Automation Solutions for Mines of the FutureMon, 10/22/2018 - 11:20
Automation is shaping the future of mining, and no company knows this better than Atlas Copco. Targeting a higher market share in Mexico, the 145-year-old company decided in 2017 to divide its offering in two, providing specialized services to the industry to expand its reach and having a focus on the mining sector. The new mining-centric company, Epiroc, still has the global expertise of the Atlas Copco Group, but can now offer products and services that are 100-percent focused on mining, says Alfredo Bertrand, the company’s General Manager in Mexico. “Atlas Copco decided to make the split because it perceived that the business model of the mining industry is changing and it now demands companies that can provide support services in remote monitoring and control of machinery,” he says. “We are eager to meet this new challenge.”
Bertrand says Mexico has a key feature that differentiates it from its North and South American neighbors: its market demands high-tech equipment and the most modern machinery that exists in the industry. This is leading the country toward automated mines. To take advantage of these opportunities, Epiroc has already started two projects, one of which is in the Peñasquito mine with Goldcorp. These projects consist of the monitoring of all equipment through control centers, so a company can identify the status of machinery, production rates and malfunctions. This helps companies quickly complete maintenance services and control productivity. It also provides key information to engineers that allows them to make the right decisions and increase efficiency. These control systems are additionally focused on security as they provide projects the ability to properly monitor personnel and avoid dangerous situations. “In the case of Peñasquito, we started with a pilot project in 3Q17, which was highly successful,” says Bertrand. “By the end of 2018 we expect to have 100 percent of the drilling remotely monitored and controlled. This will reduce security risks and improve mine productivity.”
He believes that every leading company is prioritizing automation up to 10 years in advance. “This technology is key for the mines of the future,” he says. One example is Epiroc’s new machine, Mobile Miner, of which there are only two prototypes: one in Canada and the other in South Africa. A third will be implemented in Mexico with Fresnillo, and Bertrand says this emphasizes the country’s interest in being technologically advanced. “This technology implies not only a large capital investment but also many engineering hours from our teams in Sweden and Mexico, together with our customer engineering department,” he says.
Since Mexico is a very traditional country, he says there are few early-adopters like Fresnillo, which also presents a hurdle when trying to reshape the company. “Some clients are hesitant about Epiroc as they have been working with Atlas Copco for over 65 years,” Bertrand says. “We face the challenge of breaking this paradigm, despite the fact that we are only changing the name of the company. We let our clients know that we still have the same products, with the same service quality and furthermore, the same human talent to support the mining sector in the country but now as a highly-specialized company. We lost our old name but gained a better quality of support services for our clients.”
With Mexico’s abundance in natural resources and ore bodies, Bertrand believes it is a top market that will allow Epiroc to capitalize on emerging technological advances. He says investors are encouraged by the geological potential in the country, but warns that, after an almost five-year slump, it is important to be prepared for the coming upcycle. “It is very important to accurately identify ore resources in Mexico so we are ready for a rise in project demand as metal prices continue to go up,” he says, adding that in this new environment, Mexican operators should look to diversify away from the country’s reputation as a gold, silver and copper producer. “There are nontraditional metals that are becoming increasingly important in the market, such as lithium.”
Although Epiroc has its sights set on Mexico, Bertrand also highlights the importance of operators setting a footprint abroad too. “I believe that it is key to not only focus on fostering FDI in Mexico but also encourage national companies to go abroad as well,” he says. Several Mexican companies have already expanded their operations, such as Peñoles and Grupo México with projects in Peru and Chile.