Understanding How Automated Mining Equipment Works
Industries are rapidly evolving with the advent and integration of technology.
Automated production lines speed up the manufacturing process, automated vehicles contribute to improved traffic flow, and automated pick-and-place systems increase efficiency in product packaging and assembly.
With myriad benefits provided by automation, what prevents the mining industry from benefitting, too?
Mining companies began to seek out autonomous machinery as a solution to safety, efficiency, and accuracy.
As one of the world’s most dangerous operations, mining poses countless risks for workers and equipment alike.
Prolonged exposure to trapped gases contributes to serious health hazards, and an explosion could result should a spark meet a pocket of certain gases.
Collapse is an additional hazard that could destroy both workers and equipment.
Manual labor for repetitive or dangerous tasks also contributes to the risk of catastrophic injury.
Thanks to advances in technology, these challenges are met with brilliant solutions.
Rather than relying solely on manual labor, mining operators are now able to employ autonomous mining equipment to get the job done.
Risks of sustaining injury, illness and disease, and catastrophe are dramatically reduced as workers employ automated machinery from above the earth’s surface.
Machinery can be operated in close proximity to the mine site, or from a distance in a control room.
As more and more operators discover the benefits of unmanned equipment, the demand for autonomous machinery continues to grow.
What Is Autonomous Mining Equipment?
In a nutshell, autonomous mining equipment emcompasses vehicles and other pieces of machinery that can be operated from above the earth’s surface.
These advanced pieces of equipment are outfitted with robotic components and advanced software, transforming them from standard trucks or excavators to autonomous mining machines.
Some of the most common types of automated equipment include:
In order for autonomous mining equipment to work, however, mines must be outfitted with the proper communication technology.
This includes industrial wireless networks, featuring specialized gear such as industrial routers
Read on to better understand how automated mining equipment works.
How Autonomous Mining Equipment Works
Autonomous mining equipment works through the integration of robotic components, advanced software, GPS, and internet connectivity.
When combined, these elements allow operators to control heavy machinery and other gear from a safe point above the earth’s surface.
Due to the incorporation of GPS, automated vehicles are outfitted with precise maps of the mine.
Haulage routes are also included and constantly updated in real-time, allowing operators above the surface to haul, dump, and load safely and efficiently.
Depending on the software, autonomous mining equipment may include features such as:
- Fleet tracking
- Proximity detection
- Semi-autonomous operation
- Fully-autonomous operation
- Remote machine operation
- Central control system, which allows operators to monitor the vehicle and take over control in the case of a breakdown, blockage, or other necessary scenarios.
Technologies and Considerations Used in Mining Automation
When outfitting heavy machinery and other mining equipment with automated technologies, there are many factors to consider.
Environmental conditions are one such factor. Software and robotics must be able to withstand shock, vibrations, and issues related to temperature.
Technology such as switches must be able to accommodate numerous cameras and other devices dependably, consistently, and without issue.
Other factors include the components to be automated, and whether the components have full or semi-autonomous capabilities.
The entire vehicle could be automated, or only certain parts can be automated.
The most common automated components (operated remotely) include:
- Acceleration and speed
Collisions are another critical aspect to consider when automating heavy machinery.
Equipment could easily run into cavern walls, other pieces of machinery, and even people.
Vehicles could also potentially stray from the designated pathway, resulting in expensive damage, catastrophic injury, or loss of the vehicle altogether.
To prevent these mishaps from occurring in the first place, automated equipment is built with advanced laser technology.
Requirements for Automation Monitoring and Control
There is a reason many of us don’t think about mines on a daily basis. In this case, the phrase “out of sight, out of mind” rings true.
Mines are located in remote locations unreachable by the general public.
While they may seem nonexistent or unconvincing from aboveground, these sites are expansive and continually bursting with activity.
Like big cities, mines never sleep; they are in operation around the clock.
This continued need for repeated tasks is one reason automated mining equipment is so valuable.
With robots completing these tasks day in and day out, human labor can be utilized for more important tasks.
Human workers are also spared from dangerous settings and injury due to repeated movements over long periods of time.
Advanced technology is called upon to ensure that automated mining equipment runs around the clock along with the mine.
This technology, namely the internet, is a critical aspect in understanding how automated mining equipment works.
While Ethernet proves extremely difficult to install as cable must be run throughout the mine with machinery plugged into industrial routers, wireless has been discovered as automation’s saving grace.
Requirements for Wireless Communication in Mines
In order for wireless communication to prove effective for automated mining equipment, a variety of requirements are needed.
These requirements include:
(1) Wireless Network:
With such high stakes present at every moment, underground mines must be equipped with a reliable and durable wireless network.
Automated equipment and operators must be able to access this network and experience no lag or offline errors.
Automated equipment must also remain online even while on the move between access points in the tunnels.
(2) Real-Time Data
Automated mining equipment must be able to transmit real-time data back to operators in the control room, while operators rely on real-time data to operate the equipment.
A wireless solution must allow for the uninterrupted transfer of real-time data at all times.
(3) Compact Size
While the heavy equipment utilizing the wireless network is large, the wireless devices themselves must be small enough to fit in various pieces of machinery.
Wireless devices must be durable enough to withstand harsh environments for extended periods of time.
This means that industrial wireless devices should be equipped to withstand vibrations, as well as temperature and humidity issues.