Mining automation: The be all and end all? – by Cole Latimer (Australian Mining – September 8, 2015)

The fully automated mine has long since passed the days of concept and evolved into a reality.  If the industry is to survive and grow, on this planet and elsewhere, total automation of many of the processes is the way forward.

According to professor of mining engineering at the University of British Columbia, John Meech, autonomous vehicle operations can help increase productivity by between 15 to 20 per cent, and truck uptimes by up to a fifth, with Rio Tinto automated fleets recording a 12 per cent production increase compared to manned vehicles.

Rio Tinto, BHP, Roy Hill, and Fortescue are making massive strides forward in implementing autonomous haulage systems in the Pilbara, forging a new place for the technology, combining them with manned operations; particularly in terms of Rio’s Mine of the Future program and BHP’s automated operations centre, both located in Perth.

Hitachi is also trialling its autonomous vehicle systems at the Meandu coal mine in Queensland.

Total automation has also taken another angle with Vale, in Brazil, looking to go completely truckless by using mobile conveyor belts.

In economic and safety terms automation is the way forward, as it allows for predictable and repeatable operations, which in turn allows for greater confidence in analysis and throughput.

Currently the industry is in the early days of this evolution, and working through the teething problems typically associated with any new technology.

One stand out factor for automation is that it was pegged as being safer than many current techniques, as by removing the man from the operation you remove them from the risk.

But what happens if the risk comes to them? Automation, like any system on the mine, is not infallible.

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