E&MJ asks 13 Scandinavian METS providers about their approach to innovation, both at home and away

By Carly Leonida, European Editor

Scandinavia is an area synonymous with innovation. Alongside geographies like Australia and Canada, the Nordics are a renowned hotbed for the research and development of new mining technologies.

The Fennoscandian Shield has provided both challenge and opportunity in this respect. For hundreds of years, it’s mineral bounty has enticed mining companies to explore and exploit its depths and they, in turn, have leaned heavily on local mining equipment, technology and service (METS) companies to provide enabling solutions. The high standard of performance and quality built into these products mean that both they and their creators are held in high regard globally.

And the wider innovation ecosystems that these companies are a part of within their home countries is helping to accelerate trends like digitalization, automation and sustainability within the mining industry.

Following a major trade event like MINExpo INTERNATIONAL, which was held in Las Vegas, U.S., in September, where hundreds of new solutions are presented to the market daily, it can be easy to forget that many hours, even years, of R&D have gone into realizing every new product or service. But, behind every great solution is a great company that has put much knowledge, time and investment into innovation. Let’s stop and appreciate some of the Scandi-based organizations and partnerships that are helping to better the way we mine.

FLSmidth: Sustainability Through Innovation

“Innovation is our way to create and increase value for customers, and the key to achieving our MissionZero sustainability ambition, so it is very much a core part of our business,” said Wayne Douglas, global head of mining R&D at FLSmidth.

“Our aim is to be the foremost provider of sustainable productivity for our customers and to deliver the ultimate value that we can to the mining industry — this is what we term ‘overall equipment efficiency at lowest environmental impact,’ or OEEE.”

To do this, FLSmidth combines its solutions and equipment with process knowhow, engineering, optimized wear parts, digitalization and services so that customers get a full partner throughout the mineral processing flowsheet.

The company can perform full flowsheet testing and optimization for both existing operations and greenfield projects. Its Minerals Testing and Research Center (MTRC) houses a world-class mineralogical characterization and metallurgical testing facility at its campus in Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S.

“Our R&D team works in parallel with the MTRC and our Global Mining team to solve customer’s challenges,” Douglas said. “We are able to develop and test new products from bench scale through to pilot scale. We have a full suite of testing to cover crushing (including a high-pressure grinding roll), grinding, flotation, pressure oxidation, roasting, leaching, impurity removal, thickening, filtration and tailings studies.

“To support an understanding of circuit behavior, we have an in-house analytical laboratory as well as a mineralogical facility, which houses five scanning electron microscopes (SEM), four X-ray diffraction (XRD) units, as well as analyses for clay and Near-Infrared (NIR) modeling capabilities. These capabilities combine to offer not only the ‘what’ but the ‘why’ in understanding and developing optimal processing solutions.”

FLSmidth is a member of various consortiums and communities focused on driving innovation and sustainability in mining. For example, the company is a member of AMIRA as well as the ARC Centre of Excellence for Enabling Eco-efficient beneficiation of Minerals, and EIT RawMaterials — the largest consortium in the raw materials sector worldwide, funded by the EU and its partners.

“Within the EIT RawMaterials consortium, FLSmidth is part of LiRef, a project with the purpose of validating technological, economic, legal and social viability of a novel electrochemical process, using hydroelectric power to directly convert spodumene concentrate into high-purity lithium hydroxide,” explained Douglas.

“Spodumene concentrate will be sourced primarily from European producers, thereby fostering the development of a sustainable European value chain. This will enable the setup of a European refinery for the future, supporting the growing need for battery solutions.”

As part of this, FLSmidth is currently leading the upscaling of the REFLUX Flotation Cell (RFC), which will enable a 30% reduction in CAPEX and a 20% reduction in OPEX compared to existing flotation technologies. It will also enable higher throughputs, a broader particle size distribution and recovery of finer particles.

“This effort is funded by EIT RawMaterials and carried out in collaboration with various mining companies (including LKAB and KGHM), academia (Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf in Germany and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology) and the IVL Swedish Environmental Research lnstitute,” Douglas said. “It will further validate the benefits of RFC technology on existing operations, as well as identifying further optimization opportunities.”

New Solutions Toward MissionZero

In February, FLSmidth launched the Knelson GX Concentrating Cone. Based on proven Knelson Gravity Concentrator technology, the GX offers semicontinuous gravity separation with recovery enhancements thanks to better water distribution within each ring. The new design also significantly increases the active recovery surface area.

FLSmidth described the result as “a step change in overall coarse and fine gold recovery.” Test data has shown that gold recovery in all size fractions improved significantly with the GX Cone.

In March, the AFP2525 Automatic Filter Press made its debut. This allows miners to recycle and reuse a significant amount of water in their operations, reducing their freshwater intake and cutting costs for the mine site. By employing a filter press to remove water from tailings, the AFP can eliminate the need for wet tailings dams, while the reuse of process water minimizes the environmental risks associated with mining, cuts complexity and helps miners attain a social license to operate.

FLSmidth said that, with the AFP2525 Automatic Filter Press, miners can expect an average of 93% availability and up to 95% recovery of process water.

The TSUV Gyratory Crusher also came to the market in November 2020. The top-service (TS) design prioritizes safety, easy maintenance and efficient crushing performance. Unlike other gyratory crushers, which require workers to get in underneath the crusher to perform high-risk maintenance, the TS range allows service and maintenance to be carried out from above, increasing speed, safety and simplicity. The TSUV Gyratory Crusher is also digitally enabled and can be connected to FLSmidth’s digital ecosystem for greater control and availability.

“Going forward, the emphasis is always to develop and deliver offerings that will ensure maximum productivity for our customers with minimized environmental impact,” Douglas said. “Our novel RFC technologies will have a big impact on MissionZero. Another big focus is on premium wear parts for key areas of the circuit.”

Doofor Boosts Drill Versatility and Reliability

Doofor’s new XS-series of rock drills has been specifically designed for use in underground operations. These are equipped with multipurpose shank connections that are useful in tight spaces like narrow-vein tunnels and in feed-beam structures. The series features a compact design, and maintenance is quick and easy. Doofor’s high-frequency technology in both the DF530XS and D430XS keeps drilling at the highest level.

Bosch Rexroth owns and operates one of the largest hydraulic laboratories in the world at its factory in Mellansel, Sweden. (Photo: Bosch Rexroth)

Project manager and CIS sales specialist, Daniil Victorian, spoke about Doofor’s approach to innovation.

“Innovation has always been the heart of our business,” he said. “Each decision that we make stems from the dedication to bring the best and most technologically advanced products to the mining and construction industries.

“Our engineering department consists of a team of experts who offer consultancy to our customers, maintenance personnel, and manufacturing staff on a daily basis. We are constantly hiring new talent, as well as working with universities and polytechnic schools across Finland.”

At its premises in Nokia, Finland, Doofor has a special area dedicated to R&D.

“There we have a test unit, test drilling area and other R&D facilities,” Victorian said. “We believe in close collaboration with our partners and clients when working on groundbreaking solutions and upgrades. In practice, this means that our R&D inputs are largely based on the needs of end-users and OEMs. As a result, our R&D outputs often include improvements designed to enhance the overall efficacy and resourcefulness of a drill rig unit by focusing on the functions that matter.”

When quizzed about current R&D focuses, Victorian was coy, but he did mention that Doofor has some ongoing product development projects in partnership with Tampere University.

“Doofor is focusing on bringing more versatile products to the market, which will be compatible with a range of platforms, corresponding to physical dimensions, as well as technical specifications,” he said. “We believe that rock drills should be more ‘plug and play’ during installation, operation and maintenance. By listening to stakeholders and continuing to stack field experience, Doofor will maintain its threefold innovative focus, consisting of making the rock drill a more accessible, more reliable, and a more efficient product.”

Challenges associated with delivery times and lead times are evident in manufacturing at the moment, but Victorian said Doofor has been able to address these and remain flexible through listening carefully to the needs of its customers.

Normet’s Virtual Innovation Event

“We wanted to have this event at the same time as MINExpo 2021, as we know that many people were unable to go this year. We wanted to connect with our customers globally and provide a platform to discuss with our process and product experts,” the company said in a press release announcing the event.

The presentations were broadcast from locations in Finland, including the Pyhäsalmi mine and Normet’s main factory in Iisalmi. The company revealed its upcoming XL equipment offering, which will soon be officially launched. The XL range is based on two different platforms: HD is a diesel-powered platform with hydrodynamic transmission, and the ED platform is equipped with a Stage V diesel engine and electrodynamic powerline; ED is a brand-new technology for the mining industry.

Devico’s DeviCloud cloud-based survey data management system is launched in May. (Photo: Devico)

“We wanted to give the audience a glance of what we are working on in our R&D center in Iisalmi, where we are constantly developing new equipment and technologies to improve the safety and productivity of our customers’ underground operations,” said Kari Hämäläinen, senior vice president of Normet’s Equipment Business Line.

Normet also showcased the compact Variomec XS platform, which was launched in May, and new L-series platform, which was developed based on customer feedback.

The Variomec XS carrier is designed to minimize total cost of vehicle ownership and provide a best-in-class safety and payload capacity (4 tons). The carrier fits into a 3.5-m x 3.5-m envelope and can be utilized for multiple equipment applications. The first three models include the Variomec XS 115 Personnel carrier, the Variomec XS 040 Material carrier, and the Variomec XS 035 Crew mine service vehicle.

Normet also gave an update on its SmartDrive field references, offering and future plans, followed by a customer testimonial from Australian contractor, Barminco, which is trialing a SmartDrive battery-electric explosives charger, the Charmec MC 605 VE SD.

The second day featured a presentation from Normet’s long-term collaborator, Hindustan Zinc Ltd. (HZL). In late July, the teams signed a memorandum of understanding to introduce SmartDrive-based modular battery-electric utility vehicles at HZL’s operations in India.

HZL will be the first mining company in India to deploy battery-electric utility vehicles in its underground mines. The aim is to help the company meet its Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) reduction in CO2 emissions by 2025, along with zero noise pollution and zero harm to the environment.

In June, Normet also announced some key updates to its sprayed concrete layer thickness control system, SmartScan, which was originally introduced in 2019. SmartScan delivers accurate and reliable sprayed concrete layer thickness information for all underground applications, enabling quick and easy reporting for management purposes. The system is now capable of producing georeferenced point clouds and layer thickness maps with the introduction of SmartScan Align.

Hägglunds Partnerships Drive Success

For both Hägglunds and its parent company, Bosch Rexroth, innovation has a strong link to customer demand.

“To put customers first is our top priority,” said Eric Åström, business manager for mining and materials mandling. “Our customers expect that once they install a Hägglunds drive system, they will get more than just a drive system — they expect a partnership. The basis of these partnerships are decades of in-field usage, understanding the hurdles customers have and improving our offering. We recognize that our customers need solutions that are engineered to last beyond what is requested.”

Hägglunds owns and operates one of the largest hydraulic laboratories in the world at its factory in Mellansel, Sweden. Its purpose is to ensure consistent high quality of the company’s products.

Åström explained: “It’s of utmost importance that we test all our hydraulic motors, accessories and complete drive systems at an early stage to ensure the robustness required by the mining and materials handling markets. The hydraulic laboratory covers 1,500 m2 and has a total installed hydraulic power capacity of 5.5 megawatts in its 11 test cells.

“Being an operation like Hägglunds, we possess a high degree of technical and application expertise within the company. Besides that, we engage with external experts worldwide if and when needed.”

The impacts of COVID-19 combined with the fact that mining operations are often located in remote geographies mean that Hägglunds is seeing rising demand for reliable drive systems that offer a long and trouble-free service life.

“The need to increase the digitalization interface as well as autonomous operation in conjunction with neighboring machines are also important factors and considerations,” Åström said.

“Worldwide, investment in greenfield mines is falling, therefore mining clients are working to optimize production from their existing operations. What we see is a greater interest in higher power systems and more red-line applications e.g., applications where there is no redundancy between machines, only a strong reliance on the given drive system. With a Hägglunds drive system, customers can optimize their productivity by fine tuning the speed and torque to get the most out of their machines.”

Hägglunds has recently updated its portfolio of smaller hydraulic motors. The new Atom motor offers an extremely high torque to weight ratio.

“We are also supporting OEM’s worldwide with their own offerings through providing new and innovative solutions to the market,” Åström said. “For example, we can help improve the productivity of open-pit mining areas through quicker loading times for trucks and safer operation.”

Going forward, Hägglunds will continue to focus on helping customers enhance their productivity, both through its existing machines and developments for upgrading, digitalization and autonomy.

Epiroc: From MINExpo to NEXGEN SIMS

Epiroc has major R&D facilities in Sweden, the U.S., India, China and Germany, as well as advanced testing capabilities for automation and digitalization technologies in countries like Australia, South Africa, Canada and Chile.

“At these facilities, we cooperate closely with customers to understand their needs as much as possible,” Ann-Sofie Andersson, global manager of branding and communication, said. “Innovation is naturally about creating new and better products, services and solutions for customers, but it’s also about how we can tackle other things better. For example, logistics — how can we deliver our products and services to customers faster to better meet their needs? We are convinced that there is always a better way.”

In May, Epiroc announced that, together with several mining companies, equipment and system manufacturers and universities, it was embarking upon a new three-year, EU-funded project called NEXGEN SIMS. This is the successor to the H2020 SIMS project (see “2020: a Show of Scandinavian Strength,” E&MJ, October 2020) and will foster the development of technologies, methods and processes that enable a more sustainable and efficient carbon-neutral mining operation.

A key objective of the project is to develop autonomous carbon-neutral mining processes. This includes the use of battery-electric mining equipment, full utilization of 5G for optimal connectivity and positioning, autonomous material handling, AI-powered traffic and fleet control, and collaboration among machines. Epiroc machines that will play a role include the Scooptram ST14 battery loader and the Minetruck MT42 battery hauler, among others.

“Automation, digitalization and electrification are three big technology areas that are growing quickly in mining, and where our mining customers increasingly want our support,” Andersson explained. “Mining companies are seeing the significant benefits that come with these technologies, including better safety and work environments for operators, lower emissions, increased productivity and lower costs.

“Going forward, we are working to further enhance our solutions in these areas. For instance, we are working on making more of our products, including bigger trucks and loaders, available as battery-electric versions.”

Epiroc launched a suite of new products and updates at MINExpo in September, including the Pit Viper 291. This rig is designed to tackle larger diameter drilling in soft to medium ground conditions in both rotary and DTH drilling. The company has also added an Automatic Bit Changer (ABC) for the Pit Viper rig series. This provides complete drill bit changes at the touch of a button.

The new-generation SmartROC D65 XLF also made its debut. The rig is available in three feed beam sizes to carry 5-, 6- or 8-meter (m) pipes, and has the capacity to drill to a depth of 56 m. It comes loaded with smart features such as automated drilling and rod handling, and also a new Auto Feed Fold feature.

On the battery electric front, the new Boomer M20 is the world’s first face drill rig with internal hydraulics. The M20 comes with a battery-electric driveline option, which brings additional savings on health, maintenance, ventilation and cooling.

Avatel, a purpose-built machine equipped with an underground development charging system and Boomer M2 carrier, was also introduced. This leverages Orica’s WebGen wireless initiating system to eliminate the need for traditional tie-ins and manual connections in the charging cycle. Avatel allows a single operator to complete the entire charging cycle from the safety of an enclosed ROPS and FOPS certified cabin.

Epiroc’s next-generation rock reinforcement rig is now available in two versions — Boltec M10 and E10 (the latter was on show at MINExpo). Designed for increased productivity and quality bolt installation, the rigs feature a new operator control panel, reduced noise levels, better visibility, and improved operator ergonomics.

The new pumpable resin solution for Boltec rigs has recently proven its worth at Vale’s Voisey’s Bay nickel-copper-cobalt mine in Canada. When Vale started development to transition the mine from open-pit to underground operation, operators found the bolting phase of the drill-blast cycle had become a bottleneck.

Overall cycle times were slower than expected, and the production timeline and worker safety were under threat. The company was already using Epiroc’s Boltec M drill rig for bolting and, in early 2020, decided to try a different resin and delivery system in the fractured rock. According to Epiroc, once the rock reinforcement rigs had been altered to apply the new solution, the improvement was almost instant.

The mine has since seen a significant reduction in cycle times, and the self-anchoring bolts used with the system, though more expensive than traditional bolts, can be installed faster and with better quality results, so overall costs are lower. The quality of the installation is also expected to reduce the need for reinforcement rehabilitation over the 15-year life of mine.

JLT Delivers Cutting-edge Rugged Computing

Swedish firm, JLT Mobile Computers pioneered the rugged computing market in the late 1990s, and the company continues to be driven by the same innovative spirit more than 25 years later.

“This applies across our operations, from product design, engineering and manufacturing to business development, sales and marketing,” said Anette Malmström, business manager for JLT’s Mining Segment. “With a dedicated R&D department, in-house test center and full control over manufacturing, we are in a strong position to develop innovative solutions to address or even preempt our customers’ evolving needs.”

Malmström explained that many of JLT’s customers, particularly those in mining, work in extremely challenging environments. Their specific needs for ultra-rugged IT equipment with lasting reliability are central to the company’s innovation efforts.

“This means that stability and security underpin all our technology innovations, having priority over what the consumer market would call ‘leading edge,’” she said. “A key example is our virtually unbreakable PowerTouch screen technology, which removes one of the most common reasons for computer failure in harsh environments. Paired with a highly responsive display that allows use with gloves, and screen dimming functions for optimum readability in low-lighting conditions, it offers a consumer-grade experience to industrial users.”

JLT has also built micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) and other sensor technology such as an accelerometer, gyro, ambient light and temperature sensors, into its latest generation of rugged vehicle-mount computers for the logistics industry — the popular JLT6012 series.

“This allows us to collect, analyze and present data to increase efficiency and productivity for customers in this sector, and we are working on bringing these benefits to the mining environment, too,” added Malmström.

To make this possible, software development is needed, which is why JLT founded JLT Software Solutions — a wholly-owned subsidiary based in Växjö, Sweden — in early 2021. This is dedicated entirely to software development, and JLT plans to build a complementary business to create innovative software solutions and services over the next few years.

In the first half of 2020, when business slowed as a result of COVID-19, JLT decided to use the opportunity to expand its existing test facilities and, after considerable investment, opened its new JLT Test Center in May this year.

“We now have open access to state-of-the-art test equipment to simulate vibration and shock as well as temperature changes in wet and dry conditions,” Malmström explained. “This equipment makes it possible for us to mimic the operating environments of different industries in different parts of the world. It allows us to test out new product ideas, modify and retest until we are absolutely certain that they will pass the necessary regulatory tests for conformity to CE and FCC standards and can withstand the most demanding operating environments.”

To comply with the various regulatory conformance test requirements, JLT cooperates with authorized third-party testing labs. Most of the work is done by NEMKO, a Norwegian company that offers world-class testing, inspection and international certification services, and has special experience in the markets JLT serves.

“We also engage with the Electronics Centre at nearby Halmstad University, which acts as an innovation hub for regional collaboration and has facilities for EMC/EMI testing that we use on occasion,” Malmström said. “In the future, we envision deepening our collaboration by working more directly with students, for instance engaging them in real test challenges where we need help with deep studies into more advanced interpretations and calculations around our test graphs, or similar.”

JLT is also able to leverage an extensive partner network to help with specialist R&D challenges. For instance, antenna technology.

“Antennas are a crucial point for reliable data communication in harsh environments,” explained Malmström. “Here, we looked for the best experts in the country, a company called WSI, to help us design antennas that are specially adjusted to work with our rugged housing designs to ensure the best possible connectivity.”

In 2020, JLT launched the VERSO 10 computer. The company claims this is the smallest and highest-performing fixed-mount vehicle computer for mining and other demanding industries. The ultra-compact VERSO 10 computer comes with a standard (400NIT) or high-bright (800NIT) virtually unbreakable 10-in. LED display with JLT PowerTouch technology. Impervious to dust and highly resistant to water, it is designed for use in extremely cold and hot temperatures, offers a wide 9-36 VDC power input, and has an internal battery to manage shutdown in case of unexpected power interruptions.

“Following the launch of our new JLT Software Solutions venture earlier this year, our focus, in addition to continuous development of our computer products, is to develop software that will enable our customers to use our hardware more effectively and help them optimize their daily operations,” Malmström said. “Another important task will be to update our existing product portfolio, developing new devices with integrated sensor technology to allow more customers to leverage these additional ‘soft’ values.”

Sandvik Doubles Down on Digitalization and Electrification

With more than 6,000 patents and a steady stream of R&D activities, Sandvik has made the prestigious Thomson Reuters Top 100 Global Innovators list on multiple occasions. Last year, it invested 3.4 billion Swedish kronor (US$393 million) into R&D, with activities spread across its 60-plus R&D competence cen-
ters globally.

“Sandvik is a technology company and innovation is part of our core business,” Jani Vilenius, director for technology development and services at Sandvik, said.

Central to Sandvik’s R&D efforts in mining, is the company’s test mine in Tampere, Finland. The facility provides a testbed for research and technology development, customer and employee training, rapid prototyping, and product quality assurance and validation.

JLT opens its new Test Center in Sweden in May. (Photo: JLT Mobile Computers)

Annukka Kokkonen, test mine manager, spoke about its significance. “We encourage employees to think outside the box and to scout new technologies from all fields to find innovative solutions to solve customer challenges, and to find better ways to bring value to the customer’s process,” she explained.

“Having the test mine underneath our production factory enables fast technology verification. There we can build fully functional technology demonstrations and are able to test, iterate and develop those in-house in a realistic environment. A good example of this work is the AutoMine concept loader [more on this later], which was built in just one year.”

The test mine was established in 1972, when the company, then known as Tamrock, moved to the location from Tampere city center. The lot was chosen because it provides good rock conditions. Today, Sandvik has more than 5-kilometers (km) of tunnels at two main levels and a digital operations center with an automation test area. All of Sandvik’s underground drill rigs are tested in real mine conditions before customer delivery.

“As a customer and technology focused company, we invest continuously in R&D,” Vilenius said. “We can’t achieve technological shifts alone, we need good partners who can support our strategy and development, so we are constantly working with external partners, universities, technology institutes, and building valuable ecosystems.”

During 2020-2021, Sandvik brought various new products to market — the company provided 19 press releases as reference for this article. One of those was the AutoMine Concept vehicle, which was unveiled at MINExpo. This is the first fully autonomous battery-electric vehicle (BEV) for underground mining and is equipped with sensing capabilities and artificial intelligence to help the cabinless machine perceive its surroundings and environment in 3D and react in real time, enabling it to adapt and plan its own route and to find the most suitable paths even in continuously changing environments.

The new Sandvik TH550B 50-metric-ton (mt), battery-electric truck was also unveiled in September, along with a 16-liter Stage V engine option for Sandvik’s largest truck, the Toro TH663i. The Toro LH514BE is Sandvik’s newest battery-assisted loader. This is an AutoMine compatible cable-electric loader, which combines cutting-edge battery technology.

In underground drilling, the DS412iE — Sandvik’s first battery-powered rock bolter — rounds out its full zero-emissions offering for underground drilling applications. The DT923i jumbo for high power face drilling in tunnel and cavern excavations came to the market in June, and Sandvik said that, together with the new RD5 series high-frequency rock drills and tools, it delivers “uncompromised accuracy and productivity.” For surface applications, Sandvik added reverse circulation sampling capability to the Leopard DI650i drill rig. The company is also enabling fully autonomous fleet operation of multiple DI650i rigs from a remote-control room with the launch of AutoMine Surface Drilling AutoCycle.

Nokia: Connecting The Mining Industry

Finnish communications firm Nokia has invested €129 billion in R&D over the past two decades. Investment in industrial-grade networking technology has resulted in significant growth of its enterprise business, which includes critical connectivity solutions for the mining industry.

“Our purpose at Nokia is to create technology that helps the world act together, and we see the long-term value of R&D to achieve this goal,” explained Jaime Laguna, head of Nokia’s Mining and Oil & Gas business. “We have a global network of R&D centers, each with individual technology and competence specialties. Our R&D efforts are led by our business groups and inspired by Nokia Bell Labs, our crown jewel of innovation, research and development.”

Often referred to as “The Idea Factory,” Nokia Bell Labs has invented many of the foundational technologies that underpin modern information and communications networks. The Bell Labs innovation engine accelerates technology development for Nokia’s core communication service provider and enterprise businesses, while also researching fundamental new technologies.

For mining-specific R&D, Nokia collaborates with several OEMs including Komatsu, Caterpillar and Sandvik. Working closely with mining partners enables the company to access deeper expertise within the sector and to better understand use-cases when developing vertical-specific communication technology solutions.

Both core networks and industrial equipment are a focus for R&D to ensure hardware can withstand demanding mine environments. Challenges range from operating in confined underground areas, dealing with dust and moisture, through to seismicity from explosions — all of which critical networks and devices must be able to withstand.

Nokia has enterprise-specific testing labs where business groups perform end-to-end testing to ensure solutions are tailored to these needs.

“Having this infrastructure in place enables us to speed up deployments and mitigate risks in customer projects,” Laguna said. “Mining customers can test run connected digital mining solutions in these lab environments, evaluating them against stringent requirements for autonomous haulage and teleremote operations.

“For instance, Nokia’s LTE/4.9G wireless networks provide testing facilities with true mobile coverage and support a larger number of active connections per access point. LTE/4.9G is enabling NORCAT’s mining ecosystem partners to develop, test and demonstrate emerging technologies at its underground R&D center in Canada.”

While most digital mining solutions can run on 4.9G, which is the latest and most performant evolution of LTE/4G, including applications for asset monitoring, autonomous haulage systems and teleremote operations, many of Nokia’s customers have already begun testing and trialing 5G connectivity and applications in their mines.

In Chile, Codelco is running a 5G pilot within its Radomiro Tomic Division. HD cameras transmit real-time video from the mine’s crushing area to its Integrated Operations Center in Santiago, 1,500 km away. The Nokia 5G network will increase the facility’s capacity tenfold to capture more data and improve big data applications.

In Brazil, Vale has developed a 5G laboratory in partnership with Nokia and research institute, IPT, to develop and test potential future use cases. The company still operates Wi-Fi and WiMax networks in some of its Brazilian mines and will migrate part of these networks to 4.9G/LTE and then to 5G. This will help Vale implement autonomous drill rigs and haulage trucks, real-time security for tailings dams, train-to-ground control and industrial IoT applications. Initial rollout is at its Brucutu and Carajás sites, and the company plans to migrate 13 other mines by 2023.

Nornickel and Nokia recently rolled out and tested a private wireless network in an underground mine in Russia. The installed solution includes Nokia 4.9G/LTE and 5G mobile core, Flexi Zone Micro cells, Nokia AirScale 5G base stations, plus a mission-critical group communications application. For Nornickel, the goal is to make its Skalisty complex fully autonomous by 2025.

Nokia’s collaboration with external institutions, partners and governments is also key to developing connectivity solutions for specific use-cases. To this end, Nokia is bringing its network expertise to Next Generation Mining in Finland, a joint R&D project with VTT and Sandvik. Encouraging innovation in industrial 5G private networks, edge computing and AI, Next Generation Mining is facilitating safer and more sustainable underground mining through the use of autonomous and connected machinery.

Sleipner’s New DB Series

Sleipner Finland has based its transport concept for tracked mining equipment around innovations that make miner’s day-to-day activities simpler and easier. The company has a few new solutions in the pipeline, which will be released after patenting is complete.

Teijo Höylä, product manager at Sleipner, said, “One of Sleipner’s core competencies is agile in-house R&D. We can move quickly according to market needs. We want to keep core R&D and product management in-house and we are working closely with our network partners. Many of these have specialized knowledge in areas like simulation or finite element method (FEM) analysis for product R&D.”


Sleipner has recently added new models to its DB-series of lowbed trailers for open-pit applications. (Photo: Sleipner)

Earlier this year, Sleipner added new models to its DB-series of 80- to 130-mt payload lowbed trailers for open-pit applications. These can carry dozers, drills, excavators and other tracked equipment.

The DB120 recently proved its worth at a platinum mine in South Africa. To reduce its maintenance budget, the mine was planning to cut its dozer fleet from 13 to nine units. However, after using the Sleipner DB120 for only six months, the mine managed to reduce its maintenance budget for all 13 units to below that expected for nine.

Höylä said simulator-based operator training will be a hot topic for Sleipner in the future.

“Safety is important to our mining customers, and simulator-based operator training for the Sleipner E-series will improve user skills and safety,” he said. “Sleipner simulator training can be supervised remotely to avoid unnecessary travel to remote locations.”

Stockholm Precision Tools Invests in R&D

SPT’s borehole surveying tools assist in design of accurate geological models for the mining industry.

“All our tools contain state-of-the-art technologies, designed specifically with the purpose of making them the most accurate, robust, reliable and user-friendly tools in the industry,” SPT CEO Orlando Ramirez Osuna said.

The company dedicates 29% of its revenue to R&D, and its team comprises professionals with extensive knowledge in electronics and mechatronics.

“Keeping up with the most powerful technological developments has allowed us to implement new hardware, software, and mathematical solutions to continuously improve the precision, speed, and operability of our equipment, thus maintaining the reputation for proven reliability of our tool systems,” Ramirez Osuna added.

“We have an 850-m2 test laboratory with modern calibration equipment to test our technology in climatic and vibration chambers for stress tests, and calibration facilities and pressure benches to simulate hydrostatic pressures. All are audited and in accordance with international standards. In addition, we also have our own dedicated test borehole to run the new tools in the toughest of scenarios.”

SPT keeps its manufacturing process in-house and engages with external research groups and resources when required to maintain project schedules.

The company has recently launched a new version of its Gyrologic survey tool. SPT said the portable, lightweight design makes it perfect for small diameter boreholes.

“Customers such as Backefalk Konsult AB and Jaguar Mining have been successfully using this equipment,” Ramirez Osuna said. “We are also developing a Gyro while Drilling (GWD) system to improve drilling efficiency and borehole positioning. Last year, we introduced GyroCore, a GWD that provides borehole positional and core orientation data, both in a single measurement.”

The SPT SmartCloud provides a complete environment for synchronization, survey data processing and analysis. This platform enables quality control of both the survey tools and the data they deliver, minimizing human intervention, and therefore reducing potential for unplanned events while ensuring data quality.

Devico Takes Solutions to the Cloud

Since its establishment in 1988, Devico’s mission has been a world leader within directional core drilling, borehole surveying and software.

“With such a vision, it goes without saying that innovation must be always at the fore,” said John Flåm, Devico’s R&D manager. “We continuously refine and improve existing products, and develop new ones within directional drilling, borehole surveying and associated software.”

At Devico, innovation and R&D rest on three pillars: first, a dedicated R&D group benefiting from world-class calibration facilities, a dedicated drill rig for testing purposes, and a framework for simulations, which allows the group to evaluate the effect of algorithmic improvements; second, mobile field technicians who possess huge amounts of experience and technical knowledge; and, third, a trusted global agent network, many of whom play an active role in innovation projects.

Flåm expanded: “We also have some external initiatives. For example, our head office is in Trondheim, which is considered the technical hub of Norway. We are currently affiliated with an industry initiative on cloud solutions where several local companies have identified that they are all working with related technologies, but without being direct competitors. By joining forces and forming clusters, each company can benefit and enhance their own products and solutions.”

Having a wide span of products and services a diverse R&D group is of high importance. In a mineral exploration program, a client may use Devico’s software to plan the drill hole, survey tools to find its current position and directional drilling tools to steer it to target. For the solutions to be as accurate and efficient as can be, mechanics, electronics, algorithms and software must work seamlessly together.

Lately, the company has invested heavily in building an ecosystem surrounding its instrumentation. A key element is DeviCloud, a cloud-based survey data management system. With DeviCloud, on-site processing, transfer and management of borehole survey data are streamlined to connect drill crews with geologists, engineers and project managers through a fast, secure and uncomplicated platform with two-way communication.

“After an extensive period of beta testing dating back to early 2020 involving more than 300 sites, 12,000 drill holes and 55,000 surveys, we officially launched DeviCloud in May this year,” Flåm said. “It has been well received, and the numbers have more than doubled since the launch, which is very satisfying to see.”

Volvo Penta Looks to Electromobility

The Volvo Group has long been committed to driving innovation and sustainable solutions across its business sectors. It has one of the most ambitious Science Based Target initiatives (SBTi) in the industry and its roadmap is in line with the Paris agreement. One way it is set to achieve these goals is through innovation and close collaboration. As an example, the group recently formed CampX — an innovation arena for technology and business transformation.

Anders Konradsson, vice president of global sales, industrial power solutions, at Volvo Penta, said: “We work closely with our customers so that, rather than predicting their needs, we understand how their operations work and what they need and expect now and in the future. In this way, we can develop emerging solutions that are thoroughly tried and tested in real-life mining settings.”

Volvo Penta also works with vehicle manufacturers to refine its mining engines even further for optimal performance. One recent example is with Normet Group. The companies worked together for two years to upgrade Normet’s L-Series platform with Volvo Penta Stage V power solutions. The companies ran extensive field tests to ensure the engine solution and equipment worked seamlessly to maintain productivity and reliability in the most challenging underground conditions.

Additionally Volvo Penta, together with OEMs, advises customers on how to use their mining engines in the most energy-efficient way.

Konradsson explained: “The positive effects of smarter, safer driver behavior cannot be overestimated and is an area where differing degrees of automation could play an increasingly significant role in the future. Artificial intelligence allows for new, even more, efficient production systems; yet another area where close collaboration between the mining engine manufacturer and the OEM will be important.

“All our mining customers are looking for reliable, robust, and long service interval engines that meet local emission legislations, such as Stage V, Tier 4f, and mining-specific ventilation standards such as CANMET and MSHA. They want robust engines designed to withstand the corrosive and humid environments that they work in. The customers who work at high altitudes are also wanting engine governor settings. While new mining certificates in Australia are calling for fire-resistant fuel hoses. What most of our mining customers have in common is an interest in tailor-made aftermarket services.”

Electromobility is another important area. Volvo Penta already has several customer projects in other subsegments — such as TICO’s fully electric terminal tractors and Rosenbauer’s fully electric fire truck.

“Looking to the future, electromobility will play an important role for Volvo Penta’s mining customers,” Konradsson added.

Volvo Penta recently upgraded its D16 engines to meet Stage V and Tier 4f emissions legislation. These are available with mining-specific options such as a CANMET/MSHA ventilation certificate, a heavy-duty braided engine wiring harness, and fire-resistant fuel hoses are coming soon as an extra option. Volvo Penta engines now have 1,000-hour oil change intervals to help reduce downtime.

The new Brokk Pedestal Boom at an LKAB mine in Sweden. (Photo: Brokk)

Brokk’s Pedestal Boom Puts Safety First

On September 19, Brokk introduced a new range of compact, stationary breaker booms for the mining and aggregates industries.

The Pedestal Boom is based on the proven arm system and power pack of Brokk’s demolition robots. The machine body is then mounted on a pedestal, rather than on tracks. This allows it to be installed in a stationary position next to mobile crushers, jaw crushers, gyratory crushers and grizzlies, or any application where primary breaking is needed.

Brokk described the range as having an “unrivaled range of motion” thanks to the pairing of a three-part arm system with 360° slewing for maximum versatility in underground applications. The design allows producers to reach closer to crushers and maneuver with as little as 180 centimeters (72 in.) of height clearance.

The units feature Brokk’s SmartRemote technology and can be operated via tethered remote or from a control room using the Networked Remote Operation module. Depending on network configuration, the machine can be maneuvered from 2,000-meters (6,500 ft) away or further, using video monitoring and operation. The standard video option includes two cameras on and an ergonomic operator’s desk with integrated controls and video screen. One control system can be paired with up to six Pedestal Boom systems.