The reality of an underground mine that is full autonomous creeps closer daily, with more OEM manufacturers researching and developing underground autonomy. As previously discussed on this website, the change to a more automted underground enviornment, will require one of the largest change management pieces in recent mining history. Designs, systems and machines will all need severe remodeling in the near term.
A piece of the puzzle close to my own working career, is spatial and inspection data being collected without human input. The modern use of underground drones, inspection robots and the transition to sensors on mining machines has started this move to automation. There could be points in time where industry demand and OEM delivery doesn’t align, leaving gaps in the transitional process…
Using radar to map routes underground, three graduates are revolutionising the way Newcrest works underground at Cadia. Historically, mining companies have used photogrammetry and laser scanners to map mines… until now!
Taking on the challenge to remove Newcrest’s personnel from major hazards, Cadia’s Aaron Gilbert, Logan Torrance and Finn Wedge have created a robotic inspection platform custom made for the fully-autonomous PC1 extraction level.
Together with help from their grad mentor, Senior Project Engineer Tom Corbett, and Technology and Innovation Manager Jason Nitz, the trio built the SmartHog from scratch; from design and construction of the mechanical and electrical systems, to writing the computer code and implementing customised radar technology adapted from the automotive industry to control the machine and manage the outputs it produces.
“What sets SmartHog apart from Cadia’s existing autonomous machinery is that it can plan routes in real-time. Should an obstacle become present, SmartHog is clever enough to determine its own way around it. This is a game changer when it comes to pre-recorded routes that we cannot manage,” Aaron added.
Automation graduate Logan added that radar works in much the same way as LiDAR but with one big difference. “By using radar instead of LiDAR, SmartHog is able to manoeuvre in challenging environments where dust and mud would often cause LiDAR to cease its ability to ‘sense’ or ‘see’ where it is on the route from draw point to tipple and back. Radar technology eliminates this issue therefore increasing the availability of loaders to operate in these environments,” Logan added.
Manager of Technology and Innovation Jason Nitz talked to the autonomous industry’s quest to crack the real-time navigation code and praised the grads for their innovative work. “Often we get asked why OEMs aren’t prioritising these innovations themselves, but it’s often the case that the number of end-user customers is quite small and therefore there’s little pull for innovation. If it’s not something most customers want, it’s unlikely to make it into the OEMs innovation pipeline. Even if it did, it would be years before we would see this emerge as a new feature.” added Jason.
Newcrest is a leader in research, development and innovation and committed to developing technologies like these in-house where safety, production improvements and uplifts are the main driver. Graduate mentor and Senior Project Engineer Tom Corbett congratulated the team on their automation debut. “Our graduate program is producing some of the highest calibre grads I’ve ever seen. I have been very proud watching the teamwork towards what they have achieved and the way they went about it. These grads are heralding a new age of engineers where mechatronics and computer science are at the forefront of our future in mining. It’s an exciting time to see how we can grow and foster this talent,” added Tom.
The Cadia team are pushing the boundaries in both mine design, OEM technology adoption and their own in house development of mining specific tools. It is critical that they, and others, continue to work to define problems and future pain points in the underground automation journey. The internal development of the SmartHog, an impressive solution for the most modern underground mines, underlines the commitment that Newcrest have made to automation.
Thank you to Jason Nitz: Manager – Technology, Innovation and Automation at Nercrest’s Cadia operations, for his dialog and the main SmartHog image.
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