Underground Drones… Electric Trucks… UG Wifi Networks… Remote Drilling…Underground Tablet Solutions…!?!!
Now that I have started to scratch the surface of the advances being made in the underground mining technology space, it is almost overwhelming! I have been trying to consider what website followers may want to learn more about as there are so many products and systems to consider! I have taken a little break to formulate a 3 monthly plan of content. This of course is a good problem to have for someone wanting to showcase new technology!
New readers or mining professionals exploring technology may have different technical backgrounds and industry knowledge. So with this in mind I thought that a state of the nation style article would be of use. This would allow followers to get a grasp of what areas they may want to further research for adding value to their projects.
This will be split into easy to digest topics below with a brief paragraph on current systems and manufacturers that are available. These headings will then form the backbone of my content into the New Year.
I recall seeing Emesent presenting at an AIMS conference at TAFE in Perth back in roughly 2018. Their use of a drone mounted LIDAR system which could navigate through underground stopes on GPS denied missions… Blew… My… Mind! This product has been developed at their HQ in Brisbane and is now being implemented at several Australian operations, with workflows and integration to Deswik and Vulcan software packages.
The new contender to the Australian market is the EXYN Aero. This has been developed in the USA and has seen early success at underground mines in Europe, mainly the Dundee Precious Metals operations in Bulgaria. The data collection ability of these small LIDAR scanners has the ability to empower massive change in data collection for both surveyors and underground mobile plant.
Electric powered LVs (Light Vehicles)
Diesel fumes cause many problems for workers in underground workings and the advance of battery technology could allow for the migration of all mobile plant to electric power. A lower power requirement for a full shift of work means that the humble LV, historically a V8 diesel Toyota Landcruiser, could be one of the first electric vehicles in the underground fleet.
Safescape and 3ME Technologies have developed the Bortana EV which is based on a Brazilian army utility chassis but with an EV powertrain installed. It has had favourable testing at mines in WA and was spotted in Kalgoorlie for Diggers and Dealers! Huber a German based EV specialist have also completed a “heart transplant” on the industry favourite LandCruiser! Their Run-E Electric Cruiser is now available for trial in Australia via distributors Miller Technology.
Remote Drilling (Horizontal and Vertical Development)
The utilisation of drill rigs during shift change, when historically underground firing is taking place, can add massive value to a project. This will allow drilling to continue automatically or remotely from a designated office on the surface. Auto drilling works best when a rig is parked and set up and a predetermined automatic pattern can be drilled from the drill rigs presets. Remotely drilled patterns require a connection to a surface office, in which an operator can drive 2-3 rigs in cycle. Drill meters will increase across the mine creating a quicker, more efficient mining cycle.
Sandvik have several options including their AutoMine Underground solution for remote operation of their mobile plant. A jumbo such as the Sandvik DT1132i is a cutting edge offering with the ability to drill automatic patterns, as well as connect in with the AutoMine system for remote drilling. I saw this part automation rolled out first hand at the now mothballed Dacian Gold Mt Morgan project. Epiroc delivered the rig for this project with their S2 Boomer jumbo. This has preset drill patterns for various face sizes that the operator could use for an “auto drilling” function of the mining face whilst monitoring in the cab.
Geological Digital Data Transformation
The data heavy geological activities of drilling, sampling, core processing, extensive face mapping and truck plod tracking of the mining process, has seen new products come to the market to help the process. This will allow for streamlined data collection for geologists to allow them to focus more on theorising and analysing the data sets that they receive.
Orexplore is a cutting edge business that allows geologists the ability to view what’s behind the surface of their core. This is powered by its GeoCore X10, which is a large fridge-like standalone scanner unit. It has the ability to view up to 65 different elements & +1 g/t gold trace in the core, in just a 15 minute scan. This means that data can be processed and ready to view in a matter of hours from coming off the rig.
Rock Mapper Pty Ltd is a Melbourne based technology company that offers a paperless mapping & grade control solution called Rock Mapper. This can capture georeferenced face photographs and seamlessly records geology and sampling data in a quick and intuitive way. It’s as simple as mapping on paper but with the advantages of a fully digital workflow. All mapping & sampling is completed and finalised on a ruggedized iPad directly at the face. Rock Mapper dramatically reduces the paper trail for geologists, which must be a big thumbs up!
My old man worked in Medical Simulation at the end of his career and it is great to see similar techniques being used now within the potentially dangerous underground mining environment. The ability to train new operators of machines, who are either fresh to the underground environment or are climbing the crew ranks, is safer for all involved.
Fully immersive systems offering underground conditions, cabin visibility and machine controls are delivered by the Perth centred Immersive Technologies. They offer systems for several different applications but have the underground specific IM360 Training Simulator for a mobile training package for mining businesses. They also have Equipment Conversion Kits for transfer of training package to different underground machines from many different manufactures.
ThroughTec have their HQ in Durban, South Africa and have an office in Perth for Australian customers. They offer simulation for underground drill rigs, loaders and trucks from multiple manufacturers from around the globe. These include “virtual mine worlds” which offer many underground scenarios for those utilising the system for training.