Raffi Jabrayan, director of markets and industries at Exyn Technologies. Image: Exyn Technologies

Jarkko Ruokojärvi, global business development manager in automation at Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology. Image: Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology


Pushing the boundaries of mine automation with Sandvik and Exyn

Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology and robotics specialist Exyn Technologies have partnered to explore the boundaries of mining robotics and automation. Scarlett Evans speaks to Raffi Jabrayan, director of markets and industries at Exyn Technologies, and Jarkko Ruokojärvi, global business development manager in automation at Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology, to find out what the project entails.

Raffi Jabrayan, director of markets and industries at Exyn Technologies. Image: Exyn Technologies

Raffi Jabrayan, director of markets and industries at Exyn Technologies. Image: Exyn Technologies


utomation could bring substantial change to the mining sector, allowing workers to be replaced in more dangerous jobs and increasing the efficiency of operations. It is not without its own challenges; however, there are large leaps to be made in digitalisation and ensuring connectivity at operations that may often be remote and hard to ensure signal strength throughout.

By combining Sandvik’s experience in mine automation with Exyn’s expertise in aerial robotics, the new partnership aims to improve the mapping and visualisation of underground mines. We heard from the partners about the project’s scope and their take on the prospects for a robotic revolution in mining in the coming years.

Scarlett Evans: What do you hope to achieve through this partnership?

Raffi Jabrayan (RJ):

Our goal in the partnership is ultimately to give decision-makers as much pertinent information as possible, which leads to better planning and aids in the increase of safe production. Sandvik has been a leader in underground autonomy for a number of years and, as a leader in the aerial autonomy space, we feel our technology can help achieve the end goal of fully autonomous underground mining.

Jarkko Ruokojärvi (JR):

Through this partnership, we are working together to provide efficient solutions for mapping and visioning underground mines, which will make a substantial difference when it comes to mine locations that are hazardous, hard to reach, or conventionally time-consuming to survey and inspect.

Sandvik’s OptiMine, combined with data collected by Exyn’s aerial robots, creates progressive visualisation and information of the mine’s actual environment to increase overall transparency of the mining process. The collaboration between Sandvik and Exyn will also entail research on how to apply and generate 3D views and perceptions of underground spaces autonomously. For the first time, industries like mining, logistics, and construction can benefit from a single, integrated solution to capture critical and time-sensitive data in a safer, more affordable, and more efficient way.

More than half of the country’s coal mines are managed by pro-Russian separatist militia.Credit: DmyTo/Shutterstock.

Can you explain how your companies’ technology will be used in this partnership?

RJ: Exyn’s technology will be able to map areas unattainable to other autonomous vehicles. This includes being able to access stopes and more vertically-oriented areas within the mine. Our A3R drone will be able to map the cavities quickly, which will help provide a more accurate volumetric calculation. Furthermore, our drones will be able to supply a holistic view of the mine and transparency of the entire mining process to the mine management when using such tools as the OptiMine Mine Visualizer.

JR: Our AutoMine technology covers all aspects of automation, from remote and autonomous operation of a single piece of equipment to multi-machine control and full-fleet automation using automatic mission and traffic control capabilities. In addition, OptiMine is the most comprehensive solution for optimising underground hard rock mining production and processes. It integrates all assets and people - including Sandvik and non-Sandvik equipment - delivering descriptive and predictive insights to improve operations.

What are the issues found with current methods of mapping underground mines and how will your technology remedy them? 

RJ: A traditional CMS requires significant human hours in potentially dangerous or unstable areas of the mine. Exyn’s technology takes workers out of dangerous areas and allows for autonomous vehicles to collect data safely, more accurately, and more completely. Additionally, by using other types of sensors, we are able to collect more data in one pass versus having repeated measurement needs over time.

JR: Both of Sandvik’s digital solutions operate through interacting with equipment, people, and other assets as well as the data they collect. OptiMine collects data from all the different resources in a mine, such as mobile equipment and people. It pulls the data together and visualises it in various ways that people in the mine operations’ center and those working underground with tablets can make use of to operate more efficiently, both from a planning perspective and in real-time.

But there are some areas in the mine that have, until now, been difficult to reach and extract the data. For example, cavities in the stopes that are created after blasting operations. This is where Exyn’s technology comes in, and its fully autonomous aerial vehicles can map the entirety of underground operations, even in dangerous GPS-denied environments.

They can fly themselves through these cavities using a laser-scanning sensor to map the stopes and create a 3D point cloud while making mining safer and improving productivity. The 3D data these autonomous drones produce is more accurate and can be gathered quicker, and it does not require special skills by people.

Can you tell me anything about the kinds of technology you will be working to create?

RJ: There are numerous opportunities that we have jointly identified that we are actively working towards, and are eager to share them with the industry in the upcoming months.

How close are we to the realisation of ‘smart mines’? 

RJ: ‘Smart mines’ are closer than ever, and there are some current projects that are fairly close to achieving that. Sandvik has played a key role in that regard and we are very excited to now be a part of that as well. Having said that, there will always be a need for humans in certain capacities.

JR: At Sandvik, we’ve delivered autonomous and digital solutions for many years throughout the world, and we’ve seen our customers recognise that the smartest mines are the ones that will survive and thrive. In light of this, we are working to continuously improve products to make our digital solutions suitable and easy to use for any mining application.

What technology do you anticipate will make the biggest impact on this sector, and why?

RJ: Technology and innovation that improves worker safety and stakeholder decision making, like our autonomous aerial drones, will continue to have the biggest impact. As the mines get deeper and ore bodies more difficult to mine, having a fleet of autonomous machines will greatly reduce the risk to human life, while increasing production.

JR: Based on our experience, Sandvik believes that the combination of autonomous equipment and digital tools for managing and optimising the mining process will provide the greatest benefits to improve overall efficiency and safety of mining operations. That is why Sandvik continuously expands the capabilities of its AutoMine and OptiMine products. And that is why we’ve also partnered with Exyn, which shares the same vision.

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