How transport technologies help optimize mining operations

Bnamericas Published: Friday, November 25, 2022
How transport technologies help optimize mining operations

Chile's Minera Sierra Atacama is trusting LOTS Group, an independent subsidiary of the Swedish company Scania, with 100% transport administration at its copper mine in Antofagasta region. The estimated contract value is US$ 55mn. 

LOTS Group offers connected transport solutions, moving about 3Mt/y of material at Sierra Atacama´s project and over 60Mt/y in different types of cargo in its global projects.

In this interview, LOTS Group CEO Max Blatt tells BNamericas about how the operation helps increase efficiency and which other innovations are in store.

BNamericas: How is the Sierra Atacama project progressing?

Blatt: So far things are moving smoothly in terms of volume targets, and we're collaborating very well with the mine owner. It's exceeded my expectations. We're moving on time as the full transport operator with loaders and roadwork with trucks.   

BNamericas: Which of your technologies are you using for this project? 

Blatt: We operate in the underground mine, the crusher and the waste piles, taking care of loading, internal transport, road and mobile equipment maintenance, pile management and transport of the necessary chemicals. We use a control tower to monitor in real-time the entire fleet with cameras and telematic systems for geographic tracking or to detect fatigue, allowing us to implement instant corrective actions. I've never seen this type of tower in another mining operation. 

We also implemented an underground connectivity network and infrastructure to apply the monitoring system, providing an intelligent, secure and agile service. 

All our transport operations are based on a lean production system, according to Scania Group methodology. To date, we have about 20 [Scania G500 XT 8x4] trucks in Sierra Atacama, which will increase to 30 in about two years.

BNamericas: And which energy solutions are you using?

Blatt: We need many fuel sources right now. But technologies are advancing rapidly. It's already possible to buy an electric truck, but at the moment they're still only capable of operating with a low maximum capacity and over short distances.

Battery technology will be ready in two or three years and may be used in full heavy-duty truck operations. The challenge is how to charge these vehicles, especially when 24-hour operation is needed and the vehicle is required to be up without charging seven days a week and all year long.

BNamericas: What mining transport innovations are you planning?

Blatt: Our main focus is to produce trucks. We're a full part of all subsidiaries that are part of our business group, such as Scania, Man, Navistar (International) and Volkswagen Trucks. Our goal is to pave the way for future technologies and manufacture trucks with more autonomy, electrification, safety and payload. With innovative transport technologies, mining can grow. 

When we started, we looked specifically at mining, because this sector would be the first to adopt these technologies. Mining is a big market for Scania, and when you compare mining to other industries, the others have fewer trucks on the road.

It's also easier in this sector to start a pilot and operate in a remote control and security environment. Mining is at the forefront for us. We started looking across the mining industry around the world, in Australia, Canada, Africa and other markets where mining is substantial, and we chose to start in Chile.

BNamericas: And what are the latest innovations in mining transport?

Blatt: The great technological movements will be electrification and autonomy. Our goal is to become progressively more electric and autonomous, with operations only by remote control or in some other sophisticated way. We're participating in a project in Australia to use autonomous trucks, but they're not yet commercially available.

What's coming regarding autonomy is a version in which there's no active person inside the vehicle and where you obtain information about load volume, the origin of piles, if other vehicles are on the road etc., through a single platform. This is already in the pilot phase.

Commercial sales aren't ready yet, but it's a concept that's intended for a highly integrated chain, where all the different types of technological products, inputs or crushers in the plant, for example, are connected. When we put all this together autonomously, it will be the best within the latest technological innovations.

BNamericas: Do you have any other projects in the pipeline for Chile?

Blatt: We have projects in the pipeline, but nothing concrete. LOTS Group is a global company and we operate in Chile, Brazil, Canada, the US, in the European and Asian markets. Right now, Sierra Atacama is the only active one, but we're always looking for other projects and we hope to participate in more mining projects in the coming years in Chile.

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