January 19, 2021
By using new Atlas Copco equipment for compressed air and gas, the Swedish mining company LKAB has lowered energy costs and carbon emissions, improved the work environment, and increased reliability in operations.
Unplanned production interruptions in the mining and metal processing industries are very costly. The Swedish company Lossavaara-Kiirunavaara AB (LKAB) mines 80% of the iron ore in the EU and is therefore Europe's largest iron ore producer. The company's mines are almost always operating, which places great demands on production plants as well as processes. The fully owned subsidiary LKAB Mekaniska AB plays an important part in the efforts to ensure safe and continuous operations of the mines’ sorting plants and concentrators.
LKAB Mekaniska AB focuses on steel construction and machining. The company mainly provides maintenance and service of components and hydraulics found in machinery and tools used in LKAB’s mines and concentrators. Coolers, fans, and lifting devices used in the production of pellets must for example be repaired from time to time. The same applies to various types of machine components used in the mine, this includes pumps, gearboxes, and buckets. External customers also request the company's expertise, for example regarding their proprietary, patented system which minimizes wear and tear on wear plate attachments.
Much of the equipment used in LKAB Mekaniska’s production is pneumatic — compressed air is the heart of the production. It is therefore important that the supply of compressed air is stable and energy efficient. To ensure optimized up-time, and to validate savings that could be made from an upgrade of their compressor fleet, the company implemented an "AIRchitect measurement". The measurement indicated that the company could save 30% (corresponding to 26,000 kWh/year) in energy costs by replacing their equipment with a new GA37VSD+ FF compressor from Atlas Copco. LKAB Mekaniska made the investment, and also set up a redundancy system as one of the older compressors could be retained as a backup.
LKAB Mekaniska’s production processes use two large laser cutting machines for cutting various kinds of steel plate and other matters in the manufacturing department. These types of processes consume large volumes of nitrogen. Most gas consumers can reduce their energy costs and environmental footprint by investing in their own nitrogen plants, and many companies choose to terminate their subscriptions with big gas producers. Robert Nyberg, who is responsible for maintenance and manufacturing at LKAB Mekaniska, was familiar with the benefits of locally produced nitrogen and contacted Atlas Copco’s dealer ITSAB to discuss a possible nitrogen plant purchase. After the undertaken measurements and analyses, it was evident that by investing in a nitrogen gas generator NGP60+ from Atlas Copco, LKAB Mekaniska could save money in terms of direct costs for gas transport and cylinder packages. At the same time, the company's carbon dioxide emissions could be reduced by almost 22,000 kg per year. The investment also resulted in an annual reduction of nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and particles of almost 90 kg. The environmental savings were a key factor in the decision to invest.
In order to minimize the effects of disruption to the compressed air and nitrogen supplies on plant operation, both the compressor and the nitrogen generator are connected to the Atlas Copco system for remote monitoring, SMARTLINK. Through SMARTLINK, both the customer and ITSAB receive warnings and error messages regarding the machines.
"I get the information sent directly to my computer and my phone, but I don't need to do anything. I have our technicians from ITSAB on the phone around the same time that the alarm comes, and I feel quite confident with the service I get," says Robert Nyberg.
In conjunction with the machine stock upgrade, the work environment in and around the factory floor needed to improve. One of the solutions that yielded positive results was a custom-built container. A major benefit of the container was that machines could be placed in ways that allowed for easy maintenance and repair. Additionally, the areas where machines once stood were freed up for other purposes. Another major advantage was the level of noise reduction. "Today, we have our compressors and the equipment required to generate and store the nitrogen gas in a container standing in the yard right next to the factory. This is a convenient and secure solution that frees up floor space and reduces noise around workplaces in the factory," says Jarl Uggla, CEO, LKAB Mekaniska AB.