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“Our operators are key to the project”

September 6, 2023

Epiroc, Boliden, Algoryx, and Örebro University are partnering in a joint initiative with the aim of introducing autonomous technology into the face drilling process of underground tunneling. The critical aspect of the project is the creation of a simulated mine, or a digital twin, to function as the operational environment for machine learning. Operations knowledge, testing and demo sites, and solution evaluation are provided by Boliden. Michael Andersson, Senior Engineer Mining Technology, tells the story.

Michael Andersson Senior Engineer, Mining Technology, Boliden

“I’ve been working on developing drill programs for nearly twenty years, sometimes in collaboration with Epiroc. A fully autonomous solution that works in an underground environment would be very interesting to us. The main goal of this project is to be able to remove people from the face, which is one of the most hazardous areas in a mine, since it is unsecured. If all goes as planned, we might get a productivity increase as well, which would be a bonus.


We at Boliden provide testing sites, operator insights and engineering resources, as well as knowledge of the mining operations and environment. Our operators are key to the project, since we need to tap their knowledge. Their know-how will have to go into the rig.

A big challenge will be navigating the rig underground, and I think the laser scanner technology used for scanning the face will have the added bonus of being able to assist with that. Another challenge concerns the drill bits – faces in our mines are tough to handle, and we often have to change bits after three to five holes, or even less. A viable autonomous solution has to either automate the switch, or enable us to drill more holes before needing to switch.


The collaboration between the partners is going well, in my opinion. We’ve had a number of meetings and started some tasks. We’ve had a strategic partnership with Epiroc for many years now, with a joint steering group that evaluates project ideas and allocates funds.


The project will be running until 2025, so this won’t be a quick fix. We’ll take it step by step, planning for new functionality and how to test it, and then verifying the results after each stage. We have been actively looking at automation for a long time, and we see development of these solutions in the long term.”

Adaptive automation project
The project aims to enable autonomous face drilling, increasing safety by minimizing human presence at the face. This requires expert AI systems to stand in for operator knowledge. Epiroc leads and coordinates the project and contributes machinery, manpower and expertise. End customer Boliden contributes operations and environment knowledge, testing and demonstration sites, as well as evaluation of solutions. Algoryx provides software development, simulation and Unity expertise, as well as AGX Dynamics, i.e., the physics engine. Örebro University is researching and developing the recognition and machine-learning algorithms.

International Face drill rigs Automation 2023 Customer story