Sandvik’s aim to electrify the underground mining space have been gaining traction over recent years, with single machine trials and deployments that typified the early stages of its mission now replaced by fleet-wide agreements that, if not already in operation, will be starting up underground in the years to come.
As with all transitions, the electric one has not been easy. There have been teething issues along the way; whether that is equipping batteries for the harsh nature of an underground mines, educating employees about best practice maintenance and operations of this equipment, or facing an onslaught of questions about potential battery fires witnessed in passenger vehicles via YouTube.
Just how much traction the company has been gaining was made clear late last year during its Capital Markets Day event.
Here, the company outlined that battery-electric vehicles accounted for 15% of all load and haul orders in the year to the end of October. On top of that, it displayed an impressive pie chart showing that, from January-October 2023, Sandvik had won more than 75% of orders for battery-electric equipment.
These numbers do not factor in the cable-electric loaders the company has been selling for decades, plus the underground battery-electric drilling equipment that trams on battery power at mining operations across the globe.
For all this positive momentum, battery-electric does not make sense for everyone…yet.
IM has documented a series of both diesel-electric and hybrid diesel-electric LHD sales in Australia recently, with at least one of these sales following the trial of battery-electric equipment.
Sandvik has made clear that it will have something in store for miners in transition between diesel and fully-electric operation, stating last year that it was developing diesel-electric trucks and loaders for the industry.
Unlike some of its peers, Sandvik is deliberately building this offering with fully-electric operations in mind.
“Currently we are developing diesel-electric solutions both for trucks and loaders,” Juha Virta, VP Sales and Marketing for the Load and Haul Division within Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions, told IM. “We aim to maximise the customer value by utilising modular design in our equipment: battery and diesel-electric equipment will have commonalities eg in drivelines, hydraulics, electrics and spare parts.”
This approach will make it easier for customers to transfer from diesel-electric equipment to battery-electric equipment, Virta says. The “commonalities” could also prove beneficial in developing the skill sets required from service personnel.
“Energy storage elements are also included in our development portfolio, enabling, for example, hybrid solutions, delivering positive results in the area of fuel consumption and the equipment performance,” he added.
This is all part of an increasingly diverse offering from the OEM that Brian Huff, Vice President of New Technologies for the Load and Haul Division within Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions, mentioned during the Capital Markets Day.
He said: “We’re taking the technology of our battery-operated drills, loaders and trucks, and expanding that with diesel-electric using the same motors, inverters and componentry in a modular approach that allows us to offer diesel solutions with the same electrified driveline from our battery-operated equipment.”
The developments the company is making as part of this project are being displayed on the TH66X diesel-electric demonstrator – a Toro diesel-powered truck that has been retrofitted with an electric driveline – that customers first saw in Turku, Finland, in 2022. This machine is currently in factory tests, according to Virta, saying that component validation and a variety of simulations were also being run.
“The program also includes a significant amount of testing in a real underground mine environment,” he added. “Developing new technology and ensuring its performance takes some time, and sufficient and careful tests are extremely important – we are in a very good progress with that currently.”
For this, Sandvik is using not only its Test Mine in Tampere, Finland, but also the Pyhäsalmi mine. Sandvik is using the latter operation – owned by First Quantum Minerals – as part of its involvement in the Callio consortium: a group of companies focused on developing ‘FutureMINE – the future digital test mine project’.
One of the other participants in this consortium is Byrnecut, who has been partnering with Sandvik based on a recent LinkedIn post by Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions.
“We have long traditions with working in close collaboration with different customers, and that will continue to be Sandvik approach also going forward,” Virta said when asked about this partnership. “Byrnecut is one of our customers and a very important partner for us, and, along with Barminco, will be one of the first companies to test the TH66X in the field.”
Considering the majority of the team focused on this diesel-electric demonstrator are based in Turku, one would expect this facility to have significant influence on the commercial offering that follows.
The facility is undergoing an expansion focused on incorporating an additional 7,000 sq.m of production and storage space previously occupied by Tunturi, a manufacturer of bicycles and fitness equipment. The whole of the plant for load and haul equipment is also set to be enhanced and modernised.
Petri Liljaranta, Supply Director for the Load and Haul Division within Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions, says the expansion is progressing as planned with all but a few of the company’s finishing functions relocated according to its plans. “This final part of the project is expected to be finished in the June quarter,” he added.
One of the expansion project’s targets was to increase the manufacturing space at its facilities, and this target has already been achieved, with the company well equipped to respond to growing volume needs in the coming years, according to Liljaranta.
“Based on current views, the battery-electric vehicle manufacturing capacity is expected to meet expected market demand during 2024,” he said.