Global site

ABB's website uses cookies. By staying here you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Learn more

Teamwork and collaboration helps LKAB prepare for its future production needs

LKAB, the EU's largest iron ore producer, needed to update parts of its technology at its mine in Malmberget, Sweden. A strong working relationship with ABB on this project was important to its overall success.

Share this page

Customer need

  • stop a corrosion attack on the two most important mine hoists at Malmberget
  • future proof the twin hoists by updating virtually the entire production line, including both the mechanical and electrical parts, from feeding to unloading

ABB solution

Underground mining services:

  • updated hoist safety with gravity winding
  • separated the dumping equipment between the hoists for improved redundancy
  • doubled the hydraulic brake stations and upgraded the DC drive system

Benefits

  • mine hoists put back to service several months ahead of schedule
  • secured production for the next 20–30 years

Key facts

Customer:  LKAB
Founded
1890
Owned by
The Swedish Government
Employees (2017)
4'118
Business
Mining operations and processing plant
Sites:  Production sites at Kiruna, Malmberget and Svappavaara
Turnover
SEK 23.5 billion
Accounts for 
45% of the freight on Swedish railways 
Is
The largest iron ore producer in the EU with around 80% of total production. Processed iron ore is shipped around the world from Luleå, Sweden and Narvik, Norway

The largest iron ore producer in the EU

LKAB in Malmberget operates one of the company's three mines and processing plants in Malmfälten, Sweden.  LKAB Malmberget produces around 16 million tonnes of iron ore per year. The mine hoists, which transport the iron ore to the surface, serve as the main production artery for the process. With an hourly mine hoist capacity of about one thousand tonnes, avoiding hoist downtime is imperative.


The largest iron ore producer in the EU with around 80% of total production.

A corrosion attack on two mine hoists

A corrosion attack on the lower part of the steel skeleton was discovered during an independent survey of the two most important mine hoists at Malmberget — the twin hoists Vitåfors East and West.

“We initially expected each hoist to be out of service for eight months to rectify the problems. Our calculations suggested we would lose 40 percent of the mine’s total hoisting capacity during this period,” says Pär Sundqvist, a maintenance engineer at LKAB Malmberget.

A consulting firm then helped LKAB's planning department and procurement organization do a requirements analysis.

“We realized that we needed to future proof the twin hoists by updating virtually the entire production line, including both the mechanical and electrical parts, from feeding to unloading.”

Pär Sundqvist, a maintenance engineer at LKAB Malmberget
“We initially expected each hoist to be out of service for eight months to rectify the problems. Our calculations suggested we would lose 40% of the mine’s total hoisting capacity during this period”

Hoists back to service several months ahead of schedule

LKAB concluded that ABB had the best solution and chose them for this project. The business relationship between the companies goes back many years. ABB had supplied the first mine hoist to LKAB in 1948.

“ABB is a reliable supplier in the mine hoist market, and our relationship has deep roots. We use their solutions, and at the same time, ABB uses detailed solutions that LKAB has developed. We share a deep respect for one another as well as mutual confidence,” Sundqvist says.

Jan-Erik Asplund is currently a sales manager for ABB Mining in the region; earlier, he had designed the electrical hardware and software for the Vitåfors West mine hoist. The facility was closed towards the beginning of April 2017 so that the future proofing of the Vitåfors West hoist could begin. The mine hoist was back in service by fall 2017, several months ahead of schedule.

“We updated safety with gravity winding*, separated the dumping equipment between the hoists for improved redundancy, doubled the hydraulic brake stations and upgraded the DC drive system.”

*Gravity winding is a unique independent emergency operation system that is used to evacuate individuals from skip shafts. The brakes are operated in a controlled way, and with the aid of gravity, the hoist comes into motion and individuals can be evacuated safely in the event of an incident.


Pär Sundqvist, a maintenance engineer at LKAB Malmberget
“ABB is a reliable supplier in the mine hoist market, and our relationship has deep roots. We use their solutions, and at the same time, ABB uses detailed solutions that LKAB has developed. We share a deep respect for one another as well as mutual confidence”

A strong working relationship

Asplund, a Skellefteå resident, talks about the importance of having people based close to the customer, and about building good working relationships. To complement the local resources, video conference systems made the internal process easier for ABB, since its employees who work with mine hoists are spread out in Västerås, Skellefteå, Gällivare and Kiruna. This combination set a solid foundation for true collaboration on this project.

“I think it is important that you feel a sense of affinity with each other — building relationships is crucial, both within the organization and outside of it.”

Jan-Erik Asplund, ABB
"It is important that you feel a sense of affinity with each other — building relationships is crucial, both within the organization and outside of it.”

Securing production for the next 20–30 years

Almost one year later, the Vitåfors East hoist is currently being upgraded. Filip Stålnacke, who personally spent two years at LKAB in Kiruna, now works as a service engineer at ABB. He led the commissioning work on site and developed the software during the Vitåfors East project.

“We have stayed on schedule pretty well, which is always a challenge, even though it was basically a case of ‘copy and paste’ of Vitåfors West. We have worked well as a team during the course of this project.”

Peter Johansson, the project manager at ABB with responsibility for implementing both projects, also feels the entire job has gone very well from a teamwork perspective.

“Having said that, when it was a real struggle getting the motor started during commissioning, we were able to resolve the issue together, thanks to our good relationship with LKAB,” he says.

Even though technology is developing at lightning speed, Pär Sundqvist at LKAB is confident that future results will be positive.

“We are certain that the installed equipment will secure our production for the next 20–30 years,” he says.

Sustainable Underground Mining

ABB and LKAB have enjoyed a long history of collaboration. In 2018, the ABB and LKAB announced their collaboration with Epiroc and Combitech to build the sustainable mines of the future which are safe, CO2-free, digitalized, and autonomous. The SUM (Sustainable Underground Mining) test bed project will be located in LKAB’s underground mines in Kiruna and Malmberget, Sweden, as well as in a virtual mine. ABB will contribute to this project with solutions for underground electrification and an integrated platform for collaborative operations.

The SUM project will lay the foundation for decisions to be made into the mid-2020s for one of Sweden’s largest ever industrial investments. After 2030, LKAB will be ready to break into deeper ironstone in the Kiruna and Malmberget mines.

 


LKAB mining operations, how it is done:

  1. Tunnels, which are known as drifts, are first created by blasting right through the iron body.
  2. Eight upward holes are drilled in the drifts in a fan shape, thus forming a circle. Each drift can have up to 40 such circles.
  3. Each circle is then filled with explosives. Blasting is done every night.
  4. The ore is loaded out of the drifts and then tipped into vertical shafts where the ore is piled in rock pockets.
  5. The ore is transported to large crushers by driverless trains or trucks. Here, the ore is broken down into 10 cm pieces.
  6. The ore is transported to the ore hoists or skips and brought to the surface. Each skip can load up to 40 tonnes at a rate of 17 meters per second.
  7. The ore is refined at processing plants. Around 28 million tonnes of processed iron are produced each year.
  8. The iron ore products are sent by rail to the ports of Luleå and Narvik.

Learn more