In the Bible, the mighty warrior Goliath is described as being ‘six cubits and a span’ tall. But this is nothing compared with the Goliath that rules over the Aitik opencast mine in northern Sweden – a Volvo FH16, which pulls 500 tonnes of copper ore out of the depths of the mountain every day of the year.
To look out over the grey terraces of the immense Aitik opencast mine in the Swedish Arctic is a breath-taking experience. At 3km long, 1.1km wide, and 425m deep, Aitik is one of Europe’s largest copper mines – and it’s still growing. “I’m really lucky to be able to work here and experience all this. It’s a special environment,” says truck driver Gustav Nilsson.
A recent expansion of the mine included an entirely new way of transporting copper concentrate – a job that is handled by Gällivare Frakt, a logistics firm owned by Nilsson’s father, Ingemar Nilsson, and uncle, Kurt Nilsson. To manage this mammoth task, the company invested in Goliath – a custom-built 540hp Volvo FH16. Fully loaded, Goliath weighs in at 144 tonnes.
“The truck operates smoothly and effectively. It’s a delight to drive,” says Gustav.
Gällivare Frakt transports all the copper concentrate mined in Aitik, which means every day Goliath carries 500 tonnes between the dressing plant and the terminal. From that raw material, about 46,000 tonnes of copper are produced per year. In addition, Goliath transports about 25 tonnes of silver and 1.3 tonnes of gold annually. With copper currently costing around SEK 58,000 (£5,475) per tonne, this means Goliath transports copper worth about SEK 2.7 billion (£255m) a year.
Goliath’s daily route is an 8 km stretch between the dressing plant and the terminal where the copper concentrate is unloaded. Gustav weighs the empty vehicle then drives into the long, narrow corridor where the copper concentrate is loaded. The hatches on the wagons are opened and the copper concentrate pours into the truck from above. Controlling the truck remotely, Gustav moves the vehicle to distribute the load evenly. “It’s incredibly smooth – a bit like a computer game,” he says with a smile.
The copper concentrate fills the hall with a smell somewhere between seaweed and snuff – a smell associated with money by the people in this area known as Malmfälten (the ore fields). “It’s what we live on up here. The mines are incredibly important for us,” says Gustav.
Loading completed, he returns to his cab, places his hand on the I-Shift control lever and starts the vehicle. Leaning back in the driver’s seat, he explains how simple his job has become with the new truck and facilities. “You hardly feel you’re carrying 100 tonnes. The road is wide and it’s only us using this route,” he says.
Working in the Aitik mine is not always pleasant; however, as the dressing plant is exposed to the biting Arctic winds. “The temperature in winter can be minus 30 degrees Celsius and the wind blows all year long,” says Gustav. “It’s a harsh climate.”
To unload, Gustav drives the truck into the depot, folds down the support legs and tips out the load, firstly from the trailer and then the truck. Powerful vibrators then shake out every last bit of the copper concentrate.
The new truck, combined with the new loading and tipping system, has helped mine-owner Boliden achieve significant increases in production. Last year, 31.5m tonnes of ore were produced. “We chose an engine with an output of 540 horsepower, to match the design of the road,” says Ingemar Nilsson. “The gradient is low from the dressing plant to the terminal and we return with an empty truck.”
Things have changed since he started driving trucks at the mine in 1971. “When you get into this truck, you feel like you are floating on air compared with the first truck we drove,” he says. “It’s like changing from a wheelbarrow to sitting on a cloud. There have been major technical developments and it’s a question of making every tonne cheaper.”
Gustav Nilsson is the third generation of his family to drive trucks here, starting with his grandfather. His father and uncle set up their haulage company in 1988 and it was only natural that Gustav would follow in their footsteps. He started driving loading machines at age 16 and when he turned 18, he obtained his driving licence for heavy-duty trucks.
If everything goes according to plan, Gustav will eventually take over the business. “We are old and he is the future,” says Ingemar. “We hope that these men of the future manage to keep going for as many years as we have.”
So Gustav and Goliath should be taking on the mountain together for many years to come. “I like my work. It’s special,” says Gustav. “There’s a great atmosphere and virtually all my friends work here. Boliden is investing aggressively, so this is a really good place to work.”