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With the ability to increase efficiency, reduce costs and dramatically improve the safety of miners, the fully automated Syama mine in Mali serves as a promising example for automated mining operations of the future.
In the 1980s, BHP, which is an international global resources company, developed an open cast gold mine 300 kilometers southeast of the capital city of Bamako in Mali, Africa. With a total gold reserve estimated at 2.9 million ounces and an approximate mine life of 14 years, the Syama mine has remained one of the largest employers and economic supporters in this region. Resolute Mining has announced Syama’s production goal to be 300,000 ounces of gold each year, with an annual cost of less than $750 USD per ounce of gold.
In 2015, Resolute Mining, which had previously owned two other gold mines in Australia and Ghana, obtained 80% control of the Syama mine, with the Government of Mali retaining a 20% interest in this mine. Since this change in ownership, the Syama Underground Mine has undergone extensive changes in an effort to become the world’s first fully autonomous mine.
In order to achieve full automation, Resolute Mining has entered into a three-year partnership with Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology for their equipment and machinery needs. To this end, Sandvik Mining has provided Syama with its full suite of proven autonomous equipment and digital solutions, some of which include their full fleet of Sandvik TH663i trucks, DL421 autonomous drills, and fully autonomous loaders.
Syama will also utilize Sandvik’s OptiMine®3D Mine Visualizer, which will provide Resolute Mining workers with a real-time three-dimensional (3D) model of the entire mining environment that can be accessed from remote locations. One of the key advantages associated with the OptiMine® visualization system is that users can effectively analyze and immediately respond to events occurring in the mining environment. The OptiMine® system also allows users to efficiently plan future mining activities and operations, investigate problematic areas of the mine and track the development of the mine over time.
Advantages of Syama
The daily life of a mining worker often requires these individuals to perform a significant amount of labor-intensive and highly repetitive activity, which often increases their susceptibility to occupational, musculoskeletal disorders. Furthermore, miners are at significantly greater risk of developing a wide variety of detrimental lung diseases such as pneumoconiosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) as a result of chronic exposure to harmful substances and the limited ventilation available in underground mines.
The automation of mining equipment, which has been successfully incorporated into several mines around the world, has already proven its ability to drastically improve worker safety. Automating mines has also been found to significantly improve the efficiency of mines by eliminating the need to suspend operations when increased ventilation would traditionally be required. Additionally, automated mining equipment can work for up to 22 hours per day, which is much more than any human mine worker could ever realistically complete on a continuous basis.
Although the automation of mines raises concerns about job loss for current miners, the Syama mine assures the general public that automation will not reduce employment in this area. In fact, both Resolute and Sandvik argue that miners who would traditionally be performing the labor-intensive mining responsibilities can now gain an opportunity to learn about new types of technology used in automated mines like Syama. For developing countries like Mali, workers and other local citizens will gain a unique opportunity to undergo highly specialized and technical training for new and adaptive technology programs that play a role in automated mining programs.