Alfredo Bertrand
General Manager
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Epiroc: One Large-Scale Automation Project, One Investment

By Andrea Villar | Fri, 09/25/2020 - 12:56

Q: How ready is the Mexican industry to receive Epiroc’s battery-powered equipment that addresses environmental concerns?

A: This equipment is already being tested in mining operations abroad. Last year in Canada, our technology was selected to supply batteries to a mining company there. In Mexico, we have already   introduced the first units to the market and this machine is going to deliver during Q2-2021 to a major mining group. We believe that the test is going to exceed expectations and from next year, we will be able to expand to more mining companies. With this first agreement, we are convinced that more companies will begin to take an interest in this technology, creating further opportunities.

Q: How has the trial automation program at Peñasquito developed?

A: The project at Peñasquito is about efficiency and automation. In 2017, we started the pilot to automate the machines in operation. We defined together targets to increase productivity, working hour per day, reduce deviation and mechanical availability.  These targets were achieved and exceeded. As a result, in 2018, the entire drilling process was switched to fully autonomous equipment. This year, the project will incorporate the first equipment without operating cabin This is a great step for companies betting on automation because once you make this change there is no going back.

Today, the drilling process at the mine is autonomous and employs control towers where an operator verifies the machine is working properly. If the machine detects any anomalies, such as a person approaching the coverage area, it stops automatically. The operator receives this message, conducts a general review of the perimeter and continues with the operation. Everything is done through satellites.

Q: How does the company make the transition to technology easier for companies that are not used to advanced levels of technification?

A: The concept that we have worked on in recent years is “powered by automation.” This means that we are already creating teams that are ready for the next automation steps. We deliver equipment that with simple changes in the software or components, can adapt to different levels of technology.

Twenty-five years ago, we launched our intelligent Rig Control System (RCS), which is a computer that controls some of the equipment's operations. This system is connected through Wi-Fi or the operation’s internal system and reports vital data on how the equipment is performing. Equipment that does not incorporate this type of system needs to be inspected throughout the day to verify that it is working correctly. When the equipment itself can submit its vital signs in real time, daily reviews are removed from the schedule and operators can focus on monitoring and scheduling performance reviews. This means fewer people in the operation and greater security.

People usually say that technology is going to kill jobs, but we believe that what will change are the skills that companies will look for in their collaborators. In an automated mining operation, the same number of employees likely will be required, but they will need to have technology-oriented skills.

Q: What challenges will Epiroc face as more companies begin to adopt this technology?

A: One of the biggest challenges we are going to face is having the environment ready in general for the rapid implementation of new technological concepts. Experience has demonstrated that when we introduce technology into a mining operation the result is positive and advantageous for the operator, but it is also evident that all the peripheral equipment to this technology is insufficient. 

Given this scenario, technology implementation projects are going to be on a larger scale, requiring a comprehensive analysis of the entire environment to evaluate how far we can go. But with a single investment, a company can be prepared for future challenges.

Q: How will the adoption of technological tools accelerate due to the COVID-19 crisis?

A: So far, there has not been a direct adoption of technological solutions because all mining operations, including suppliers, are focused on solving the challenges we are facing due to the pandemic. When the crisis is overcome, and due to the new demands dictated by the new normal, such as working with fewer people but with the same production volume as before, mining companies will be very receptive to technological changes at all levels, from the automation of simple processes to completely autonomous operations.

Epiroc is a Swedish manufacturer of mining and infrastructure equipment. It is headquartered in Stockholm and has its manufacturing facilities in Sweden, the US, Canada, Australia, China, India and Germany.

Andrea Villar Andrea Villar Journalist and Industry Analyst