Recently, Northparkes Mines’ copper/gold mine, in the Central West of NSW, Australia, celebrated its 20th anniversary. From the beginning, Sandvik Mining has been there; supplying and maintaining the mine’s underground production equipment since the mine’s commissioning, in a unique relationship that has continued since 1994. Northparkes Mines is recognised globally as one of the most innovative and leading edge producers in the mining industry, and International Mining has written articles on it.The mine’s drive to adapt the latest new technology into the underground production environment has been supported by Sandvik’s own development of advanced automated mining products through to its advanced AutoMine autonomous LHD system used at the mine today.“We would like to congratulate Northparkes Mines on its remarkable achievements over the past 20 years,” said Rowan Melrose, Sandvik’s Australian Country Manager. “Sandvik is very proud to have been involved with the mine’s underground operations since the earliest construction phase.“This relationship has grown and developed over the past two decades, to the point where it is a world-renowned underground hard-rock mine using highly advanced automated mining technology.“Over its life, Northparkes has pioneered a number of innovative mining techniques and systems, developing a reputation for being one of the safest and most productive underground hard rock mine operations anywhere in the world,” said Melrose.“We are delighted to have had on-going opportunities to play a part in its success over the past 20 years.”Long-standing employees still with Sandvik, and who have been involved with Northparkes include:Gary Lyons, currently Sandvik Mining Account Manager, and who was on site for three years from the initial machine delivery and commissioning in 1994Paul Evans, now responsible for Sandvik Mining’s National Product Support, Load & Haul, and who was involved in the original service contract at NorthparkesDrew Zammitt, currently Sandvik Mining’s Regional Service Centre Manager, who was Project Manager at the time of the original contract.Sandvik’s involvement with Northparkes Mines, owned and operated at the time by North Ltd, began in October 1993, when construction started on its E26 underground block cave mine – Australia’s first.Once production started, Sandvik supplied six Toro LH450E electric LHDs, with the first of these going on site in mid-1996.From its earliest days, the Northparkes mine was pioneering remote operation of equipment, with a number of trials conducted in the E26 Lift One and E26 Lift Two block caves.These original remotely operated LHDs featured a CECAM on-board monitoring system, Nautilus Powercam tele-remote on-board operating system and a generator set used to transport the loaders from surface to underground.They were controlled by operator stations installed in the underground operations control room.Other equipment supplied by Sandvik included two Tamrock secondary breaker drill rigs, which are still in service, and a “high hang up” secondary break drill rig.These machines were covered by a maintenance contract, including on site parts and a 10-person support crew to fully maintain the fleet.Sandvik Mining’s Gary Lyons said that at the time of their commissioning in 1996, Northparkes’ electric tele-remote LHDs were unique in Australia.“Northparkes has had a strong commitment to state-of-the-art technology right from the beginning,” he said.“The initial program had just six loaders being used at a time, and the aim back then was to reach a planned 4.5 Mt/y production target, which required them to be handling 14,000 t/d of material. We have also had a service and parts contracts at Northparkes Mines from the very start – and which has continued to this day.“And by the time those loaders were up to 30,000 hours, our service team had them running at lower hourly costs than when they were new,” he said.Lyons said that despite the LHDs initially having tele-remote operating capability, it was still essentially a manual operation with a single operator controlling a single loader in real-time.Today, the mine runs a fleet of fully automated Sandvik AutoMine-controlled LHDs, with the option to take manual control if required. This AutoMine system controls Sandvik loaders in the mine’s E48 block cave, consisting of 10 extraction drives with a total of 214 draw points.Seven Sandvik LHDs – six LH514Es and an LH514D – all fitted with AutoMine, allow for safe autonomous operation from the surface control roomAs operator input is only required for a brief portion of the production cycle (filling the LHD bucket at the drawpoint), each operator can control up to four autonomous LHDs.The loaders then tram autonomously with full buckets to the ROM bin, dump and return to the next designated draw point.Sandvik’s AutoMine system produces 80% of the Northparkes mine’s underground production.“I doubt there is another mine like Northparkes anywhere in the world,” said Lyons.“It’s a pretty special place – and we have been privileged to be a part of its operations over the past 20 years.”Northparkes Mines is a copper and gold mine located 27 km northwest of Parkes in NSW, and today is a joint venture between (CMOC) China Molybdenum Co (80%) and the Sumitomo Group (20%).Northparkes Mines initial underground mine, designated as Lift 1, was designed to exploit the orebody from the 480 m level to the base of the E26 open cut, based on a reserve of 28.7 Mt at 1.45% Cu and 0.39 g/t of Au.In 1997 Lift 1 reached its design production of 3.9 Mt/y and became the world’s most productive underground hard rock mine, producing 42,600 t of ore per underground employee year (including contractors).Productivity peaked in 2000, reaching over 50,000 t per employee.Northparkes Mines commissioned its second block cave mine, E26 Lift 2 in 2004 and an extension, E26 Lift 2 North, in 2008.In 2006 Northparkes Mines commenced construction of E48 Lift 1, its third major block cave mine, with full production achieved in late 2010. This mine extends the life of Northparkes mines operations until 2024.By automating its loader fleet, Northparkes Mines has increased utilisation, allowing production to continue across shift changes and through blast clearance times (when there are no personnel underground) – and getting more tonnes out of the mine.More tonnes means more copper produced. For Northparkes Mines, automation has been a key enabler to produce at a lower unit cost, and mine deeper, lower-grade ore bodies cost-effectively into the future.