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Mine haul and transport Automation: Where Do We Stand?

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Here is a selection of projects and sites at the cutting edge of Mine haul and transport Automation technologies implementation. And it is just the beginning as there are definitely good reasons for entering this trend.

Gaby Mine, Codelco, Chile

Codelco's Gabriela Mistral "Gaby" copper mine was the first to order a 11 Komatsu driverless trucks fleet in 2008.

Though resulting in no injuries, an incident that occured in 2008 obliged the mine to temporarily replace its brand new driverless trucks fleet with manned trucks, after one of the robot trucks hit a loader and another ran into a pile of waste material.

To our knowledge, no more incidents have been reported by the state-owned company.

El Teniente, Codelco, Chile

At the El Teniente copper mine in Chile, the largest underground mine in the world, the New Mine Level Project (NMLP) is being developed by Codelco at an estimated cost of $3 billion aiming to mine deposits located 350 m below the existing undercut levels. Start-up is scheduled for 2017.

El Teniente already uses automated and remotely controlled equipment. Operating at deeper levels will require an extensive use of such equipment and process, especially (but not limited to) as far as haul and transportation is concerned, in order to mitigate against risks from increases in rock mass stresses, such as rock bursts, collapses, rock falls, water flooding, hazards from mobile equipment and diesel equipment or conveyor belt fires.

Beyond the development of an automated truck fleet, the introduction of electric trucks to save on fuel and reduce ventilation requirements is also planned .

Kiruna Mine, LKAB, Sweden

LKAB’s Kiruna iron ore mine in the extreme north of Sweden, far north of the Arctic Circle, is said to be the largest and most modern underground iron ore mine, and has used driverless underground trains since the 1970s.

Current mining operations take place at a depth of 1,045 m. Autonomous and remote control technologies that rely on sensors, wireless communications and optical fiber cables are operated either from an intermediary level located at 775m deep or from the central control centre located in LKAB’s main office in the town of Kiruna.

At Kiruna mine, seven remote controlled automatically loaded 500t-capacity shuttle trains collect ore from ten groups of ore passes and deliver it to one of four crushing stations.

Due to the inherent constraints of the planned expansion depth (1,365 m), LKAB will incorporate new advances in automation technology, including integrated monitoring and diagnostic systems for autonomous vehicles maintenance purposes and automated electric LHDs (Load Haul Dump)

Amongst other innovations, abrasion-resistant steel rail cars have been introduced aiming to extend their life-cycle by 25 years thanks to a higher resistance to wear and to the impact of heavy iron ore boulders.

West Angelas Mine, Rio Tinto, Australia

The Rio Tinto West Angelas Mine in Australia Pilbara’s region operated 5 Komatsu driverless remotely operated trucks for a three-year trial, starting in 2008. This trial is part of Rio Tinto’s Mine of the Future™ program, probably the most ambitious plan for mine automation, especially (but far from being limited to) haul and transportation equipment.

No serious accidents have been reported and the trucks have moved so far more than 50 million tons of waste.

Rio Tinto’s final objective is to purchase 150 trucks at a unitary cost of more than USD$6 million.

In order to continue evaluating Komatsu’s technology, Rio plans to assign by the middle of 2012, the five trial robot West Angela’s trucks and five new ones to its Yandicoogina mine in the Pilbara where they will carry not just waste but will move 25 million tons of valuable ore a year.

Presently from Perth, some 1,500 kilometers away, a team of about 200 controllers and schedulers, as well as more than 230 technical, planning and support staff 400 supervisors synchronize and coordinate on a real-time basis, 24/7 and 365 days a year, Rio Tinto’s entire operations and railways network across the Pilbara region.

Oyu Tolgoi , Rio Tinto / Government of Mongolia, Mongolia

The Mongolian copper-gold project Oyu Tolgoi is also said to be part of the first site to be partially or fully automatized. Setting up underground block caving remotely control technologies might be the mine's priority from 2017 onwards.

Resolution Copper , Rio Tinto / BHP-Billiton Joint Venture, Arizona

The underground Resolution Copper in Arizona, is planned to also rely on the massive use of automation technology, especially automatic loaders, for the technically complex application of the panel caving mining method, a subset of the block caving technique.

Navajo Mine, BHP-Billiton, New Mexico

BHP-Billiton is currently testing autonomous Caterpillar haul trucks at its Navajo Mine, in New Mexico.

Olympic Dam, BHP-Billiton, Australia

BHP-Billiton is considering to introduce a massive driverless earthmoving operation at the Olympic Dam copper and gold mine expansion in South Australia. Though BHP first denied wanting to introduce driverless trucks at the very first stage of the expansion, mining.com reported on September 2011 that BHP-Billiton published a recruitment ad for an executive to oversee an high-tech initiative at Olympic Dam project which explicitly includes the use of driverless haulage trucks.

Pilbara Expansion, Fortescue Metals Group, Australia

Andrew Forrest's Fortescue Metals Group is planning to include a driverless truck fleet in its $8 billion iron ore expansion in the Pilbara region.

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