Hecla’s Greens Creek mine is the first U.S. underground mine to use automated loading technology from Sandvik. The major step should enable increased productivity, improved safety and better cost control, while bringing digitalization of the mining process closer and increasing operational transparency.

Hecla’s Greens Creek silver mine, located on Admiralty Island approximately 18 miles southwest of Juneau, Alaska, is one of the largest and lowest-cost primary silver mines in the world. In 2016, Greens Creek produced 9.25 million ounces (oz) of silver.

The mine uses the latest technology for production, such as Sandvik AutoMine Lite to enhance safety, accelerate underground efficiency and improve production numbers. The AutoMine system was commissioned in January.

“The startup was flawless as Sandvik did a great job commissioning and training our engineers and miners to operate the AutoMine system,” said Keith Malone, vice president and general manager of the Hecla Greens Creek mine. “We have been able to increase mucking time by operating the AutoMine loader between shifts when personnel cannot be underground due to blasting activities. As we add wireless communication into additional work areas and a second or third remote loader is added to the fleet, we expect further gains will be realized.”

The system is currently installed in two areas of the mine where bulk longhole mining methods are used.

“However, with 90% of our production coming from conventional drift and fill stopes, installing the AutoMine system in these areas is key to overall productivity gains,” Malone said. “We have just received two additional safety gates from Sandvik and are expanding our wireless infrastructure into these conventional stoping and development areas in order to maximize our productivity through implementation of this technology.”

Hecla has a long-term vision to increase the level of automation in its mines.

“This is truly a mutually beneficial relationship between Sandvik and Hecla, where both companies have put a plan together to work further with automation solutions,” said Paul Painter, manager account management, application and automation, U.S., at Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology.