The underground mining working conditions have their fair share of challenges for the miners with the hazardous risks associated with the underground workplace and the lonely lifestyle that working away from home and family can cause.
A long established WA based Technology Company is developing products and solutions to reduce the hazardous risk associated with this industry.
Remote Control Technologies (RCT) is well known in the mining industry for systems that assist in improving safety and better working conditions for Machine operators. Mostly known as the largest supplier to the underground mines for Remote control systems for the underground heavy Long Haul Dump machines.
One of the largest requirements of underground mining is for good experienced operators for these machines.
There are really 4 x ways of operating an underground Bogging machine, or more commonly known as a LHD (Load Haul Dump), these are:
All of these machine operational functions have their place but as technology evolves so does the easier way to operate for the operator. The new guidance system helps reduce mine wall contact with the large machine working under remote control and does so without any need for expensive underground mine infrastructure. Where mine equipment is being teleoperated, Control Master Guidance is a simple add-on technology likely to allow equipment to be operated at its designed speed, safely and productively, without fear of extensive damage.
For many mines and equipment operators the technology is a step in making a gradual entry into automated operation of the machine with the measurable outcome being that we minimise damage through collision with walls which can occur for a number of reasons - boredom, fatigue, response times etc. They are all factors in people just driving machines back and forth on teleremote. This technology just removes those things out of the equation. This has been widely accepted by operators as when they operate the machines on ContolMaster Guidance their fatigue is significantly reduced as the system assists in avoiding the walls and keeping the machine in the centre path.
By Far the safest way to operate underground is by operating Teleremote and by Guidance from a control station which could be a very robust control station or a Light commercial vehicle such as a Toyota Troopie.
But now to help improve the overall working conditions of the Miners, Technology is again assisting in this with taking the operators out of the hazardous underground environment. RCT have been working with one of Australia's leading mining companies to provide them with their first Teleremote Surface Control Station.
The mine wanted to move from underground teleremote control stations to above ground, as it removes the majority of operator risk and improves productivity.
We are sure that all mining companies are in favor of taking the Operators out of the hazardous underground areas and moving them to comfortable above ground control stations.
The Mining companies Electrical Technical Officer, said the project offered a number of potential benefits in terms of safety and production.
Safety benefits from this project are reduced exposure to underground hazards such as DPM (diesel particulate matter), dust, noise, reduces light vehicles underground, less Human Intervention, remove the risk, remove the danger for teleremote operators and provide a better working environment for them.
There are also expected production benefits such as Immediate shift change over "Hot Seat" no lost time during shift change travelling to and from underground and in some cases no need for the teleremote loader to be shut down during firing times dependent upon the location of the machine and firing.
The system connects to a fiber optic cable which then runs to the surface and connects to the Teleremote Surface Fiber Optic Control Station. All inherent underground safety systems to ensure no one can enter the area where the remote controlled machine is operating, is all still in place.
The above ground Teleremote Control Station operates exactly how it does underground, in fact the operators remark that it's like operating the Tele Loader from the Tele PC or underground control station expect you are more than 2 Kms away from it, on the surface.
This is paving a way for the future of underground mining and the future of this technology could see the operator working in CBD locations, operating the underground machine from the comfort of an office environment, reducing the need for fly in fly out lifestyle and reducing the negative effect this can have on family life.
All this will go a long way in helping the once again soon to be realized again, finding experienced workforce problems.
This WA company has not only revolutionized the safety of underground Mining but is making substantial differences to Surface mining mobile equipment such as Bulldozers and Production Drills.
Since 1988 Remote Control Technologies has converted dozens of different types of bulldozers from manual to remote control, with more than 50 machines working with the company's technology in Australia, Papua New Guinea, Chile, Peru, Indonesia, New Caledonia and New Zealand alone. The range of applications is wide, but the need is greatest where conventional mechanized dozer techniques are employed to execute dangerous or tedious dozer work which can be done without risks or fatigue via remote control.
It is possible to deploy remote controlled dozers to perform most common bulldozers tasks, operators take up remote control of the dozer from a safe location within line of sight of the machine. From here they can see the entire machine - unlike sitting in the machine cabin. They can perform all normal dozing work with full vision of the machine or similar to underground machines, they can use cameras and a control station to operate on teleremote. The industry is seeing increasing awareness and understanding from miners that there is no need to expose people to risks. The technology is there to ensure tasks are completed safely but also more efficiently and with less machine maintenance.
Remote Control Bull Dozers are becoming more common at mines as again it reduces the danger for the operator , some of the applications are on Stockpiles, Mill feeding, Misfired benches, open pit bench slips, waste dumps etc.
It has also been proven that operating a Dozer manually can cause severe repetitive stress injuries with constant vibration, particularly when operating on hard rock and ripping cap rock. Taking the operator out of the Dozer has significantly reduced this issue as well as taking them away from the dust and noise, again making a miners life better.
Most large mines has a fleet of surface production drills drilling hundreds of thousands of metres a year of holes for blasting iron ore and waste and RCT has played their part in the first automated/tele-operated drill which has now completed well over 100,000m of drilling, a significant achievement.
Remote Control Technologies integrated drill automation and control systems, and the communication platform, and has built the drill control stations. Again there are significant productivity gains realized with this technology as well as again a safer and improved ergonomic working environment for the operator. We are heading towards a situation where a single operator controls multiple drill rigs. The drill operators are not in a dusty environment, they're not subjected to the noise and the vibration. They sit there now in basically a surround-sound office environment and they like it.
Remove the People, Remove the Risk!