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Automation is gaining ground underground

July 10, 2015

There are several reasons for the increased interest in automation from the mining industry. One is of course the added safety benefit, with fewer people operating in hazardous environments. Automation can also be used to optimize mining, for example, by working during blasting.

Remote control

“With optimization, productivity also increases, because you can get more out of the equipment,” said Mattias Pettersson, Product Manager at Atlas Copco Rock Drills. “With the easily accessible ore bodies running low, mining needs to take place in dangerous and difficult working environments.”

Improved infrastructure in the mines has also enabled an increase in automation. Ten years ago, no-one would have thought that WiFi could work in underground mines. Today it is a matter of fact and most automation applications require network access.

There are three main areas of focus for today’s automation development: the functions of the machine, the operator environment and the collection and integration of data.

A lot can be done with the machine’s functions, only the imagination – and the cost of development – set the limits. All new machines have a computerized control system that allows many automated features, making it easier for the operator to work more efficiently.

“Additionally, operators can be moved farther from the machines thanks to automation. In Chile, they have run a system where the operator sat 80 kilometers from the mine – it worked perfectly” said Mattias Pettersson.

Finally, in terms of data collection, a lot can be gained from observing in real time what the machines are doing. In this way it is possible to make major improvements in the logistics as well as in productivity and availability.

Underground Rock Excavation automation products

Scooptram RRC – Remote control of the Atlas Copco Scooptram-loader through a direct link, up to 60 meters, with a clear view.

Scooptram automation – Remote control of the Atlas Copco Scooptram-loader through a wireless network. Also includes features for automatic tramming and auto dumping.

Simba tele-remote and multi-machine control – Remote control of the Atlas Copco drill rigs production through a wireless network. With multi Machine Control option it is also possible to control multiple rigs from the operator panel.

Remote monitoring and mobile machine integration – System for collecting machine data via a wireless network. Production data, maintenance data and alarms are collected automatically and can be presented in clear graphs through a web interface.

Loaders/trucks – Automation of these machines were displayed at the exhibition Euro Mine Expo in Skellefteå in June. The launch takes place later this year.

New remote station for surface drillers

In surface mining operations, bench drillers no longer have to sit in the cabins of their drill rigs to operate them in hazardous environments – they can do their job from a safe distance.

That’s the basic concept behind BenchREMOTE, a new remote operator station designed for bench drilling at drilling sites where benches may be unstable or steep and precarious. Using a closed network video camera system, the operator is able to drill closer to the bench wall without having to take risks. The station can be used up to 100 m from the drilling area and 30 m above the rig, on condition that the operator has a direct line of sight with the drill rig doing the work.

And it is not only a question of safety. Mattias Hjerpe, Product Manager says: “The BenchREMOTE can handle up to three drill rigs in parallel. This multiplies the operator efficiency and was made possible by the full drill cycle automation.” Communication, including machine control and safety functions is via a closed WiFi network making the product totally independent of local network infrastructure.

“The BenchREMOTE can handle up to three drill rigs in parallel. This multiplies the operator efficiency and was made possible by the full drill cycle automation.” Mattias Hjerpe, Product Manager

Value creation Automation Safety Mining Research and development Global