How Can Advanced Technology Solve the Problems Operators Face?Mon, 10/22/2018 - 14:20
Digitalization and automation are becoming essential in mine operations. To remain competitive, cut costs, reduce risk and increase production, operators have to be at the forefront of innovation. It is down to the supply chain to anticipate operator needs and continuously produce newer and more advanced technology. Mexico Mining Review asked the industry leaders about the main problems operators are facing in ramping up productivity and how technology and innovation can help solve these.
I believe the biggest problem is that mines try to cut costs excessively. Sometimes the highest cost in an operation is personnel, due to the number of people needed but also the impact unions can have on production. Understandably, many mines want to automate their processes to reduce costs and increase safety. With the FMSL, autonomous or semi-autonomous trucks are spotted using the latest 3D cameras and RFID sensors to assist accurate truck alignment. Distanced from the shovel operation, truck drivers (if present) can enjoy a safer and more controlled working environment, as they are separated from the swinging shovel bucket. Our goal is to ensure the FMSL can be controlled by a single shovel operator. With personnel reduced and autonomous trucks introduced, site safety is greatly increased.
Digitalization can help as smart plants and operations reduce the number of operators required. But there is the prevalence of the syndrome of proven technology. All companies want to benefit from new technologies but no one wants to be the first to try them. They know that digitalization can greatly benefit the industry, but they are not quite sure how. So, we make sure to speak directly with our customers to create a common understanding of the problem and, step-by-step, to start building a solution that will provide continuous improvement. The idea is to incorporate digitalization throughout the whole value chain to also gather integrated data.
The industry will always seek to cut costs and drive up productivity. In our case, we focus on developing our human capital and also on modifying our technologies to have more autonomous equipment. Our drilling machinery is modular and transportable. But as Detector Exploraciones was designed to create jobs in the areas in which we work, we strive to be at the forefront of technology without automatizing all our processes. It is also imperative that we do not lower our costs at the expense of the environment.
The mining industry represents particular challenges due to its locations and demanding operations, and the goal is to optimize production and reduce costs. Security is a very important aspect for electric equipment in mine operations. The implications include interrupting operations, production loses and especially operators security. Dealing with heavy and demanding operations, workers are exposed to potential electrical damage, and technology becomes critical to increase safety. Aligned with this concept we started to develop a ground fault protection panel board 10 years ago, known as Centinela. This solution is used to protect the operators in underground mines and ensure the continuity of operations in a safe way, as it will interrupt electrical supply in a failure event.
Mexico has many similarities with Australia. Geologically they are both very resource-abundant and both share a long history in the mining industry. The difference is that Australia is a large country and the mines are normally located in isolated and remote areas. The necessity to fill in the gaps created by the lack of a workforce in these areas helped turn Australia into a hub for technology in mining. People do not want to live close to the mines as these are often thousands of kilometers away from the main cities. It can also make it really expensive to fix a broken-down machine when the nearest mechanic is far away. To fix the problem, mining companies created software that can predict the life cycle of a machine to help operators prepare better for breakdowns. Australian mines also use autonomous machines and vehicles that can be controlled from the capital city in that State.
Mining companies around the world are actively evaluating the best way to embark on the EV fleet transition. In Mexico, there are a number of mine development projects that are on pause, but as these start to progress we feel that the opportunities for battery electric units will start to take shape. Operators are starting to see that going diesel-free can reap many benefits. It makes operations more environmentally friendly and cuts costs on power for ventilation, which is often the second most expensive element of a mine, after labor costs, and provides lower total cost of ownership primarily due to reduced maintenance requirements.
In the next 10 years, robotics will play a key role in operational intelligence as mines will be managed remotely, reducing the need for a human presence on-site. Lasec is contributing to the digital revolution by offering technology solutions that add value to miners’ productive processes. We provide operational intelligence though solutions such as high-definition and real-time video. Energy efficiency in mines though Industry 4.0 implementation can decrease costs by up to 40 percent.