Mining tech in development to improve safety in underground mines

Workers in Command room, a semi-autonomous and remote operation of underground loaders

Workers in Command room, a semi-autonomous and remote operation of underground loaders

Caterpillar and Newmont Mining have formed a technology collaboration to improve autonomous vehicles for underground hard rock mining.

The companies will be supported by United States-based Cat dealer, Cashman, and will develop Cat’s semi-autonomous MineStar-based Command for underground system for a start.

“Automating underground loaders enables machine operators to work safely and efficiently from a control room on the surface,” said Graden Colby, underground operations manager at the Leeville gold mine in Nevada.

“In addition to enhancing safety, the semi-autonomous system increases loader utilisation, improves productivity and allows one operator to control two or more machines.”

The collaboration will see Newmont and Cat test and validate new features, improving existing systems and sharing information to help further Cat’s automation strategy.

The agreement is designed to allow for rapid implementation and replication across all of Newmont’s sites through Caterpillar’s global network of dealers.

Newmont is the largest user of the company’s underground automation tech in the western world.

“Through our shared vision with Caterpillar and Cashman — along with senior management commitment — we are tackling a new frontier in mining to improve safety, productivity and costs,” said David Thornton, general manager of Newmont’s Carlin underground operations.

Improving underground safety is a constant priority around the world.

In South Africa, 995 miners were trapped underground last February. Seven miners also died at Sibanye-Stillwater’s Masakhane gold mine after being trapped underground for two days last May.

Geophysicist Michael Van Schoor said, “Managing health and safety risk in a mine requires real-time monitoring and quantification of the underground hazards and the exposure of personnel and equipment to such hazards.”

Three technologies have been announced by the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to assist underground mine activities.

Firstly, the ‘Monster’ is a robot platform that identifies and assesses risks in underground mines without having human presence in potentially dangerous areas.

Secondly, the ‘RockPulse’ is a monitoring device that provides early warning for small seismic activity.

Thirdly, the ‘Glass Rock’ is a prototype device that enables miners to see through rock faces, designed to prevent underground collisions with reefs, among others.

The three inventions are part of the South African Government’s zero harm objective, which aims to eliminate all mining fatalities by 2020.