Arctic mine hits production record with help from ABB services

Arctic mine hits production record with help from ABB services

Unique service partnership enabled an extraordinary revival of the Kaunisvaara mine.

The chronicles of the Kaunisvaara iron ore mine outside the Swedish town of Pajala close to the Finnish border, reads like a movie script. They detail the rise and fall of a mine that carried the hopes of a whole community until it was forced into a four-year slumber. Then with ABB’s help it not only rose again - it has set a new production record by processing over 7,000 tons of iron ore concentrate in a single day.

In 2014, the Kaunisvaara mine operated by Northland Resources was brought to its knees by a devastating crash in ore prices. Mining equipment, including 500-plus motors and around 200 variable-speed drives, was left dormant.

During the decommissioning of the mine back in 2014, Northland Resources relied heavily on ABB’s expertise to help mothball the motors and drives. Then, four years later ABB was again called in to support bringing the mine back to life.

With the backing of the community, nearly 80 Swedish entrepreneurs in cooperation with Carnegie Bank, raised nearly 600 million Swedish kronor (€58 million) to launch Kaunis Iron, the new mining company. The company signed a turnkey contract with Gisab Gällivare to take responsibility for the operation, production, and maintenance of the mine's concentrator.

Six months before Gisab started production, they approached ABB with an unusual request: to restart the motors and drives that had been standing idle for four years. The motors, most of which from ABB, had also been exposed to extreme temperatures – ranging from -35⁰C in winter to 25⁰C in summer.

“Unlike the commissioning of a new mine where you know the motors would work, we had no idea what to expect, said Peter Johansson, ABB's contract manager for service in Kaunisvaara. Fortunately, we held the maintenance contract for the mine before it shut down, so it was fairly familiar territory. We were nevertheless thrilled that after extensive testing, only one motor required adjustments, while a few others had to be dried out.”

New service agreement

Following the successful testing process, ABB came back with a proposal for starting, commissioning and optimizing the enrichment plant. The ensuing service agreement includes services from several ABB technology areas, such as control and drive systems, power systems, and motor and generator maintenance. The agreement is customized to Gisab's needs and delivers cost-effective maintenance services to ensure optimum machine reliability.

“Because of ABB’s close involvement right from the start, the agreement is more like a close partnership,” says Daniel Uusitalo, Gisab's vice president and head of Kaunisvaara.

“We couldn’t have started without their maintenance expertise, and their staff went far beyond what one would expect.”

The mine achieved full production in the first quarter of 2019, with a targeted output of two million tons annually. “In mid-2019 we set a new production record with 7,053 metric ton of iron ore concentrate in a single day. This is theoretically not possible, but between Gisab’s process engineers and ABB’s expert advice, we made it happen,” said a very satisfied Daniel Uusitalo.

The current partnership between ABB and Gisab ensures high productivity at the concentrating plant, efficient maintenance planning, and avoiding unplanned downtime while maximizing the life of the equipment.

  • When Kaunis Iron restarted the mine in 2018, Gisab was commissioned to operate the enrichment plant.
  • The giant primary mill is the heart of the enrichment plant.
  • In mid-2019, the mine set a new production record by processing over 7,000 tons of iron ore concentrate in a single day.


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