Automation as an evolutionary springboard for the mountain industry

The solution of problems of production by means of automation
Recently more and more widely completely automated processes are implemented into mining. It becomes clear to heads of the enterprises, specialists that for development of the industry automation is one of ways on which it is necessary to go, the leading analyst of JSC Irgiredmet S.S. Verkhozin writes in article for the leading gold-mining Russian edition “Zolotodobycha”.

Increase in productivity

The most obvious direction in which many companies already went — the organization of the automated system of transportation of the extracted material.

According to professor of mining from the University of British Columbia (University of British Columbia, Canada) Jonah Mika, use of autonomous dump trucks can increase productivity of work of the enterprise for 15-20%, useful working hours of the equipment — to five times.

The Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton, Roy Hill, Fortescue and Hitachi companies managed to make significant progress in implementation of autonomous dump trucks. For example, specialists of Hitachi are engaged in extensive tests of the automated systems on the coal Meandu mine in Queensland, Australia.

At the end of last year for the first time in the world on two mines of the Rio Tinto — Yandicoogina and Nammuldi company (Pilbara, Australia) — the line of transportation of all extracted material (iron ore) with the help the distantsionnoupravlyaemykh of dump trucks worked at full capacity. Control of process of transportation of ore is exercised from the control center located in Perth in 1200 km from places of production. Today already on three Rio Tinto mines 69 such dump trucks working 24 hours a day all the year round are charged extra. The refusal of drivers will help to save up to 500 working hours a year. At the same time, in Rio Tinto are going to use not only autonomous dump trucks, but also to be engaged in development and deployment of self-propelled trains and also robotic drilling rigs.

Consciousness change

Automation of production became a main objective of one more Australian company on extraction of iron Roy Hill ore, in particular on one of its Marra Mamba mines (Pilbara). According to the CEO Barry Fittsdzherald, the company places the main emphasis on improvement of process of development of resources and logistics: “In it we follow three basic principles: creation of the knowledge base for our employees; development of technical abilities of our organization; the planning oriented to new perspective technologies which will characterize us as innovators, but not as the company copying innovations of other firms”. Creation of the knowledge base has very interesting purpose — it consists in the “cultural transformation” of the staff of the enterprise directed to implementation and acceptance by them of the automated technologies.

Rio Tinto – Autonomous Haulage Trucks, West Angelas minesite; credit Christian Sprogoe Photography

As expects the management of Marra Mamba, the main role in increase in productivity and safety of production will be played by the same autonomous dump trucks. Accurately certain task — to reach with their help the annual production rate of transportation of material 325 million tons is set for the enterprise. At the same time the essential changes designed to provide overall performance of new systems were undergone also by a pit.

With new technologies behind new stocks

Actively the BHP Billiton company moves towards optimization, increase in efficiency, safety and profitability by means of production automation. At the same time the main means of achievement of goals are new technologies. Such approach in the company is called “production of new generation”.

According to the vice-president of BHP Billiton for optimization of production Geyvin Yeats, on the one hand, it is caused by development of the current technologies in particular automated and touch systems; with another — such strategy is combined with need of development of more difficult, deep and poor ore bodies.

Besides, in the last in BHP Billiton were seriously taken by improvement and building at the enterprises of working processes a couple of years. “An incentive — to change the main working processes and the systems of production — from a pit to port; to organize productions according to processes of technical maintenance; to develop standards of that as as we do. All this is oriented to elimination of any production discrepancies before implementation of technologies of automation” — Geyvin Yeats says.

According to Yeats, the greatest difficulties are always caused by process of implementation of the innovative solutions for this reason the extensive test program and optimization is necessary: “We roll and we implement new technologies at certain enterprises, we will organize work of the centers of remote control, the systems of the automated dump trucks, drillings. We study alternative methods of production and different ways of assessment and modeling of an ore body”.

In general it is possible to tell that at the moment the main direction of development of the automated technologies of production is tied on the systems of transportation of material, in particular dump trucks. However this direction not the only thing.

Last year on the Tau Tona mine the AngloGold Ashanti gold mining company carried out tests of the new automated drilling-and-blasting systems to the Republic of South Africa. It helped to reach new reserves of gold which working off by traditional methods would be impossible for the technology and economic reasons. Thanks to the achieved success the management of the company decided to enclose additional resources in further development and improvement of this technology.

Actively there is a development and production of the remote-controlled equipment, in particular loaders and also automation of processes of processing and enrichment of mineral raw materials. “For example, the area automation of processes of crushing and classification which could ensure high efficiency and safety that in turn positively influences optimization and overall performance of plant on processing and enrichment of mineral raw materials develops” — the project manager and programs for production of the Accenture company Nigel Kort says.

Also, according to forecasts of Court, the surge in developments in the field of the automated means will concern the drones and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) used on mines. It connects it with construction and development of the centers of remote control. In particular, UAVs will apply to researches, mapping, tracking of the equipment, monitoring of a condition of the mine and infrastructure, etc.


One of basic reasons on which mining companies attended to implementation of the automated systems is increase in safety on production, namely to minimize need of presence on dangerous sites of mines of people. However this aspect can’t be considered only only from this point of view as any equipment functioning without participation of the person can fail. For example, on the mine on extraction of iron Jimblebar ore of the BHP Billiton company a serious incident with participation of the autonomous dump truck occurred once. According to official information, the operator of the control center programmed the car to turn at a certain intersection and to stop near the excavator. However drivers of other equipment weren’t warned about these planned maneuvers. Towards to a dump truck the water carrier managed by the driver who (as well as an onboard crash avoidance system) wasn’t informed on a dump truck transit therefore he didn’t know that in the specific place it will turn moved. It wasn’t succeeded to prevent collision therefore the equipment sustained considerable damage.