In the second part of Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology’s showcase, we look at the exciting topic of automation, which is high up on the Sandvik agenda. The majority of the company’s R&D and innovation is centred on automating as much of the mining process as possible, which improves productivity, safety and efficiency. Mining News sat with Niel McCoy, business line manager: Automation, Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology Southern Africa, to discuss new developments in automation and what it means to the business to be at the forefront of this area.
For years now, Sandvik has been at the forefront of automation in the mining industry. Sandvik’s solutions significantly improve productivity and safety, while lowering total cost of ownership, and its software systems also help with machine monitoring – giving their customers a full overview of their fleet and enabling them to control and optimise operations.
“Our automation offering has two very distinct columns. We have what we call our ‘AutoMine® products’, which focus on physical equipment automation, and then we have our ‘OptiMine® package’, which is an information management and data analytics package,” McCoy explains.
Automation, the Sandvik way
Considering the company’s extensive range of offerings, we asked McCoy to give us a breakdown of Sandvik’s approach to automation.
“Our entry-level product is Tele-Remote operation, where the operator physically takes control of the machine, but is not sitting in it. They could be operating the machine with their controller from a remote point underground, or on surface in a dedicated control room,” McCoy explains.
“The next step is our AutoMine® Lite offering, which provides single-machine automation. This is a more advanced alternative for AutoMine® Tele-Remote, providing a powerful way to take advantage of the full machine performance through automation. It offers substantial benefits such as increased productivity, safety and cost efficiency in mining operations.
“Another tier up is AutoMine® Multi-Lite, which provides great flexibility to operators in that they can remotely and simultaneously supervise various machines. With AutoMine® Multi-Lite, each piece of equipment completes automated missions in its own dedicated production area. It is an ideal package for mining operations that require repeatable and consistently high performance as well as multi-machine control,” McCoy continues.
“Our next offering is our AutoMine® Fleet, which is a highly advanced automation system for a fleet of Sandvik underground loaders and trucks sharing the same automated production area. AutoMine® Fleet incorporates traffic management, fleet management and control systems integration, ensuring other software systems used by the mine respond seamlessly to Sandvik’s solutions. We interact and interoperate with all of these systems to ensure the mine operates efficiently and safely,” he explains.
The AutoMine® systems use Sandvik’s Access Control System (ACS), which isolates automated equipment from personnel and manually operated machines. Interoperability is also crucial. In early 2018, we released our Interoperability Policy and continue the trajectory making our digital solutions – OptiMine®, AutoMine® and My Sandvik interoperable with non-Sandvik equipment.
Sandvik’s Access Control System (ACS)
Sandvik’s ACS is the lynchpin that guides the business’s automation functions – from basic automated operations right through to full fleet automation.
McCoy explains: “Our ACS system is a critical element to safer autonomous equipment. Sandvik’s principle for automation is one of ‘no interaction’ at all, which means: we ensure that automated equipment runs only in a designated area that is sufficiently barricaded off by safety barriers. With ACS, there’s no interaction with other equipment at any stage.”
Sandvik launched its interoperability policy in early 2018 (hyperlink to interoperability article published on miningnews.co.za) regarding automation, which has placed Sandvik in the ideal position to introduce other OEM equipment into its own automation systems.
“We are not looking at the onboard automation of equipment whose responsibility will remain with another OEM or a third-party supplier. Through this approach to interoperability, however, the mine has the ability to introduce other equipment into the Sandvik ecosystem. So, our safety system, which governs all of the automated operations in a mine, can now introduce other third-party machinery as well. We’re very excited about this, as it opens a lot of doors,” McCoy enthuses.
This development comes at the perfect time, as mining houses are faced with the growing challenge of ensuring productivity while collaborating with different suppliers in one mining process. This umbrella system addresses that.
McCoy explains: “Productivity is always a concern; among the biggest issues you encounter globally are that mines are getting deeper and deeper and, therefore, travelling times to the working site become longer, among other concerns. That in itself is one of the key drivers of automation – getting more operational time from the equipment. Automation addresses the ability to really work continuously, so that a mine is not reliant on operators and people on equipment to work endlessly, because even the best operators in the world become exhausted after an eight-hour shift.”
He adds, “Automation really drives continuous productivity over a long timeframe. For example, 95% of the mines in the world are faced with the conundrum presented by blasting times and shift changes. There’s a minimum time that must pass to allow for blast fumes to clear and then mines must get people back underground as soon as that passes, so that they can start their shifts. With automation, however, you’re not faced with this layover. In fact, you have the ability to carry on with operations almost immediately. And when considering the impact of this time saving over the course of a day, a week, a month and especially a year, it has a massive cumulative effect on the productivity of the mine. That’s just one example of where the core benefit of automation lies,” McCoy adds.
Sandvik’s automation strategy
Looking at Sandvik’s automation foundation, McCoy says the company’s trajectory really ramped up in 2004, with the first commercial implementation of automation systems. One was here in South Africa at Finsch mine with a trucking loop and the other in Chile, where the business installed an automated loader fleet.
Sandvik’s sheer dedication and passion for automation is something McCoy is very proud of: “We pride ourselves on being, and having been, at the forefront of automation for many years. We understand the fundamentals, we understand customer requirements, and we understand how to develop solutions that are suited to each and every customer. We are able to implement our product range in such a way that is tailored to every mine’s individual needs. And that’s where we feel we can add value to the customer – by ensuring that they get the right application for their purposes. It’s certainly not a one-size-fits-all scenario; we look at the solution that best fits the customer.
Key to modern mining
The company has seen an incredible uptake of its automation systems, with almost every single greenfield project implementing automation to varying degrees.
Automation has become a key component in the establishment of new mining sites, whereas it was previously often considered as more of an afterthought. And this paradigm shift has had an especially positive effect on safety.
“In terms of safety, the beauty lies in removing the operator from that environment and putting him in a nice, comfortable, air-conditioned environment, which is hugely beneficial to their well-being and productivity. Safety, overall productivity and having that consistent output have been incredible benefits,” McCoy adds.
“At the end of the day, mines are still essentially processing factories, so automation lends itself to giving them more reliable, constant throughput, compared to more erratic and less safe manual volume operations,” he concludes.