The Role of Automation in Mining

The mining industry is automating its equipment to facilitate greater operational safety and cost-effective practices.

FREMONT, CA: Raw minerals and metals will continue to be in demand as sustainable energy technology becomes more widespread. Research shows that the demand for raw minerals and metals will increase six times by 2040.

The increase in demand will require an equal increase in supply. Mining companies can achieve this by speeding up the extraction of minerals and metals and finding ways to extend mine life. A shift towards autonomous mining equipment will help mine operators meet the increase in demand. Autonomous mining equipment is already in use in some active mines worldwide.

Early development and integration of autonomous mining plans can lead to many opportunities and benefits.

Improved safety: Safety and health are the top priorities for mine operators. Automated technologies reduce the risk to mining personnel by reducing manual labor. A mine site with automated haul trucks is less likely to have mine personnel, particularly haul truck drivers, entering dangerous areas such as explosions and rock falls.

A vehicle operating in an industrial environment carries inherent risks to the driver and personnel working alongside it. A driver must not sit directly in the cockpit using autonomous haul trucks. It is possible to control trucks from a central control location, reducing the risk of drivers injuring themselves.

Health and safety improvements can also have long-term impacts outside site operations. The safer the industry is, the more appealing it is to a wider range of workers. The mining industry becomes easier to recruit and retain skilled employees.

Increased outputs and reduced mechanical and equipment costs: It is possible to consistently operate autonomous mining equipment for longer periods, such as haul trucks. Automated technologies will lead to shorter shift changes and tighter truck exchanges, increasing productivity and reducing downtime. Control room shift changes are much easier to implement than those on-site. Automation allows tasks to be controlled and monitored more closely, resulting in less equipment maintenance. The system allows multiple trucks to operate simultaneously.

Mining companies spend far less on equipment issues related to general wear and tear, maintenance, and fuel consumption. Automation allows mine operators to monitor fuel consumption and equipment use, decreasing maintenance costs.