“It’s the biggest change I’ve seen in my job since I became a mine surveyor”
Wednesday 01 November 2017
While driverless trucks on mines may be the most talked about automation in mining, their widespread use remains far from certain, even if it has captured the imagination of the broader public.
However, right now, automation is being rolled out across the Bowen Basin which is likely to have a far more profound impact on the future than a driverless truck.
There are now 27 draglines operating in the Bowen Basin, recently fitted with new mapping technology that - according to its vendors - has revolutionised large-scale earth moving, and can pay for itself in as little as 15 days.
In layman’s terms, the new dragline guidance equipment gives operators real-time feedback about where their bucket is relative to visual real time engineering plans, meaning pinpoint accuracy on where they should dump spoil and overburden.
Traditionally dragline operators would have made these decisions based on what they could see, according to markers laid down manually by surveyors.
As one surveyor told Shift Miner: “it’s the biggest change I have seen to our job since I became a surveyor and it has completely revolutionised how overburden is managed”.
BHP has recently rolled out MineWare’s Pegasys digital terrain mapping technology across most of its joint venture operations (BMA and BMC) as well as at its South 32 operations in other states.
According to MineWare Senior Technical Account Manager Gary Robertson, it’s been nearly 20 years from when CSIRO first developed prototypes for the technology to their being commercialisation in the coalfields.
However now that it’s here, he says it's made an enormous difference.
“Originally surveyors would have to go out there and peg the Engineers designs, like the crest line and the tow lines that the dragline would have to dig to,” he told Shift Miner.
“But it still relied on dragline operators being able to line up the survey pegs and try and dig as best as possible between those sets of pegs.
“This technology allows operators to see exactly where their bucket is, and they can dig and dump to the Engineers design exactly the first time.
“Before commercialisation in 2014, I did a lot of development work, and in those studies, we were getting a return on investment in 100 days.
“That being said, depending on which site you are talking to, some of the guys at Caval Ridge said it is much less than that, and one site at Blackwater believes their machines got return on investment in 15 days.
“The capital requirements for it are very expensive because you have got two laser scans running 24/7 so the whole system has to be really robust because you don't want to be pulling up a dragline.”
Gary says a trial is underway at Saraji mine adapting the technology to rope shovels - however, because of their mode of operation there a few more technical challenges.