The November sky is clear in Kaunisvaara, and the morning sun has lit up the north side of the mine. Half-way down into the mine, two SmartROC D65 drill rigs are working, and in front of them are two rows with sticks. They have been stuck into the ground, each in its own drill hole with yellow plastic tubing, which makes the hole easier to load. The sticks are marked with different colors; yellow means that cuttings have been taken, and blue means the hole is loaded.
A number of holes remain to be drilled before the blasting scheduled for tomorrow, but the work is proceeding as planned. During a break, drill operator Lars Mäkitalo shares some insight.
"One of the rigs is a SmartROC D65 XLF, and it has an extra long feed. We are drilling a 13.5-deep hole, and because the feed is as long as it is, one extension of the drill rod is sufficient. Otherwise, two extensions are needed, so we save a lot of time."
Lars Mäkitalo continues: “When drilling, we use a COP M6 hammer from Epiroc, and it works better than all the other hammers we have tried. It hits faster, drills quicker and is easier to handle.”
We are in Kaunisvaara, just outside of Pajala in the northernmost region of Sweden, just ten kilometers from the Finnish border. There is a long tradition of mining and metalworking in the region, and in 2012 a mine was opened here under the management of Northland Resources. The activities were shut down after just two years, but were resumed in the summer of 2018, this time by the newly established Kaunis Iron. In a short time, the company has become quite profitable through its production of magnetite, a kind of iron ore. One explanation is the rising prices of raw materials; another is efficient operations.
"The production is tied to high costs, so we have to be cost-effective, for instance in terms of fuel consumption. That was the reason we purchased SmartROC D65 XLF. It uses less diesel than other rigs, and the long feed translates to significant time savings."
In total, Kaunis Iron owns four SmartROC D65 rigs, but has just ordered another two SmartROC D65 XLF. The Epiroc rigs handle most of Kaunis Iron’s production drilling, and we chose Epiroc equipment because there was already an existing relationship before the company was established. The former mine manager of Kaunis Iron was also manager for Northland Resources, and they used Epiroc rigs.
“We knew they worked well in our company. SmartROC D65 is well suited for a small open pit mine like Kaunisvaara, where flexibility is important. Before blasting, we have to be able to move the rigs fast, to limit lost production time as much as possible,” says Åsa Allan.
According to foreman Andreas Finnholm, between 1 500 and 2 000 meters are drilled per day, and the fact that they do not have to lengthen drill rods as much increases production by about 25 percent.
“And SmartROC D65 is so versatile,” says Andreas Finnholm. The terrain can be very broken sometimes after a blast, but because the D65 doesn’t have much overhang, it fares better than other rigs. It doesn't have much in the way of limitations. Andreas Finnholm is also very happy with the drill steel:
“It’s always important in this kind of business,” he says. We have tested different makes and models, but have come to realize there is just one option for us. Epiroc’s equipment is what works. The COP M6 hammer works better than all the other hammers we have tried. It can manage at least 9 000 meters before it needs renovating. That’s a really good number.
In 2020, Kaunis Iron produced two million metric tons of iron ore concentrate from six million metric tons of ore in the two open pit mines in Kaunisvaara. In late 2020 or early 2021, the production rate will increase. The company has already switched to production drilling around the clock, and the plan is to open another open-pit mine in 2022. To ensure reliable and sustainable haulage of goods to Svappavaara – where the iron ore is transferred from truck to railroad cars for transportation onward to the port of Narvik – Kaunis Iron has invested SEK 127 million in a plan, worth close to 1.2 billion SEK in total, that the Swedish Transport Agency has to improve the road from the mine to Svappavaara with detours, safety measures and new bridges.
A critical factor for success for Kaunis Iron is its access to technical equipment, in other words minimizing the time machines are not in operation. For SmartROC D65, there is a service agreement in place that stations technical personnel from Epiroc in Kaunisvaara to carry out regular service and take care of unplanned downtime, including sharpening drill steel and making sure there is always enough drilling equipment in stock.
In the workshop, service technician Gustaf Karvonen and his colleagues are performing a RigScan, an advanced audit on one of Kaunis Iron’s SmartROC D65 rigs. “After a RigScan, Kaunis Iron knows exactly how the rig is doing and what kind of measures we can take,” he says and continues:
“For us as technicians, it’s a big advantage working closely with the customer like this. We are in contact with the operators daily and know exactly how the rigs are running. That means we can take preventive steps so they are up and running as much as possible. We are also there as technical support for the operators and can offer tips and advice because we know the rig so well.”
Åsa Allan is very happy with the close cooperation they have with Epiroc.
"It works very well, Epiroc’s service personnel is incredibly dedicated and are just as eager as we are at Kaunis Iron to see to it that operations run smoothly. We already have good cooperation with Epiroc, and I would like to see it become even more extensive and longer-term."