Automation holds the key to safety and productivity in mining
The mining industry continues to experience unprecedented growth as global demands for minerals and metals remain at record levels. Automation is playing a key role in the production process and paving the way for future mining ventures.
Underground mining operations with production processes that are exceptionally deep, unusually difficult to access or extremely hazardous are typical environments that make automation and self-operating equipment an obvious choice.
Mining companies currently invest in automated equipment as a means of increasing safety, reducing manual repetitive work and increasing overall efficiency and productivity.
As one of the world’s leading suppliers, Atlas Copco has been instrumental in developing much of the automation technology that exists today in the modern mining industry. This includes everything from computerized control and guidance systems on large underground drill rigs and loaders to remote control and satellite hole navigation systems on surface crawler rigs.
The aim of such innovations is to consistently reduce human exposure to the harsh environment and dangers of the job, to improve the working conditions for all mining personnel while at the same time increase efficiency and equipment utilization.
The recently launched LHD Scooptram ST14 is a typical example. Vehicles were tested at Boliden’s Kristineberg Mine in Sweden and at Inco’s Stobie Mine in Canada. Units sold will be delivered to mines in Sweden, Canada, Portugal, Chile and Russia. This new loader design reduces the physical strain on the operator by making better use of available power. The bucket penetrates the muckpile easier and quicker and is filled to capacity at every attempt which, in turn, enables the number of loads per shift to be increased.
These productivity and safety benefits are derived from the company’s RCS (Rig Control System) and ABC (Advanced Boom Control) systems installed on most of its Rocket Boomer, Simba and Boltec underground production rigs. The ABC system offers three modes – ABC Basic, Regular or Total – corresponding to manual, semi-automatic and fully automatic operation. According to Jörgen Appelgren, Atlas Copco’s R&D Manager Automation, it is the ABC Total mode that is now gaining the most ground, offering accurate and precise hole collaring and faster drill and blast work cycles. “Developments such as these are designed to keep efficiency high and costs low so that miners can meet the future challenges of the industry with confidence” he says.
As Casper Swart, Product Line Manager Automation Systems at Atlas Copco explains: “As most of the tonnage in tomorrow’s world will be extracted using mechanized equipment, automation makes perfect sense. But more importantly, it is getting harder and harder to find new deposits and when they are found they are generally more difficult and more expensive to mine than before. The new mines are often located in remote areas which are not the most attractive for recruiting the best qualified people. To mine these deposits profitably, automation will not just be an option, it will be the only option.”
Örebro centre of excellence
When the LKAB-owned mines of Kiruna in northern Sweden became mechanized in the 1980s they worked in close co-operation with Atlas Copco to develop drill rigs and systems that could be controlled from a safe distance from the mining area. These rigs now also run during night shifts in automatic mode, entirely without supervision.
Today, Örebro in central Sweden, is the centre for Atlas Copco’s research and development in this field. Örebro has a long tradition of mining and it is here that Atlas Copco developed its first Rig Control System (RCS) in 1996. Since then it has become the standard for mobile applications and the platform for all of the company’s subsequent automation innovations.
The RCS platform and its associated modules considerably reduces the wear and tear that mining equipment and personnel are normally subjected to, by making operations faster, lighter, easier to handle and easier to maintain. Furthermore, much of the communication to and from today’s rigs is handled through the internet, satellite and telephone, taking production planning and fault-finding to a higher level.
Other examples of progress from automation are automatic bit changers, automatic tunnel profiling systems and Measure While Drilling – a system for the logging of rock strata characteristics using the rock drill as a sensor while drilling the blast holes. The logged data will then be transferred to a PC for further analysis and the interpretation of the geology can be predicted.
Continues Casper Swart: “These days we are increasing our focus on using technology to preview reality. For example, it would be hugely advantageous to show the loader operator what the muck pile looks like before he drives in, to show the driller what the orebody looks like before he sets up the rig, to show the blasting engineer what the hole looks like inside before he charges it, and so on.”
Björn Rosengren, Atlas Copco’s Senior Executive Vice President and head of the business area Construction and Mining Technique sums up the spirit of the Örebro R&D team thus: “We have learned that wherever mining and construction activities may be located we must continually strive to make improvements and we must never stop trying to increase efficiency for our customers.”
For further information please contact:
Casper Swart, Product Line Manager - Automation URE
+46 (0)19 670 76 84 or +46 (0)70 377 76 84
Hanna Håll, Communications Professional LHD and Automation Systems
+46 (0)19 670 74 42 or +46 (0)732 70 62 85
Atlas Copco Underground Rock Excavation is a division within Atlas Copco’s Construction and Mining Technique business area. It develops, manufactures, and markets a wide range of tunneling and mining equipment for various underground applications worldwide. The division focuses strongly on innovative product design and aftermarket support systems, which give added customer value. The divisional headquarters and main production center is in Örebro, Sweden.