Located 20km north of Mount Isa, Queensland, Australia, GFM is a zinc, lead and silver operation that produces three million tonnes of ore and undertakes 11-12km of development each year.
Following an agreement in 2020, Sandvik has rolled out its AutoMine solution at the mine, including supplying six Sandvik LH517i underground loaders. The loaders now operate autonomously throughout the majority of their load and dump cycle, with surface-based operators only required to assume control at the stope.
GFM Mine manager Rebecca Roper said Sandvik AutoMine has enabled the loaders to run around the clock, while significantly reducing the amount of time mine staff are in hazardous environments. "Our operators are only in control of the machine when they are mucking from the stope," she said. "So, for the rest of the tramming route, the automation loader is driving itself. We don't have to worry about shift change. We don't have to worry about blast times. They can operate 24/7."
GFM lead automation advisor James Postle said by making loading more efficient, the system has increased output across the working day. "Automation on the LH517i allows for multiple machines operated by one person, so it definitely has increased productivity," he said.
Rebecca Roper explained GFM's automation journey began when its previous loader fleet was reaching the end of its working life and the mine sought a future-focused replacement. "One of our key drivers was to look for a solution to reduce our loader interactions on the levels and get them separated from the rest of the mining activities," she said.
In 2020, Glencore signed an AUS$249 million (US$181 million) deal with Sandvik to supply drills, loaders and trucks to the company's metalliferous mines in Queensland and New South Wales, opening the way for GFM to pursue an automated solution. "The system that Sandvik was providing was the way we saw the industry going," said Postle.
Now entering their second year of full operation, the AutoMine system and loaders have well and truly met with GFM's high expectations. "The loaders are driving themselves to their specifications," said Roper. "So, we can operate even faster."
Sandvik technical support manager, Automation, Tommi Rautio, said a key part of the roll-out was the provision of comprehensive operator training. "What we always offer on AutoMine products is the online learning portal," he said. "And then we also utilised the AutoMine simulator, which is our latest training offering."
Sandvik global account manager for Glencore, Tim Redmond, said by listening to the customer, Sandvik was able to come up with an overall solution that meet all its needs. "We came up with a package which included all our product lines, underground drills, load and haul, rock tools, spare part support, service in a bundle," he said. "And that really was very powerful for the customer."
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