From a single control room, operators in the Kiruna mine are now running six autonomous loaders from two different manufacturers. For the time being, the loaders are diesel-powered, but battery-powered Epiroc machines and Sandvik's larger electric loaders will be delivered this year. Safety and loading capacity will be tested and assessed, so that the vision of a carbon-dioxide-free LKAB can be realized.
“Our operators work in close collaboration with both Sandvik and Epiroc and thereby take part in these suppliers' development. We test the systems and provide feedback, so we can eventually take delivery of a better product,” says Magnus Lindgren, production manager for the remote-control centre at level 1365 in the Kiruna mine.
LKAB blasts in the mine each night. When the blasting gases have been evacuated and rock stresses have decreased, personnel can access the production area. With remote-control machines, LKAB can load, haul and dump crude ore without having to worry so much about the consequences of nightly blasting.
“Autonomous loading at night is optimal in terms of both safety and work environment, and from a productivity perspective. That doesn't mean manually operated machines are a thing of the past; it just means that we have more tools in the toolbox. Many parameters have to be taken into the equation for our loading operations to deliver an even flow of ore to the processing plants,” explains Roger Lärkmo, engineering developer at LKAB.
Battery-powered loaders to Kiruna this summer
This summer the Konsuln mine will take delivery of its first battery-powered loader, the ST14 from Epiroc. Preparations are now under way, from planning of the drifts where batteries will be exchanged, to risk analyses and simulations. During 2021 three of Sandvik's larger 625IE electric loaders will also be delivered to LKAB in Kiruna.
“LKAB has been running loaders with electric power cables for more than 20 years, both manually operated and with remote control. Now we are going to test the new generation of electric loaders. These tests will begin in the autumn,” says Magnus Lindgren.
“We participate in development work early on, so that we can understand and influence performance, loading capacity and, not least, safety aspects. We are going to test to see how battery-driven and electric loaders compare with diesel-powered machines, and how remote-control machines function in comparison with manually operated loaders. One of several objectives is that operators, regardless of the make or model of the vehicle, should be able to run remote-control vehicles via the same system and in the same production area. Then, we will be approaching a world standard,” says Anita Oraha Wardi, project manager for autonomous, smart and carbon-dioxide-free machines at LKAB.