Automation in the mining industry has the potential to augment logistics processes, improve efficiency, and streamline production — all while creating new jobs.
You’ve probably heard of driverless cars from companies like Google and Tesla, and you’ve probably heard that they may soon transform transportation as we know it. What’s less publicized, but potentially as revolutionary, is the rise of autonomous mining equipment.
The term “autonomous mining” doesn’t just refer to self-driving vehicles. In fact, automated mining technologies can include fully or semi-autonomous remotely-operated equipment, automated drill rigs, driverless vehicle machinery, and longwall steering devices. In short, nearly any piece of equipment used in a mine can be automated. As new technologies pave the way for a safer and more productive future, the benefits of wholesale automation are becoming clearer than ever.
As you might expect, autonomous mining largely depends on driverless vehicles. In recent years, major OEMs such as Caterpillar, Komatsu, and Volvo have tested both semi- and fully-autonomous vehicle technologies on worksites around the world, including bulldozers, haul dumpers, and trucks.
Autonomous vehicles can improve efficiency for a simple reason: they don’t need to be manually operated by a human. As a result, they can work 24/7 without taking restroom or lunch breaks, stopping only for fuel. They’re also relatively low-risk investments, offering a high ROI and posing few safety concerns. What’s more, a study by the International Institute for Sustainable Development shows that self-driving technology can generate a 15% to 20% increase in production and reduce overall fuel costs.
Many industry experts believe that automated mining technologies have the power to drastically improve worker safety. So far, all signs point to “yes”: research reveals that adoption of automated technologies in mining improves working conditions and reduces the risk of injury — especially when remotely-operated solutions are employed.
According to a report released by the Department of Mines and Petroleum of Western Australia, some automated mining technologies have the ability to identify dangerous areas in underground mining areas via drones or robots, which can collect samples and develop models for best outcome before attempting operations. A great example of these technologies is Penguin ASI’s robotics systems, which can determine precise paths to traverse within a rock mass in real time. Other emerging solutions, like automated vehicles with laser capabilities, can collect data on pressure and analyze performance metrics. These kind of automation aids require less human intervention while providing a thorough overview of working conditions, dramatically improving safety in the process.
Automated technologies are also improving output and profitability. Indeed, Mining Review experts say that automation in the industry may lead to 15% savings in haul costs, higher safety overall, and lower maintenance. Individual technologies like the LASC (Longwall Automation Steering Committee), designed by Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, are already generating up to 10% higher productivity during peak operating periods.
While some workers worry that the job market will shrink in response to automation, there isn’t much reason for concern. As Caterpillar Director of Technology Enabled Solutions Jim Hawkins, stresses, new jobs will be created to replace most lost positions, such as roles for remote operators and control center managers. Since automation is set to scale output and streamline logistical processes throughout the industry, it should only make work for everybody more productive than ever.
It’s clear that automation is triggering some seismic shifts in the mining industry. Behind many of the cutting-edge innovations that are currently shaping it is compressed air from Mattei using innovative mining applications including pioneering the underground tunnel system that will soon carry self driving vehicles beneath the congested roads in and around L.A. For more than six decades, we’ve worked with mining companies across the globe and propelled the newest technologies in the industry. Offering superior reliability, high energy and cost efficiency, and industry-leading durability, our rotary vane compressors increase longevity and safety in every industry.