October 5, 2021
COOLANT SPLASHES inside the glass when each of the tool heads drives the drill steel up and down, up and down. Two similar tools turn threads in them; the same threads for both drill bits – and for all other drill bits that the machine has produced and will produce. “Everything is automated. We have a number of these machines, and a single operator can operate them all. The operator feeds the cell with raw materials, and the robots do the rest: load, drill, mill and turn,” says Peter Dahlberg, Plant Manager Short Goods.
Above him is a green lamp, but in the cell beside it, a corresponding light is flashing yellow. That alerts the operator that the machine will soon need a new tool.
"The machines operate six to eight hours non-stop, and when the process is up and running, the operator’s next task is to test measure the products."
WE ARE IN FAGERSTA, where Epiroc has several production facilities that manufacture rock drilling tools. This particular one opened in 2012. Investments were made in highly automated machinery, and drill bit production was moved from South Africa to Sweden. In the entrance hangs a framed diploma attesting that in 2018 the factory won the division’s LEAN award, with the motivation: A school book example of how a systematic approach to solving problems can make dramatic improvements, reduce waste and show real savings. “The transferred production used to require over a hundred employees. Now eight is enough,” says Peter Dahlberg.
ON THE OTHER SIDE of the road sits Jonas Falkeström, Strategic Business Development Manager Epiroc Drilling Tools. He notes that the Fagersta facility is fully in line with Epiroc’s sustainability ambitions.
"Sustainability is high on our agenda, and it has become an increasingly important topic over a short period. To begin with, we are driven to make a difference, and when we recruit, many young people ask ‘what do you do for the environment?"
Falkeström continues: “Our customers come with ever higher demands from their owners. So we have to support them to become fossil-free and part of circular economy, and so on.” Epiroc does this by analyzing its value chain and asking itself a series of questions: What do we “build into” the product and how long can it be used? It’s about knowing where we can make the biggest impact as a supplier. “Is the material we use recycled? That makes a big difference to the climate. What does the electricity mix look like? Here we use almost exclusively renewable energy from hydropower.
How do we transport our products? Here we are shifting from air to sea.” Jonas Falkeström says that Epiroc does a lot of things right in many areas – but that there is more to be done. “An important upcoming area is products withextreme service lives. If our customers can drastically increase the number of drill meters, there will be a lot less downtime for service, saving the customer both costly stops and keeping staff out of potentially hazardous environments.”
"Transparency! We have to be open about which drilling solution is best suited to the current conditions, the product’s service life, and the cost. And to understand customers’ needs and make reliable calculations, we need to know their operating costs. We want customers to be demanding of us. That way we can make big headway together in sustainable mining."
When he talks to customers, it is clear what is most important to them: products that last and that drill both fast and straight. Straightness is a growing demand with great importance for the entire mining cycle. It is a matter of having the holes exactly as the drill design, especially as the mines are going deeper the stress of the rock increases. Just as Jonas Falkeström did, Fredrik Gransell also notes service life expectancy.
“Thanks to new technology, we can achieve extreme service lives for our products, which can increase the service life tenfold and which means the drill bit rarely needs replacing. This opens up for new possibilities for automation and means that operator can be taken out of hazardous environments.”
"By buying scrap based steel produced using hydropower, Epiroc has managed to reduce carbon emissions by over 40 000 metric tons per year."
“An important part of the total waste management strategy is to involve our business partners in our LEAN work within information flow, to produce exactly what customers need and deliver it when it is needed. In that way we minimize the amount of obsolete material and products, as well as unnecessary stock and transportation.”
Another part of the strategy is to offer customers help with recycling their used drill bits in the future.”
“Customers appreciate that we take responsibility so we can save both money and secure material supplies. In the long-term we want to involve customers even more, so we get even better at manufacturing and transporting exactly what is needed,” says Yibin Wei.
"Throughout Epiroc, concerted efforts are made to streamline our supply chain. The flow of rock drilling tools must ensure that customers’ production never stands still, but there is more to do to make the distribution as smart as possible."
She continues: “Eighteen months ago, 40 percent of deliveries were made by air and 60 percent by sea. Now that ratio is 10/90. Sending products once a week instead of once a day has required a major reorganization and different type of stock management. When we prepare for truck loading we do so by country and not by the type of goods, in order to minimize handling of the goods as much as possible.
To streamline the flow of goods – and make even more progress in our sustainability work – we have tightened the cooperation with our Customer Centers around the world so they send us more exact forecasts. In that way we avoid having too many small deliveries – or Customer Centers making excessively large orders.
"For better accuracy, Epiroc is developing a smart inventory management app which makes it easier for end users to forecast future needs for rock drilling tools. It could be another important building block for Epiroc in its overall sustainability work," says Anna Grubb.
Ingrid Bengtsson, SHEQ Manager,
Epiroc Rock Drilling Tools division, Fagersta, Sweden
There are many aspects of sustainability in production, both internal and external. At Epiroc in Fagersta, SHEQ takes a unified approach.
Describe your role in the organization.
"I head a group that works with safety, health, environment and quality. The group includes three quality engineers and one laboratory, where we test and certify the quality of products. This can involve checking units of measurement and heat treatment. Both the number of claims and the number of scrapped products in manufacturing have declined. High quality reduces the risk of delivery delays.”
And also benefits the environment?
“Absolutely. We use fewer materials and avoid the extra transportation that comes from claims.”
What more does Epiroc do here in Fagersta for the environment?
"The main challenge is achieving energy effective production – and increasing the share of renewable energy. We are now at 96 percent renewable: mainly certified hydropower, but also some wind power. We are also looking at how we can reuse the heat from heat treatment, for instance by selling it to the district heating power plant or using it as floor heating.”
What are your thoughts regarding safety?
The main goal is to reduce the number of near-accidents and accidents in production. One way to do this is by making sure employees are not exposed to hazardous situations, and automation has helped a lot. The need for heavy lifting has also been reduced. To make sure that everyone is aware of the risks and how to prevent them, we work with safety bulletin boards that have been set up in various places in production. Important information is posted there and regular meetings are held there. We have also improved the procedure for reporting near-accidents and accidents. Accurate statistics are a primus motor for the improvement work.”