The mining industry has brought growth and prosperity to Canada, accounting for almost five per cent of the country’s GDP. New mineral deposits are consistently discovered, allowing for additional economic growth. Canada’s growth and success, however, has left in its wake a need for highly skilled workers across several industries. According to the Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MiHR), the Canadian mining sector will require more than 100,000 skilled new hires in the next decade to sustain even slight growth. Local mining companies face many labour hurdles including: difficulty attracting and retaining candidates, a general lack of skills recognition, increased competition for top talent among industrial sectors and countries, a lack of labour market and an aging workforce. To the last point, across almost all skill sets, there are two to five times the amount of mining workers over the age of 50 than those employees below the age of 30.
In order to sustain its status as a leading player in the global mining industry, Canada might consider implementing new technologies that remove the need for human interaction, allowing equipment to work on its own. Automated technology is the answer to this challenge. In addition to providing a solution to the lack of available labour, automated mining technology is an inherent next step for the mining industry and provides benefits such as addressing safety issues, reducing costs and making operations more productive and efficient.
Forward-thinking mining companies are already implementing automated mining systems, and the rest of the industry is sure to follow. To meet evolving needs of its customers, Sandvik Mining recently launched an automation system for rotary drill rigs, known as AutoMine® Rotary Drilling.
AutoMine Rotary Drilling is offered in three levels of autonomy. At the highest level, the supervising operator composes the drill plan from an offsite command centre. And, the command centre does not even need to be in the same country. That’s right. A single employee working in Canada can operate up to five drill rigs at one time in Australia. In fact, in addition to the operator-less bench, AutoMine Rotary Drilling offers another industry first in its operator-less drill rod changeover.
Here’s how it works. High-precision Real Time Kinematic (RTK) GPS receivers allow for autonomous tramming between blast hole locations. Operators can pinpoint obstacles in the drill’s path through hazard avoidance cameras (HazCam), and the drilling area is surrounded by a geo fence perimeter to keep the drill from traveling into hazardous terrain. When in position, the rig levels ups, sets the mast angle to the required position and begins drilling. The machine autonomously adds drill rods to achieve the desired hole depth, and then removes them. Lastly, the drill retracts its jacks and travels to the next hole. Throughout the operation, the machine is collecting production data such as geology, drilling times and penetration rates.
AutoMine Rotary Drilling allows for mining companies to do more with less and to do it faster. Additionally, because of the steady, controlled usage of automated mining equipment, the expected lifetime is longer than manually operated technology. The wear and tear is easily managed and the cost effect can also be controlled.
Automated technology’s simple remote monitoring capabilities provide valuable information on how the equipment is used and how efficient operations are. Additionally, the fleet is managed by one to two operators who are located in the control room out of the production area. This allows for around-the-clock operations, where the remotely located operator(s) can supervise the process and intervene when and if disturbances occur. The technology provides less interaction with personnel, reduced manual repetitive work and improved working conditions. Further, Sandvik’s safety system has never failed within the last 10 years – meaning no accidents or incidents in operations that involve Sandvik’s AutoMine technology.
Today, Sandvik Mining has a fully functioning autonomous D90KS multi-pass rotary drill at a customer site in Australia, and a number of drills to be deployed in 2013. In addition to improved safety conditions, Sandvik’s customers can expect raised productivity through real-time process control and production monitoring functions that improve utilization, reduce risk of damage to the machine due to operator error and reduce downtime – all of which lower operational costs.
To develop its AutoMine Rotary Drilling solution, Sandvik Mining partnered with Flanders Electric, a privately owned, third-generation manufacturer of motors, power systems, and automation solutions. AutoMine Rotary Drilling is part of Sandvik Mining’s autonomous offering that covers underground and surface drilling equipment. Sandvik Mining offers a family of automated solutions, including: AutoMine Loading, AutoMine Hauling, AutoMine Drilling, AutoMine Crushing & Screening, AutoMine Process Management, AutoMine Draw Control and AutoMine Lite. To learn more about Sandvik Mining’s equipment and tools, service and technical solutions for the mining industry, visit www.mining.sandvik.com.