Epiroc says future mine is ‘fully automated’

Staff reporter

‘Number of fully autonomous machines on-site is still rather small’

Frenetic acquisition activity in five years as Epiroc has fundamentally repositioned the 150-year-old former Atlas Copco business as a supplier to the “mine of the future”, which it sees as “fully automated, from pit to port”.

That’s a journey the Swedish manufacturer and technology company still needs to take with its global customer base. It said it had more than 9500 machines “ready for automation”, with various enabling onboard technologies, at the end of 2023.

“The vast majority of our machines have the potential to be automated or remotely controlled,” Epiroc said in its 2023 annual and sustainability report, released this week.

“[However] the number of fully autonomous machines on-site, relative to the full fleet, is still rather small.”

Epiroc has bought 25 companies since forming and separately listing in Stockholm.

The company has a current market value around US$22.4 billion.

Sales rose 21% year-on-year in 2023 to about $5.73 billion.

Miners needed to increase technology adoption to maintain, or increase, productivity and production rates in the face of significant challenges in their operations, Epiroc said in its 2023 report.

It says low primary equipment utilisation rates, declining mine ore grades and deeper mines are all hampering the industry’s ability to expand output at the same time as it strives to improve health and safety,

“The utilisation rate of equipment in mining and infrastructure is generally lower than in many other industries,” the company says.

“In an underground mine, for example, the utilisation rate of machines can be as low as 30%.

Epiroc has been a hyperactive acquirer over five years

“By using advanced solutions such as fleet management, automation and connectivity, including data-driven service and monitoring, customers can achieve a higher utilisation rate and thereby higher productivity and lower operating costs.

“Lower ore grades means that more rock must be excavated for a given amount of produced metal.

“The share of underground mining is increasing, especially for minerals such as gold and copper. Lower ore grades, deeper deposits and more regulatory pressure to conduct underground mining, instead of openpit mining, contribute to the trend towards underground mining.

Existing underground mines are also getting deeper – on average 30m [deeper] each year

“Today, an estimated quarter of all global copper mining takes place underground, and it is expected to grow to about a third by 2030.

“Existing underground mines are also getting deeper – on average 30m [deeper] each year.

“Deeper mines mean higher demand for enhanced safety features, automation and battery-electric equipment.”

Epiroc says automation increases safety and equipment utilisation.

It says high-quality connectivity is the critical enabler for “connected assets” and automation.

“Mines and construction sites are continuously developing. They go deeper and wider every day, and there are many machines and people involved in the process.

“It is not easy being a manager with ever-changing conditions.

“By having all information on hand, our customers can make better and more informed decisions and make the whole mining process more efficient.

“According to research published by the European Commission, an estimated 40 million people are involved in large-scale mining, representing 1% of the world’s workforce.

“Most mines have no system in place today to indicate where people or machines are located.

“By providing drivers and operators with real-time situational awareness of all mobile machines and personnel at a site, customers can increase both safety and productivity.

“[And] by understanding the orebody, mining companies can plan and execute the whole mining process in a more efficient way. In fact, by utilising the knowledge gained in exploration, the customer can drill in a more efficient way, thereby blasting and transporting less waste rock while maintaining an even output ore grade. That leads to higher productivity, lower cost and less emissions.”


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