37 AUGUST 2022 WorldWide Drilling Resource® The Boliden Aitik Mine: A Case Study on Automation Adapted from Information by Ericsson Ore is mined around the clock at Aitik, the largest open-pit copper mine in Sweden. Metals company Boliden operates the mine and has a reputation for being highly efficient and an early adopter of modern technology. Boliden partnered with telecommunications company Ericsson and equipment manufacturer Komatsu in a two-year planning process to increase automation at the Aitik mine to help boost productivity, decrease cost per ton, optimize asset utilization, and improve safety. Once fully up and running, the mine’s automated system will be the first of its kind in the European Union. Aitik’s previous Wi-Fi networks were stretched to the limit and subject to interference. Constant elevation changes in the open pit made reliable connectivity difficult to maintain and caused disruptions in business operations. Reliable connectivity and less disruption to communication are necessary to increase productivity through automation; because machines not connected cannot work as efficiently and are not as aware of their surroundings. The first step toward advanced automation involved Ericsson setting up a private network to help provide prioritization controls for the most critical traffic. Once connectivity was optimized, the mine began deploying Komatsu’s FrontRunner automation system to operate several distinct functions, including the haul truck fleet. In addition to haul trucks, drilling and blasting operations are also being automated. Five rigs have been retrofitted with autonomous operation and remote-control features. These rigs can move from one drill hole to the next along a predefined path performing repetitive tasks on their own. If the task is not predefined, rigs are equipped with cameras which enable operators to control them remotely. Automating a drill rig could increase operating hours from 5000 to 7000 per year, enabling Boliden to perform the same amount of blast operations with five modified rigs as they could with seven or more traditional rigs. This also helps eliminate the need for additional staff, which is noteworthy considering the mine’s current staffing challenges. Beyond safety and productivity, implementing mining automation as part of a broader digital strategy allows data collection in the moment, rather than post-processed reporting. This will enable the company to actively monitor the state of equipment. Given the massive volume handled by mines like Aitik each year, saving a few hours of trucking time could add up to substantial savings. Smart mining operations are projected to increase threefold by 2025, and this project can help the mining industry gather new insights into commercializing automation at scale. These systems and communication networks supporting them can be customized to circumstances at each individual mine, and distinct challenges faced by operators. Collaboration, open dialogue, and end-to-end knowledge of connectivity solutions can help empower digital transformation. Control room at Aitik. Photos courtesy of Boliden. MIN Automated haul truck operated by the Komatsu FrontRunner system.