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Scaling Innovation and Sustainability: Codelco Mobilizes Electricity, AI and High Tech for Green Copper Production

In Chile, miners are boosting efficiencies while reducing carbon emissions and cost. Codelco, a global leader in copper production, is making significant technology charges at its mines that are among the largest and oldest in the industry.

Codelco, the Chilean state copper miner, is transforming its assets to maintain production levels and increase their lifespan amidst rising costs. It has dedicated $40 billion to upgrade its facilities over 10 years (2019 – 2029). Technological innovations—from artificial intelligence (AI) and automation to electric vehicles—are key to the strategic plan. The changes will lower the company’s carbon footprint, in line with the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and follow the Master Plan for Sustainability developed in 2016.

Automation, Optimized

In April 2019, Codelco announced that it contracted Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology, the equipment manufacturer, to supply a high-technology, production-automation system. “AutoMine” will be used at Codelco’s Chuquicamata mine—located in the Antofagasta region—to transition it from an open-pit to an underground mine.

AutoMine allows Codelco to fully automate a newly-acquired fleet of Sandvik LH621 loaders. The system is also highly adaptable and permits manually operated machines to continue to function alongside automated equipment, allowing technicians to gradually expand the scope of the programmed equipment.

The system covers automated and remote operations ranging from individual machines to multiple, full fleets. This flexibility ensures a seamless transition to automation over time. Sandvik’s systems have operated for over 2.5 million hours at hundreds of sites around the world without an injury to date.

Additionally, in May 2019 Codelco released plans to introduce the AutoMine fleet solution to operate trucks at the El Teniente mine in Machali. This mine ranks as the largest underground copper mine in the world.

In 2004, in an earlier partnership with Sandvik, this mine became one of the first in the world to utilize semi-automated load haul dumpers (LHDs) to extract ore. It then used AutoMine to fully automate the LHD fleet in the Pipa Norte and Diablo Regimiento sections of the asset.

We are proud Codelco continues to choose Sandvik as a strategic partner for its most innovative projects. Our technology will drive even safer, smarter and more productive mining.”

– Patricio Apablaza, Vice President for Andean and South Cone, Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology

In addition to AutoMine, Codelco utilizes Sandvik’s OptiMine Analytics. The software collects and analyzes data from all stages of the mining process. It continually assesses the viability of the equipment in use and applies predictive analytics to forecast potential changes. The program enables users to operate more safely and productively.

AI and Copper: The Future is Now

At its Division Ministro Hales (DMH) mine near Calama, Codelco has joined Uptake, a Chicago-based leader in artificial intelligence (AI), to monitor its mining equipment. The collaboration will cover grinding mills, crushers, roasters, haul trucks and pumps.

We are excited to partner with Codelco given their forward-thinking to accelerate not only their operations but the industry. Their data-first approach is outstanding and sets the tone for what is possible.”

– Jay Allardyce, Uptake Executive Vice President of Industry, Product and Partnerships

Uptake’s programs will assess the functioning of these machines to ensure they continually perform at optimal capacity. The programs will enable specialists to project maintenance needs before they develop to avoid interruptions in operations. Codelco aims to introduce an integrated system that will span all of the miner’s active projects.

Deploying artificial intelligence will allow Codelco to make the best use of operational data and allow us to boost mining productivity, reduce costs and maintain safe machine operations.”

– Jaime Rivera, Codelco General Manager, Andina Division

Specifically, Uptake’s Asset Performance Management (APM) software will bring data science and analytics to the mining sector. It provides Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM)-agnostic predictions, insights and recommendations that can be used at any asset. The data analytics tools allow Codelco to forecast changes that will impact revenue.

Fully Loaded with Electricity

In May 2019 Codelco announced plans to add its first hybrid loader to El Teniente mine’s fleet to reduce its carbon footprint.

The load-haul-dump (LHD) machine, constructed by Japan’s Komatsu, is mainly powered by electricity, using diesel only to generate electrical power. This LHD possesses a Switched Reluctance (SR) Hybrid Drive that stores excess energy and resupplies it as needed.

LHD offers acceleration rates that are nearly double conventional, mechanically propelled LHDs. Officials with Codelco estimate that Komatsu’s LHD product will lower overall costs by an estimated 30 percent and fuel costs by 20 percent.

Once Codelco expands its electric fleet further, experts forecast the changes could bolster overall outputs by 10 – 20 percent and decreasing emissions by 25 percent.

The company already has deployed an electric-powered underground scissor lift—operating at a cost 70 percent less than the diesel-powered model—and with a 100 percent noise level decrease. Meanwhile, these scissors emit up to 90 percent less heat than machines with diesel engines.

The addition of Komatsu’s LDHs will add to Codelco’s robust electric portfolio. The miner already uses two fully-electric buses to transport mine employees from Rancagua to El Teniente, 3,100 meters (10,170 feet) above sea level. It also runs a 100 percent electric-powered bus for residents in the town and provides free transport for local school children. This year it is adding an electric minivan to circulate in the interior of the Chuquicacamanta mine.

Using our mines to full effect is a key driver for our business. Automation and optimization are critical to getting the most from our mines and keeping our people safe while we do it.”

 – Andrés Avendaño, Operations Manager, Chuquicamata Codelco

About CodelcoSandvik

Based in Santiago and established in 1976, Codelco (Corporación Nacional del Cobre de Chile or the National Copper Corporation of Chile) is a Chilean state-owned firm and the world’s largest copper miner with 19 percent of global red metal reserves. Codelco is also one of the largest molybdenum producers anywhere with 24,000 tonnes produced in 2018.

About Sandvik

Sandvik AB is a Swedish firm founded in 1862 which specializes in high technology engineering services for the mining and construction industries. These include tools and tooling systems for equipment, industries and advanced industrial heating. With a presence in 160 countries Sandvik has about 42,000 employees.

About Komatsu

Komatsu Ltd. is a Japanese multinational firm and one of the world’s leading manufacturers of mining and construction equipment, along with other industrial equipment including lasers and electric generators. Headquartered in Tokyo and founded in 1921, Komatsu has 59,000 employees.

About Uptake

With headquarters in Chicago and offices in Silicon Valley, Washington D.C., Toronto and Dubai, Uptake is a premiere provider of artificial intelligence (AI) and IoT software for industrial firms. Uptake combines data analytics and machine learning with strong industry knowledge to create enhanced safety, reliability and productivity. Uptake is used by global customers of all sizes to leverage data, creating pioneering efficiencies and market advantages.

About the Copper Alliance®

The Copper Alliance® is a network of regional copper centers and their industry-leading members. It is responsible for guiding policy and strategy and for funding international initiatives and promotional activities. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the organization has offices in three primary regions: Europe, Asia and North America. The Copper Alliance has partnerships and programs in more than 100 countries.