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IAMGOLD: Technology at the Root of its Operations

Nov 29, 2023

IAMGOLD’s Côté Gold mining project is soon to become a household name in Northern Ontario. The company is currently fully operating two mines. One of those operations is the Essakane mine, located in Burkina Faso, West Africa, which is 90% owned, and the other is the Westwood mine located in Northwestern Quebec.
The two operations combined produce just over 450,000 ounces of gold annually. Once in full production, the Côté Gold mine will almost double those gold production numbers.
The Côté Gold project is currently in early-stage operation and is stockpiling the ore which will be processed in the new plant on-site in early 2024. It is expected that the mine will have over 5,000,000 tonnes of ore stockpiled and ready to feed the processing plant. The first gold pour is expected in Q1 of 2024.
The current life of the mine is set at 18 years with the first six years producing roughly a whopping 500,000 ounces of gold annually.
“Once we get into the life of mine and as they get deeper, the head grade will go down and, at that point, the annual gold production is expected to level off at 400,000 ounces of gold production annually for the remaining life of mine,” stated Francis Letarte-Lavoie, Operations Manager of Côté Gold.


Cote Francis Pic
Francis Letarte-Lavoie, Operations Manager of Côté Gold (left) receives prestigious award during the Canadian Mining Expo’s, Canadian Trade-Ex & CIM Porcupine Branch Gala Dinner and Awards Night held in Timmins. On the Right is Rick Harper, Manager - Mining - Brandt and moderator for the evening.


Francis was a guest speaker and addressed a full house of delegates that attended the Canadian Mining Expo’s ‘’Projects in the Pipeline’ conference this past spring in Timmins.
“There are plenty of growth opportunities within the process plant and the property and we do anticipate that we will be able to extend the life of mine substantially and increase the resources so that the head grade goes back up and we are able to maintain that 500,000 ounces of gold annually that we are targeting.”
Francis’ presentation was focused heavily on innovation in the pit and within mining operations.
His presentation titled “Technology at The Root of Its Operations” can be seen today on Mining Life Online YouTube channel with the link:

IAMGOLD, is committed to maintaining their culture of accountable mining through high standards of environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices. At Côté Gold, they work tirelessly to support the sustainable development of their host communities and Indigenous partners as they collaborate with them to monitor and manage their social and environmental impacts through joint committees. Zero Harm is the vision that guides all operations and activities undertaken by IAMGOLD.
Letarte-Lavoie’s June presentation highlighted two main cutting-edge technology applications – the mine’s autonomous system and its advanced processing plan.
He explained the company’s rationale behind unmanned haulage.
“Since 2018, we’ve been working with Caterpillar and Toromont. The idea is that we wanted to have a fully autonomous fleet of trucks by the first day of operation. We have achieved that, so right now we’ve got 14 trucks that have been commissioned. They are CAT-793, 220 tonne trucks being fully operated from a control room, making Côté Gold the first greenfield mine in North America to operate with a fully autonomous haulage system.”


Autonomous Truck

“There are other mines that are doing it, but it’s a bit of a mix between manned operation and autonomous operation. All of our trucks are autonomous.”
In addition, Letarte-Lavoie offered advice to other early-stage mining operations considering similar plans.
“We wanted to do that at an early stage because we didn’t want to do change management later. We didn’t want to start with a manned operation and then start removing it and going autonomous, so we’ve done it from the get-go. That makes things much easier for the operation.”
Letarte-Lavoie further explained the Autonomous Haulage System (AHS) used on-site which includes Autonomous Haulage and Autonomous Drilling. The operation applies advanced technology to everything they do which helps increase productivity while keeping everyone safe. He said, “There is no autonomous knowledge in Ontario. There’s none in Quebec, so if you go east of Alberta, there’s no such thing. It was new for also the regulatory bodies, so we made sure to involve them very early. We’ve been talking with the Ministry of Labour for years so that they do understand what we’re implementing and the functionalities, so they’re comfortable with what we’re putting in place.”


Autonomous fleet

Using the pre-production mining period has helped the mine focus on the AHS implementation without affecting the process plant set-up. The AHS/Crusher Interface will be the final element of the process.
Letarte-Lavoie, added, “Once the truck gets out of the automated zone, it’s driven by millwrights, for instance, when it is required for maintenance. You get an entire system of computers, sensors, GPS that allows that system to operate autonomously.”
“Then that connects to the critical infrastructure to simplify its high-speed and redundant wireless communication system. There’s a GPS tracking for every single equipment that enters the pit. It doesn’t matter if it’s a pickup truck, if it’s a grader, if it’s a shovel. At the control room, operators are making sure that we stick to the plan, that if there’s an issue, they can investigate and correct if needed. All of it is tracked in real time.”
“The other big question we get asked often is, is that safe?” he said.
“We’ve had no incidents so far, and we’ve hauled a few million tons of rock, but when you look at the numbers from Caterpillar, as of right now, they’ve hauled 5.5 billion tons of material without a loss time incident. Basically, it’s a bunch of layers of control to make sure that everything remains safe and efficient.”
The autonomous knowledge system layer goes through the MineStar™ system, which is Caterpillar technology, that goes through Côté Gold’s corporate network then it goes through their wireless network. That’s the route selected to ensure that cyber security is robust. In the pit, every single equipment is tracked in real time for different reasons. The trucks will always know where the other equipment is and will take action if needed. The shovel, or the loading unit will control basically what happens. It’s going to control spot location, it’s going to control traffic in the pit, so the shovel operator dictates what the truck will be doing.


Control Room

“On top of that, there’s another layer of protection. Anyone that goes in the pit is going to carry what we call an A-stop, which is a device on a separate network that provides an extra layer of protection. Whenever that person types on that button, he or she stops every truck in a 300-meter radius.
Drilling has very similar technology in the pit. Côté Gold purchased Epiroc, 231 Pit Vipers. We now have 4 units in operation. It does a full drilling cycle, auto-propels, levels, drills, de-levels, and back to navigation. There is no human intervention at any point.
Once again, there is a lot of protection. There is a control room operator always monitoring activity, and there’s a number of systems on that drill, cameras, proximity detection, so the drill will never fall, it will never hit the berm. Just as with the autonomous haulage zone, everyone that gets near the drills has a proximity tag. If the drill notices someone, it will take actions based on distance.
“For the process plant, we will try to implement the latest technology and make sure that Côté Gold further enhances precision and operational excellence by fostering a culture of technology and continuous improvement.”
In recognition of the mine’s technology leadership role, Letarte-Lavoie received the Canadian Mining Expo “Northern Innovators Award”, which recognizes a mine or mining company that has made an extraordinary effort to apply technology or improve processes in innovative ways, above and beyond mandatory requirements, aimed at improving sustainability and mine worker safety and health.

For this article and more click on the link below. This issue features Northern Ontario`s Mining Report.

Front Cove Picture


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