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Glencore’s Compañía Minera Lomas Bayas (CMLB) copper mine in Chile will convert its surface drills to an autonomous operation through industry leading technology provided by Flanders.

The mine is in the Atacama Desert and extracts low grade copper oxide ore. Maintaining safety and sustainability standards, increasing productivity, and reducing operational costs is a significant focus.

The first phase in the Glencore digital mining journey at Lomas Bayas will be completed using Flanders’ technology and involves automating two Caterpillar drill rigs and providing a dedicated wireless network. The results obtained in the initial phase will provide essential information to continue the journey to full automation of mining equipment across the operation.

Lomas Bayas general manager Pablo Carvallo said incorporating technology into equipment is the company’s response to constant changes that mining operations face.

“As in the case of Lomas Bayas, where everyday challenges must be dealt with in an even safer and more productive way. We want digital mining efforts to expand over time and educate industry of our learnings and support technology development in our region,” he said.

Lomas Bayas mine manager Felipe Bunout said the initiative was in line with the core objectives to provide a safer environment for workers and increase productivity in its processes.

“This technology will allow us to increase the equipment utilization and the precision of the drilling pattern and improve the quality of the blasting process and the whole process downstream. This initial phase is the first step for Lomas Bayas into mine equipment automation, and we have high hopes that the results will enable us to continue walking down this path,” he said.

The project is significant as Lomas Bayas will be the first to adopt intelligent drill technology globally in Glencore mining operations. Conversion of the CAT drills and wireless network installation is expected to be completed in June 2023.

Glencore technology study manager Enrique Caballero said Lomas Bayas was chosen for the automation program, as the operation had shown high adaptability and organisational maturity.

“Their executive team has a well-built long-term view. The operation vision is strongly aligned with digital mines and technology as a path forward, in which safety, sustainability, and their workforce life qualities are part of the pillars,” he said.

Flanders’ autonomous control system, ARDVARC, and command centre technology is industry-leading, helping mining companies improve drill performance and keep people safe. ARDVARC has been used for more than 15 years, enables advanced functionality through interoperability with fleet management systems and other data acquisition platforms, and is agnostic to original equipment manufacturers.

Typically, the ARDVARC system produces increases in productivity by up to 30 per cent, providing greater drill accuracy and the ability for one person to operate up to eight drills. Including technology in the ARDVARC Command Centre (ACC) builds on remote working capabilities to unlock additional value, such as enhancing decision-making by integrating functions across the value chain.

Although not a new concept, products like the ACC present an opportunity for Lomas Bayas to re-imagine and reform the mine operates, as remote working becomes imperative to ensuring value and sustainability.

Flanders regional director Martin Schafer said the technology also brought environmental gains.

“ARDVARC autonomous drills have shown a 7.3 per cent reduction in fuel compared to manned drills, which is a reduction of about 1200 litres of fuel per year, equivalent to 2966t CO2 less in the atmosphere,” he said.

“When fully automated, the drills that we will be converting in Chile will also be safer for workers, who will operate the drills well away from the drill and blast areas. The mission-critical dedicated network and the 24/7 support provided in the scope round-up an extremely reliable solution”.