Industry majors collaborate on mining automation guideline

Image: Christian Sprogoe Photography.

Leading miners BHP, Teck Resources and Roy Hill have helped drive a project to develop a guideline for automation systems that has potential to improve safety in the mining workplace.

Published by the Global Mining Guidelines Group (GMG), the ‘Guideline for the Implementation of Autonomous Systems in Mining’ offers a broad overview of autonomous systems that is designed to provide a framework for stakeholders of autonomous mining projects of various scales, covering health and safety and risk management.

Roy Hill general manager improvement and smart business Christine Erikson said the guide “covers all aspects of operations, including people, safety, technology, engineering, regulatory requirements, business process and organisation models”.

“The guideline considers all perspectives in the industry, making it relevant and practical in implementation,” Erikson said.

The guideline does point out that while improved safety is a frequently cited benefit of automation technology, it can also “present new safety risks” as well. The report also states that improved safety resulting from the switch to automation can be “difficult to measure” when compared with other value drivers such as reduced downtime and cost reduction.

“Companies should invest sufficient time and resources to ensure autonomous operations can start up safely and meet production expectations,” the report said.

The guideline splits operations into six levels, from level zero (entirely manual operations) to level five (fully autonomous operations), and assists in the preparation of a business case for autonomous mining.

Its advice includes guidance for the slow, phased or fast implementation of autonomous systems, depending on stakeholder needs.

In addition to discussing health and safety benefits, the guideline also covers related issues, such as regulatory engagement, and community and social impact.

BHP principal, risk and business analysis technology, Chirag Sathe, and Teck senior mining engineer, technology, Glenn Johnson, acted as co-leaders on the project.

Sathe said the guideline was also useful for operations that were already using autonomous solutions.

“I would say that even though some mining companies have implemented autonomy, it hasn’t been a smooth ride and there are a number of lessons learned,” Sathe said.

“This guideline would be a good reference material to everyone to look at various aspects while implementing autonomy. It is not meant to provide answers to every potential issue, but it at least may provide some guidance on what to look for.”