The mining industry is currently undergoing a technological revolution, with several innovative approaches being introduced in recent years to address the historical issues with sustainability, safety, economic viability, and operational efficiency. This article will look at developments in intelligent unmanned mining and how it can play a role in the future of the industry.
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Intelligent Unmanned Mining: An Evolving Industry
Historically, mining has been one of the key economic activities that has driven industrial and societal progress through the ages. From ancient surface mining to the complex deep underground operations in use today throughout the world, the recovery of resources such as coal, iron, copper, aggregates, and precious metals has changed the world and provided innumerable vital products.
Technology has played a vital role in the evolution of the industry, from primitive tools through the industrial revolution to the heavy plant used in open cast mines and deep underground operations today. Technology is constantly evolving with the industry, providing new opportunities for improving the efficiency, safety, sustainability, and economic output of mines.
Recent Technological Innovations in the Mining Industry
The mining industry is currently undergoing a paradigm shift in technological innovation, meeting the demands of a changing world. Multiple actors in the sector including companies, governmental bodies, and researchers have recognized the need for the industry to address environmental, economic, and social concerns. Several transformative technologies have been developed in recent years.
Increasing automation of equipment and processes is offering improved safety, reduced costs, and enhanced streamlining of operations. Remote operation centers keep workers out of dangerous environments, with powerful suites of tools at their disposal. Advanced, autonomous, connected robotic machinery has started to replace human operators in mines, reducing labor costs and improving safety.
The Internet of Things is another key innovation, with networks of sensors and actuators collecting data from connected devices and providing enhanced monitoring and maintenance capabilities. Renewable energy is reducing the environmental impact of plant machinery and mining operations.
Machine learning and AI are improving exploration, data collection, and preventive maintenance. Mobile 5G internet is playing an increased role, connecting every part of a mine in ways which were previously difficult to achieve. Used together, the technological advances in the mining industry currently under development pave the way for the intelligent, unmanned mine of the future.
Intelligent Unmanned Mining: The Future of the Mining Industry?
Throughout the long history of mining, accidents such as explosions and cave-ins have claimed the lives of countless workers. As ever deeper and harder to access resources are utilized in modern underground mining, the danger for workers increases. Whilst technological progress has made mining infrastructure safer for workers, there is always a need for reducing or removing workers from mines completely.
As well as the danger to worker safety, mine collapses and other disasters can seriously impact the economic viability of mining operations. When hazards are detected, workers need to be evacuated and mining operations ceased completely until the danger can be accurately assessed.
Automation and remote operations in central locations far away from rock faces provide mining projects with the tools necessary to reduce the labor force and improve safety and productivity. Intelligent underground mining makes use of technologies such as drones, 5G, AI, the Industrial Internet of Things, robots, smart sensors, and big data.
A synchronous use of all available technologies makes it possible to shift mining from the labor-intensive operations of yesteryear to the intelligent unmanned mine of the future. The field is based on the principles of automation, mechanization, visualization, and systematization. Vast amounts of historical and real-time data are generated and used by operators to improve and streamline operations.
Reviewing the Current State-of-the-art in Intelligent Unmanned Mining
Recognizing the impact of this mining field research and the challenges currently faced by researchers and engineers, a review has been published in the journal Energies. The paper has been authored by a team of scientists from four institutions in China: The North China Institute of Science and Technology, the China University of Mining and Technology, the China Coal Research Institute, and Hohai University.
The new paper has reviewed 64 research papers, providing several insights into current advances in this research field. Key technologies, mining modes, and overall design system theories have been discussed in the study.
The paper has identified three significant challenges with intelligent unmanned mining that must be addressed if the field is to become commercially viable in future mining operations. The issues are mainly technology-based, being the poor reliability of equipment, poor coordination, and low accuracy. Currently, the degree of intelligence found in technologies is limited, and research should focus on these technical challenges.
Key technologies that will help the field flourish include intelligent automated technologies, monitoring technologies, and control technologies. The field is incredibly promising, providing multiple benefits for the mining industry as it meets the demands of the modern world and increases focus on sustainability, environmental remediation, worker safety, and cost-effectiveness.
The Future Development of Intelligent Unmanned Mining
The field of intelligent unmanned mining is an incredibly pioneering and exciting one. Technological innovation is central to its future development and implementation, providing several crucial benefits to the mining industry. While challenges must be overcome, research provides state-of-the-art solutions to make the intelligent unmanned mine a reality.
References and Further Reading
Zhang, K et al. (2022) A Review of Intelligent Unmanned Mining Current Situation and Development Trend. Energies 15(2) 513 [online] mdpi.com. Available at: https://www.mdpi.com/1996-1073/15/2/513
Huawei (2019) Intelligent Mining: 5G is Revolutionary [online] telecoms.com. Available at: https://telecoms.com/intelligence/intelligent-mining-5g-is-revolutionary/
David Michaud (2013) 11 technologies that will change mining in the next decade [online] 911metallurgist.com. Available at: https://www.911metallurgist.com/blog/11-technologies-that-will-change-mining-in-the-next-decade