Automation and digitalisation technologies are no stranger to Sandvik Mining & Rock Technology (Sandvik) – and have been applied into the company’s solutions offerings for in excess of 10 years.

While this positions the company as a leader in the digital revolution field, it has made significant strides in advancing these areas of the business further, driven by the need to overcome COVID-19 challenges, writes LAURA CORNISH.

This article first appeared in Mining Review Africa Issue 11, 2020
Read the full digimag here or subscribe to receive a print copy here

“No company could have prepared for the challenges associated with COVID-19. But every problem has a solution and this was the approach Sandvik adopted. This has consequently seen us performing well, despite travel restrictions and the subsequent inability to meet with clients on site,” says Sandvik’s Southern Africa sales vice-president, Simon Andrews.

Read more about the impact of COVID-19 on the mining industry

Naturally, the pandemic has accelerated mining companies’ willingness to adopt and invest in technologies aimed at overcoming restricted movement, putting Sandvik front and centre in its quest to embrace the digital world.

Read more TECH NEWS

“There are a few essentials however in helping the industry deliver on its digital technology ambitions, the first of which is ensuring technologies improve the effectiveness and efficiency of a mine.

“If modernisation techniques are not being implemented to make mining simpler, safer and faster, then the end goal is not being achieved,” Andrews continues.

“Customers must get value and a high return on their investment to warrant the spend and execution,” adds Sandvik’s business line manager for automation and digitalisation, Niel McCoy.

Read more about Sandvik Mining & Rock Technology

The company’s modernisation in mining approach is two-tiered, with technology solutions offerings in the field of information management (digitalisation) and remote control equipment (automation).

McCoy highlights the areas of digitalisation Sandvik specialises in:

  • Remote monitoring – telemetry of equipment;
  • Situation awareness – where equipment and people are underground;
  • Task management and sharing – issuing tasks and feedback from underground;
  • Providing insights into specific areas in the mine – highlights problem areas in the mine with regards to equipment performance, traffic jams, etc.
  • Analytics – predictive insights to prevent equipment failures, predict production profiles, etc.

Implementing technologies during lockdown

“Adoption and incorporation of technologies has quickly become the secondary consideration in this new world we find ourselves in. It is the practicalities of teaching customers how to implement and use these technologies when we cannot connect with them on site,” Andrews points out.

Read more about automation

Sandvik has truly applied itself in overcoming this lockdown-associated challenge – introducing a headset which enables it to walk and talk anyone through the process of commissioning a machine and associated software without having ever seen it before.

“This offering removes all barriers associated with the inability to connect physically on the ground and is a mechanism of training in itself,” McCoy adds.

The added benefit of remote communication is the ability for Sandvik to better utilise its highly skilled personnel.

“Removing travel time from our diaries means we are able to spend more quality time with a greater number of clients, on a more regular basis. Our experts form part of the greater Sandvik value proposition and is now being more effectively spread across our clients’ sites.

“This is also not a temporary measure introduced to manage COVID-19 restrictions but is a new approach we intend to maintain moving forwards,” says McCoy.

An extension of this is the deeper communication connection Sandvik has made with its clients generally.

“Never before have we communicated so effectively or as frequently as we do now. We know more about our sites now than we ever did before which naturally provides us with the ability to better advise and assist our clients where needed,” Andrews highlights.

Virtual event a virtual success

In September Sandvik also hosted its first Innovation in Mining Virtual Event. Hosted over two days, it offered training sessions, a demonstration of the company’s test mine and new products and solutions offered to market.

“A key component of our event was creating a platform to share experiences, challenges and practicalities, enabling us to come together as an industry to move forward collectively and apply solutions that solve greater challenges,” Andrews notes.

Connectivity in remote regions was identified as another challenge but McCoy notes that this is quickly changing as the industry is working with partners to install the correct infrastructure to overcome this boundary.

“It is refreshing to see mines now taking ownership of the solutions they need to advance their mines and ensure they are digitally relevant,” he states.

Inter-operability is another key component required to deliver a truly modernised mine – equipment systems must talk to each other and not work in silos.

This is an area that requires dialogue and transparency, McCoy continues. Sandvik has already placed its inter-operability IP in the public domain – and is the first underground equipment provider to do so and both Andrews and McCoy hopes to see more of the industry follow suit.

Sandvik also revealed its future vision and concept for autonomous mining equipment at the event, with a first-hand glimpse of its next-generation intelligent technologies shown during a live reveal.

The fully working and autonomous AutoMine concept vehicle is based on the latest technologies and equipped with completely new sensing capabilities and artificial intelligence to enhance mining operations.

The AutoMine concept perceives its surroundings and environment in 3D and reacts to it in real-time. These technologies provide clear customer advantages by allowing vehicles to adapt and plan their own routes, and to find the most suitable paths, even in continuously changing environments.

The obstacle detection, collision avoidance and 3D online mapping capabilities improve adaptability and increase flexibility. 

“The AutoMine concept is unique, because it has been designed ground-up for autonomous use. It is the world’s first fully autonomous underground mining machine built specifically for automation,” says Riku Pulli, vice-president, automation at Sandvik.

This game-changing platform is a foundation for using the AutoMine technology in various equipment types and can be applied to any vehicle.

The AutoMine Concept vehicle also has a completely new industrial design without a cabin, and with built-in components for high reliability and productivity.

This autonomy platform allows for equipment design that is optimised for its primary production tasks without compromises. Furthermore, being fully battery-electric, it drives sustainability in mining without carbon emissions.

Sandvik also introduced its new battery-electric loader, the 18 t LH518B. The all-new loader is the result of the company’s decades of engineering expertise, matched with Artisan Vehicle’s innovative powertrain technology and battery system expertise.

The LH518B battery-electric loader comes with an exceptional capacity for its size: Its design solutions allow the loader to fit in a 4.5 x 4.5 m tunnel and carry 18 t loads.

In addition to an innovative boom and bucket system, the LH518B features independent front and rear drivetrains, allowing high payload capacity while keeping a low overall height.

For superior productivity, the LH518B is equipped with three 2000 Nm permanent magnet motors. With no torque converter, transmission or engine to rev up, the loader is fast and agile.

There are no emission restrictions based on installed power to limit the electric motor selection, which enables the use of the most powerful motors available that are suited for the underground conditions.

The LH518B is also equipped with AutoSwap, a patented self-swapping system for the Artisan battery pack. Battery swapping is made fast and easy with minimum amount of manual handling: changing the battery only takes about six minutes, and it can be done in a passing bay or old re-muck bay with no overhead cranes or external infrastructure needed.

The brand new AutoConnect feature available for the first time on the LH518B is making swapping even easier and faster by automatically connecting and disconnecting the battery pack to the machine.

Aside from unplugging and plugging in the charger, the operator doesn’t need to leave the cabin, which saves minutes on the swapping procedure and decreases effort and risk in the swapping process.

The purely battery-powered loader helps to reduce heat and emissions underground, helping mines reach their sustainability targets and reduce ventilation costs. The robust battery pack uses Lithium Iron Phosphate chemistry (LiFePO4) and is purpose-designed for use in underground mining.

Technology jet lag

There are a lot of mines who have not started on their digital journey and for those in that position need to realise that implementing and using technologies does not happen with the flick of a switch.

“Mines need to focus on their current requirements and implement those digital tools that can assist in specific areas that need immediate attention.

From that point, you can begin to scale up and expand your digital footprint. Change management however is essential, as is the buy in from the top – these are two critical areas that must accompany any mine on their path to modernisation,” McCoy concludes.