Virtual reality simulations are both cheaper and easier than performing the same tasks in a production environment. As part of the Sustainable Underground Mining (SUM) project, tests will therefore be conducted in a virtual mine in parallel with live experiments in the Konsuln test mine in Kiruna.
“In the virtual mine we can test hypotheses prior to, during and after live tests. Simulations may have there limitations but by working closely with testing conducted in Konsuln, we can deliver useful data to SUM. We have worked in a similar manner at LKAB for many years,” says Kjell-Ove Mickelsson, senior engineer in LKAB’s Market and Technology Department.
In the near future, it will be possible to use models to simulate and analyse various proposals to support the other elements of SUM. In the longer term, the aim is to develop methods and stable tools for easily collecting and combining various data in a virtual environment, independent of hardware and storage location.
Workstations in the Konsuln project office
All partners will be involved
The virtual mine will permit the systems of the various suppliers to be connected, with some data collected from the control centre, perhaps with the construction of a digital twin of Konsuln.
The project group has conducted an initial inventory of the simulation models and tools LKAB currently uses, selecting some of these that are of particularly great interest to SUM. LKAB’s partners in SUM – ABB, Combitech, Epiroc and the Volvo Group – will become involved as the project progresses.
“ABB already delivers control systems and simulator platforms to LKAB that may be usable in the virtual mine. Combitech provides us with experience of integrating models and simulations of complex systems. And, for example, if we want to simulate an Epiroc loader’s communication with a Volvo truck, we will need to include models of both vehicles. Only our partners have the knowledge about how their vehicles function,” explains Combitech’s Henric Andersson, project manager for the virtual mine.
The virtual mine will build knowledge
The point of departure for the virtual environment is the geometric appearance of the mine itself, which is generally visualised in 4D models. By adding layers containing elements such as roads, offices, electrical installations, ventilation and vehicle routes, one can build an image from which to begin. Depending on which question is being asked, various scenarios can be tested and analysed, anything from how smoke will spread in a fire to how wide drifts need to be in order for two lorries to pass in an efficient transport system.
“One simple analogy is the steps you take before travelling somewhere for the first time. You might visit Google Street View and have a look around, test various routes, how to get from the hotel to the beach, or see what the neighbouring building looks like. You build up your knowledge and draw conclusions that you then have to hand once you are actually there. That’s roughly how it works with the virtual mine as well,” says Henric Andersson.