Sandvik has long been a leading innovator in mining technology, and the launch of its battery electric vehicles now brings opportunities previously only dreamed about by the mining sector.


Speaking recently at the Electra Mining Africa exhibition in South Africa, Sandvik vice-president strategy and commercial Jakob Rutqvist, explained that this leap brings a full package of benefits. Not only is battery-driven equipment a practical response to health, safety and decarbonisation priorities, but it also delivers higher production rates and increased tonnages.


“Mines will find this technology exciting because it addresses such a range of imperatives facing mining today,” Rutqvist says. “The future of mining is more responsible, looking for lower carbon emissions and healthier working conditions. At the same time, mines need to produce more with less, and they therefore need to be more efficient in the use of resources and assets.”


He highlights that the future of mining is electric, automated and digital. Sandvik innovates in all three spheres, but its experience in electric vehicles dates back decades. The company has been supplying the sector with electric machines since the 1980s, he says, but this was cable technology. Its application was limited to those mines designed with the necessary infrastructure to support the power supply cables – and presented some operational limitations.


At the Sandvik exhibition stand at Electra Mining Africa 2022 was an entirely new proposition: a battery electric vehicle (BEV) designed from the ground up. With a 65-tonne payload, Sandvik’s TH665B is the world’s largest underground mining truck – powered by an 8-tonne battery built with mining in mind.


“The rapid evolution of battery technology has allowed Sandvik to accelerate its BEV developments, but our strategy has been to design for mining – not just to convert designs from other sectors,” he says. “Neither did we want to simply convert our diesel-driven machines, and just replace an engine with a battery.”


With this vision, Sandvik acquired Artisan Vehicle Systems in 2019, a US-based supplier of battery electric vehicle solutions for underground mining. This was integrated into Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions, giving the company a head-start over its competitors.


“The Sandvik approach to the Fourth Industrial Revolution starts with our customers,” he says. “While it is easy for engineers to get carried away with today’s technology, we must find the value that we can add to customers’ operations – their safety, productivity and other opportunities.”


The kind of challenge to be solved was a deep level gold mine in Canada whose ventilation costs at depth was making their mineral deposit unviable. In this context, the BEV was a targeted solution that made mining possible and profitable.


“Over half of the global mining sector has committed to net zero emission goals in the coming decades, and are looking for practical ways to decarbonise their operations,” he continues. “In a typical underground mine, 50 to 60% of emissions come from the mobile fleet – and about half of this will be from the primary haulage equipment.”


Trucks and loaders are therefore a good place to start looking for solutions, and BEVs are now centre stage among the options. Rutqvist points out that by replacing a diesel vehicle, the TH665B truck could reduce a mine’s carbon emissions by 1 to 2 tonnes every day.


Building on the heritage of Artisan Vehicle Systems, Sandvik’s technology is already proven and ready for market. The Sandvik TH665B truck displayed at Electra Mining Africa 2022 completed final factory trials in California earlier in the year, and will soon be in Australia for extended field trials at a leading gold producer.


There, it will haul heavy loads at speed on long and steeply inclined ramp, to push this technology to its limits, Rutqvist explains. After the site testing is finalised, it is planned that the first commercial builds can start in 2023. Other products in the range are also ready for deployment, with a deep level South African mine already in line to receive the Sandvik LH518B compact 18-tonne loader in the next few months. The company’s over-arching strategy is to have a full range offering by 2025, covering all the major size classes with battery electric trucks and loaders.


“Beyond the decarbonisation benefits of BEVs, mines are ordering them for the improved productivity they will deliver,” he says. “Electric technology can increase tonnages moved by 20 to 30% due to the higher power levels and faster cycle times. The ground-up design has ensured a simplified driveline that also lowers operating costs.”


One of the key aspects of Sandvik’s BEV offering is that it aims to ease implementation in existing mine designs – rather than requiring extensive reconfiguration of mine infrastructure. This includes the battery-swapping functionality, allowing each unit to off-load a depleted battery and on-load a full one by itself – without the operator leaving their cab. Neither does the mine have to put any extra cranes or lifting devices in place.


The leveraging of electric, automation and digital aspects are vital to the future of mining, he argues. With regard to BEVs, this means marrying Sandvik’s established AutoMine™ technology with the exciting new directions from its Artisan acquisition.


“We are planning a staged implementation of the latest Sandvik control systems on our BEVs, starting with the LH518B loader next year,” he says. “This will be the start of the process of enabling AutoMine™ on all our BEVs.”


This will further improve machine utilisation and reduce total cost of ownership, due to automation potential and end-to-end optimisation of the load and haul process. The digitalisation focus is also crucial, and includes a current focus on telemetry.


“We are fitting all our BEVs with our Sandvik Knowledge Box™ – our standard telemetry box – for gathering machine data and transmitting it to cloud storage,” he says. “This data can then be accessed in the My Sandvik IoT hub, where it is processed into easy-to-use knowledge about the fleet’s health and performance.”


With batteries now becoming a pillar of mining’s future, there is also work underway to give BEV users detailed information in real time about the health of batteries used in mining equipment. Rutqvist highlighted that the technology road ahead holds much potential for forward-looking mines, and that Sandvik is well advanced on this journey.

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