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Future mining demands new ways of thinking

Two persons sitting in front of big computer screens
At Konsuln's project office in Kiruna new, smarter working methods are being tested in preparation for future mining. Photo: Fredric Alm.

LKAB's operations are under continuous development. With digitalized and autonomous mining on the horizon, operations in the test mine in Kiruna's Konsuln orebody are an important component in the effort to reach the objectives of increased productivity, better and safer work flows and a more environmentally sustainable mine. Close dialogue and cooperation carry the work forward.

The technology tested in Konsuln is implemented gradually, sometimes in parallel with regular mining operations. Initially, for reasons of geography, mainly the Kiruna mine's personnel and processes are being integrated with Konsuln, but Malmberget's underground operations will soon be included in the development work.

Epiroc and Sandvik side by side

A loader from Epiroc has been tested in production in the Kiruna mine during the autumn. The autonomous Epiroc machine has been guided from an underground control centre. The results are positive and are now being assessed. At the same time Sandvik's own control system has been tested on Sandvik machines that are currently in use. These machines are also guided by autonomous control systems and, for the first time, several loaders have also carried crude ore to the same shaft, crossing each other's paths en route, something which is rather unique.

“We achieve the best results when we work together. My co-workers are proud to participate in future-oriented projects and they contribute valuable input, which boosts commitment. Just consider the fact that we have service personnel from two major equipment suppliers working side by side – that wouldn't have happened if we hadn't been partners. The next step is to have an Epiroc machine and a Sandvik machine operating autonomously in the same area,” says Nils Stenberg, mine general manager in Kiruna.

Digitalization makes day-to-day operations easier

Digitalization gives us new tools that make day-to-day operations easier while also making the job safer. With an extensive wifi network underground and mobile phones for all production personal, the foundations have been laid.

“Cutting time losses is important for working effectively and, here, 'the right information at the right time to the right person' is a common objective. The mobile phone will be a great help in reaching that objective,” says Nils Stenberg.

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Jorge Garcia Recio, trainee at LKAB's test mine in Konsuln. Photo: Fredric Alm.


New and smarter working methods

Everyone agrees that changing behaviour is a much greater challenge than introducing new machinery into the mine. New, smarter working methods are supported, by among other activities, testing in MOC (Mine Operations Control) from Konsuln's project office.

“One of the biggest challenges is to build something from the ground up. We shouldn't just copy off-the-shelf technology; instead, we should welcome, analyse and test entirely new ideas and solutions. This demands confidence, that people interact and that we build a team; something which is never easy under normal conditions and is now even more difficult, due to the ongoing pandemic. Readjusting to get ready for future mining is no simple task, but we will succeed,” concludes Mike Lowther, department manager for the Konsuln test mine in Kiruna.

FACTS:

LKAB is working in a collaborative project with ABB, Combitech, Epiroc and Sandvik to set a new world standard for mining. The project is called SUM, Sustainable Underground Mining.

Much of the work described in the article is initiated together with LKAB's partners in the SUM project.