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Europe's Largest Gold Mine Tracks Ore

A rugged RFID tag allows managers at Agnico Eagle's Kittilä mine to monitor processes and improve production.
By Bob Violino
Apr 21, 2014

Agnico Eagle reports that its Kittilä mine, in northern Finland, is extracting one of the largest known gold deposits in Europe. Kittilä, Agnico's first operation outside of Canada, began commercial production in May 2009. Open pit mining—a surface mining technique of extracting rock or minerals from the earth—was completed in November 2012, and Kittilä is now an underground-only operation.

The mine, located in the Lapland region of northern Finland, has a lifespan estimated through 2037. The 3,000-ton-per-day operation was estimated to pour roughly 150,000 ounces of gold in 2013, and to average 162,000 ounces annually from 2014 through 2015. An expansion project is currently under way to increase the mill's throughput capacity by 25 percent—to 3,750 tons per day—starting in the second half of next year.

Agnico Eagle's Kittilä mine in northern Finland
Kittilä had been using manual methods to track ore as it moved through a variety of processes. In many cases, the ore sampling was conducted for grade analysis and other measurements as the ore was recovered from mine stockpiles. But by the time the grade of the shipment or mill feed was known, it was sometimes too late to make adjustments to remedy deviations in quality. As a result, the mill did not always receive products that met specifications.

At present, the company is addressing these challenges with a radio frequency identification system that tracks ore through various processes, says Leena Rajavuori, Agnico Eagle Mines' senior mine geologist. There was never any question among managers that the technology to focus on was RFID—which, she says, they determined was the most practical solution for what the mine needed. The Kittilä mine is also employing the technology to improve safety, by monitoring air quality and tracking workers (see Mining Companies Dig Deeper Into RFID).

Mining for Process Enhancements
In early 2012, Agnico Eagle's mining operation in Finland began looking into RFID technology to track ore. "As in most mines, in the Kittilä mine, the mill feed should be as stable as possible, and changes in the feed should be gradual to keep mill processes in control," Rajavuori states. "The main target was to find a solution to follow and verify the ore feed to the mill in more detail than before. More detailed information would improve mill production."

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