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Epiroc leads the way in automation, digitalisation and electrification

Epiroc

Harnessing new technologies and constant innovation, Epiroc has become a spearhead in the mining industry’s push for decarbonisation.

Epiroc’s recent successes prove why the company is one of the mining industry’s most versatile original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).

Epiroc enjoyed a record bill of orders in the first quarter of 2022, much of which was driven by its automation, digitalisation and electrification solutions.

Given the company’s history extends all the way back to 1873 – when it was founded in Stockholm, Sweden, as Atlas – this is no small feat.

Orders at the start of 2022 increased by 29 per cent compared to the first quarter of 2021, with 77 per cent of these sales coming via the mining industry and the remaining 23 per cent stemming from Epiroc’s infrastructure customers.

Epiroc’s strong performance has coincided with a prospering mining sector. According to the Australian Government’s Resources and Energy Quarterly for the March quarter of 2022, the country’s resource and energy export earnings are forecast to hit a record $425 billion for the 2021–22 financial year.

“The global mining market remained very active in the quarter, in Australia and most parts of the world,” Epiroc spokesperson Ola Kinnander told Australian Resources & Investment.

“Part of the reason for this is the overall high minerals prices, which is driving demand among the mining houses for equipment and services.

“We won many large and mid-sized orders, including several for our solutions within automation, digitalisation and electrification, which customers are more and more interested in.”

In January, Epiroc launched Mobius for Drills, a new system to assist with mine automation and connectivity.

Automation, digitalisation and electrification are three key components to mining’s low-emissions future. They are also core to improved safety and productivity – two other fundamental considerations for the industry.

Kinnander said a behaviour shift was occurring in the sector.

“Customers are increasingly realising the significant benefits that come with these new technologies, in the form of better safety, increased productivity, lower total cost of operations, and reduced emissions,” he said.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has also further increased the interest in automation.”

COVID-induced labour shortages have quelled the Australian mining industry for more than two years now, while extended border closures in Western Australia have restricted travel of personnel.

This has bolstered the case for automated machinery and technologies, enabling mining companies and contractors to sustain operations without relying solely on manpower.

Epiroc enjoyed a 22 per cent increase in orders for tools and attachments in the first quarter of the year. This comprises rock drilling tools and hydraulic attachments connected to machines used for drilling, deconstruction, recycling, and rock excavation.

Kinnander said certain buying behaviours showed Epiroc customers are being more proactive about the current supply chain disruptions and associated long lead times, with greater demand for componentry.

In April, Epiroc entered into partnerships with SSAB and BluVein to further enhance its support of the mining industry’s green transition.

Epiroc has teamed up with SSAB to secure fossil fuel-free steel for use in the manufacturing of its mining equipment.

Delivering the first steel made of hydrogen-reduced iron in 2021, SSAB aims to provide fossil fuel-free steel to the market on a commercial-scale during 2026.

“SSAB is the first in the world with a new technology to make fossil fuel-free steel, and we have an agreement with them to buy that steel,” Kinnander said. “Initially we will use this steel for a prototype underground machine and will increase the usage of it over time.”

Epiroc president and chief executive officer Helena Hedblom said the company’s partnership with SSAB supports its net-zero objectives.

“Sustainability is integrated in everything we do, and we are committed to halving our CO2 emissions by 2030,” she said in a statement. “This exciting partnership with SSAB will support us and our customers on the journey to reach our very ambitious climate goals.

“It is clear that our innovation agenda goes hand-in-hand with our customers’ sustainability agenda.”

Epiroc and BluVein entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to fast-track the development of the BluVein dynamic charging solution for deployment across the global mining industry.

The MoU is focused on the BluVein underground solution (BluVein1) and will develop and test the viability of its patented slotted electric rail system.

This system uses an enclosed electrified e-rail system mounted above or beside the mining vehicle along with the BluVein hammer that connects the electric vehicle to the rail.

The system provides power for driving an electric vehicle, typically a mine truck, and charging the truck’s batteries while the truck is hauling a load up the ramp and out of an underground mine.

As part of its contribution to the collaboration, Epiroc will provide the first-ever diesel-to-battery converted Minetruck MT42 underground truck for pilot testing on BluVein’s slotted electric rail system.

The Swedish company believes this is a vital component of the infrastructure needed to fully electrify mining operations.

In late April, Epiroc bolstered its Australian electrification ambitions after entering into an agreement to acquire JTMEC, a Perth-based electrification solutions provider for both underground and surface mines.

JTMEC’s offerings include high-voltage installation and maintenance work, transformer servicing and testing, engineering design, feasibility studies, and training.

The company also manufactures electrical products including substations and mine chargers and is currently providing services for Australian mining operations such as Olympic Dam, Dargues gold mine, DeGrussa copper mine and Northparkes.

Epiroc said it expects to complete the acquisition in the second quarter of 2022.

“Battery electrification represents the future in the mining industry, and the strong team at JTMEC is playing an important role in enabling this vital transformation,” Hedblom said.

“This acquisition will further strengthen our ability to support mining customers on their electrification journey toward less emissions, improved work conditions, and higher productivity.”

When Hedblom first announced Epiroc’s 2030 sustainability goals in July 2020, she indicated the company couldn’t achieve its climate targets without tackling the challenge holistically.

“Since the majority of the CO2 emissions occur in the use phase of our products, it is crucial that we not only limit our own emissions in operations and transport but also take on the greater challenge to reduce emissions when the products are in use,” she said at the time.

“We are working together with our customers to reduce the impact on climate.”

With a record bill of orders and a strong suite of automation, digitalisation and electrification solutions to boot, it seems like that holistic approach is paying off.

This feature appeared in the June issue of Australian Resources & Investment.

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