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Mine Automation: An Interview with Taina Heimonen

Taina Heimonen, Business Development Manager for Mine Automation at Sandvik Mining talks to AZoMining about Automated Mining Technology.  

As a high-technology engineering group, can you provide me with an overview of the history of Sandvik?

Sandvik was founded in 1862 by Göran Fredrik Göransson, who was first in the world to succeed in using the Bessemer method for steel production on an industrial scale. At an early stage, operations focused on high quality and added value, investments in R&D, close contact with customers, and exports. This is a strategy that has remained unchanged through the years.

Today Sandvik is a high-technology, engineering group with advanced products and world-leading positions within selected areas. Worldwide business activities are conducted through representation in more than 130 countries. In 2012 the Group had about 49,000 employees with annual sales of approximately 99,000 MSEK.

The Sandvik Group conducts operations in five business areas with responsibility for research and development (R&D), production and sales of their respective products.

Business Area Sandvik Mining is a leading global supplier of equipment and tools, service and technical solutions for the mining industry. In 2012 sales amounted to about 37,800 MSEK, with approximately 14,000 employees.

Can you describe in more detail the range of products and services that Sandvik offer within the mining sector?

The offering covers rock drilling, rock cutting, rock crushing, loading and hauling, materials handling and exploration. Every product is preceded by extensive R&D and backed with application expertise and a worldwide service network offering on-site service, training and round-the-clock support.

We have a tradition of localization and a conviction that there can be no substitute for direct service and direct contact with our customers.

Our service-oriented, global organization is well-developed and we have service technicians located strategically around the world, working for our customers.

Whilst on the subject of new products, Sandvik have recently introduced VIBROCONETM. What is the functional principle of this technology and how does it enable up to 30% energy savings in downstream processing?

The VibroconeTM compared to a conventional crusher delivers more than twice as fine products (less than half the size) and the work (energy) of making this job in the crushers (>50% energy efficiency) compared to ball milling (<5% Energy efficiency) saves generally between 15-30 % of energy in the grinding circuit (in general the grinding circuits consumes 40% of all energy in the mining industry).

In addition to the energy saving it is also notable that the crushing is "dry" compared to grinding that pollutes water.

How are you developing your automated mining technology and solutions to address environment, health and safety (EHS) and costs that are continuously having an impact on the processes involved in mining?  

Safety is our number one priority at Sandvik and it guides all our development activities. EHS is seamlessly integrated into our product development process. Right EHS solutions improve productivity or enable mining in such areas where without these solutions it would be technically and/or economically impossible.

Improved utilization and automated controls improve energy efficiency that lead both cost savings and decreased impact on the environment. The story of AutoMine Product family stems from the need of improved safety.

How does Sandvik increase its customers’ productivity throughout the various stages of the automated mining equipment life cycle?

The expected lifetime for automated mining equipment is longer than manually operated technology. Due to the steady and controlled usage of the equipment, the wear and tear is manageable and the cost effect can also be controlled.

Visibility of the mining operation and proactive maintenance guides the user to the corrective actions that prior damage will realize.  You can choose from simple Remote Monitoring to fully autonomous systems depending on your mine operation and requirements.

Even the simple remote monitoring gives valuable information on how the equipment is used and what is the utilization. Autonomous operations are continuous 24/7 operations where the operator is supervising the process and interacts when disturbances occurs. In this case, the fleet is managed by 1-2 operators who are located in the control room out of the production area.

Can you describe a case study relating to a Sandvik automated mining product that reflects this company’s biggest challenge to date?

The most common need is to remove people from hazardous area like underground production area. Some of the mines may have the risk of mud rush or unstable geological situations (i.e., rock falls) preventing manual operations in the area.

Autonomous operation is the answer. The fleet will operate autonomously underground and the supervisory system will provide user interface to the operator. The other example would be remote locations in the mine.

The operator does not need to work alone in remote area. In this case the safety is significantly improved as the operator is moved from the production area to the office. Also the utilization of the equipment is higher as no time is needed travelling to or from the production area.  

AutoMine Loading and Hauling are fleet automation products; AutoMine Lite (single loader system) and AutoMine Drilling also removes people from hazardous areas, but these are single machine solutions.

Each mine site has its unique challenges. How have Sandvik designed and developed its mining products to adapt to such challenges?

Mine and Sandvik preventatives participate session where the mining operation is analysed and required changes to the operation are discussed and optimized.

This enables both parties to evaluate the system and its integration to the mining operation prior to the actual commissioning phase.

However, throughout the project phase we will follow the development and integration to the mine operation and corrective actions will be started immediately when necessary.

Mining is a challenging process and will continue to pose a risk to the machines and workers involved. How does Sandvik’s mining technology face this issue to ensure the safety of workers and how does this company aim to improve this process?

As I mentioned safety is our priority and in all our actions we ensure a safe way of working. Our Research team constantly follows new technologies for improving safety. We also follow safety standards actively and our products are compliant with Safety standards like EN61508 and EN62061.

Our safety system has never failed within the 10 years, which means that none of our workers have been in accidents or incidents in the operations where our autonomous systems are used. AutoMine Loading, AutoMine Hauling and AutoMine Lite are all compliant with Safety Standards. (NOTE! AS61508 equals with EN61508 and AS62061 equals with EN62061.)

The mining industry is facing a number of key challenges, particularly the issue of bringing supply to market. Additional issues include decreasing the grade and disruption to production due to weather events. Can you discuss how your automated mining technology and services are facing these challenges in the mining industry to compete with the market?

Automation is the key enabler in low grade and challenging environment; whereas, mining procedures before the introduction of automation was not economically possible.

A continuous mining process with constant ore flow is the key for cost effective mining. The utilization of the mining equipment is maximized and the processing plant output is optimized to the most productive level.  AutoMine Process Management allows us to visualize what is happening and forms the base for decision making in real time.

Leading mining businesses are starting to integrate sustainability into the way they offer solutions to this industry. How is Sandvik incorporating sustainable development practices and what is the positive impact of this on this company and its industry?

We want to be at the forefront of developing technology and solutions, addressing the challenges that our customers are facing now and in the future.

The focus on environment, health and safety (EHS) and increasing costs are impacting every step of the mining process. One example is the newly introduced VibroconeTM crusher which is the next generation of crushing technology, combining the best of conventional crushing and grinding principles to produce an unprecedented amount of finely crushed product.

The innovative VibroconeTM crusher enables up to 30% energy savings in downstream processing.

Another example is the new generation of trucks Sandvik TH 500 – 600 series. With 63+ different safety features to protect the operator, maintenance staff and the truck itself, the TH551 and TH663 are probably the safest hoisting trucks ever made.

Sandvik’s AutoMine® product family delivers high-quality and reliable fleet automation for drilling, loading and hauling, single loader automation, block cave draw control and process/information management systems, which bring many benefits to the customers including:

  • Improved safety due to fewer people working in potentially hazardous areas.
  • Increased productivity due to real time process management and control.
  • Reduced maintenance costs due to smoother control of equipment.

Better utilization of the equipment also increases the energy efficiency.

Sandvik is a global company with subsidiaries in over 60 countries and representatives in more than 130 countries with varying laws and cultures. Wherever we operate, we respect the values and traditions of the local community.

We fulfill and also try to exceed existing environment requirements, and always strive to fully address any concerns regarding the impact of our activities. At the same time as we pursue a long-term strategy for profitable growth, we are also committed to conducting business in an ethical way.

Where do you see the most demand for Sandvik’s mining technology from a global perspective and how would you summarise the geographical future of supply and demand for Sandvik over the next decade?

We see demand with customers who focus on safety, productivity and peace of mind in their operation. This is almost regardless of where in the world we operate.

Geographically we still see Australia, Africa and Latin America as the largest markets as they are today with highest growth coming from Asia and countries of the Former Soviet Union.

In terms of supply for Sandvik Mining, it will continue to be supplies from the global market with an increasing share from Asia.

About Taina Heimonen

Taina Heimonen

Taina Heimonen is the Business Development Manager for Mine Automation at Sandvik Mining.

Prior to her role as Business Development Manager she was a Sales and Marketing Manager for Mine Automation. She has served as Global Product Line Manager for Automation and has spent more than 20 year in the world of automation.

Taina has degree in MSc Mechanical Engineering from Tampere Technical University. She began her career at Metso Automation in 1985 and joined Sandvik in 2008.

In her current role she is responsible for developing  Mine Automation business by internal and external competence building, strategic global marketing, and seeking new potential business opportunities.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited (T/A) AZoNetwork, the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and Conditions of use of this website.

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