Remote-control of a wide range of mining equipment can be adopted correctly at various levels of sophistication, with the twin benefits of both improved safety and productivity. Maurice Jones reports.
At the basic level a hand-held panel can be used within line-of-sight of the plant being used, mainly so the operator can work from a safer location. This is obviously easier in an open mine than underground.
At higher levels full automated or remote operation is performed from a central position. In underground mines this may be located on the surface using appropriate communication routing.
Fully computerised mines have been talked about for many years but never fully achieved. However, where operation can benefit from the economies of scale, and/or where operator wages are relatively high such as in Australia and North America, automation involving computerised intervention is being gradually improve.
The best automation systems have been set up within a broad philosophy that caters to the needs of mine operators. They are not just a ‘bolt-on’ that leaves scope for interface failures and mis-matches.
Fabian Dechant, now Director Global Engineering for Joy Mining Machinery, has commented that his company’s objective is to integrate Joy’s control technology and open industry standards to make it possible to interface with today’s data gathering and management systems. This will bring about the transformation of an equipment operator into a process surpervisor. In the case of underground equipment, each plant item has a series of ‘black boxes’ housing the control and data monitoring functions.
Dechant comments: “What our customers are buying is the combined functionality of the ‘black boxes’, not the technology buried within those boxes.
It has tended to be the loading and transport functions that have been the main subjects of remote-control and automation measures. Loaders, including LHDs, can often work in hazardous locations such as open stopes and caving zones, so remote-control removes the operator from these possible danagers. In open-pit mines, driving large dump-trucks at a relatively slow speed up ramps can be a soporific activity, so removing the operator can only help in reducing poteniial collisions or run-offs.
Remote-control and automation is now being applied to much more than these load and haul functions. Sandvik offers drilling, process management and general monitoring within its AutoMine range. The AutoMine rotary drilling system utilises GPS receivers, cameras and geofencing for independent drilling and tramming throughout a mine. Claimed benefits include increased drilling accuracy, and more holes in less time as well as reduced risk.
Remote Control Technologies (RCT) of Australia is one of an increasing number of retrofit and oem suppliers of remote-control and automation solutions for mining equipment, principally in its ControlMaster range. The company says: “RCT guarantees less damage and greater tons moved than conventional teleremote operations.”
This highlights a potential problem for inexpert remote- or central-control operators in that inaccurate guidance can result in more damage, mainly from collisions with the walls of drives. Conversely, accurate guidance can allow the increase of tramming speeds in LHDs and trucks.
The RCT ControlMaster Surface Solution for underground mining allows the operator to work from an ergonomic and clean office on the surface using a reliable fibre-optic link to an antenna systems in the underground mine drives.
Video 1: Sandvik AutoMine offers a variety of products for different applications, AutoMine can significantly raise productivity, improve safety, enabling smooth flow of rock solid surface and underground operations
Video 2: Atlas Copco Scooptram operation using radio remote control (RRC)