Sandvik Automated Loaders Are Gamechanger for Glencore

“The loader is battery driven, can position itself and map out terrains previously unmapped” - David Hallett, Automation VP, Sandvik Global
When mining multinational Glencore wanted a safer, more efficient, option for its George Fisher Mine in Australia it turned to Sanvik’s AutoMine technology

Some people call them muckers, others know them as boggers, but at Glencore’s giant George Fisher Mine they call them loaders. Whatever the name, these huge machines play a vitally important role in modern underground mining.

This is the machinery that is used to transport materials within a mine – whether this is rock, ore or other materials – from the digging face to processing facilities or loading areas. 

Glencore is one of the world’s largest global mining and commodity trading  companies. Its George Fisher Mine (GFM) in Queensland, Australia, is one of the largest zinc, lead and silver mines in the world. Every year it produces approximately 3 million tonnes of ore and undertakes up to 12 kilometres underground development. 

In recent years GFM has turned to automation technology to boost safety and efficiency levels, and to this end now runs a fleet of new underground loaders that are part of a transformative automation project.

Sandvik’s LH517 high capacity loader offers the integrated Sandvik Intelligent Control system for easy operation and fast maintenance. GFM has taken on a total of six new LH517i's to replace its legacy fleet.

Previously it relied on a tele-remote, co-pilot hybrid system with operators based mainly underground, controlling the machines.

Sandvik’s AutoMine product group offers autonomous and remotely operated mobile equipment, allowing operators to control and monitor multiple underground and surface machine operations from the comfort and safety of a remote-control room. 

The solution allows mining operators to scale-up their automation transformation at their own pace.

For those working at GFM, it has been transformational.

James Postle is Lead Automator Advisor at GFM, and says he is “passionate about automation and passionate about improving standards and practices”. 

He adds: “Automation on the loaders allows for multiple machines to be operated by one person, and it has increased productivity. I'm excited to see what the technology has to offer the mining industry moving into the future. It's the right way forward.”

When the Sandvik technology was first deployed by Glencore at George Fisher Mine, Rebecca Roper was its Mining Manager. She has since moved on to become Mining Manager with BHP. 

Roper says that when its old loader fleet was nearing the end of its life the company wanted a solution capable of “changing the way we operated and maintained our production loaders”. 

To this end Glencore partnered with Sandvik to implement a purpose-built  AutoMine automation system to enable full automation, and integrated the state-of-the-art system into the loader fleet.

The system allows loader operators to pick an end point and start point, and then the loader will navigate through the underground mine on its own.

The loader is battery driven, and can position itself, map out terrains, even those that have not been previously mapped.

It can sense its environment in full 3D in pitch-black darkness, creates a model of that environment, analyses it, and plans its own missions.

A core innovation behind the technology is the ‘smart handover’ technology that allows trucks to switch from underground to surface navigation mode in real time. This allows trucks to continue seamlessly to the surface to complete the dumping cycle.

Roper added: “We wanted a solution to reduce our loader interactions on the levels and separate them from the rest of the mining activities. A key benefit has been moving loader operators from hazardous situations underground to the surface.”

David Hallett, Automation VP at Sandvik Global, says AutoMine systems are designed to “disrupt the mindset of how things are done conventionally”, and that it gives end users “a vision of where underground and surface mining automation is going to go in the future”.

He adds: “We're trying to introduce robust technologies capable of withstanding tough environmental conditions. 

“Removing people from hazardous environments is really one of the main drivers for automation, as well as increasing productivity.”

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