Engineering & Mining Journal

JAN 2019

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AUTONOMOUS HAULAGE 38 E&MJ • JANUARY 2019 www.e-mj.com CAPE TOWN, South Africa—In a world first, Perth-based Reso- lute Mining has gone live with its fully automated sublevel op- eration on its Syama gold project in Mali, West Africa. "Syama will be the world's first, purpose built, fully automated sublev- el cave gold mine," said Resolute Managing Director and CEO John Welborn. "It is a world-class, long-life, low-cost asset that will deliver long-term benefits to our shareholders, stakeholders and local Mali communities for years to come." Automation has long been a goal for the industry, with Aus- tralian majors such as Rio Tinto pioneering the way using re- mote-controlled haulage trucks to shift iron ore in western Aus- tralia. Syama gold mine, 300 km south of the capital Bamako, however, takes automation to another level entirely. Syama's entire fleet of vehicles will be operated from the surface, which makes it the only operation in the world to hand over blasting, rubble clearance and ore removal — the entire extraction cycle — to autonomous machines. "We started looking at automation and the level of productiv- ity it would produce," said Peter Beilby, COO of Resolute. "The numbers made financial sense." A fiber-optic network is fitted throughout the mine, connect- ed to a control center on the surface. This will keep the vehi- cles and machines online. "Other operations are doing partial automation, but we are the first to put it all together and do everything," Beilby said. Syama was originally developed by BHP as an open-cast gold mine in the 1980s, but Resolute acquired it in 2015 and began looking for ways to blow new life into the aging asset. A positive definitive feasibility study completed in 2016 showed the geol- ogy was suited to a long life, low cost underground mine. Syama now has a life of mine of 14 years, with an underground ore reserve of 3.5 million ounces (oz). All-in sustaining costs are US$746/oz. This is a decrease from earlier projections of $881/oz. With sublevel caving, blast holes are drilled up from below into the ore body. The ore body is collapsed down into a draw point, where the ore is collected and extracted. As technology evolves, savings are expected to improve over time. Syama is now heading toward 200,000 oz/y of gold pro- duction, but intends to reach 300,000 oz/y, Beilby said. Full production will be reached in June 2019. The trucks, robotic loaders and drills are supplied by Swed- ish mining engineering specialist Sandvik. Resolute opted for Sandvik as its equipment was "mine ready" using its AutoMine and OptiMine systems, said Beilby. Automation is not the only innovation Sandvik is deploying at Syama. The 422iE jumbos that will carry out the drilling are also fully electric, saving on the need to run diesel pipelines under- ground for refueling. Charging is done off existing infrastructure. Multiple trucks can operate on the same incline, and a dedi- cated traffic management system keeps them out of each other's way. Trucks are fully capable of navigating themselves both un- derground and on the surface. Altogether, Resolute expects to save around 15% in operat- ing costs. Some of the cost benefit is in reduced downtime, with no handovers at the end of a shift, said Neil McCoy, key account manager in Sandvik's Johannesburg office. Nor do operators have to travel underground to get to their machines. This keeps the equipment running at up to 22 hours a day, rather than the 15 or 16 hours they worked before. Automation also means fewer operators, whose skills com- mand a premium. "The big issue we're looking at is the lack of critical skills," said McCoy "Automation is the tool to bridge the skills gap." Countries such as Mali face another impediment to attracting skilled technicians and operators; ongoing conflict and extremist activity. The UN regards its Mali peacekeeping mission, installed after a failed coup six years ago, as its most dangerous. In Oc- tober 2018, two peacekeepers based in Ber, close to Timbuktu, were killed when the blue helmets repelled a motorized attack. Autonomous machines mean that companies can reduce their staff demands in troubled countries. Along with reducing the num- ber exposed to the inherent dangers of mining, which is a win for all. Still, a touchy issue surrounding automation is the poten- tial threat to jobs, and the fear that men will be replaced by machines. Mali ranks 175th out of 188 countries on the UN Human Development Index for 2016, and the average wage is US$1.25 per day. Resolute may save having to fly in expert tech- nicians, but it could deprive Malians of desperately needed jobs. However, Beilby said the issue has been talked out with the government, and Resolute has undertaken to ensure locals are trained in those skills needed on the ground, such as mainte- nance and servicing equipment. Ultimately, he noted the au- tomation route is not really about lowering the headcount but increasing productivity. And, reducing the number of men un- derground, an environment that presents a lot of hazards. "The government has been quite supportive of us," Beilby said. "We've undertaken to providing quality jobs and skills. We've made it clear that expatriates who are sent over will be there to train Malians, not just to work." Sandvik's McCoy added that even automated machines still need mechanics, electricians and other specialists to keep them functioning. The Sandvik fleet will for the most part self-diag- nose problems, letting the operator know its status. This will then result in a technician either being dispatched or the vehicle being called to the surface. "At the end of the day you still need a pair of hands to repair and maintain equipment," McCoy noted. "Remote control helps the operator, but the artisan still has to get out there and be on the ground when needed." Fully Automated Sublevel Caving Goes Live in Mali By Gavin du Venage, South Africa Editor Syama in Mali will produce up to 300,000 ounces of gold a year using fully autonomous machines. (Photo: Resolute Mining)

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