The Evolution of Mining Equipment
This rise of autonomous mining and remote operations
Three of the fundamental challenges facing the mining sector revolve around decreasing its environmental impact, mining lower-grade deposits more productively, and accessing new deposits. Long before the pandemic, declining ore grades had been the stimulant to develop technology that could lower the cost per pound produced and increase the safety of extracting metal. Covid-related work-from-home restrictions accelerated the adoption of remotely operated equipment and now, in 2022, inflationary pressures and supply chain delays have added further tests. The industry is undergoing a transformation to ensure it remains competitive from both a cost and ESG standpoint.
Autonomous mining and remote operation are two of the key themes enabling the sector to address these issues. Teck’s Quebrada Blanca 2 (QB2) will be the first of the company’s operations to incorporate a remote Integrated Operations Centre (IOC), bringing together the resources and data necessary for centralized decision making to help achieve better operational performance. Furthermore, being based in Santiago, the IOC can attract a new generation of mining professionals who may not want to be located at the mine site.
“As QB2 is a greenfield development you can build the autonomous operation as the customer is building the mine. You have the benefit of being able to establish a culture from scratch and you can build a team which is centered around this new way of operating,” observed Sebastián Guridi, senior VP of mining – South America at Finning.
In 2019, Finning signed a contract with Teck to supply a fleet of Caterpillar 794AC electric drive off-highway trucks and other large mining machines for QB2, as well as Cat’s Command for Hauling system and 794AC AHS (Autonomous Haulage Technology) kits. “One of the most valuable things about the QB2 project is that we are demonstrating that we can successfully do autonomous mining in deep, hard rock copper mines at 4,000 m of altitude,” said Guridi, adding that autonomous vehicles also help in reaching areas which would otherwise not have been accessible.
Guridi believes that autonomous hauling is a real game changer for the industry, giving the example of Finning’s autonomous underground equipment being used at Chuquicamata, El Teniente and Candelaria: “Everything can be done autonomously with only small sections which require manned operations, allowing you to have one operator for several vehicles.”
“Truck fleets in mining are one of the biggest consumers of diesel fuel, and therefore one of the largest sources of contamination in the mining sector, as well as being one of the largest opex costs. Cummins can contribute to optimizing fuel use through technology.”
Miguel Flores, General Manager & West South America Leader, Cummins
Darko Louit Nevistic, CEO of Komatsu Cummins Chile, discussed the Komatsu Front Runner Autonomous Haulage System (AHS): “The architecture of Komatsu’s system will allow for true interoperability in the future so that many machines, including eventually other OEM’s systems or autonomous vehicles, will be able to connect to our central control that supervises the complete mining operation.”
Nevistic explained that Komatsu’s current solution utilizes MMS Dispatch system for optimization, which is integrated with the latest versions of Front Runner and manages machine control and supervisory functions. “With these features, mining customers can optimize their operations, increasing safety and predictability, which allows for longer running time, maximized utilization of equipment and lower maintenance costs, ultimately leading to lower cost per ton,” he said, adding that the AHS also generates very reliable information from the operation itself, allowing mining companies to continuously improve their efficiency and productivity.”
Gonzalo García, general manager of Liebherr Chile, mentioned that all of the company’s trucks are available with a Trolley Assist System, providing a low emission solution for customers. “The Liebherr Trolley Assist System is an effective first step on the road to zero emission mine sites of the future,” he said, explaining that the system utilizes an overhead pantograph of trolley bars to connect the electric-drive system to the electrical network.“
The Trolley Assist System offers increased truck fleet productivity, or reduction in fleet size, while maintaining yearly production when compared with standard trucks. A significant reduction of diesel fuel consumption is also made possible with the Trolley Assist System, along with a reduction of the truck fleet CO2 emissions,” revealed García.
John Swift, Epiroc’s managing director for Chile, highlighted digitalization and the company’s automated suite of products as areas of the business that have been in high demand. He gave the example of Epiroc’s involvement at Anglo American’s Los Bronces project where automated Pit Vipers are operated from a distance. On the subject of innovation, Swift revealed that Epiroc is looking at remotely doing tasks not only operating the machines: “For example, cognitive reality, where we can advise technicians from a distance, and micro-adjustments to pumps and motors to keep people away from physically running the machines.”
Swift underlined the importance of collaboration between suppliers, such as such as Epiroc’s work with Chilean company, ROCMIN Servicios Mineros to create equipment that is customized to suit Chilean conditions: “I believe the era of siloed competition is behind us. Collaboration, not only amongst business partners but also between competitors, is vital to deliver the solutions that the world needs and our customers need.”
“We created a specific electromobility unit to grant support to customers and help them learn. In the same way we went to factories to learn; we have to transmit that knowledge to advance adoption.”
Luis Izquierdo, General Manager, Andes Motor
Suppliers of ancillary and construction vehicles, such as the trucks and tippers that move ore, dirt and concentrate, or the buses that transport mining workforces, have seen rejuvenated demand since the height of the pandemic.
To keep up with demand from mining in the Antofagasta region, Swedish OEM Scania has decided to invest US$5 million to expand its workshop, with construction due to start in September/October 2022, according to Pascal Zappone, managing director of Scania Chile. When asked about the focus of this demand, Zappone pointed to solutions that increase the sustainability of operations, such as fleet managements systems (FMS) that enable customers to utilize data from a connected vehicle, lowering fuel consumption and reducing wear and maintenance needs.
Zappone highlighted Scania Super, a new engine platform that will be launched at the end of 2022: “This new powertrain has sustainability at its core and is the most advanced combustion engine we have ever built, promising a reduction in fuel consumption of between 8% and 10% and more uptime than ever before. All engines have inherent HVO (hydrotreated vegetable oil) fuel capabilities, and two of them can be ordered as FAME biodiesel versions.”
Luis Izquierdo, general manager of Andes Motor, the equipment distributor that represents Maxus, Foton, Karry, Iveco, Agrale and Sany in Chile, spoke of the progress made in electric vehicle adoption for mining passenger transport, which Andes Motor is advancing with SQM and Teck. He detailed that the company’s sales in the EV area increased by 44% in 2021, and revealed the company will be testing electric tractors at mine sites in 2022.
Discussing the challenge of transitioning to electric mobility because of the significant technological change, Izquierdo added: “We created a specific electromobility unit to grant support to customers and help them learn. In the same way we went to factories to learn; we have to transmit that knowledge to advance adoption.”
Image courtesy of Liebherr