Is there demand for mining automation equipment in Russia?

Russia is placing high importance on developing its mining sector – can automation help?

It’s certainly a running trend across the global mining industry. On some major Russian projects, automated and digital systems are already in place.

But is a fully-robotic future coming to Russian mining? What opportunities exist for mining equipment suppliers in Russia right now?

Automation in Russian mining

The case for robotics and automation

From rising competition from other ore and mining product producers like China and Western states, Russian miners are facing a real need to upgrade their equipment.

The ongoing need to drag their systems and machinery into the 21st century is a constant concern for these companies. Many still rely on outdated Soviet-era pieces to perform the bulk of their operations.

This is changing. Big players like Polyus are now investing in new computer-controlled systems to streamline mining.

It’s little wonder, because there are multiple benefits to automation in mining:

• Better mine data processing
• Better responses to changing mine conditions
• Cutting costs through more efficient production processes
• Improved safety by removing human workers from dangerous areas
• Better maintenance 
• Improved communication
• Improved exploration processes
• The ability to reach remote mining locations

Potential for mining automation in Russia

Russia is well poised for an automation revolution.

The market itself is not close to saturation. In terms of overall industry, there is just three robotic workers per 100,000 humans in Russia. This is very small compared to Western states, where the figure is 69 robots per 100,000.

Automated equipment is also a key import sector. Mining machinery and technology is a $3bn import market.

In terms of market share, foreign-made automation technology represents 30% of imports in this segment.

This tell us that there is significant room to expand. International companies can find some big wins here.

How majors are already adopting automation technology

Out in Krasnoyarsk, Eastern Siberia, an enormous gold mine pumps out hundreds of thousands of ounces of gold ore a year. Its reserves are biblical in scope; the equivalent of $40bn sitting beneath the earth, waiting for extraction.

A huge mine, the gem in the crown of Russia’s gold operations, Olimpiada is a major, major project. Operated by Polyus since 1996, the mine has often been a testbed for the very latest technologies mining has to offer.

Automated processes are the latest pieces of new technology being spearheaded at Olimpiada. 

From a glass-walled gantry perched over the main pit, a bank of computers remotely controls the automated tools working hundreds of feet below. 

Just one system unites 210 pieces of sensor-laden smart mining equipment.

Here, drilling machines using computer-controlled precision dig deep into the rock, planting explosives, and blasting to smash through hundreds of thousands of cubic metres of rock. Drilling, previously precise to 3-4 metres, can now accurately dig to 30cm.

Soon, Polyus will be deploying a fleet of autonomous trucks to carry the ore to Olimpiada’s dedicated processing centre. For now, however, the drivers remain human while the heavy work is the purview of machines.

Overall over 100kg of gold is produce every day at Polyus’ chief site. When the measures were adopted in 2017, this instantly led to a 36% year-on-year production increase.

A short drive across unpaved roads from the pit sits Olimpiada’s processing plant. IT solutions are making big changes here too. Once the grinders do their work, turning tire-sized rocks into dust, the processed ore is passed into flotation tanks.

A “smart eyes” analytical system uses a multitude of cameras to measure the frequency, size, and colour of bubbles produced during the necessary chemical reactions inside the tanks. This data is then processed by another bank of computers. These provide the necessary heat and reagents needed to strip the rock solution of non-gold parts and impurities. 

Through its automation of key processes, Polyus is able to handle and refine more ore, resulting in the aforementioned production rise of around 36% compared with human-led operations.

In the future, Russian mining will not be about which miner has the best ore bodies, the deepest resources, or the largest scale. The thing that separates major players from their rivals will be the best use of technology.

MiningWorld Russia: showcasing the future of mining and mineral extraction technology

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The event is your opportunity to meet new customers and grow your sales in one of the world’s foremost mining markets.

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