Digging in permafrost

In the harsh conditions of far northern Russia, Norilsk Nickel extracts metals from one of the world’s most bounteous mineral deposits.

It’s a strange landscape indeed. Hills and fields are covered with snow, and the horizon is obscured by a thick haze impermeable to the low-hanging sun. Nature is truly harsh in this part of Russia. It’s dark and extremely cold – temperatures that drop below minus 50 degrees Celsius are not uncommon. It’s extremely windy, and blizzards are frequent occurrences. The upper layer of soil is just permafrost, suitable for neither agriculture nor regular construction work.

Few would consider such a climate ideal for human habitation, but the industrial city of Norilsk is the world’s northernmost city of more than 100,000 inhabitants and the second-largest city inside the Arctic Circle, after Murmansk.

Backbone of local industry
It is also home to the Norilsk Nickel Mining and Metallurgical Company, a world-leading producer of both precious and base metals. The company owns and operates dozens of mines, enriching facilities and factories in Russian and abroad, and it even has its own ocean-going fleet.

Norilsk Nickel in brief

The Norilsk Nickel Group is a world-leading producer of nickel (14 percent of global output) and palladium (41 percent) and is ranked No. 4 in rhodium, platinum and cobalt production. The group employs 83,000 people in Russia and 2,000 elsewhere, who deal with every aspect of the manufacturing cycle, from production to sales. The group’s main operations are located in Russia (Taymyr, Kola peninsula and the Zabaykalsky region) and Finland (Harjavalta).

The Norilsk Nickel Polar Division is the biggest and most important branch of the company. Apart from four mines, comprising six underground mines and one open pit, the Polar Division manages three plants, two concentrators and a metallurgical shop.

The Polar Division is located on the Taimyr Peninsula, north of the Arctic Circle at 69 degrees north latitude. The division is linked with the country’s other regions only by water and air transport.

The Polar Division mines produce sulphide copper-nickel ores that contain nickel, copper, cobalt, platinum group metals, gold and silver.

But no matter how important Norilsk Nickel is to the world economy, its local impact is vital. For its hometown, Norilsk Nickel represents survival. Jobs, recreation, family ties – for most people in the area, these things are associated with only one company. Of the 178,000 people living in Norilsk, Norilsk Nickel’s Polar Division employs nearly 60,000 of them , and most of the others depend indirectly on the activities of this industrial giant.

The Polar Division is the Group’s main production unit, operating a full metal-production cycle from mining to the shipment of finished products to customers. The measured and indicated mineral resources of the Polar Division total more than 1,665 million tonnes of ore containing about 12.1 million tonnes of nickel, 22.6 million tonnes of copper and more than 8,000 tonnes of platinum group metals.

Top-notch equipment
Currently the Polar Division mines about 17 million tonnes of ore every year. In the harsh Arctic conditions, such an outstanding result would be impossible to achieve without sophisticated and reliable equipment.

“We use equipment from all the best international manufacturers,” says Alexander Gugnin, deputy chief mechanic, Norilsk Nickel Polar Division. “Sandvik quite fits this line-up. Loaders, drill rigs – every machine is truly worthy. Sandvik equipment is definitely reliable. Otherwise it wouldn’t have made it to our mines.”

Besides equipment, Sandvik offers other important benefits to Norilsk Nickel. The two companies have built a warm collaboration working together in the frosty surroundings and currently have several ongoing contracts. One is for the supply of spare parts for self-propelled equipment, for both underground and surface mining. Another is for full-service technical support of the Sandvik equipment used by Norilsk Nickel.

The Sandvik Fleet in Norilsk

  • 35 Sandvik DD420-60 underground drills
  • 19 Sandvik LH514 loaders
  • 15 Sandvik (Axera) D07-260 underground drills
  • Five Sandvik LH203 loaders
  • Four Sandvik LH307 loaders
  • Four Sandvik TH540 trucks
  • Four Sandvik TORO 40D trucks
  • Four Sandvik LH410 loaders
  • Four Sandvik TORO 1400 loaders
  • Three Sandvik DE740 exploration drill rigs
  • Three Sandvik DL420-7 underground drills
  • Three Sandvik DS421 cable bolters
  • Three Sandvik D50KS surface drills
  • Three Sandvik LH409Е loaders
  • Two Sandvik DD320-40 underground drills
  • Two Sandvik DL420-10 underground drills
  • Two Sandvik SOLO 7-7F underground drills
  • Two Sandvik (Axera) 5-140 underground drills
  • Two Sandvik (Megamatic) 5200 underground drills
  • Two Sandvik LH203E loaders
  • Two Sandvik EJC 533 trucks
  • One Sandvik DB120 underground drill
  • One Sandvik DD210 underground drill
  • One Sandvik DL321-7 underground drill
  • One Sandvik DL421-15 underground drill
  • One Sandvik DL421-7 underground drill
  • One Sandvik DL430-7 underground drill
  • One Sandvik DT820 underground drill
  • One Sandvik Orion underground drill
  • One Sandvik SOLO 5-7C underground drill
  • One Sandvik SOLO 7-10F underground drill
  • One Sandvik D75KS surface drill
  • One Sandvik LH514E loader
  • One Sandvik TORO 400D loader
  • One Sandvik EJC 530 truck
  • One Sandvik Alpine AHM105 roadheader

“Norilsk Nickel extracts and transports the ore with our equipment, and we fully service it,” explains Taymuraz Kulaev, head of Sandvik Mining CIS branch in the Norilsk region. “Our maintenance sites work all year long, 24 hours a day, no matter what the weather might be.”

Overcoming isolation
Providing spare parts is an even tougher challenge. Norilsk is not connected by either road or railway to the “mainland,” which is how the residents here refer to the rest of Russia. The only options are planes and ocean-going vessels. There is also the Yenisei River, but it is covered with ice for up to 10 months a year.

“Everything that we deliver here, spare parts for sale or for service, reaches us by sea or by air,” Kulaev says. “That’s why we are very dependent on weather conditions, and the non-flying weather sometimes lasts for up to two weeks. But in spite of all this and the fact that Norilsk Nickel has very strict requirements for its contractors, we manage to meet all needs.”

Gugnin confirms he is happy with the cooperation. “Sandvik has its own warehouse in the region, which is very advantageous because it allows us to work fast,” he says. “But the main thing about Sandvik is competence. It ensures well-timed servicing and repair works, with the highest quality. As a result, we get equipment that works productively and reliably.”

EHS trendsetter
To achieve a remarkable efficiency record, a company needs be successful in environmental, health and safety (EHS) management. And that is exactly the area where the Norilsk branch of Sandvik CIS can be called a local trendsetter. Applied practices include additional education for workers, management of the international database of dangers and accidents, and installation of safety cut-outs on most equipment. Methods that are implemented here are in accord with the most demanding world-class regulations. For five consecutive years Sandvik Norilsk has been certified under OHSAS 18001, the internationally applied British Standard for occupational health and safety management systems.

In November 2014, Sandvik Norilsk achieved 1,200 consecutive days without a lost-time injury. The company’s approach proved to be so successful that Norilsk Nickel was inspired to copy some of its methods. The responsibility belonged to Alexey Mansurov, head specialist of the industrial security and labour protection department of the Norilsk Nickel Polar Division.

“As of today, Sandvik is the only contracting organization among our partners that is certified by international certificates OHSAS 18001,” Mansurov says. “At Norilsk Nickel we are now making an effort to adopt the same EHS stance. Sandvik both helps us in our endeavours and serves as an example. Sandvik has already had it implemented and functioning for several years.”

Six steps to safer conditions
Norilsk Nickel’s most notable regulatory EHS upgrades concern the isolation of energy sources, application of blocking and protective devices on dangerous equipment, and conduct of internal audits. The Polar Division is also implementing the Sandvik interactive risk-assessment method “Take 5,” in which each employee before the start of a work shift goes through a five-point checklist and notes all dangers and risks that could occur and should be properly handled.

“In our version it became six steps of safety, but it’s essentially the same,” Mansurov says. “And you know what? We have had about 30 percent fewer industrial injuries than last year. We are now imposing a lot of new regulations, so it is still hard to evaluate if there is a correlation between our new safety record and those exact practices, but there is one thing that can be said for sure: Cooperation is key.”

The Sandvik Solution: Services to count on

Sandvik equipment has proved its efficiency, reliability and safety in the harsh conditions of far northern Russia. Fruitful long-term cooperation between Sandvik and Norilsk Nickel demonstrates it perfectly. Since 2004, the Norilsk Nickel Polar Division has almost doubled the number of Sandvik machines it uses, from 75 to 138 pieces of equipment.

Such a line-up of Sandvik products enables the Polar Division to constantly increase its productivity. In the 10 years from 2004 to 2014, ore production increased from 13,784 kilotonnes to 16,738 kilotonnes.

But as with all equipment, the Sandvik machines need maintenance. The Norilsk Nickel Polar Division has signed a contract for full technical support with Sandvik.

“I think it would cost us more to maintain all the equipment with our own forces,” says Alexander Gugnin, deputy chief mechanic of the Norilsk Nickel Polar Division. “We would have to train our own staff and so on. It’s a suitable collaboration that is advantageous for both parties.”

Out of the 90 people employed by Sandvik in Norilsk, 65 help service equipment. They are ready to help 24/7, regardless of weather conditions, at seven maintenance sites both on the surface and underground, down to a depth of 1,050 metres.

“The essential and distinctive feature of this service is reliability,” Gugnin says. “That’s what always wins.”

Sandvik also has its own warehouse in Norilsk and handles spare parts supply for the Polar Division. “We also help Norilsk Nickel with consulting services,” says Taymuraz Kulaev, head of the Sandvik Mining CIS branch in the Norilsk region. “For example, we discuss what equipment they need for drilling works or loading operations and run through all the details.”