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Robotics in Mining – Dig Deeper, Dig Faster, Dig Safer

17th June 2012

LX Electronic RobotIf you’ve had your eye on a career in the mining industry, which pays well and offers above average job security, here’s some advice. Brush up on your knowledge of robotics, electronics and automation. Even go a step further and obtain a relevant degree or certificate in the robotics and electronics field. The fact of the matter is simply that electronic robots are the next in the evolution of industry in general, and the in the mining industry specifically.

At What Cost?
Though improvements in excavation techniques have made mining such safer than it once was, it’s still an endevour inherent with hazards. Cave-ins, explosions and toxic gases are just a few of the better known dangers associated with mining, often with catastrophic results.

The fact that these dangers are so rampant means that it’s more difficult to attract the right people to the field, it’s harder to keep them and it costs a lot to insure them. By using electronic robots in some of the harder and more dangerous aspects of mining, the cost of all these three factors and more can be drastically reduced.

As old as the Hills?
Using electronic robots in mining is certainly not a new concept. Most mines in the world have a at least a few robots, and several mines have been using automated machinery for more than forty years. What’s new is the expanding roles robots can now take on, thanks to improvements in electronics and automation design. Just a few years ago, technology such as automated controls and virtual intelligence were not advanced enough to fully utilise robots in the roles they could best perform.

Remote Mining
The large mining firm Rio Tinto, which operates a substantial network of ore mines in Western Australia, is one of the early innovators in using electronic robots in their operation. In fact, the company envisions a time in the near future when the majority of their mining work will be performed by purpose designed and manufactured electronic robots. It is envisaged that many of these robots will be controlled from Rio Tinto’s headquarters in Perth, located hundreds of kilometers from the nearest mine. Though humans will still need to be present on site to deal with unforeseen occurrences, the on-site staff will be drastically reduced and that will translate into reduced operating costs. In addition, onsite staff will be less likely to be exposed to extreme situations; instead electronic robots will take on this role. Dig Safer.

Currently, Rio Tinto operates a small fleet of robotic trucks. The trucks are controlled by several forms of electronic technology that allows them to be aware of their environment. For general navigation, the trucks are fitted with GPS. For obstacle detection, they have laser rangefinders and avoidance radars. Vehicles fitted with the same technology currently traverse the highways of California as part of Google’s Streetview project. So far, no accidents can be attributed to the robotic vehicles.

Electronic Robots in the 21st Century
Rio Tinto is also developing a variety of electronic robotic technology to be used deep inside the mine. This includes robotic drilling devices, robotic blasting machinery and several other items to replace human labour in the most dangerous part of mining operations. Plans are already underway to increase the fleet of robotic trucks from around fifteen to well over one hundred. Dig Faster.

For modern life to function as we expect, extensive mining operations are essential. But mining has always been dangerous, expensive, labour-intensive work. As mineral deposits are depleted, the work involved becomes even more difficult. Often the mines have to be expanded thousands of feet deeper to continue to find deposits. Dig Deeper.

Electronic robots are the logical step in ensuring that mine operators can continue to extract the needed minerals without drastically increasing the costs and risks associated with the industry. If mining work is in your future plans, it’s time to become friendly with and knowledgeable about electronic robotic applications. Welcome to the 21st Century!

LX is an award-winning electronics design company based in Sydney, Australia. LX services include full turnkey design, electronics, hardware, software and firmware design. LX specialises in embedded systems and wireless technologies design.

Published by LX Pty Ltd for itself and the LX Group of companies, including LX Design House, LX Solutions and LX Consulting, LX Innovations.

Muhammad AwaisRobotics in Mining – Dig Deeper, Dig Faster, Dig Safer

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