A small-scale trial of 3D-manufactured machine parts is helping Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions and leading mining company Boliden explore the potential of additively manufactured parts, which are set to disrupt component sourcing globally.
Sweden has a long and noble mining history, with evidence of human activity dating back to prehistoric times. But old does not mean primitive, as a trial of cutting-edge technology between Sandvik and Swedish mining and metals giant Boliden shows. Additive manufacturing – or 3D printing as it is more commonly known – is maturing rapidly and has evolved from printing plastic components to being able to print ceramics and metals. To uncover the technology’s potential, Boliden has partnered with Sandvik to conduct a trial that will see machine parts digitally printed and installed on underground drill rigs.
Proof of concept
The trial with Sandvik involves a set of specially redesigned components digitally printed at a Sandvik-run facility in Italy, with their performance checked on machines at Boliden’s underground mining workings – first in Sweden, then in Ireland. At least in theory, 3D metal parts could work just as well – or even better – than traditionally manufactured items. The first components have just been commissioned in the Garpenberg mine, the performance of which remains to be assessed.
“Additive manufacturing has great potential, both in reducing the carbon footprint within the supply chain, through the reduction or elimination of parts transportation and storage requirements, as well as to the reduction of delivery times. This trial will give us a better understanding of how we can move forward and grow our business competitively,” said Ronne Hamerslag, Head of Supply Management at Boliden.
Local manufacturing is “the future”
3D printing is also an exciting prospect for OEMs, as Erik Lundén, Sandvik President, Parts and Services at Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions explains: “Mining equipment can last up to 25 years and needs to be taken supported throughout this period, even in the most remote places. We have many different part numbers and from an inventory standpoint we cannot tie up the capital that would be involved in keeping all of these parts in stock. 3D printing parts locally not only gives us the ability to get parts to the customer much faster, but also to do so in a much more sustainable way. »
Although in theory, any part could, in the future, be 3D printed, it is likely that it will be the maintenance and repair operating elements that will be the first to undergo the additive manufacturing treatment. , such as bushings, brackets, drill parts, etc. customers should change every 3,000 to 4,000 hours. But the printing of the parts is only part of the puzzle that the trial with Boliden tries to solve. Another is working on the future business model of 3D printed parts. Who does the printing? The OEM, the miner, or a third-party printing company? What will the costs be? What about intellectual property rights, warranties and liabilities? All of these things – and more – need to be resolved in the development of a 3D printed future.
Game changer for coins
“If you ask me, that’s the most exciting thing going on in the supply chain,” Boliden’s Hamerslag said. “Its efficiency, speed and climate friendliness mean we need to look closely at additive manufacturing. We are only at the proof of concept stage with Sandvik at the moment, but it is already clear that this could be a game-changer for the aftermarket sector in the mining sector, both for miners and for equipment manufacturers.