Epiroc targets conversions as key to fulfilling electrification commitments

Sustainability has emerged as the number one goal for mining equipment manufacturer Epiroc in recent years, as it has for much of the sector as a whole.

Epiroc targets conversions as key to fulfilling electrification commitments

For both the company itself and the wide range of customers who use its products every day, that commitment to sustainability means, in large part, a shift to electrification.
The Swedish founded business has set itself some bold, ambitious targets to deliver a greener and more sustainable future through electrification. It has pledged to offer a complete range of underground equipment in battery-electric form by 2025, while by 2030 it intends to provide a battery-electric version of every part of its vast portfolio of mining equipment.
"Yes, it's a big task and it's a short time period," admits Shawn Samuels, business line manager for Rocvolt, an electrification accelerator unit within Epiroc that focuses to drive electrification both internally and with its mining customers who are increasingly embracing the concept of the electric mine.
"I would say there's customer interest, in every offering, is to be electric and sustainable," continues Mr Samuels. "We were a big driver ourselves to start with, when we saw it as the future, but over the last six or seven years I see everyone talking sustainability. The big mining houses want to be sustainable and green, and we do too. We are all in on this, and it's full tilt."
That sense of being all-in is the driving force behind the development of Epiroc's Rocvolt unit which coordinates the wider company's electrification efforts. It is also why Epiroc is engaged in what Mr Samuels describes as a "two track" approach to electrifying its products. 
"Because of this [short time period] what we've done is develop new equipment Scooptram ST14, Minetruck MT42 and drilling equipment, but at the same time we are converting older equipment from diesel to battery," he explains.
So far, this process has seen Epiroc complete conversion of  three models: its Scooptram ST14 and Scooptram ST1030 loaders, and its Minetruck MT42 vehicle. It is currently working on conversions on the Scooptram ST7 loader and Minetruck MT436. The benefit of converting these models to battery power is not only in reduced emissions. Epiroc has found that they use 70% less energy, require 25-30% less preventative maintenance spend, increase productivity by 10% and account for less noise.
The transformational nature of what Epiroc is doing in catering to a mining industry in the process of electrifying operations on a vast scale is about more than just the physical process of converting its longstanding diesel fleet to electric; it is also about skills and knowledge. The manufacturer has to replace 100 years' worth of knowledge on diesel vehicles and plant into a similar level of expertise to cater for the electric future. In short, Epiroc needs to educate an entire workforce to operate and service electric equipment, virtually from scratch.
In part, the process of converting the existing fleet is helping people in the business - and the company itself - to acquire this knowledge. The "two track" approach is an important factor in this, as Mr Samuels explains: "We're making new equipment and new designs and making battery equipment that way, but we're also taking the older models and converting them; so then we are using that knowledge we learned from the conversion process to provide new battery equipment of the same models from our factory. 
In addition, to help accelerate the process, Epiroc is engaging with educational institutions as well as developing its own training programmes to educate and train its workforce. 
While developing an electrified fleet and converting diesel power to battery will be important in the digital mine of the future, these new tools will be rendered redundant without good infrastructure, both physical and digital.
"Electrical infrastructure is critical to an electric mine as installed electricity, substations, and charging capacity needs to be considered when planning the mine," says Mr Samuels.
"Data capabilities are also critical - so digital infrastructure is important for management of the assets including vehicles, batteries and electrical infrastructure like chargers etc.  management of the large electrical mine components can be critical to managing electric costs."
With a view to providing this infrastructure for its customers, Epiroc has brought in significant expertise through acquisition in recent years. The company has made between numerous acquisitions over the last three years, with the focus of the acquisitions being on automation, electrification and digitalisation.
"Infrastructure is critical to the success of the mines in the," adds Mr Samuels. "We started selling the chargers, the batteries and the machines. And then we got we got on line and [customers] would say ‘how much power do I need for these machines?' and ‘how do I get the power? And we saw opportunities in acquiring more expertise in this field. ."
Among companies brought into the Epiroc fold in 2022 were Australian electrical infrastructure solutions provider JTMEC and Remote Control Technologies (RCT), another Australian firm that specialises in automation and remote control solutions for mining. 
In 2021, Epiroc partnered with Kempower, a Finnish tech start-up that designs and manufacturers direct current fast charging solutions for electric vehicles and machines. That year it also bought Canadian electrification infrastructure provider Meglab, to help service north American mining customers.
Explaining the synergies these acquisitions bring for Epiroc and its clients, Mr Samuels says: "These companies knew infrastructure so now we can bring their knowledge to the table and we can talk substations, we can talk power requirements, we can talk about how much cable you need, the sizing, how much power you need to do these kind of things."
Another important part of the jigsaw for the electric mine is the battery itself. Epiroc has partnered with fellow Swedish company Northvolt since 2018 to provide batteries for its electric machinery, with sustainability at the heart of this partnership too. The partners are currently working on a recycling programme, with Northvolt aiming to have all its batteries use 50% recycled material by 2030.
All of these elements are already coming together for Epiroc, as evidenced by its position as the main mining and haulage equipment supplier for Glencore's Onaping Depth Nickel-Copper project in Ontario, believed to be the world's first all-electric mine, and due to come onstream in 2024. Epiroc will supply the mobile mining battery-electric machines for this project.
It is a major endorsement of Epiroc's commitment to developing the electric mine, but with the way the industry is heading, it is only likely to be the start of the journey.


Epiroc is a vital part of a sustainable society and a global productivity partner for mining and infrastructure customers.  



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