Mining Was Never Like This Before
“It is important in research to have a ‘can do’ attitude.” This nugget from the lips of Greg Baiden, the head of Mines Research for Inco Limited, is more than a truism. It is the way that his team of 50 approaches their job of shifting the miner’s workplace from the drift to remote centres that are safer, more comfortable and more convenient.
Inco’s Mine Operations Centre has been open since June 1999. It is a large, peaceful room within the General Engineering and Exploration Building, a few kilometres from Sudbury. The room has quiet acoustics, dark colours, and pot lights allowing operators at four stations to relax and concentrate. “This has become the practical application of telemining,” says Baiden. He likens it to the beginnings of a call centre, with the underground machines calling to the operators in the centre.
Each pair of drill operators can handle three remote controlled drills on an eight-hour shift, with one partner in the Centre and the other underground. Automated drill attendant Lori Doniec and her partner Rick Bertrand trade places every two weeks. “We are flexible about how it works, as long as the machines run around the clock,” says Baiden. “The operators are writing their own jobs now.”
Although the possibilities are exciting, the real job also has frustrations. When CMJ visited the Centre in February, teleremote operator Stan Holloway was supposed to be working two LHDs, but his link to the machines was down for two hours, so he dispatched the maintenance personnel and had to wait until the repair was complete. The other LHD operator, Yvon Saint-Jean, had an LHD with a flat tire that needed to be changed by his underground technician. Doniec continued to run her equipment while the others’ was being repaired.