Sandvik automates mining operations with AutoMine System

Sandvik automates mining operations with AutoMine System

To most of us the word “automation” suggests images of robotics and futuristic technology. In a “real life” operating mine, automation is defined as a computerized tool that is used to improve mine performance which will result in significant benefits to the entire mining process.

Automation and industrial information technology is changing the way companies do business. For Sandvik this means that this technology can also be used on their equipment to improve safety and productivity in the underground mining environment.

Each customer’s goal is to recover product from their mine as safely, efficiently and profitably as possible. Automated mining solutions and associated software innovations are essential for optimizing these goals, whether it’s a small or large-scale underground mining operation.

Sandvik has been developing automation technology for the past 15 years, along with long-term R&D programs in collaboration with international mining companies. Sandvik was the first mining supplier in the world to introduce mine automation systems for underground hard rock mine production.

Sandvik AutoMine is an automated loading and hauling system for underground hard rock mining which has succeeded in transforming mining practices for the 21st century. AutoMine is a flexible modular system that can successfully be adapted to small scale operations, as well as massive block caving applications. Moreover, the system incorporates functions and applications that allow it to interface with other third party IT systems at the mine site.

One Step Beyond

Sandvik’s AutoMine system is a highly innovative automation system where operators, (who would normally drive a single heavy-duty machine underground) can now sit in the comfort and safety of an air-conditioned control room on surface, and simultaneously monitor the movements of a fleet of driverless loaders or trucks hundreds of meters below the surface.

Sandvik loaders or trucks navigate their way between the load and discharge points under the control of a supervisory system which is managing the traffic and monitoring the machines. AutoMine is equipped with a number of intelligent functions for example, if one of the machines strikes a large rock in the roadway, the system would then place a restriction on the speed in that area to ensure that machines following behind either slow down or stop at the obstacle, thereby reducing potential damage to the equipment.

Mine automation promises several benefits, mainly increased fleet utilization, improved working conditions and safety, increased production, reduced maintenance costs, as well as optimized tramming speeds and smoother equipment operation.

Increased fleet utilization ensures constant performance level enhancements and optimum use of the workforce. In other words, there are no breaks during shift changes, and increased productivity is achieved through a continuous process enabling integration of information on-site. This automated system provides “real-time” information to assist with the mine’s planning processes by measuring, controlling and reducing bottleneck areas, in addition providing supervisors and management on surface a complete “window” into the mining operation.

AutoMine’s greatest impact on improved production control has resulted in accurate execution of the production plan, production supervision, tracking of draw point status, and accurate collection of production data. This translates into significant financial and safety improvements.

AutoMine is a modular system that can be adapted to specific customer requirements: -

  • PCS – Production Control System, for planning, optimization of production execution & reconciliation of production inputs and outputs especially for block cave mines.
  • MCS – Mission Control System, supervisory system controlling and monitoring the autonomous operations including traffic management and provides the remote operator’s user interface.
  • MineLAN – Broad band, high speed, data/video communication system for connectivity to automated underground loaders and trucks and associated equipment.
  • Onboard automation systems – for machine control, monitoring, and navigation.
  • ACS – Access Control System, for isolating the autonomous operating area to ensure safety of personnel.

    Pekka Vauramo, President of Sandvik’s Underground Hard Rock Mining segment, conveys his comments regarding AutoMine.

    “There is still a lot to do in the field of developing mining processes and automation. The priority needs to be focused on disciplined operations with expanded service to customers by adapting new technologies and skilled personnel. This applies not only for automated operations; it also includes fleet and utilization management with manually operated equipment. A new series of loaders with new control systems, that are automation compatible, will be a major addition to our offering in the field of mine automation. And last but not least, Sandvik also have the right people and competencies in support of a proven process innovation and related product track record to date.”

    Automation Achievements

    AutoMine technology exists today in the production environment at the Pyhäsalmi base metal mine in Finland; the El Teniente copper mine in Chile and at Finsch, a DeBeers-owned diamond mine in South Africa. A system is also installed in Sandvik's Test Mine in Tampere, Finland, where it is used as a platform for developing and testing future system developments and for demonstration purposes.

    The April 2007 commissioning of two Sandvik TORO 40 trucks at Barrick/Williams mine, (50% owned by Barrick, and operated by Teck-Corona & Williams operating companies) in Marathon, Canada is the latest member of the AutoMine group. Truck haulage consists of two Sandvik TORO 40 trucks, loaded from chutes and dumping into a crusher.

    At Inmet Mining’s Pyhäsalmi mine in central Finland, two Sandvik TORO 11 automated LHDs are operated from two separate operator stations which are located in two mobile control stations (vans). The first project commissioning was completed in January 2005 with the second commissioned in June 2006. The AutoMine system here eliminates the need for the operator to get on and off the LHD on each cycle. The realized productivity gain is 25% over radio remote control. Pyhäsalmi mine is planning systematic expansion to all new production levels.

    A growing number of other mines globally are also showing interest in implementing the AutoMine system in 2007.

    Improved Utilization at Codelco

    “AutoMine system brought an increase of operating hours. This is also the 4th year without lost time accidents thanks to the operation of the AutoMine system. The discipline at work inside the mine has resulted in an improvement in the production”, Martín Pierola, Head of Pipa Norte Mine, speaks well of the AutoMine system.

    Codelco’s El Teniente copper mine in Chile has successfully been using the AutoMine system since August 2004. The copper giant invested in two AutoMine systems to exploit its Pipa Norte and Diablo Regimiento deposits more efficiently. The 10,000 tonnes/day system at the Pipa Norte operation incorporates three semi-autonomous Sandvik 0010C LHDs each with a nominal payload of 17.5 tonnes. The system for the bigger 28,000 tonnes per day Diablo Regimiento is in early stages of operation, with 3 LHDs being used in the first phase. The fleet size at Diablo Regimiento could potentially increase to 10 LHDs when full production stage is reached. Preparations have been extensive. To fully integrate the AutoMine system with the overall mining system, the machines need to operate in exclusion zones with strictly controlled access. At El Teniente, one remote operator, located in a central control room approx. 10 km outside the mine, supervises each team of three LHDs. In addition to a general supervisory role, the operator controls the bucket-filling process (which requires real-time decision making) by means of tele-remote control. With their buckets full and trimmed to prevent spillage on the roadways, the LHDs will then tram automatically to an underground crushing operation, dump the load and tram automatically to the next allocated draw point. As the LHD approaches the draw point, the system alerts the operator that the bucket requires refilling, and the LHD cycle is repeated. With El Teniente’s 24/7, three shift rotation, 4 tele-remote operators per three LHD team do the work of 16 conventional LHD operators – in total safety. Due to a higher level of technology, an increased number of skilled maintenance personnel are required. This cost is offset by a reduction in spare parts consumption, and longer tire life. Codelco is continuing to expand areas where the AutoMine system is applied.

    “The positive effects of AutoMine system on people and fleet utilization are substantial, in terms of safety and the better quality of life for operators, as well as greater productivity and continuity, and improved equipment exploitation. Multi-function has been developed in each one of the operators, allowing the operation optimization”, states Oscar Salinas, Automine System Operator.

    Finsch truck automation a world first

    Mike Brown, Operations Manager at Finsch Mine at the time of the interview (nowadays working at the headquarters in Johannesburg as Head, Strategic Business Development), comments, “the motivation behind the development and installation of a revolutionary ore transport system in the De Beers Finsch mine in the Northern Cape, South Africa, is aimed primarily at reducing capital equipment costs and increasing efficiency and productivity in underground operations.”

    Brown also stated that the system is not designed as a labor-saving method. In fact, the truck driver’s job has been upgraded to a new generation of skilled operator working in a clean-air environmentally controlled room on the surface.

    De Beers is a trailblazer in the implementation of automated ore transportation. Brown believes that the introduction of automated trucks at the Finsch mine Block 4 project is a world first in underground mining.

    Six TORO 50 trucks operate in a dedicated high-speed tramming loop on 63 level where seven manually operated TORO 007 LHDs load from draw points in the block cave and tip directly into the trucks at one of five tipping points. Draw point assignment, location and production tracking of the manually operated LHDs is also provided by the system. This is an important feature for managing draw control of the block cave. The goal is to automate the entire operation.

    Brown adds, “the system was not designed as a labor-saving exercise. The advantage of automation is that you achieve increased efficiencies. We also believe that maintenance costs on our trucks will be lower because they are controlled by a computer, eliminating human error and bad driving habits. Another major advantage is that there is no driver fatigue. The trucks can operate 24 hours a day if necessary, and they don’t get tired”, Brown adds with a smile.

    The introduction of automated trucking in the new Block 4 section of the mine was the first step towards automating the entire ore transportation system – from removing ore from the draw points to dumping it into a crusher before it is hoisted to the surface in a skip. The first phase was to automate the trucks; the next step is to automate the LHDs, which extract ore from the draw points and deposit it into the trucks.

    In conclusion, Brown states that “by mid-2007, we expect to be able to extend the automation programme to the main production area, where eight automated LHDs will operate.”

    The one-of-a-kind Finsch operation integrates the Ore Management Systems (that reconcile the daily draw orders) with the actual ore extracted from each draw point, which is fed back to the Cave Management System. The integration of Sandvik Mining and Construction’s Roxon Plate Feeder is also unique at Finsch mine.

    For more information on the Sandvik AutoMine system, please contact:
    Vesa Alatalo
    [email protected]
    Sandvik Mining and Construction Finland
    P.O. Box 100, 33311 Tampere, Finland
    Tel. +358-205-44 121

    Photos and captions:

    Photo 1: Pipa Norte control room Caption: “Safety contribution has been substantial. AutoMine system should adapt to the dynamic growth of the production area from safety point of view,” explains Martín Pierola, Head of Pipa Norte Mine.   

    Photo 2: Sandvik TORO truck and ACS Gate Caption: AutoMine is a flexible modular system that can successfully be adapted to small scale operations, as well as massive block caving applications. Sandvik is a high-technology engineering group with advanced products and world-leading positions in selected areas – tools for metalworking, machinery and tools for rock excavation, stainless steel, special alloys and resistance heating materials and process systems. The Group has 39,000 employees in 130 countries, with annual sales of approximately SEK 63,000 M.


    Sandvik Mining and Construction is a business area within the Sandvik Group and a world-leading manufacturer of drilling and excavation machinery, tools and service for the mining and construction industries. Annual sales amount to SEK 20,600 M, with about 10,600 employees.