Sandvikin AutoMine-konseptilaite
Article

Collaboration between networks leads to more climate-friendly mining – Sandvik intends to remain a frontrunner

Tue, 04/20/2021 - 11:46
Mining is becoming increasingly demanding, and it also needs to become more sustainable. Sandvik has decided to retain its position as the frontrunner in the fields of electrifying heavy work machinery and digital solutions as part of one of Business Finland’s leading company projects. “We aim to improve the mining process so that all actions are taken with sustainable development in mind,” says Jani Vilenius, Director of Research and Technology.

One of the major trends in mining in recent years has been the electrification of diesel-powered mining machinery. This is due to costs, as well as the emissions caused by using diesel.

Sandvik, which operates in the mining and contracting industry, has pioneered the manufacturing of remote-controlled and automated mining machinery for a couple of decades now. It intends to retain its position as a frontrunner, and its current focus is on electronic and digital solutions for heavy work machinery and better service concepts.

The company’s investment strategy led it to become involved in one of Business Finland’s leading company projects.

“New mines are based on the principles that they are not even visible at ground level and they are safer to work in than before. Our targets are to reduce energy consumption, preserve the environment, reduce material waste, minimise water consumption and ensure safety – in other words, we aim to improve the entire mining process so that all actions are taken with sustainable development in mind,” says Jani Vilenius, Director of Research and Development.

Jani Vilenius, Sandvik

A reformer. Jani Vilenius points out that companies need to invest in the future, even during times of crisis. “At Sandvik, we aim to promote sustainable development and take a leading role in implementing the associated reforms.

Mining is becoming more challenging, and not just for climate and environmental reasons; there are also human concerns.

“Mines are extending deeper and deeper underground, and they are not located in urban centres, so the working conditions are more demanding than before. The more we can automate and digitalise production, the better we will be able to control the production process for improved productivity, reliability and safety,” says Vilenius.

EVERY MEMBER OF THE NETWORK IS ON THE SAME PAGE

At the beginning of 2020, Business Finland launched a challenge competition for leading companies. The idea behind the competition was for leading companies in international company networks to tackle significant future challenges and increase their research, development and innovation (RDI) investments in Finland.

Over the course of one year, six leading company projects have begun as part of the competition. Sandvik’s project is one of them.

RDI activities will be strengthened by hundreds of millions of euros
  • To date, Business Finland has selected six projects for inclusion in the challenge competition for leading companies, and it is providing financial support totalling EUR 120 million. The funding will only be paid when the projects achieve their set objectives.
  • The competition winners are committed to creating hundreds of RDI jobs and increasing their RDI investments by hundreds of millions of euros. The projects are intended to lead to additional investments in Finland to the tune of billions of euros.
  • A further precondition is that the projects make a substantial impact on the targets in the government’s programme, which call for the rate of RDI investment in Finland to be brought to 4 per cent of gross domestic product by 2030 and for the employment rate to rise to 75 per cent.
  • The companies that have won the competition must undertake more RDI collaboration with research institutions and SMEs, thereby engaging other companies, institutes of higher education and research institutions in their projects – in other words, in the same ecosystem.
  • To date, the competition has led to leading company projects with Kone, ABB, Nokia, Fortum and Metsä Group, in addition to Sandvik.
  • Sandvik will invest approximately EUR 50 million in its leading company project over five years. If the criteria set out in the competition are fulfilled, Business Finland will issue a grant of almost EUR 20 million to Sandvik.
  • Sandvik, a Swedish-owned company, operates in Finland under the name Sandvik Mining and Construction Corp., changed from Tamrock after acquisition. The company has plants in Tampere, Turku and Lahti in Finland.
  • Sandvik Mining and Construction Corp.’s net sales amounted to EUR 981.3 million in 2019. The company employs almost 2,000 people.

As Sandvik develops and renews its own business, it is also encouraging – or even forcing – development among the SMEs, institutes of higher education and research institutions in the same leading company ecosystem – its partner network. They, in turn, are driving Sandvik forward with their own expertise.

“We have been working for years to build up a network of partners who are on the same page as us. The leading company project and the related investments are further reinforcing this network. We have good opportunities for research and development, and we can provide these opportunities to partners such as universities,” says Vilenius.

We have good opportunities for research and development, and we can provide these opportunities to partners such as universities.

“Under our long-term strategy, we aim to include universities in Turku, Tampere, Helsinki and Lappeenranta in the challenge to redevelop mobile work machinery, in particular, but we are not ruling any party out. The VTT Technical Research Center is also playing a major role.”

Tampere has been a good partner for Sandvik, but the company is playing for the national team under the leading company project, which seeks to identify and create long-term global export products and markets for Finland.

FINLAND’S OPERATING ENVIRONMENT IN NEED OF A REFRESH

Sandvik’s major competitors in the field of electrifying underground mining include a few global companies, but competition is becoming more intense all the time, and the market is increasingly within reach of new entrants.

“We need to stay active in order to retain our market-leading position, expand and provide our customers with the added value inherent in our mining expertise, as this is something that sets us apart. It is still important for us to retain the capability to engage in technological operations in Finland and recruit the experts we need here,” Vilenius says.

Akuilla toimiva porauslaite, Sandvik

Battery technology. For several years, Sandvik has been developing a battery technology that can be used safely underground in drilling, loading and transportation equipment. The image shows an underground drill powered by Sandvik’s DD422iE batteries.

According to Vilenius, Finland has been a good operating environment for Sandvik, but it is in need of a refresh.

“We still need to develop operating environments where top-level research is conducted so as to gain new experts. The research and testing environments used by industry and the public sector need to be combined more effectively to open doors in both directions. We will be able to attract international students and workers by strengthening these types of activities. Soon, we will not have enough students and experts of our own,” he says.

It takes more than just talking about taxes and the weather to get top-level experts to work in Finland.

“Finland needs to have a strong virtual university so that we can collaborate with the top experts around the world. However, we also need to have technologies in which we are genuinely the best – ones that enable us to create added value in international networks,” Vilenius says.

TOP-LEVEL RESEARCH MUST COME BEFORE TOP-LEVEL SUCCESS

Finland is beginning to suffer from a wide-ranging skills shortage, although Sandvik also trains its employees in-house.

“We are beginning to experience a lack of top-level machinists and experts in manufacturing technology, so we need to continue to invest in technical schools in these disciplines. Machines are not solely the result of digitalisation – somebody needs to build them. Top-level experts are also needed in machinist roles.”

“Universities must be capable of reforming their research and education programmes, and new students must be attracted to the field. Young people may not know that this sector also offers the opportunity to tackle sustainable development challenges."

Companies have no hope of succeeding unless we have top-level research in Finland.

At the end of the interview, Jani Vilenius emphasises that Finland’s success comes down to the shared will of companies, institutes of higher education and the state. In practical terms, this means companies having the opportunities to invest and flourish, universities and Finland’s export industry heading in the same direction, and universities having the desire and opportunity to become world leaders.

“Companies have no hope of succeeding unless we have top-level research in Finland. The future will be built on research – that is the foundation of competitiveness.”

Text: Marjo Ollikainen

Pictures: Sandvik 

More on this topic:

Multi-billion-euro export project nets Nokia funding from Business Finland – pledges to bring investments and new work into Finland

Beneq is growing through a culture of falling forwards: “Globality must be the starting point when you’re in the technology business”