Swedish mining gear and metal-cutting tool maker Sandvik officially launched its Finland-based Rock Drill Innovation Centre during the company’s virtual ‘Innovation in Mining’ conference, held last month.
The grand opening was initially planned for 2020 but has since been delayed owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Innovation Centre introduces state-of-the-art production and testing facilities for Sandvik’s core technology, the rock drill.
It is also home to extensive rock knowledge and drilling technology expertise, which the company says, “creates a hub for innovation”.
It complements the existing drilling technology competence centre and will comprise a research and development centre, an underground test mine with laboratories and a modern factory environment, all boosted by university cooperation.
The Rock Drill Innovation Centre will also, post-pandemic, host customer events that take visitors on a journey from the origins of rock drilling technologies to the future of the industry.
Sandvik VP Timo Laitinen dubs the centre “a unique environment” where Sandvik develops best practice and related technologies.
The drilling equipment factory started production at the Tampere site in the 1970s, and now nearly 50 years later, the new centre “further strengthens Sandvik’s position in rock drilling by enabling fast product development, more agile production and enhanced customer interaction”.
Part of Sandvik’s investment was used to build a customer welcome centre, which Laitinen explains will receive “hundreds of customers” every year to view the company’s latest products, affording them an opportunity to talk to the company to discuss technologies for future needs.
“We also have new training facilities located at our test mine, where we provide training for Sandvik rock drill service experts, who support customer operations around the world,” he says.
The factory is ready and will open to customer visits soon after pandemic restrictions are lifted.
Another aspect of the investment was to shorten the company’s time-to-market for new products, which it achieves through speeding up development cycles, while conducting faster testing and prototyping.
New endurance test benches will triple the company’s capacity for endurance and reliability testing, while the third part of the investment has gone into the factory renewal to make production “more agile and productive, with even higher quality”.
Sandvik business unit rock drills supply chain manager Jani Savinainen adds that safety is the company’s guiding principle, which means that agile manufacturing strategies have been implemented in the new factory design to “significantly improve performance” while enhancing employee safety.
A rock drill needs to tolerate extremely high momentary forces and it takes billions of hits during its life, says Savinainen, who adds that those requirements have been incorporated to the component design.
Consequently, rock drill manufacturing now needs to incorporate the machining of demanding materials to “meet extremely tight geometrical tolerances consistently”.
In terms of the machining technologies used in the factory, Savinainen explains that for complex rock drill bodies, the company has new state-of-the-art and heavy-duty five-axis milling technology, which uses Sandvik machining solutions methods and tooling.
“This combination brings the machining performance to a completely new level,” he enthuses.
Cylindrical parts designs are considered both complex and versatile. Therefore, Sandvik has invested in the latest turning technologies, meaning that these parts can be“machined to perfection” effectively with simultaneous five-axis turning technology.
“The finest surface qualities and the tightest geometrical tolerances – up to just a few microns – are achieved with superior grinding technology, which is used for all core rock drill internal parts,” Savinainen adds.
For those concerned with sustainability, the machining tools are equipped with energy efficiency features, and used tool inserts are recycled back to Sandvik’s machining solutions, while all excess material is recycled.
Further, digitalisation and automation enhance operator safety, enable higher utilisation rates and improve process quality, Savinainen explains, noting that the manufacturing centres are fully integrated into flexible manufactured systems, including the company’s automated pallet-handling system which enables 24/7 and unmanned operations.
The Rock Drill Innovation Centre has all core operations under one roof, bringing together rock drill experts to share knowledge and experiences across all functions, which Savinainen considers to be “a significant advantage” for Sandvik.