Minas de Ríotinto, located in the province of Huelva, in southwest Spain, is home to Europe’s largest mining pit, and has been a rich source of copper ore for thousands of years. However, when mine owner Atalaya Mining identified areas not operating with the efficiency required, it was cutting-edge technology that made the difference.
The mine produces some of the highest quality copper found in the world, but with extraction costs that reach €6,000 per tonne, the operation relies on absolute efficiency to stay in the black. The goal was to increase mining capacity from 9.5 million to 15 million tonnes per year, and Atalaya Mining turned to construction firm Sánchez y Lago and Topcon to help make this happen.
A rock and a hard place
The project was a huge undertaking for several reasons. Site safety is a completely different proposition in mining pits, with the risk of rockslides and deterioration of materials key considerations. Additionally, for a project where the end date is dictated by the land, any intervention had to be able to go the distance and adapt to operators’ needs, however they developed. The need to boost mining capacity by 50% while meeting rigorous safety standards left Sánchez y Lago with little wriggle room.
The construction company had worked with Topcon’s products in the past and understood how the accurate planning and complete connectivity offered by its data and machine control solutions help mitigate the risks of working in challenging environments. Considering the objectives of this project, the construction firm opted to use Topcon’s MC-Max machine control and Sitelink3D technologies.
MC Max systems fitted to the seven excavators used on the project helped the machines and operators rise to the challenges posed by the job site, working faster and more accurately without compromising the safety of their colleagues. An intuitive and immersive user experience meant operators quickly got to grips with the technology and fully understood their individual roles. There were also two Topcon installation technicians and a machine control specialist on site to help both facilitate the learning process and identify and address any issues.
Speaking of the complexity of the undertaking, Juan Carlos Ramos del Viejo, sales manager at Topcon Positioning Spain, explained: “Operator fatigue is a serious problem on mining projects – if machine operators drop the ball at any point, the results can be disastrous. The 3D automatic mode on the MC-Max reduces the strain on operators, keeping them on track and at the level of performance that gets the job done and keeps everyone safe.”
While the MC-Max’s GPS and GNSS positioning technology ensured the different layers were levelled correctly, flexible mounting solutions helped operators load the extracted materials on the excavators quicker. The resulting flatter surfaces helped speed up extraction operations as entry and exit times became shorter.
The Sitelink3D web-based platform was used in combination with the MC-Max to allow real-time data synchronisation between all the site’s machines. This allowed teams to manage and update designs remotely, reducing the number of supervisors needed on site. When things did change, operators in the cab were given a precise view of their new task, meaning instructions couldn’t be mis-communicated as they travelled down the chain of command. These benefits all ensured that greater efficiency didn’t come at the cost of flexibility or, more importantly, safety.
Manuel Paredero González, production engineer at Sánchez y Lago, explained: “The system from Topcon has helped us maintain gradients in the best possible condition, which has resulted in savings in auxiliary machinery such as tyres and wheels. With this being an ongoing project with no definitive ending, it’s really useful that the products are flexible and can grow as our needs expand – which we’re sure will add value further down the line.”
Cutting-edge machine control and workflow technology, and the technical support needed to get the best out of them, were instrumental in helping Sánchez y Lago overcome the challenges posed by a unique worksite. The result is a vastly more efficient operation for the firm’s client, and a safe and productive future for Minas de Ríotinto.