In response to the growing reality that mines across the globe need to improve employee safety while simultaneously compensating for increasingly difficult-to-mine ore-bodies and lower grades, Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology is focusing intensively on its wide array of automation solutions.

These technologies are the key to addressing these challenges says Sandvik’s team of Africa specialist executives.

This article first appeared in Mining Review Africa Issue 5 2018

“Embracing automation not only delivers on improved mining safety records and overcomes difficult ore bodies, it in fact offers miners the opportunity to reduce waste, increase productivity and lower costs,” says Daniel Banister, Sandvik vice president – sales Central Africa.

Sandvik has been a strong contributor and player within the automation field, and with a solid list of references and a steadily growing track record, is well advised to comment on the benefits automation technology has to offer.

Rolling out automation technology across the African continent

Despite the successes automation offers the mining industry, mining houses need to overcome perception barriers that are hindering the roll-out of such technology.

The successful implementation of the Sandvik AutoMine system is impartial to whether it is deployed in developed or emerging country says Simon Andrews, Sandvik vice president – sales Southern Africa.

“With thorough training, any individual who is able to read and write can operate a machine remotely.”

The need to enhance operational performance and safety is however enticing the industry to seriously consider automation now more than ever before says Nuhu Salifu, Sandvik vice president – West Africa.

“We have seen a lot of interest emerging from Africa and this is encouraging Sandvik to aggressively pursue the roll out of automated equipment across the continent which we intend to focus heavily on over the next 24 months,” Andrews continues, adding that it provides a competitive advantage, not only for mining companies but also for contractors.

With more than a decade of successfully operating the AutoMine system in southern Africa, Sandvik is well equipped to marry Africa’s unique operational needs with the ideal equipment and technology.

“This has given us the necessary experience to take this technology further afield.”

With the tried and tested AutoMine platform having over 350 automated pieces of equipment in the field globally, operating for more than 2 million hours with zero LTI’s, Sandvik has indicated that they are committed to the continuous development of their autonomous technology.

Automation perceptions further unpacked

The perception that automation results in reduced labour remains one of the biggest challenges around embracing these technologies.

“The reality is that this equipment still requires human intervention to fully operate at all levels. It does however require a different skill that is more technology savvy. Equipment maintenance is also still a necessity and this further requires the retention of a human workforce,” Andrews outlines.

The Sandvik vice presidents agree that the benefits to automation are also not acknowledged sufficiently – in terms of benefits to existing and new work forces.

This technology removes challenges around gender, age and language.

“A simple four to six-week training session is generally sufficient for an individual to develop a competency level necessary to operate an automated machine. Hand/eye coordination and relearning to operate a remote that is not sensitive to touch are in fact the greatest challenges.”

Technology portfolio

Sandvik’s array of automated equipment is extensive and ranges from driverless trucks (a Sandvik trademark), loaders and roof bolters to drilling equipment.

“Our machines can drill a complete face remotely without any underground intervention,” highlights Andrews. With a number of drills delivering this capability in Africa already, it’s a proven guarantee.

“Naturally, these technologies significantly reduce the room for error. Because machines can automatically respond and adapt to conditions ‘at the face’ – consumables lifespans are extended and in turn the lifespan of the machine. Naturally costs are also reduced,” Banister notes.

The further incorporation of Sandvik OptiMine offers additional benefits in terms of transparency specifically. OptiMine enables the comparison of mine models with mine actual layout and enables continuous improvement in real time.

It is a modular information management solution that offers a real-time view of an underground mining operation.

It is suitable for all mining applications and the entire mobile fleet, including equipment supplied by other OEMs.

The solution is designed to provide real-time tracking and production management tools for controlling both manual and automatic mining operations.

With open interfaces, the solution can also be integrated to other mine IT systems.

Sandvik has also not disregarded the importance of productivity – which it has brought to the fore with upgrades to its well-known DPi series surface top hammer drill rigs.

The I-series torque control system, together with efficient Sandvik stabilizer rock drills guarantees continuously high productivity and hole accuracy.

“Drilling using these machines can also continue between shift changes so production uptime is truly maximised,” Andrews highlights.

The importance of research and development

Technology in any field is constantly evolving – and this includes automated machinery.

“We need to ensure that our product evolves with changing technology and more importantly, continuously enhance our understanding of the data analytics automated processes provide in better understanding our equipment and our systems,” Andrews points out.

“Another crucial element to successfully evolve as technology changes is to incorporate what will be effective on a mine – and this can only be done by understanding what the market needs,” Salifu adds.

Sandvik’s vision is to be a market leader in the automation field and will continue to invest in research and development to stay abreast of new technologies in new business areas – such as the incorporation of technologies to improve communication channels.

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