We promote a culture of innovation by driving and embracing technologies throughout our company. Our philosophy of developing long-life mines is helping to make Hecla a leader among companies our size in adopting new technologies that have a significant impact in improving the health and safety of our employees, improving environmental performance, and increasing mine-operating efficiency and productivity. In particular, we seek to increase safety and productivity by automating certain mining tasks. This automation allows the miners to do more planning and problem solving and machines to do more of the repetitive work tasks.
The backbone for innovation began with fiber optic cable and establishing “hotspots” to bring wireless technology to more than a mile below the surface in solid rock and our workers regularly use tablets underground. From there, we have taken a step-by-step approach to implementing technologies that make sense for our innovation strategy. For example:
- Our early testing of battery-operated load, haul, and dump (LHD) equipment provided helpful feedback on safety and health benefits coming from zero-emission power, noise and heat reduction, and more responsive machine controls. Technology advances will bring improved battery life for more effective deployment of these machines as production workhorses.
- We are an early adopter of the Teleremote battery operated LHD equipment that is remotely administered and reduces energy use and heat output. This technology significantly lowered levels of noise and improved worker safety by moving employees away from the mine face. They have also added to production output by utilizing previously unused standby time at the end of work shifts. This technology platform enables one operator to remotely oversee up to three machines from the same station in the mine office.
- Our autonomous 24-hour underground truck operation at the Casa Berardi Mine has increased safety, increased payloads by 8 percent and decreased energy use by 17 percent per vehicle. The expected cost savings from just two trucks totals around $3 M per year.
- Clean air quality underground is of utmost importance to the safety of our workers. For this reason, Hecla was an early adopter of Ventilation On Demand (VOD), an optimization-via-automation approach that targets the vital process of supplying fresh air to underground miners in their scattered workplaces while exhausting the used air that has acquired excess heat, noxious gases, and dust.
- At our Casa Berardi Mine, we installed timers on the mine ventilation systems and reduced electricity consumption for underground ventilation by 23 percent in 2019.
- We utilize an automated jumbo stope drill at Casa Berardi that allows drilling during shift changes and improves drill accuracy while also increasing productivity and efficiency.
Learn more about Hecla’s culture of innovation.
The Remote Vein Miner is currently undergoing acceptance testing at the manufacturer’s test mine in Sweden. This state-of-the-art technology will incorporate the multiple steps of underground mining into a continuous operation.
New technologies are reshaping the way underground mines operate. As we embrace these innovations, we are looking to use machines and automation – which can be programmed to perform repetitive tasks in a generally predictable environment – and people to utilize their problem-solving skills and their capacity for dealing with the unexpected.
As a result, workers will have a safer environment but will require new skills. Hecla is committed to providing the necessary training for our workforce to address the future of work that is here today.
For example, we are currently working with North Idaho College’s (NIC) Workforce Training Center to develop training programs to update worker skill sets to meet the changing work force dynamic at Lucky Friday. This currently includes developing curriculum on the maintenance career path; training the trainer programs; and coordinating on-site versus NIC facility course work.
Employees at the Casa Berardi Mine in Québec proposed innovative ideas to optimize their operations and enhance safety. As a result, Hecla Québec was awarded an Innovation prize by the CNESST, an organization that promotes and respects labor rights and obligations with respect to workers and employers in Québec. Initially, the replacement of the drilling bar (head) of the drill was carried out according to the manufacturer’s manual. Thanks to a new, more efficient and less laborious procedure, workers perform this task in a better posture position with much less effort. The entire operation is carried out horizontally, without hydraulic operation, and no part remains above the worker. In addition, a single lockout now replaces the six that were previously required.
Learn more about Hecla’s leadership on innovation.