Equipment and Technology
The journey to smart mining
Driverless machinery and mining expeditions using robots were once only a product of imagination. Today, they are a reality as we embark on the fourth industrial revolution, especially after the Covid-19 outbreak. “There is no doubt that the pandemic accelerated the move towards automation and autonomous mining techniques in Chile,” elaborated Patricio Apablaza, sales vice president of Andean & South Cone for Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions. “The Covid-19 pandemic means fewer people on-site, working to achieve the same result (ktpd); this means that digitization has become a vital efficiency mechanism for the survival of mining operations.”
Innovation is the new language of mining, as it helps minimize costs, enhance safety, optimize mineral processing and improve the economics of resources in the face of structural challenges such as remote locations and declining ore grades. In Chile, the use of technology is also essential in managing water and energy sources, considering the ongoing drought and the industry’s high energy costs. A report by consultancy firm BDO highlights that automation of mines will cut costs by more than 30%, while accidents in mining will be reduced by 75% as workers are trained to manage the robots.
"We have seen in some cases mining companies reducing their workforce by up to 40% and that were still able to maintain production levels. This will change how companies operate in a post-Covid world. We will see an increased reliance on automation and virtual operations."
Tomás Buttazzoni, General Manager, Technosteel
In the equipment space, the highest level of investment in mining technology is in autonomous vehicles, robotic process automation and analytics tools, according to a KPMG survey. Over the course of 2020, the mining industry was able to adapt and continue operations during the pandemic as a result of the rapid adoption of technology that allowed smooth remote operations. The digital revolution in mining is driven by the deployment of artificial intelligence (AI), increased connectivity through the Internet of Things (IoT) and 3D modelling techniques.
Continuous investment in
autonomous technology by OEMs
Unmanned drilling rigs and trucks are no longer an uncommon sight in Chile’s mining industry. Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) such as Epiroc, Sandvik, Caterpillar, Komatsu, Volvo and Liebherr are revolutionizing the industry and introducing disruptive technologies. “We are witnessing an increasing demand for automated products in Chile, especially for autonomous trucks and smart equipment,” confirmed Dale Clayton, managing director of Liebherr in Chile. To give the mines more flexibility, Liebherr introduced truck autonomy packages that allow customers to use the truck with any management system available on the market. The German-Swiss manufacturer also allows data to be processed and downloaded from the equipment to be analyzed remotely to predict maintenance times.
Meanwhile, Epiroc is also investing in facilitating remote operations as it successfully piloted the autonomous operation of the two Pit Viper 351 diesel drills at Los Pelambres, allowing the operators to work from an office environment in Santiago. The results show that operational drilling speed and well depth accuracy increased by 10% and 96%, respectively.
"We are witnessing an increasing demand for automated products in Chile, especially for autonomous trucks and smart equipment."
Dale Clayton, Managing Director, Liebherr
“We successfully tested operating rigs from control centres in Santiago for Los Bronces and Los Pelambres. Los Bronces is looking to start remote operations of their autonomous machinery from Santiago in March of 2021,” commented Rodrigo Izzo, surface mining business line manager at Epiroc in Chile.
Due to the pandemic and the resulting measures, automation solutions have gained traction and popularity. “The pandemic has changed circumstances radically and has given our clients an inevitable push towards the adoption of new solutions to counter challenges such as social distancing,” stated Marcelo Schumacker, country division manager of ABB in Chile, pioneering technology solutions provider.
The Covid-19 outbreak also pushed companies to be creative to ensure the same quality of after-sales service to reduce unplanned downtime. “Equipment diagnosis, for example, is a task that is done increasingly through remote means,” highlighted Francisco Errazuriz, CEO of Sigdo Koppers’ subsidiary SKC Maquinarias (SKCM), distributor of world-renowned brands’ machinery in Chile. “Brands are developing products with a focus on track-and-trace and telemetry in order to monitor equipment better and conduct maintenance proactively.”
Another approach to maintenance is being developed by geospatial solutions equipment provider Geocom by relying on augmented reality (AR). “This technology can be a game-changer in the industry. It will enable remote distance support and provide management with a real-time visual guide to operations. The use of AR in mining will disrupt and revolutionize the industry and is set to change the future of mine safety,” stated the company’s general manager, Carlos Escudero.
“There is no doubt that the pandemic accelerated the move towards automation and autonomous mining techniques in Chile. The Covid-19 outbreak means fewer people on-site, working to achieve the same result (ktpd); this means that digitization has become a vital efficiency mechanism for the survival of mining operations.”
Patricio Apablaza, Sales Vice president of Mexico and Central America Andean & South Cone, Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology
Autonomous solutions in drills, trucks and scanning technology for underground mines in Chile are of increasing relevance to the mine’s demands. For example, Sandvik is providing automated underground loaders and trucks to Codelco’s El Teniente and Chuquicamata. Epiroc is offering battery-powered underground loaders, drills and trucks in Chile. DSI Underground, which was recently acquired by Sandvik, recently introduced to the undergoing mining equipment market an alternative to steel vents known as the Flexline and semi-rigid Hardline flexible vents, under its JV with ABC Canada. “Our vane axial fans are very aerodynamic and use less energy than models of older technology,” explained Carlos Leigh, the regional CEO of DSI Underground in LATAM. “The flexible ducts are made exclusively for mining with resistance to mining conditions, reducing energy consumption, and maintaining good ventilation for the miners, thus increasing work safety.”
Another promising innovation in underground mining is that being offered by Züblin is the Photo ADAM technology for photo mapping. Mario Theurl, technical manager at STRABAG Züblin, explained: “The software allows for images to be overlapped with one another to create 3-D models for geological and geotechnical analysis.”
Overall, the trend we are witnessing in underground equipment technology is the increasing reliance on unmanned machinery in addition to the use of AI and IoT. Driving innovation is the need for safe underground mining with minimal waste production. The global underground mining equipment market in Chile is to witness considerable growth between 2021 and 2022.
Image courtesy of Antofagasta Plc