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Sweden mines undergo 3D printing trial

Sandvik, Boliden partner to test printed metal parts for mines Metal Tech News - March 23, 2022

Swedish companies Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions AB and Boliden AB have forged a partnership to explore the potential of 3D manufacturing parts for the hardworking mining equipment at operations around the globe.

The additive manufacturing trial will involve a set of specifically redesigned components printed digitally at a Sandvik-managed facility in Italy, with the performance being monitored on machines in Boliden's underground mine worksites – first in Sweden, then in Ireland.

While conventional manufacturing provides little to no concerns for quality, the ongoing global supply chain concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the conflict between Russia and Ukraine have caused many to consider the possibilities of utilizing 3D printing as a means of manufacturing parts locally.

"Additive manufacturing shows a lot of potential, both in reducing carbon footprint within the supply chain, through reduced or eliminated need for transport and storage of parts and also shorter delivery times," said Ronne Hamerslag, head of supply management at Boliden. "This trial will give us a deeper understanding on how we can move forward and develop our business in a competitive way."

Although additive manufactured metal parts can theoretically perform as well – or even better – than traditionally manufactured goods, the first parts printed have just been put into operation at Boliden's Garpenberg mine. Hence, the trial is currently underway, and performance of the metal 3D printed parts is still being evaluated.

"Mining equipment can last up to 25 years – and needs to be supported throughout that time – even in the most remote locations," said Erik Lundén, president of parts and services at Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions. "We have many different SKUs (stock keeping units), and from an inventory point of view we can't tie up the capital that keeping all these parts in stock would entail. 3D printing parts locally offers us the prospect of not only getting parts to the customer much faster, but doing so far more sustainably."

While it is possible to print almost any part, it is likely that maintenance and repair operating parts will be the first to become 3D printed, such as the bushes, brackets, drill parts, etc., that customers need to have changed every 3,000 to 4,000 hours.

However, the printing of parts is purportedly one part of the puzzle that the trial with Boliden is trying to solve.

Questions that still need to be worked out include:

Who will print the parts – the original equipment manufacturer, the miner, or a third-party printing company?

What will the costs entail?

What about intellectual property rights, warranties, and liabilities?

So, the additive manufacturing partnership between Sandvik and Boliden is not just a rugged test to see if the parts hold up to the rough conditions of a mine operation, but also an inspection of the logistics that will be necessary to facilitate 3D printing as a more cost-effective, efficient, and convenient method of component acquisition at mining operations than having it flown or barged in from elsewhere.

"If you ask me, it's the most exciting thing that's happening in the supply chain," said Hamerslag. "Its efficiency, speed and climate friendliness mean that we have to investigate additive manufacturing closely. We are only at the proof-of-concept stage with Sandvik right now, but it's already clear that it could become a game-changer for the spare parts business in mining – for both miners and equipment manufacturers."


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