Across the globe, more and more mines are implementing the latest in autonomous and remote control technology. From improving safety and productivity to making the deepest parts of the ocean available to mining, the capabilities of this new technology are stunning.
Remote control mining: Canada
Canada is almost like the unofficial home base of remote control mining. While their mine sites are set up all over the world—from Africa, to China, to Papua New Guinea—many of the companies most skillfully riding the automation wave originated in Canada. The northern nation is also home to an underground training facility where mining clients can got to familiarise themselves with the latest machinery and where developers test out prototype models.
The NORCAT underground training facility has a unique offering of customisable training courses and its own innovation and product development department. It is both private and non-profit with a focus on imparting the knowledge and experience necessary to keep the global mining industry safe, productive and as sustainable as possible for the future.
A Canadian mining company in China (using Aussie technology)
China’s first ever remote control mining system was implemented by Canadian company, Eldorado Gold. The teleremote system they used comes from Aussie company, RCT and has reportedly resulted in a significant boost to productivity and safety at the Eldorado’s White Mountain mine site.
Rather than the old Line of Site (LOS) system, operators now conduct teleremoting from a delivery truck specially upgraded for the task. The truck has been kitted out with high tech video equipment, red lighting for eye protection, climate control for comfort, and a fresh coat of blue paint just because.
The truck goes to all the underground stoping areas but the human operators are now able to control the loader from within the safety of the laser barrier system. The loader is designed to have minimal setup time and the truck has a battery pack capable of giving it up to five days continuous charge. The loader also has semi-autonomous capabilities, able to steer itself with a LiDAR system and cruise at a max of 10km per hour.
“The perceived benefits in productivity were estimated between 25-30%, meaning the system would pay for itself in less than six months. However, actual data shows productivity gains of more than 35%.”
With operators now working in the safety of their custom-built cabin, a good 500 metres from the stope area, safety gets an instant, undeniable boost. The vehicles ability to self-navigate and drive provides an extra layer of protection for both human and machine.
“The added and most important benefit was the removal and control of personnel from the work area. It reduces operator fatigue and virtually eliminates impact damage to the machine hitting the walls. Meanwhile machine data is transmitted back to the remote control station, so if any critical faults are detected, an alarm sounds and a message appears on the operator’s screen, just as if they were in the cabin.”
Remote control mining: Africa
While China may be the most mineral-rich region on Earth, Africa has enough of a share to make it a magnet for the world’s mining companies. Billions of dollars flow in and out of the continent every year in the form of mining investments and gains. Yet, many of the people who call the mineral-rich land home live without the power and basic amenities we take for granted. According to David Forth, an Aussie crane operator who’s spent the last couple of years working in a copper mine in Zambia,
“You see people living rough. Generations of family in mud huts within 15 meters of each other and all of them crammed in with each other at night time. Then just up the road, there’s a big mine. Money, big companies benefitting, but the people not getting anything.”
This strange dichotomy is made even stranger by the level of technology that’s being installed in the mines. While the African workers are bringing portable battery chargers to work so they can power small devices at home where they have no connected electricity, in the very same facilities some of the most stunning autonomous and remote control machines are in use.
Companies like Mine Technology Services (MTS) are bringing in and distributing teleremote systems like the one rigged up in China, as well as radio remote and multi-machine automated setups. These can handle LOS work, control room ops, and proximity detection.
MTS operates in Africa but is based in the UK. However, the products they supply come from mining giant, Nautilus; who also happen to be Canadian. Seems like Canada is taking over the world’s mines. At least on the automation front.
Along with their fleet of automated and remote control machines, Nautilus made a name for itself with its bid to mine the ocean floors. Even here though, the company is not alone with mining companies the world over aware of the vast store of minerals to be accessed via deep ocean mining. And, with automation finally catching up to our collective imaginations, such extreme mineral-harvesting voyages are coming within the reach of our capabilities.