Chilean state-owned copper mining company Codelco has awarded a contract to Rockwell Automation to supply key automation systems for the Chuquicamata underground mine.

Under the terms of the $50m contract, Rockwell Automation will work with Codelco to transform the century-old, open-pit mine into a technologically advanced ‘super-cave’ mine.

The contract comes at a time when Codelco is proceeding with its plans to transition the open-pit mine to a modern underground operation with a $4.88bn investment, Reuters reported earlier this month.

Chuquicamata is set to use a block-caving extraction process, which is designed to extend the life of the mine by at least 40 years and improve its asset utilisation.

“We are committed to helping our customers bring the connected enterprise to life.”

Miners are employing cave mining techniques to achieve high production rates at reduced costs.

The block caving technique involves undercutting blocks of ore to induce caving, allowing them to break up and be drawn off, pulled by gravity.

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Rockwell Automation Latin America president Alejandro Capparelli said: “We are committed to helping our customers bring the connected enterprise to life. Our work together will increase mine throughput and lower operating costs.

“By leveraging Rockwell Automation’s integrated control and information systems, connected services and deep domain expertise, Codelco will extract more value at every stage of their mining operation.”

Under the scope of the contract, Rockwell will undertake a detailed engineering, supply, configuration and assembly of four systems that comprise the mine’s control system.

The systems to be developed include an integrated operational platform, security system, supervision and control network, as well as predictive maintenance and a general administrative network.

Rockwell Automation is currently working on the engineering and construction phase.

Codelco is expected to commence the project during mid-2019, with annual production estimated to be 320,000t of fine copper and 15,000t of molybdenum.

In June, the Chilean Government announced to inject $1bn in capitalisation in Codelco to help the company overhaul its mining operations and prevent its ageing mines from running dry, according to Reuters.

Last month, workers at the mine went on strike to protest against the company’s cost-cutting measures and the underground mine plan.