mining, robotics

The importance of bots to mining safety

Worker safety, productivity, and sustainability are among the most important factors in operating mines effectively. As a result, robotic and automated approaches to improve worker safety are at the forefront of research and development in the mining and robotics industries.

Image credit: Mark Agnor/Shutterstock.com

An upcoming report by Statistics and Research Consultants GlobalData says that robot technology will be essential for any mining company that intends to remain competitive in the near future. In addition to safety, bots help mining operations improve productivity and sustainability. The market outlook for industrial robots reflects this, and is expected to grow at a significant CAGR of 37.5% over the remainder of this decade, from $14.6 billion in 2020 to $352.1 billion by 2030.

Removing human workers from dangerous areas is an unsafe way to ensure the safety of mining operations in those areas.

For example, drilling rigs have been operated and supervised remotely, removing humans from dangerous and often volatile drilling sites. Transfers can be made with self-driving off-road vehicles, including some electric vehicles with automatic recharges. Underground mining activities can also be carried out without humans physically present in the hazardous area, with inspection tasks under water and high walls carried out by drones, land rovers, and underwater robots.

This article discusses examples of robotic technology being used to improve safety in mining operations around the world.

The Australian nickel mine crisis has been averted with the help of a robot

In 2018, a water pipe that had become dangerously high-pressure was discovered deep underground in a borehole at BHP’s Nickel West nickel mine in Australia. BHP contacted Woodside, Deakin University, the University of Texas, Clearpath, and a NASA robotics engineer to help deal with the overpressure pipe.

The team remotely guided a robot through the tunnel, as it cut through the pipe to relieve pressure. Once the process was complete, a human team entered the now secure tunnel to retrieve the bot.

This operation would have been dangerous and less successful were it not for robotic equipment and the safe remote operations it provides. The entire process, from discovery to planning and resolution, took less than two weeks, which was faster given the team’s ability to deploy a bot on the scene.

An autonomous automated security system was developed at West Virginia University

Collapsing roofs and falling debris are major causes of accidents in underground mines, sometimes resulting in injuries and deaths of workers. To address this safety issue, West Virginia University (WVU) engineers are developing an autonomous automated safety system to monitor safety and structural integrity of underground mines. The system should help prevent injuries or death to miners from roof collapses and falling debris accidents.

Dr. Ehsan Bayrak Tolu of WVU and Dr. Jason Gross are behind the autonomous robotic system. So-called “falling out” accidents are a leading cause of injuries in underground mines in the United States.

Earthfall events occur when parts of an underground mine shaft or roof collapse. Recently, the Whitney, Pennsylvania mine reported a shaft collapse, highlighting the ongoing safety risks posed by these events and the need for systems like those developed at WVU.

Engineers combine remote vehicles by connecting drones to remotely operated ground vehicles. The automated system then creates high-resolution 3D maps of the underground mine, evaluating the shafts and roof for damage.

The 3D mapping monitors the structural integrity of the shafts over time and enables the team to detect hazardous conditions that could lead to a collapse early.

So far, the team has designed the automated system and is in the process of integrating the sensors. Various software components, including the boundary component software provided by LaModel, are also being investigated, with tests currently being conducted in simulated environments.

Queen’s University, Canada Autoload research

New robotic technology developed by Queen’s University engineers automates the loading of an Underground Load Dump Bucket (LHD) with chipped rock pieces. Technology makes the process more efficient and improves worker safety.

The researchers partnered with PARTEQ Innovations and Atlas Copco to commercialize the technology. The latter company plans to develop the technology further and integrate it with its own LHD vehicles in the future.

Will botnet development and mining continue to go together?

Mining faces multiple challenges today. Resource availability is dwindling, and as a result, the profitability of mining operations around the world is dwindling. Social and ethical concerns about environmental sustainability, worker safety and rights, and land use changes add to the pressures of operating a 21-year mining operation.Street century.

Advanced robotics and automation technologies can alleviate these stresses. In many cases, they really are. Ongoing challenges for robotics applications in mining include increasing reliability in challenging and rigorous operations and increasing the range of robots to do more mining jobs.

References and additional readings

Robotic technology promises to improve mining safety. (2015) [Online] Phys.org. Available at: https://phys.org/news/2015-05-robotic-technology-safety.html (Accessed November 24, 2022).

Bots – indispensable tools for the future of mining. (2022) [Online] Mining technology. Available at: https://www.mining-technology.com/comment/robotics-future-mining/ (Accessed November 24, 2022).

WVU engineers use robotics to improve mine safety. [Online] West Virginia University. Available at: https://research.statler.wvu.edu/research-projects/wvu-engineers-utilize-robots-to-improve-mine-safety (Accessed November 24, 2022).

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