For Sandvik, the mine automation story took off in the late 1990s, when a team of mining and automation engineers in Finland decided to solve two of the mining challenges faced by their customers. Today, automation is a hot topic for both mining companies and their partners.
Ensuring safety within mines is both demanding and time-consuming, and it affects the productivity of the mine. In 1999 Sandvik embarked on a project to address these issues through automation and, five years later, the first AutoMine® loading system was installed at the Codelco copper mine El Teniente in Chile.
The team looked way beyond the technological limitations
“Automation might seem like an obvious thing to develop, but the technology wasn’t there at that time,” explains Taina Heimonen, Development Manager Automation, at business area Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology.
“Remote control was considered ‘hightech’ in those days and Wi-Fi didn’t even exist,” she says. “The team took on a huge task, but looked way beyond the technological limitations. There were only a handful of customers at that time who were thinking along these lines, so we really were pioneers.
The secret behind innovation
Heimonen reflects on what makes the inventive environment so fertile at the Tampere site in Finland. “The Sandvik way of working is to stay close to the customers at all times,” she says. “Spending time with our customers in production gives a good understanding of their actual needs.
“Another important key are cross-functional teams. When our competent mining engineers and software teams understand each other, that’s when the magic happens.”
The test mine close to the production site in Tampere is also unique. Heimonen emphasizes that the opportunity to test prototypes in the backyard really does enables a faster route from idea to market.