mounted on the rig, the operator can navigate, position and stabilise the rig to ensure drilling is executed according to plan, Epiroc said. “Mission accomplished in one ring, the operator can then tram to the next and the next.”

Paiva said: “We want to make the world’s best production drill just a bit better to optimise the entire drilling process, from positioning the rig to emptying the stope. Through automation and the ability to process more real-time information, we are taking huge steps towards greater safety and efficiency.”