Komatsu takes hands-on approach to hands-off safety measures

remote operations

Remote operation had been a game-changer for the industry.

Remote operations are changing the way in underground mining is being conducted, with new Komatsu technology working to ensure the safety of operators.

A slew of dangers can arise when working at a mine site and, while it might sound overly simple, keeping workers safe by removing them from those dangers has long been a primary focus of the sector.

To this end, remote-operation technology has been a game-changer for the industry with its ability to take operators away from the active mining zone entirely, allowing them to run their machinery from a different location.

Komatsu’s remote-operation technology is at the forefront of this change, keeping people out of harm’s way without compromising on information or the operators’ ability to accurately control their machines.

When it comes to longwall mining solutions, being able to integrate and operate all of the moving parts from one console in a single location is a major step forward in guaranteeing operators’ safety.

Remote operations
Komatsu remote-operation technology works to keep longwall mining operators safe.

According to Komatsu’s business manager of control and automation in
the Australian region Jason Gough, the evolution of technology that has allowed operators to work in such a remote way is an “enabler” for this higher level of safety.

“The industry as a whole has been a driver for the development of remote- operation technology. Removing people from hazards is the simplest way to keep people safe,” Gough told Safe to Work.

“Previously, the base requirement for work to be done was that you had to have someone at the coalface doing the work, due to the technological capabilities of the time. That’s not true anymore.

“We have been able to engineer safe and efficient methods of operating our mining equipment remotely.”

Komatsu has developed its Joy longwall mining machines to be operated remotely, with roof supports, shearers and armoured face conveyors all connected and working to communicate not just with the operator but also with the nearby workers underground.

Removing workers from the coalface protects them not just from accidents but also from other inclement dangers that exist in the environment.

Hazardous terrain, dust or other airborne particulates, and machinery failures are all common dangers faced in these situations.

While some in the industry may raise the concern that remote operations will take away some of the operators that currently exist in the resources sector, Komatsu control and automation product manager Shane Cooling is very confident that is not the case.

“People are not losing their jobs to remote operations, as those same people are still operating those machines, just from a safe location,” Cooling told Safe to Work.

Komatsu’s remote-operation technology has the ability to be monitored off-site and operated safely on-site from an underground or secure surface location.

The flexibility of deciding where and how the operation centre is set up is part of Komatsu’s commitment to delivering effective solutions specific to its customers’ needs.

Working directly with mining companies themselves, Gough has extensive knowledge on what solutions are needed and how to cater products to particular operations.

“We’re not developing and employing this technology in isolation,” he said. “We work very closely with our customer base to make sure our products are purpose- fit for their operations and workload.

remote operations
Komatsu developed its proximity-detection systems for “people who are still on and around the operating face.”

“There is always the potential for human–machine interaction with the remote-operated longwall from people who are still on and around the operating face, which was a concern that has and will always be raised when it comes to remote operations.

“So we developed our proximity- detection system to solve that issue. Anyone entering defined exclusion zones of the automated longwall system with one of the proximity tags will warn then halt the operations until they have entered a safe zone.”

This communication system between the longwall and the smart device worn by employees can be adjusted to widen or reduce the range of how close on-site operators can get to the machinery, with a minimum range of 2m.

The large number of roof supports that exist on a single longwall ensure there is maximum coverage for communication along the coalface, as each support communicates with the proximity tags.

Komatsu customers are already utilising this technology to ensure the safety and welfare of their mining crews.

And other visual and audio-based safety guides are built into the longwall equipment, with more in the works.

“We have the standard signs and warnings as part of customers using these machines, but there are also warning sirens and flashing lights to ensure that personnel are kept aware and safe whilst near these remote-operated machines,” Gough said.

“We are developing smart lights that are triggered based on each operator’s position and the operational zone in which they are assigned to work.”

The benefits of remote operations extend beyond the removal of workers from hazardous environments, streamlining communication and   allowing access of information from a centralised hub.

Working as an overseer of the integration of products as a part of the remote operations and their application in operational sites, Cooling has first- hand experience of the ways in which remote operations have changed things for the better.

“There are so many operational advantages when it comes to mining consistency,” he said.

“You have one or potentially two people in the centralised hub analysing data to make decisions, receiving all types of information: readings from the sensors, onboard cameras for direct visual feeds and communication from the team.

“There’s always that concern of operating remotely in areas where there are still people physically at the coalface, but that’s why we have developed our extensive communication measures and proximity-detection systems, to keep people as safe as possible.”

Komatsu’s focus on safety and consistency of operations comes from its commitment to deliver high-quality and custom-fit solutions that are designed to be the most effective tools mining companies have in their toolbox.

“Engineered, tested and proven is a driving focus of what we are committed to supplying our customers,” Gough said.

“We have developed our technology to be innovative and reliable, so that we can customise specific solutions for our customers.”