Workers have long confronted dangerous and dirty jobs. They’ve had to dig to the bottom of mines, or put themselves in harm’s way to decommission ageing nuclear sites. It’s time to make these jobs safer and more efficient, robots are just starting to provide the necessary tools.
Mining has become much safer, yet workers continue to die every year in accidents across Europe, highlighting the perils of this genuinely needed industry. Everyday products use minerals extracted from mining, and 30 million jobs in the EU depend on their supply. Robots are a way to modernise an industry that is constantly under pressure with the fall in prices of commodities and the lack of safe access to hard-to-reach resources. Making mining greener is also a key concern.
The vision is for people to move away from the rock face, and onto the surface. In an ideal world where mining 4.0 is the norm, a central control room will run all operations in the mine, which will become a zero-entry zone for workers. Robots will take care of safety critical tasks such as drilling, extracting, crushing and transport of excavated material. The mine could operate continuously while experts on the surface are in charge of managing, monitoring, optimising and maintenance of the systems – essentially making mining a high-tech job.
A recent report from the IDC echoes this vision saying, “The future of mining is to create the capability to manage the mine as a system – through an integrated web of technologies such as virtualization, robotics, Internet of Things (IoT), sensors, connectivity, and mobility – to command, control, and respond.”
And companies are betting their money on it, “69% of mining companies globally are looking for remote operation and monitoring centres, 56% at new mine methods, 29% at robotics and 27% at unmanned drones.”
Europe is also heavily investing, with several large projects over the past 15 years. The European project I2Mine, which finished last year, focussed on technologies suitable for underground mining activities (at depths greater than 1500m). With 23M Euros invested, it was the biggest EU RTD project funded in the mining sector.
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