The role of technology is central to creating a future for the mining industry in Australia. It can improve the cost-efficiency of mining, and improve the safety of industry workers.
Underground mines are one of the most challenging environments for workers and their equipment. The effects that implemented technology can have on the cost per ton is impacted by many factors including mine design, application, product quality and maintenance.
At face value, the use of technology pushes down the costs of mining because there are fewer workers and it improves safety by taking those remaining out of hazardous areas or situations.
Even simple improvements can have a significant impact, and in this article, we will look at the recent developments and strategies for improving safety and cost-reducing innovation costs within the underground mining sector.
Underground mining belongs to sectors of economy characterised by a high level of accident risk with catastrophic consequences. This level changes with individual countries and operations which representing different levels of technological development
The safety within mining relies on some inter-related elements: technical, social, organisational and legal. The standard and degree of implementation which form the so-called best practices have a decisive impact on safety.
An essential element of preventative safety is the continuous monitoring of workers and machinery, along with the analysis of collected data. This can be absorbed in-house, or companies can hire underground mining machinery who can keep machines performing correctly while operating in the underground environment.
Many types of equipment are now fitted with onboard camera systems which monitor the working face locating personnel in remote locations and provide a real-time look at the progress of the operation.
Under full automation, a machine controls all aspects of its functions including monitoring and correcting for defects. These tools remove humans from hazardous areas, increase productivity as mining equipment moves faster, cover longer distances, and require fewer operators to control machines.
The process requires the purchase or hire of sophisticated equipment to maintain miner safety including ongoing needs such as a proper ventilation system to necessary oxygen and to carry away the hazardous components of mine air.
Underground mining costs in Australia have increased significantly because it is more capital intensive despite improvements in technology as the amount of energy used has increased because of lower grades of ore and poorer accessibility of deposits.
Lower-grade deposits offer a lesser ROI because greater quantities of material have to be mined and processed which is why It is more important to be accurate rather than to push the production rate in the hope of achieving economies of scale.
The mining industry has invested heavily in R&D related to finding harvesting technologies, so there is less waste, and they are only hauling only useful material. The latest technologies hone in on material with great accuracy to remove only pure sections.
Labor costs are also more expensive in underground mining, because of higher health care risks, health care needs and lower productivity. Some of the measures that can be adopted for increased production from underground mines are the adoption of appropriate technology to improve productivity and enhance safety at the same time.
This type of technology in underground mines keeps the miners out of hazardous environments. Such as;
- Improved rock bolts
- Collision avoidance system
- Driver alert and vehicle unit display of number of people and other vehicles in proximity
- Trapped miner location system/ paging system
- Intelligent drill rigs
- Extra low profile or narrow vein mining equipment
- Capable of operating in a ‘narrow reef’ (<1.2 m height) and undulating mining environment
- Reduced waste rock/increased useful excavation
- More accurate drilling and higher face advance
Investing in new technology is a huge capital investment, and for some operations, it might be more economically viable to hire. When you hire, you will keep your capital expenditure low and receive a high level of service and support.