Secret Sandvik Automine loader unveiled
Concept showcases the automated, electrified future of mining Metal Tech News – July 28, 2021
Last updated 7/12/2022 at 12:38pm
In the depths of its test mine and lab in Tampere, Finland, Sandvik has secretly been carrying out underground tests on a cabinless, electrified, and automated concept loader that showcases the Swedish company's vision for the future of mining equipment.
Clandestinely developed in a facility dubbed Area 52, this concept loader is equipped with Sandvik's Automine, an automation solution that allows the cutting-edge mining machine to navigate through the rough and changing conditions of underground mining tunnels – reading the environment and creating a 3D model of the underground passages. With this information, the robotic loader plans its own missions.
While the Automine concept navigates its own way through the underground labyrinth, the miner that would traditionally be jostled around the cabin as he drives the loader deep underground, monitors the machine from the comfort and safety of a control room that can be located hundreds of miles away.
"Automation, digitalization and electrification will form the future of mining," says Jarkko Ruokojärvi, director of automation global business development and marketing at Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions. "New technologies provide new opportunities to increase safety and productivity and make the operations more sustainable."
This secretly developed concept was not brought to the surface through corporate espionage or investigative journalism. Instead, Sandvik itself unveiled Automine Concept to provide a glimpse of the innovative company's vision of tomorrow's mine.
"With this vehicle we wanted to take automation a step further, disrupt the mindset of how things are conventionally done and show what we think the future will hold," says Ruokojärvi.
In a world where companies must dig deeper to supply the world's metals and the global community requires those metals to be supplied more sustainably, Ruokojärvi foresees ongoing development toward more technically advanced mining being both necessary and inevitable.
"The companies need to search for valuable minerals in locations that are more and more challenging and remote," he explains.
Generally speaking, these challenges, costs, and safety hazards increase as a mine descends further beneath Earth's surface.
"Removing people from hazardous environments is really one of the main drivers for automation," says Ruokojärvi. "Reducing the in-pit and underground mining workforce by moving people to control centers will increase health and safety and create new types of job opportunities, which should benefit local communities and make the operations more sustainable."
The electrification of mining equipment, too, is increasing the safety and sustainability of mines.
The most obvious benefit is reducing both surface and underground mines' carbon footprint by replacing the diesel engines that have traditionally powered mining equipment with electric motors, especially if renewable energy is used to charge the batteries powering those machines.
The environmental and safety benefits of automated and electrified mining are especially profound underground, where the lack of emissions means that less money and energy is invested into ventilation to keep the underground air fresh.
Sandvik says developments in the automotive industry have been valuable in the electrification and automation of mining equipment. The advances in sensor technology development for self-driving cars have led to new components becoming available for sensing the environment, for route planning, and for avoiding obstacles.
The Swedish equipment and technology company has put everything it has learned into its Automine Concept, which has been designed from the ground up for battery-powered autonomy.
By eliminating the cabin and other considerations for human operation, Sandvik has designed this electrified, autonomous loader with a larger payload capacity within a machine capable of traversing the same underground mine workings that were intended for human human-operated equipment.
"Focusing on machine design for only autonomous use allows for improved motion control and higher reliability," says Ruokojärvi. "The higher intelligence provided by the new technologies allows for increased operational flexibility, higher adaptivity and higher productivity, due to the machine's self-awareness and self-planning, as well as simpler preparations required by people."
Removing the human from the cabin also opens whole new possibilities for future mines, including smaller equipment that can mine narrower tunnels. This equates to less waste rock needing to be removed to follow narrow orebodies – unvaluable rock that must be transported, stored, and reclaimed.
Sandvik's concept loader is not for sale, nor is it likely that a machine exactly like it will reach commercial markets. This highly autonomous and electrified underground miner, however, showcases the company's vision for future robotic mining and provides a glimpse at the next-generation equipment coming out of the Swedish company in the next couple of years.
"It's very exciting that we can show that these technologies work in the toughest conditions and what is possible to achieve," says Ruokojärvi. "In our next steps it is necessary to evaluate how to incrementally commercialize these technologies to make sure they meet the needs of our customers."
AutoMine Concept will be among the cutting-edge technologies Sandvik will be showcasing at its 20,200-square-foot exhibit at MINExpo INTERNATIONAL 2021, to be held Sept. 13-15 in Las Vegas, Nevada.