The world is shifting towards intelligent unmanned culture in almost every field. There was a time when one could not think of doing simple calculations through technology but now millions of bytes of data are solved through strong computational power. A similar trend has been followed in mining. Obtaining an aerial view of a potential mining site is challenging, but now there are technologies that aid this process. However, there are numerous factors that are currently preventing unmanned mines from becoming a common industrial phenomenon. There are complex technical and scientific problems that are required to develop algorithms, methods, and technologies for this intelligent unmanned mining.
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Using advanced technologies such as 4G or 5G communications, cloud computing, big data, artificial intelligence, autonomous awareness, decision-making, and control execution, all come under the domain of ‘unmanned mining’. It also includes drones and robots replacing or assisting the manned working force on the mining site to improve accuracy and lower the risk factor.
Importance of Unmanned Mining
Enhancing the security of mining workers is important, and the creation and use of automation systems is a possible solution to this challenge.
The operator would be eliminated, and a completely automatic robot system would be created, which could be utilized to conduct unmanned mining.
Unmanned mining, in addition to safety, also boosts productivity by saving time. For example, it is possible to map the area quickly instead of using traditional methods. It is also more reliable in terms of accuracy as the technology is based on algorithms, with less chance of operator error.
Unmanned mines are cost-effective, and over time the machining cost will decrease based on their usage.
Improved Safety Through Unmanned Mining
Safety is vital in any mining site, with conventional scoping processes often putting human lives at risk. There are numerous advantages to employing an intelligent operation process (self-adaptation of working conditions and collaborative control of working procedures) or a one-button start/stop operation mode (including unmanned follow-up operation and manned safety patrol) in mining, support, and transportation of the working face via visual remote monitoring.
Monitoring and inspection can be done through the use of the latest drones and other unmanned technologies as mining has always been one of the most hazardous industries for workers because it contains explosions, rockfalls, and many other dangers.
Before mining any area, unmanned drones can be used to map the specified location and survey it, which can be transformed further into reliable 3D models.
Unmanned mining includes automation, controlling, monitoring, and precise position technologies. Others include auxiliary transport, ventilation, sorting, and underground robots.
Automation technology for mining
Automation technology currently includes shearer memory cutting technology and intelligent automatic rapid tunneling technology.
Shearer memory cutting technology involves sensors in the shearer's body, allowing the self-positioning device, which was built to automatically operate the cutting process, to realize the shearer's mining height, speed, and other data.
Self-driving ore carriers
Self-driving ore-carrying vehicles are now a reality in the mining industry. There are no breaks or shift changes for these large trucks, which employ the same set of technologies as other autonomous vehicles.
Moving ore is just one aspect of automation; it also involves cutting it out of the earth. For excavation, miners drill holes in rock and fill them with explosives. Automated drill rigs can produce these holes more rapidly and accurately than conventional human-operated equipment.
Engineers are also focusing on developing robots that can operate alongside people in the mining industry. Teams of humans and robots will work together in a cooperative manner, with the robot providing physical power and precision and the human providing decision-making authority.
Artificial intelligence and drone technology have resuscitated the mining business thanks to UAVs. Now that mining companies have access to tools that improve the productivity of huge mine sites as well as provide comprehensive quarry management and accurate information on the state of a given site, they can make decisions quickly and confidently.
Impact of Autonomous Equipment on the Mining Sector
There are still certain vocations that are hazardous, even in the digital era. Miners, for example, face dangers such as fire, falling rocks, and entrapment. But the mining sector is changing.
A new level of safety and efficiency is being provided by automated mining equipment, such as robotic drills and self-driving ore trucks, as well as increased productivity in obtaining the valuable minerals needed to produce modern-day conveniences such as automobiles and buildings.
The notion of an autonomous drone doing mineral surveys without human intervention is appealing since many of the world's undeveloped and undiscovered mineral reserves are impossible to reach on foot or are simply distant from human populations and development.
It is currently revolutionizing the mining sector and will continue to do so in the future. The outcome of this automation through intelligent mining techniques will also boost all the sectors that use minerals as their core ingredient. Extracting such minerals which are impossible to attain on foot in certain regions will then be available automatically at much less risk and cost to all the affiliated industries such as construction, glass, plastic, electronics, medications.
Current Challenges and Future Developments
There are many complex challenges tied to the concept and practicality of automation in the mining industry. In unmanned mining, problems such as limited perceptual accuracy and poor coordination persist even with intelligent fully mechanized mining equipment.
Sensor technology for fully mechanized mining equipment needs to be improved. Unmanned mining technology in coal mines currently has a poor intellectualization level due to the conflict between a static control system and a dynamic application environment caused by technological and equipment limitations. By addressing these issues, and increasing the overall intelligence level, future technology will be made efficient, reliable, and accurate, so these limitations will be overcome in the future.
References and Further Reading
Semykina, Irina. et al. (2017). Unmanned Mine of the 21st Centuries. The Second International Innovative Mining Symposium. https://www.e3s-conferences.org/articles/e3sconf/pdf/2017/09/e3sconf_2iims2017_01016.pdf
Casey, J. (2022). Autonomous exploration: the potential for drones in the mining industry. Retrieved from Mining Technology: https://www.mining-technology.com/analysis/autonomous-exploration-the-potential-for-drones-in-the-mining-industry/
Equinox's Drones (2020). How UAV and Drone Technology is Influencing Mining Operation. Retrieved from Equinox's Drones: https://www.equinoxsdrones.com/blog/how-uav-and-drone-technology-is-influencing-mining-operation
nomthi. (2016). 4 Reasons why you need Drones in Mining. Retrieved from ROCKETMINE: https://www.rocketmine.com/4-reasons-need-drones-mining/
Zhang, K. (2022). A Review of Intelligent Unmanned Mining Current Situation and Development Trend. Energies. https://doi.org/10.3390/en15020513