Many industries are adopting new technologies worldwide that are helping them to drive down costs, improve productivity and optimise safety.
Mining engineering is no different and there have been several exciting developments in the sector over the last few years that could transform how projects are carried out in the future.
This article will outline five technologies currently in use in Australia and abroad that have the potential to bring significant benefits to mining companies and employees
1. Autonomous haulage vehicles
Pioneered by Rio Tinto in Western Australia, driverless haulage is becoming increasingly common since its inception six years ago. Aside from Rio, mining giants BHP Billiton and the Fortescue Metals Group have also unveiled plans for autonomous vehicles.
Equipped with a GPS, an obstacle detection system and vehicle controllers, these unmanned trucks increase mine safety, lower operating costs and reduce wear and tear on tyres.
2. 3D laser scanning
This technology can map the shape, position and location of objects with extreme precision, allowing mining companies to accurately plan and prepare for future exploration and drilling activities.
3D laser scanning is useful for a variety of professionals in the resources industry, including safety officers, rock engineers and ventilation designers. In many cases, the technology can eliminate the need for experts to physically visit the mine, saving time and money.
3. Advanced shaft and tunnel-boring systems
As open pits begin to come to the end of their life, miners are forced to move their operations underground to take advantage of deeper ore bodies. This requires efficient tunnel-boring technologies.
Again, Rio Tinto has been spearheading change in this area. The organisation began trials of the Atlas Copco Tunnel Boring System in 2012, which was designed to allow companies to tunnel approximately 10 metres a day. This is almost twice the amount of traditional technologies.
While robotics use is fairly limited in the mining sector today, industry commentators believe there are a number of opportunities available.
Machinery Automation and Robotics are working with Rio Tinto on Robotic Idler Change-out technology that automatically replaces idlers on loaded, operational conveyers. The aim is to improve conveyor maintenance procedures, which is currently a risky, difficult and labour-intensive task.
5. Automated drilling
The rise of automated drilling equipment is helping mining companies boost productivity, while ensuring the safety of employees.
Sandvik’s AutoMine Surface Drilling solution is one example, with the system utilising wireless network communications to allow remote drilling activity. Real-time video is sent to an operator station, where there is a full set of standard drill rig controls.
According to Sandvik, the setup is easily relocatable and offers the same capabilities of a manual operation, without any of the safety issues.
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