Posted by Paul Moore on September 8, 2022
Agnico Eagle says that exploration has long been the lifeblood of its success, with teams of geologists searching above and below ground for the next major mineral deposit. “That lifeblood now includes technology, with teams of software engineers, computer scientists and information technology experts exploring new frontiers to help shape the future of our company,” the miner said in a statement.
Nancy Guay, Vice President of Technology, Optimization and Innovation at Agnico Eagle says, “As mining becomes more complex, so do the challenges and risks associated with our business. Innovation is key to maintaining our reputation for sustainability and operational excellence, as well as our competitive advantage. We are leveraging advanced technology to improve underground safety and efficiency, reduce our carbon footprint and provide a healthier work environment for our employees.”
Agnico Eagle says its Technology and Innovation team is continually testing new technologies, including underground drones and augmented and virtual reality, through proofs of concept to demonstrate their feasibility in a mining environment. “Our LaRonde mine in Quebec is already using drones underground to conduct detailed 3D surveys that create incredibly accurate maps of the mine’s drifts and stopes. Drones fly daily through these stopes and galleries using LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) technology, a remote sensing technology that uses fast laser pulses to accurately measure varying distances to the ground.”
LiDAR technology not only captures high-quality digital data and images, but also provides a greater level of detail in the data, in much less time and with much less risk, making it a valuable tool for monitoring underground movement. and ensure safety. staff safety.
“Flying drones underground is all about safety, control and efficiency. It means someone doesn’t have to walk up to a stope that’s just been drilled and blasted to understand the quality of the blast or ask, ‘Did everything go according to plan? Are there any safety or rock mechanics issues we need to address?” comments Eric Trudel, Director, Innovation.
LaRonde now plans to use LiDAR technology to fully map its underground environment before introducing more autonomous mining vehicles and equipment. Meanwhile, based on LaRonde’s success to date, Agnico Eagle’s Goldex and Nunavut mines are looking to purchase LiDAR drones in the near future.
The Technology and Innovation team is also currently exploring more than 40 potential opportunities to improve operational excellence in mining, processing, energy, environmental protection, and health and safety. Some of the initiatives they are pursuing include mechanical cutting machines for underground excavation; exoskeleton devices to better manage worker fatigue; self-healing paint coatings for remote environments; automated buckets, trucks and drills; and green and alternative gold recovery solutions.
“Each initiative or concept has a project manager who is responsible for managing all stages of discovery, from initial technical evaluation to testing and validation stages. If the concept is proven, the project managers help the site acquire and integrate the technology into its operational activities.”
Moving on to electrification, the company states: “Given the high cost of electricity in some of our operating regions and Agnico Eagle’s commitment to carbon neutrality by 2050, the Technology and Innovation team is exploring power management solutions that will not only improve energy efficiency but also reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. ”
The team is considering the introduction of battery energy storage systems (BESS) that would enable backup power supply during peak periods of electricity demand cost, as well as increasing the use of electric vehicles underground (i.e., battery-powered vehicles). It is also considering installing wind turbines to convert wind energy into electricity at off-grid sites in remote locations; study hydrogen energy and decarbonization options; and looking for small modular reactors (SMRs) for remote mining sites. “This technology has the greatest potential to reduce the use of diesel generators and ultimately reduce Agnico Eagle’s GHG emissions. We partnered with Westinghouse to conduct a proof of concept for SMRs.”
The Technology and Innovation team has also been testing the benefits of virtual and augmented reality in mining environments: “terms that capture the change in the way we interact with technology today. Augmented reality (AR) is an interactive experience in a real-world environment where real-world objects are enhanced with computer-generated information; Virtual reality (VR) is a completely immersive experience that replaces a real-life environment with a simulated one.”
LaRonde is already experimenting with AR glasses and looking to implement them in interactive new employee training. This technology could eventually be used at Agnico Eagle’s global sites; for example, a technician from LaRonde could train a technician from Pinos Altos on how to disassemble and reassemble a pump. “Using these glasses, you see a virtual model versus a real bomb and you can follow what the instructor is doing, a step-by-step visualization of how to repair the bomb, which could have a big impact on competition in the field,” explains Trudel. .
LaRonde is also exploring virtual reality to simulate realistic scenarios for training purposes. Students enter a 360° active learning environment, experiencing sights and sounds that dissolve the barrier between virtual and real reality. “Workplace scenarios that were once too difficult, expensive or posed a potential safety risk, such as emergency preparedness or hazardous material spills, become more practical, cost-effective and safe in immersive simulation.”