With strict government regulation and an emphasis on safe operations, autonomous mining machinery is a practical and beneficial use of automation for the mining industry. While the automation of mobile equipment has been used for some time in mining, implementation requires consideration given the infrastructure needed.
In addition to mining equipment, automation of mobile machinery involves a suite of technologies including robotic hardware, software to convert equipment, computing power, radio and wireless communication and GPS tracking, and more.
Mobile equipment automation is available in several different formats:
- Driver-assisted technology enables a vehicle to sense where it is in relation to other objects to be able to precisely maneuver. Many machines are only partly automated, but this technology can serve as a transition to implementing a more sophisticated command-and-control platform using GPS for remote operation of a vehicle.
- Full automation utilizes autonomous control on more than one vehicle or piece of mining equipment. Full automation incorporates all aspects of the functioning of machinery, including such actions as steering, braking, and blade or excavator bucket control. Full automation requires an extensive investment but offers the potential for considerable productivity gains.
- Remote control equipment gives operators line‑of‑sight of operation as well as the ability to maneuver vehicles and equipment from a portable, radio‑linked control box. This automated solution helps with tight spaces, including extended or deep cuts and underground longhole stoping, but still requires personnel to be within the vicinity of potentially hazardous environments.
- Teleoperated equipment is remotely controlled by an operator using sensors, software and cameras often utilizing a handheld control or joystick. Teleoperation, also known as teleremote, gives operators a better view of surroundings to maneuver and removes personnel from hazardous areas.
PROACTIVE EQUIPMENT MAINTENANCE
Mining utilizes a broad array of heavy equipment — vehicles, drilling machines, conveyors and processing systems — all of which have hundreds of components and moving parts working in harsh conditions. With an emphasis on safety and lowering operating cost, mining operations cannot efficiently rely on personnel walking through sites to visually inspect when machinery may need attention.
Using embedded sensors and remote connectivity, machinery performance indicators such as pressure and vibration are monitored to alert operators of issues or attention required. Predictive maintenance monitoring and analytics are automated functions that provide real-time machine health data, so that problems can be intercepted before dangerous or expensive failures occur.
Temperature sensors, for example, can be installed to track motors, drives and bearings of machinery that allow for early detection of potential failures. Control systems can also be configured to interpret data from the electrical distribution system to track amperage against tonnage passing on the conveyor. Similarly, monitoring the load of the conveyor motor can control the variable speed drive to extend the life of the equipment. Ventilation systems with temperature monitoring and control provide critical real-time data to maintain requirements for minimum air flow and maximum temperatures, while providing automated oversight of energy consumption to minimize costs.