Last night I saw a vision of the future of mining – there are unmanned trucks that communicate with each other and help each other decide which haul road to take; there are rigs drilling automated that send drilling rate data directly to the mine database and then out to a 3D model used by the shovel robot for grading control.
He said mining has the need and the money to push automation research forward, being at the forefront of technology around the world. And in fact even more advanced than the work done for the defense forces.
What About Underground Mining?
Most of the work to date has focused on surface mining, He said that to date work in underground situations has focused on automation of machine X or process Y (i.e. automated haul trucks or personal mining rig) and that the real key is to forget about individual equipment and see how to automate an entire mine or mining system.
In fact, the view is that automating certain machines is easy, and the technology already exists. Getting the machine the right information in real-time which is the challenge.
Automate the Whole System, Not Just the Machine
The most interesting part of the presentation (besides the robotic helicopter that can fly hundreds of kilometers identifying and targeting weed sprays on the farm) is the overall concept of why automation is important.
He says it’s not at all about getting people out of the mines, though there are clearly some health and safety benefits in moving people from exercise into air-conditioned pods for example. And to change the way our business models and information systems work to achieve that goal.
So he doesn’t think we need to automate everything, and we really can’t. However, we need to think about how all of our mining processes and systems can work automatically at the same time all the time.
He also says the advantage you get from having an automated truck that is directly controlled by a human is one of them, but the real advantage comes when these trucks are part of an overall automated mine planning system. When this happens, you not only know where the stacks are now, you know where they will be in an hour, or two days. Everything becomes much more predictable and ends up being money working for you.
Effects of Mining
The threshold needs to hire more people with specific skills such as electronics and robotics. But he said reducing the overall crew was not the main goal or the result in real life. The goal is not to get people out of the loop, but to create a better system for them to help make work faster and easier, even replaceable.
You must already have an idea that certainly provides an interesting picture for the future in the mining world. I believe his focus on creating new business models and better systems is a great way to see the challenges and benefits of automation, rather than just looking at which machines to automate.