Sandvik (CPH: SAND) delivered its first self-driving AutoMine loaders in Chile in 2004. Now, 14 years later, it’s launching the latest generation of the technology that has operated underground for more than 2 million hours without a single accident involving a human.
Sandvik’s most recent AutoMine loaders come with a suite of new and upgraded capabilities. Notably, the loaders can now fill their buckets automatically, meaning the entire process — loading, transporting and dumping — is fully automated. This generation also features a simpler set-up system and the ability to run underground trucks autonomously on the surface. The new system allows companies to seamlessly integrate loaders, trucks and rock breakers.
To show off the new technology, Sandvik let the loader pilot itself through a maze made entirely of glass.
“The current system has been upgraded many times since the beginning, and the system is now much more powerful in many ways,” says Sandvik vice-president of automation Riku Pulli. “The machines go faster, the level of autonomy is higher and the overall robustness is on a different level.”
The AutoMine system works like this: an operator located either remotely or inside the vehicle controls the loader the first time it enters an underground mine. As that person navigates the workings, Sandvik’s technology creates and stores a map of the mine.
In automation mode, the fleet of loaders can then retrace the path on the map automatically while an operator supervises from a control room above ground that could be located hundreds of kilometres from the mine site.
A site using AutoMine technology is guarded by an access control system that regulates who and what can enter the same area as the autonomous equipment. Operators can take direct control of the loaders remotely at any time if the need arises.
“The system ensures there are no unplanned interactions between autonomous equipment and people,” explains Pulli.
He says Sandvik’s technology has boosted safety and comfort at mines while creating new types of jobs where employees maintain, supervise and operate the vehicles. The company even has a client that has automated its entire Australian mine. The client retained all its workers by assigning them different jobs, such as operating multiple loaders simultaneously from the comfort of an office.
Sandvik offers diesel and electric-powered equipment, and some of its newest loaders run on batteries. The company is partnering with Goldcorp (TSX: G; NYSE: GG) to develop Canada’s first all-electric underground mine at Goldcorp’s Borden Lake gold project in Ontario. Goldcorp expects the project to begin commercial production in the second half of 2019.
Although Sandvik encountered some resistance to its automated technology initially, Pulli says the company now has demand for mining automation from almost every part of the world.
“Fifteen years ago, we saw quite a few mines who were afraid of new technologies,” says Pulli. “This was very understandable, since new solutions quite often also require new ways of working and overall changes in how operations are managed. However, the times have clearly changed. Everyone wants better productivity and safety.”
“There is a lot of interest regarding automation right now and we are investing heavily in new product development,” says Pulli.
Sandvik employs more than 40,000 people globally, including 2,600 researchers in 50 research and development centres.
— Visit https://www.home.sandvik/letscreate to learn more.