Boliden is one of the most successful mining companies in the world, with strong productivity and stock market performance. It has eight mines, and one of them, Aitik, located in the north of Sweden, is the largest open pit in Europe.
To get to the copper ore, lots of rock must be removed, and every year an increasing amount of rock is moved around in the system. Depending on where the ore is, the ratio of rock to ore varies; on average there is about 1 metric ton of rock removed for every 1 metric ton of ore.Aitik's current annual production of 36 million metric tons of ore is to be increased to 45 million metric tons, and the rock removed will increase by just as much, if not more. However, given that a mine is a busy place, it is not a straightforward task to increase the number of huge machines required for rock removal, and maintaining the same equipment utilization only adds to the challenge. In addition, every blast creates toxic gases that need to dissipate before humans can enter the area and begin excavation.. Aitik is an expanding mine.
Automated and remotely controlled machines provide a solution. Automated drill rigs (known as "Pit Vipers") can movefrom one drill hole to the next along a predefined path and perform repetitive tasks autonomously, in contrast to having a drill rig operator on site carrying them out manually. If the task or movement is not predefined, the drill rig is equipped with cameras that enable an operator to control it remotely. Much of the time autonomy is sufficient; however, sometimes only humans can make a proper assessment (for example, during evaluation of rock conditions), and remote or even local assessment is then required. Five drill rigs at Aitik have been retrofitted with autonomous operation and remote-control features. As the current connection bandwidth only allows for medium-quality video streaming, which limits the remote-control capability, this retrofit is limited. A couple of cameras, a control system upgrade for the older rigs and a communication module have been added.
A 4G mobile communication system would offer a secure, flexible and future proof solution for Boliden. However, while 4G can support the current identified use case, only 5G can comfortably handle the most demanding requirements – bandwidth, quality of service, latency and positioning. While some applications only need to send minor amounts of data, others (such as fully remote controlled machines) need the capabilities and capacity offered through mobile communications such as 4G and especially 5G.
Automating a drill rig could increase operating hours from 5,000 to 7,000 hours per year, in effect enabling Boliden to perform the same amount of blast operations with these 5 modified rigs as they could with 7 or more traditional rigs. This automation also eliminates the need for additional staff, service stations, parking areas, transport on busy access roads and dangerous staff transportation within the mine. As well as solving these logistical challenges, automation carries significant efficiency benefits, as Boliden can handle an increased number of blasts with similar equipment and staffing levels.
Source: Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson