From a centralized operations center in suburban Sydney, Erik keys in a series of commands on his console. These in turn, direct numerous remote-controlled haul trucks to a location thousands of kilometers away to drill and extract ore, and guide the driverless trains to carry materials to the port. Enter this new age mining, where a series of technological innovations is making it possible to remotely control mining operations over geographically dispersed locations.
As mines get deeper and move to more remote and inaccessible locations, it is only logical to keep human intervention to the minimum. Automated systems allow mining officials to communicate with and control machinery remotely without exposure to hazardous mining environments thereby creating a safer workplace for operators. In fact, with increasing use of technology in the mining sector, the number of injuries has significantly decreased over the years.
Additionally, with shortage of trained operators in the industry and with an increasing demand for resources, productivity becomes a decisive challenge. Technology comes to the rescue once again in the form of automation and new generation equipment such as automated trucks, underground drill rigs and sorting machines, which not only cuts costs but also improves efficiency.
An Australian mining company for instance, has a fleet of self-driven haul trucks, which together are responsible for over half of its total material transportation. In fact, it plans to automate 40% of its fleet by the year 2016. These trucks also drive themselves to the fueling stations when they need to refuel using radars, lasers, communication antennas and high-precision GPS. Furthermore, mines will also rely on automated technologies to reach, collect, haul and transport ore safely and efficiently from depths of 7000 feet, right up to the surface.
In another development, a Chilean mine operator plans to install wireless Internet in its mines to connect intelligent devices which will in turn monitor environmental conditions and provide automated control to the mine’s technological systems and equipment.
An increasing number of mines world over are also relying on remote diagnostic capabilities that enable real-time transfer of data to improve and hasten decision making. The constant flow of health-diagnostic data helps mine managers decide and plan equipment maintenance schedules well in advance, ultimately reducing the downtime.
Disruptive technologies are set to transform the mining industry and though capital intensive, the benefits far outweigh the associated costs and challenges. Such innovations not only prevent mining accidents and ensure a safe environment, but also deliver process efficiencies that would otherwise be impossible.
How else can automation and technological innovations create a safe environment and enhance efficiency and productivity in mines? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.