Image Credits: airphoto.gr/shutterstock.com
Automation is becoming increasingly standard in mining operations around the planet, as operations embrace autonomous trucks, loaders, drills and other equipment. Automation is projected to make mines more productive and reduce costs, along with making them a great deal safer.
Benefits of Automation
Businesses that apply automation will swiftly realize a substantial boost in productivity and a reduction in costs. Some businesses have seen productivity climb by 15 to 20 percent after launching the technology.
Efficiency is also enhanced with automation. For instance, there is no time lost at shift changeovers. Automated robots also don't need to adopt the same safety measures or personal protective equipment that humans must.
Because automated equipment can be moved into unsafe areas and challenging spaces, mining operations can send fewer workers underground, realize a greater output and reduce risk to their workers in the process.
Automation will also permit access to ore bodies that had been inaccessible, and this will have substantial market ramifications. For example, the gold price has played a role in the accessibility of ore bodies, but automation will increasingly lower that factor.
Opportunities to Make In-Roads in Mining Operations
A major issue associated with automation is the potential elimination of jobs. This is significantly prevalent in regions that depend on mining as a crucial provider of jobs, often underdeveloped regions. Supporters of automation say it will not reduce employment, but rather allow for new kinds of technology-based jobs.
Increased automation will likely mean an initial skills gap, which will have an outsized impact on the areas immediately surrounding a mining operation. However, it will also offer opportunity as local workers become cross-trained and upskilled. Workers trained to work with automation will be able to use mining equipment in new ways, possibly creating more opportunity.
Also, mines have traditionally used expatriate managerial and technical labour, but innovative technologies could allow for local more talent to make in-roads in these areas.
Coming Soon: The Fully-Automated Mine
The Syama gold mine in Mali is widely expected to become the first fully-automated mining operation.
Rather than retrofit automation into an existing operation, the Syama mine was designed by its owner Resolute Mining to be fully automated from the start. Automated trucks, loaders and drills for the mine were developed in a partnership with the engineering company Sandvik.
Work on the deep mining area of the mining operation started at the end of 2015, with initial stages making certain the new parts of the mine were designed with automation as the primary goal. The mine is not considered to be of exceptionally high quality, but it is very big and has an ore body that is suited for bulk mining, a mining technique that has a great deal of repetitive actions.
The design of the mine included a fibre-optic network to make certain that autonomous components are in continuous interaction with the control centres that are located above ground. The network is crucial as it supplies the back bone for information exchange among equipment, the control room and monitors at remote locations.
The benefits of automating a mine are obvious: greater efficiency and safety. Complete automation has cut the cost profile of the Syama mine by around 15 percent, as it cuts down on production costs, from more than $880 per ounce to almost $750 per ounce.
In spite of the upfront cost of implementing state-of-the-art autonomous equipment, Resolute has said it will be able to cut mining costs by around 30 percent.
Connectivity issues are often mentioned concerning automation in challenging environments, but connectivity concerns are often related to factors associated with retrofitting. The Syama mine avoids connectivity and other issues through its purpose-built nature.
Sources and Further Reading
- Sizing up Syama - the World's First Fully Automated Mine - Mining Technology
- The Benefits and Pitfalls of Mining Automation - Mining