Staying on Top of Underground Mining
Canada is home to many underground mines–dozens of them are detailed in CMJ’s upcoming 2002 Mining Sourcebook. They differ in size, type and location, but they all need to improve productivity without sacrificing safety. Managers have to know what’s already available in the “toolbox”, what works, and what is in the works.
New tools are definitely being conceived and produced, particularly in the area of automating functions. Research consortia are coming together to share the risk and high expense of developing these tools. An example is Ottawa-based Precarn Incorporated, a not-for-profit national consortium that supports the development of intelligent systems and technologies, and speeds up their passage to the marketplace. CMJ recently interviewed its vice-president, Paul Johnston.
Precarn first became involved in mining automation as a small contributor to the mine automation project (MAP) in Sudbury (see feature article in the 2002 Mining Sourcebook). It then led the 21-month mining automated loader technology application (MALTA) study, completed last March, which developed the hardware and software to allow an automated load-haul-dumper (LHD) with a camera to recognize ore material in a muck pile, load and remove it, and deliver it to another location.
The consortium is now halfway through a two-year, $4-million emulsion loader automation project (ELAP). This is intended to automate the process of drilling blastholes and loading them with explosives. The other participants are Inco Ltd., DYI Technologies of Ottawa, Automated Mining Systems of Aurora, Ont., C-CORE of St. John’s, Nfld., International Submarine Engineering of Vancouver, and MacLean Engineering of Collingwood, Ont.
“Almost all of our projects are related to safety and efficiency,” says Johnston, “keeping people away from the more dangerous places, and requiring fewer operators on the equipment.” He says that, in addition to working with mining sector companies such as Inco that have developed their own strong capability in the intelligent systems field, Precarn is developing intelligent systems for other sectors across the Canadian economy.