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A Blog Post

Latin America Mining: Automation is in Full Swing

Over the last few years, the mining industry has steadily increased the usage of autonomous systems in their operations. Automation technology has changed the mining value chain from exploration to mineral processing and refining. Automation benefits miners by reducing costs in the long term, increasing operational efficiency and providing a safer work environment.  

Latin America holds a significant portion of the global mining market but automation in some cases have been deployed less (or slower?) then in developed mining markets such as Australia. This is changing and it is being driven by private industry, government, and industry think tanks. 

Last month Chile’s mining council, Fundación Chile and promotion entity Corporación Alta Ley presented the 4.0 innovation roadmap for the industry in a webcast event. 

The roadmap proposes the use of  automated equipment and processes, 3D modelling inside mines, use of sensors to measure productivity, use of blockchain technologies to identify new assets, traceability of energy and water used in mining projects, and the use of wearable devices to monitor the health and safety of mineworkers. 

The document also highlights the need for public policies focused on flexible working hours and the home office, as well as mineral extraction and processing standards to guarantee responsible production. 

We do not have to look far to find announcements by some of the Region’s top miners on the automation projects they are carrying out. Below we have highlighted some of the most recent:

Nexa Resources

Nexa Resources has formed a partnership with technology firm ABB to implement a digital transformation program in its activities, as automation in the mining sector gains ground. The first step will be the modernization of the company’s existing mining and smelting installations in Brazil and Peru, which will form the foundation of digitized and cost-effective operations.

Nexa contracted ABB to provide industrial automation systems for existing and new operations in Brazil and Peru.

ABB will install its ABB Ability System 800xA as part of a five-year agreement. This technology is the basis for the digital transformation and will serve as a common platform to support all technological upgrades as the operations evolve into digitized mines.

In addition to automating existing sites, ABB will be responsible for delivering automation platforms at Nexa’s Aripuanã project.

“One of the major immediate gains will be employee safety, as the modern automation platform allows remote monitoring and control. The platform also increases productivity by applying modern control techniques and creating value for the company and local community,” Marcos Hillel, global product line manager automation & digital for mining, aluminum and cement at ABB, said in a release.

Sul Americana de Metais (SAM)

Sul Americana de Metais (SAM), the Brazilian subsidiary of Chinese group Honbridge Holdings, signed a memorandum of understanding with China’s Huawei for 5G-driven development of unmanned mining technology. The technology will be used in the US$2.1bn Block 8 iron ore complex in Minas Gerais state, one of the biggest mining ventures in Brazil’s pipeline.

“Our idea is to have trucks and shovels operating autonomously at this project. We want to have as many remote operations as possible to reduce the possibility of personnel accidents on the ground,” SAM’s institutional relations and environmental issues director, Gizelle Andrade Tocchetto, said in a June interview with BNamericas.

Brazilian Mining Regulator – ANM

ANM launched last month an electronic system for applying for mineral exploration permits. With the new tool, ANM projects that requests will be processed within 34 days, compared with the current average of 728 days. The new system will also reduce bureaucratic costs for companies by 1bn reais (US$183mn) a year, the agency said in a statement.

Antofagasta Minerals –  Los Pelambres

Epiroc Chile recently undertook a project to automate Los Pelambres blast and drilling. Epiroc provided hardware and software upgrade on two of the mine’s “automation ready” Pit Viper 351 diesel blasthole drills.

Edgardo Pabst, Minera Los Pelambres Autonomous Drilling Project Manager: ¨In 2018, it was first agreed to go teleremote and remove an operator from one of the Pit Viper 351 drills and transfer them to a control room 3 km away. This offered greater protection for the operator and increased productivity of the drilling process.¨

Epiroc Chile Drilling Solutions Business Manager Rodrigo Izzo: ¨ After planning the technology upgrades it was set as a goal to have the first Pit Viper 351 drilling rig in October 2019 independently drilling holes on its own which was successfully achieved. The second rig started operating autonomously in January 2020. Both units are the first to be fully automated by Epiroc in South America. ¨

Codelco – Gabriela Mistral

Gabriela Mistral has had 18 autonomous trucks in operation at its open-pit Gabriela Mistral mine in the Antofagasta Region since 2008. These vehicles are able to increase a mine’s operational efficiency by reducing costs in the long term and operating for more hours whilst also having a lower accidentability rate that means greater safety and protection at the mine.  

Codelco’s autonomous trucks have a load capacity of 300 tonnes per cycle and are guided by GPS, traveling at an average speed of 19.5 kilometers per hour. Their 17 hours of effective utilization compares with between 14 and 15 hours for a human-driven mining vehicle.

Conclusion:

After so many years of hearing about automation in the mining industry, it is not surprising to see Latin American miners adopting to the new norm. It was always there but it seemed to come about slower than other parts of the world. 

What is surprising is that new automation solutions are not just coming from the typical large suppliers but also from small to mid-size suppliers who are making their own names. Rightfully so…

Latin America is a market that mining technology companies cannot miss out on. Good solutions are being welcomed by miners who are eager to take advantage of new technologies if it makes sense for their operations.

Harris Gomez Group is a Common Law firm, with offices in Santiago, Bogotá, and Sydney. We also have legal teams in Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, and Argentina. Over the last 19 years, our team of English speaking Lawyers and Attorneys have been supporting foreign companies with their growth in Latin America. Many of our clients are technology companies, service providers and engineering companies that focus on the mining, energy and infrastructure markets. 

To better understand how we can support your management team in the Region, please contact Cody Mcfarlane at cmm@hgomezgroup.com