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The new Mines of Moria
We flew from Amsterdam/Schiphol to Stockholm/ Arlanda in two hours, exchanged money, hired a car and now we’re already on our way again. The next stop on our journey is the mine at Garpenberg, near the small town of Hedemora situated a good two-and-a-half hours north of Stockholm. Mines have been operated here for almost eight hundred years. However, we haven’t come to Garpenberg to discover the history of prospecting but to visit one of the world’s most modern mines.
Iron ores have been quarried in Garpenberg for centuries – today it is primarily zinc, lead and silver. Extraction volumes are almost 2.4 million tonnes per year. The mining operation uses so-called flotation cells in which minerals are separated from rock Waste by means of a physical-chemical process. The machinery is extremely important for extracting ore – which is why an outage must be avoided. Dozens of flotation cells are used in Garpenberg over an extensive and in parts almost inaccessible terrain, and you can’t help being reminded of Tolkien’s Mines of Moria. The mine’s operators are now concentrating on monitoring using acceleration sensors that measure vibrations and shock pulses and transfer the data to a server, which in turn supplies the control room with aggregated and analyzed information. This enables a large number of potential problems to be recognized early on and remedied. Today, sensor technology no longer monitors just the flotation cells but also other complex machines like ore mills.
Nevertheless, these complex solutions are just one expression of the overall strategy that the mine’s operator, Boliden, has developed – in effect a digitalization approach that reaches down a kilometer below ground. Power supply management, predictive maintenance, process automation and the integration of data into a platform developed by ABB are the reason why the mine is today one of the most efficient in the world.
Conveyor ventilation systems, belts and vehicles, maintenance processes and environmental data feeds, emergency alert systems, miners’ tablet PCs and caterpillar drives have all become elements in a single giant network that can be organized and optimized remotely. The huge volumes of data that are generated on the mine premises form the basis of complex analytics that enable processes to be continuously improved and resources and assets to be allocated efficiently.
The mine at Garpenberg is today just as much a marvel as the Mines of Moria. However, it is not the fantastic engineering skills of dwarfs that amaze us here, but the digital intelligence that permeates the quarry pits and conveyor system like an additional dimension. In Hedemora we found further evidence that the added value of smart products can be accelerated exponentially as a result of snowball effects. The benefit of each single element in the smart network becomes immediately greater when additional elements are incorporated into the network. Smart products are physicaldigital hybrids. However, the smart product economy doesn’t follow the logic of scale of conventional industry, but the network logic of the web.