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Mining future in automation

Sandvik staff (from left) Jason Cross, Craig Elgar, Michael Zirbel, Andrew Atkinson and Kate Bills try out the Sim Driller, a simulator-based training system.
Sandvik staff (from left) Jason Cross, Craig Elgar, Michael Zirbel, Andrew Atkinson and Kate Bills try out the Sim Driller, a simulator-based training system. Peter Holt

THE future of mining lies in automation.

However, it's not inevitable and you won't see it happening any time soon in the Bowen Basin.

That was the word from the Swedish engineering group Sandvik at QME yesterday.

Sandvik Mining automation manager Pieter Prinsloo said when it came to either the Bowen or Galilee basins, there were more discussions than decisions at this point in time.

He also noted that it was very difficult to implement automation in existing mines.

"There's definitely a lot of discussion around what the technologies are out there and how that will influence the mine and the layout of the mine," Mr Prinsloo said.

Sandvik has a range of automation products but when we are talking coal mining the focus is on proximity detection and collision avoidance technology for use in LHDs (Load Haul Dump vehicles) and trucks.

The company's tele-remote loading, where operators control equipment many kilometres from the mine site, is not yet available.

"The application in coal is vastly different (to hard rock underground mining); with underground coal the challenge is to make it flameproof," Mr Prinsloo said.

"We are trialling this but we cannot say when it might be available because we simply don't know."

Mr Prinsloo also stressed that automation was not about replacing operators but rather upskilling them and creating safer workplaces.

"We want to give them a better working environment, and make it safer," he said.

"Mines are getting deeper, mines are getting more dangerous. We need to find a way to get people out of that environment and put them somewhere else."

Topics:  mining


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