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Underground Mining Technology 2022 – “The Hot Topics”

4 Mins read

Whoosh! And just like that we have completed another year around the sun! In something of a tradition at the turn of the year, I have pieced together the “hot topics” that are being discussed across the underground mining industry.

These could be totally new concepts to you and your project, and ideas that you may want to assess for implementation in the next year. Or they could just be wider learning for those looking to expand their knowledge beyond current mining industry standards. The tide of new technology advances and appetite, within the underground sector, continues to grow!

EV Heavy Haulage

The global appetite for greener vehicles builds momentum every month, with Tesla’s stock price reaching dizzy new heights this past year. One thing is for certain, EVs in the underground environment have benefits beyond their road going brethren. The reduction of diesel particulates at the mining front will have multiple health, safety, and cost implications over the life of a mine.

This year I have split EV Heavy Haulage from EV Light Vehicles, as although they have a similar concept their route to implementation is quite different. Heavy Haulage with no diesel emissions will be one of the harder systems to fully flourish underground, due to the harsh conditions and multiple constraining factors for battery charging or trolley systems.

Positives:

  • Huge reduction in diesel particulates for underground workers
  • Reduced requirement for ventilation systems, saving power costs over L.O.M
  • Reduced logistical challenges of diesel delivery to projects

Challenges for implementation:

  • Electrical networks and infrastructure will require significant upgrading for charging/power delivery.
  • Systems and mine designs will need to be challenged and changed for battery charging and infrastructure install.
  • Reduced noise from the haulage fleet will create new hazards for underground workers, who rely heavily on sound, as well as sight for vehicle interactions.

Vendors include:
Sandvik, Epiroc, Maclean, 3ME Technologies

Automation 

This category is extremely broad and with the use of multi-faceted IoT based systems we are seeing delivery of automation across the mining spectrum, not just in automated front line machinery. 

Vent on Demand, for example, is one such system that can deliver an element of automation. Its value stems from assessing vent requirements and optimising fan speeds to deliver optimum airflow to working fronts. Enhancing working conditions and saving costs by reducing fan power wastage.

That said, the play from major OEMs to generate close looped automated drill rigs and boggers is already delivering real value to mining projects. Systems such as Sandvik’s AutoMine can now even deliver automated trucking in the underground environment, with Norlisk in Russia now utilising two automated dump trucks for haulage across shift change.

Positives:

  • Vast efficiencies across the mining landscape due to monitoring and adjusting performance of systems in real time.
  • Removal of workers from dangerous working environments.
  • Improved mining rates due to ability to operate over shift change/blasting times.

Challenges for implementation:

  • Requirements of highly skilled workforce and external specialists.
  • Systems could cause knocks of hazards and management of change would have to be closely monitored.
  • Down time and reliance on extremely complex systems could cause teething issues.

Vendors include:
Sandvik, Epiroc, ABB

The four most talked about topics in the past year with other industry figures.

LIDAR Data

Long term followers of the page will have seen articles about LIDAR data capture via a new wave of underground drone systems. The value delivery that these flying scanners deliver is far beyond what I could have ever first envisaged.

The real opportunity now for the industry is to utilise these data sets for more analysis and understanding of components of the mining cycle. With improved automation of the georeferencing process we could see machines fitted with scanners collecting and returning data to mining engineers throughout a working shift.

The industry already struggles with large and complex datasets but there are also several opportunities around the handling, sharing and manipulation of these point clouds.

Positives:

  • Precision of collected data (point cloud) that is far beyond historic methods.
  • Integrated with robotics, personnel can be removed from the “line of fire”.
  • Allow for analysis far beyond crude survey data, think drilling QA/QC, geological fault mapping and more.

Challenges for implementation:

  • Huge datasets become an IT department’s nightmare – too much data can become a problem.
  • Data can unlock many facets and efficiency of the mining cycle, but are skilled engineers being allowed to 
  • Sensors will require ruggedisation for repeated daily us in harsh underground conditions.

Vendors include:
Hovermap, Exyn, Maptek, GeoSLAM

EV Light Vehicles

Globally we have seen solid uptake in electric powered light vehicles for mining but Australia is seemingly lagging behind. There are notable sites with impressive trials or plans for implementation for portions of their fleet but this is still very much an emerging technology. 

Appetite for removal of diesel driven vehicles has dramatically grown and light vehicles, with their lower payload requirements, are something of a low hanging fruit within the conversion to a full EV fleet.

Australian businesses have developed several offerings and it is fantastic to see these products mixing with the larger global suppliers and established Canadian manufacturers.

Positives:

  • Reduction in diesel particulates for underground workers
  • Reduced requirement for ventilation systems, saving power costs over L.O.M
  • Increased life span of vehicle due to less moving and/or exposed components.

Challenges for implementation:

  • Workers’ mindset will need to be changed to deliver consistent availability with potential mid and post shift charging schedules.
  • Electrical networks and infrastructure will require significant upgrading for charging/power delivery.
  • Reduced noise from LVs will create new hazards for underground workers, who rely heavily on sound, as well as sight for vehicle interactions.

Vendors include:
Zero Automotive, Safescape, Rokion


Has your project been considering any of these systems, or is something not mentioned here high on the agenda for implementation in 2022?

Let me know your thoughts on jakeh@ugminingtech.com or via LinkedIn.


If you like my content and discussions on underground mining, please follow me on LinkedIn or Facebook. I continually strive to offer new and interesting content for those exploring new technologies and ideas for underground mining – so please send me an email if you would like to get involved.

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