Adele Huard & Gabriel Janakaraj explore how the development of innovative technology has enhanced operations in metals mining
The mining industry has evolved tremendously in the past decade, more than the combined century previous to it. With new advancements in mining technologies, companies can capture missed revenue opportunities, enhance safety for the workforce and achieve operational goals. Digital technologies have rapidly expanded throughout the global mining industry and the biggest push has been due to the gains the sector has made from implementing these tools. Automation and remote-control technologies are proven to enhance operational performances in mines. These tools allow operations to continue during typical downtime events and allow operators to manage their machines remotely without exposure to hazardous mining environments. Digital tools prove to be a truly innovative solution to increasing production safely.
ADVANCED TECHNOLOGIES ARE TRANSFORMING THE INDUSTRY
To ensure these systems’ performance, a mine-grade communication backbone is required. This provides the conduit to near-real-time communications between the operator, machines and other assets. These tools are integrated into a high-performance network to provide flexibility and transparency between all assets within the mine ecosystem.
Automation and other innovative digital technologies are transforming the sector, and mining companies that adopt the infrastructure to support these advancements in their current operations will position themselves for an easy transition into future developments and greenfield projects. Traditionally, remote-control technology was used only in cases where the operator did not have the option of entering the machine or to complete duties in extremely high-risk environments. Now, tele-remote technologies are used in various applications to help optimise the mine’s production cycles and to support all processes throughout the mine’s operation. This technology coupled with automation allows for a continuous cycle to occur throughout the operating schedule. In addition, sensors can provide business intelligence on mine vitals and asset performances that enhance planning and predictability.
Remote-control technologies, such as Hard-Line’s Teleop operator control station, can be situated on the surface of the mine or in the office somewhere in the city; providing the perfect solution for safe and productive work-life. These ergonomic control stations provide a one-to-one control of any heavy equipment seen on site. The system is made up of pedals, joystick and monitors that give the operators full functionality of the machine as if they are sitting in the cab. The control station allows work to be accomplished in remote regions without the need for a fly-in fly-out schedule of the operators, thus attracting top talent to work for isolated regions around the world.
Teleop Multi allows a single operator in a control station to select from multiple machines, which may include several types of equipment of various makes and models. This gives operators full control over a fleet that is not dependant on location or work zone. The system can accommodate mine expansion because it is scalable and modular.
Other available technologies include autonomous software upgrades, such as Hard-Line’s Teleop Auto, which is a one-to-one system that delivers auto speed, steering and braking for trucks, trains and load haul dump (LHD) machines.
Tele-remote and automation packages have been proven viable through software capabilities that work in tangent with a high-performance backbone network. The integration of a reliable communications infrastructure allows the connectivity of various devices such as LHDs, rockbreakers, haul-trucks, drills, etc. to function correspondingly under one shared network. The WiFi-based network enables the remote and autonomous operation of multiple brands of heavy-duty machinery to work collectively without interference. The diversity of these technologies allows various mining applications to operate efficiently with tele-remote and autonomous capabilities that help the mine achieve operational excellence.
NEW ADVANCEMENTS ARE OPTIMIsING OPERATIONS
The mining sector has gained immensely through developments in automation and remote control. These systems offer innovative solutions to the challenges faced in operating mines around the world. The integration of these techniques has brought considerable benefits in terms of higher productivity, through improved performance and reduced downtime. Mining companies can also achieve higher profit margins. As the cost-per-tonne and cut-off grade decreases with lower operating cost and increased throughput, these operations are less dependent on the price of commodities and increase their available reserves.
Companies have invested in integrated remote operations centres (IROC), located in urbanised areas. These centres reduce the stress of working in remote locations by mitigating the risk of environmental hazards and operator fatigue. Mistakes can be minimised if not eliminated with the use of digital services that ensure accuracy and precision. Through short-interval control modules, management can ensure the efficiency of its operations through mine vitals sent in real-time to the control centre. This assists in ensuring that key activities planned for each shift are achieved. With real-time updates from the face, management has control to make adjustments if necessary. Operations can monitor the mine from the surface and act promptly if something goes wrong. The technology empowers workers and feeds information to a management of operations system, which helps with planning and scheduling.
Increased asset utilisation, of both mine personnel and equipment, can be accomplished through available teleop software upgrades because the same number of operators can each manage multiple pieces of equipment. This allows operations to take on bigger projects using existing assets.
While these technologies enhance efficiencies, they continue to transform the mining industry and redefine rather than eliminate jobs – providing operators new skills and enhanced abilities. Mining companies that embrace the change will stay ahead of industry and in return, achieve operational excellence.