Going electric and autonomous underground

Jon Lawson
The control centre at level 1365

Staff at the Kiruna mine in Sweden are putting the finishing touches in place to trial autonomous battery-powered loaders, replacing the current diesel vehicles. 

The primary motivation is due to the night time blasting activities. With remote-control machines, operator LKAB finds it easier to load, haul and dump crude ore. Roger Lärkmo, engineering developer says, “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.” 


When will battery operation start at Kiruna?

This summer the Konsuln mine will take delivery of its first battery-powered loader, a ST14 from Epiroc. Preparations are now well 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. “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.

As is currently the case, the operations are planned to take place from one single location, the remote-control centre at level 1365 in the Kiruna mine. Production manager Magnus Lindgren says, “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. 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.” 


• Interested in autonomy in mining? Read more here.

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