Remote Tech Boosts Safety, Lowers CostsMon, 06/01/2020 - 14:20
Safety has become one of the magic words in mining. Along with cost-savings, efficiency, accuracy and adaptability. safety drives development as companies race to meet industry demands. “As a result of market needs, our product development transitioned to surface and distant operation so technicians are no longer exposed to precarious underground environments,” says Ryan Siggelkow, Senior Vice President of Operations for Hard-Line, referencing the emphasis miners now place on safety and security.
The remote-control systems provider specializes in underground hard-rock mining and Siggelkow says that product development is at the heart of its business plan. “Underground mines are hazardous environments and any device that removes the need for human entry into a mine is attractive,” he says. “The driver for our products is safety.” Addressing a gap in the industry, Hard-Line launched operations by offering turnkey services. “When we started as a company, we realized that the market lacked a total solutions provider for remote-control systems,” he says. “There were products on the market but we strived to bring prices down and make the solutions more robust and available to everyone.”
Hard-Line’s first radio remote-control system for underground LHD machines, the Hard-Line Radio Remote Control (RRC), was released in 1997 and it has become the company’s most popular product. “It is adaptable to any type of heavy machinery,” says Siggelkow. “It can be installed on all dozers, rock breakers, drills, excavators, loaders, or any other device. This adaptability is unlike the majority of competitive systems on the market, many of which are brand or machine specific.”
The company’s Tele-Op system removes the need to halt operations for two to three hours during shift changes or in the case of blasts that take several hours to complete. The system allows continuous operation in underground and open-pit mines from the comfort of an office. “With the current market situation, in which operators’ margins are narrowing, an extra four to six hours of production time per day makes a massive difference,” he says. The Tele-Op system is essentially an extension of the safety mechanisms the Hard-Line RRC can provide. “The HardLine RRC is a hand-held joystick unit that is put on the technician’s shoulder or mounted on a remote stand, and is used to remotely enter blast-zones that are too dangerous for miners,” explains Siggelkow. However, this system still requires a worker to be underground or in line of sight of the machine, albeit with an extended line of sight with HardLine’s Farsight Video System.
The Tele-Op allows the operation of heavy machinery from a distant and safe location, such as on surface, and does not require operator line of sight. “This means the operator can manage the machine for as long as necessary, saving huge amounts of time in shift changes and other variables,” he says. “Moreover, the operator does not need to be highly skilled and trained in underground mine environments.” Siggelkow says that this is Hard-Line’s flagship product and the biggest driver of the company’s automation business, although it has seen relatively slow adoption in Mexico despite the enormous savings it can offer mining companies. Productivity is the main focus for the entire industry and Siggelkow says Hard-Line machines can reduce downtime. According to Siggelkow, client feedback suggests that if Hard-Line’s system is running for a week, they make a full return on their investment.
Going further, the company has just released a new product called Tele-Op Auto, which is the automatic upgrade to Hard-Line’s Teleop System and allows the driving functions of the machine to operate autonomously. “This allows vehicles to move faster and avoids human driving errors that can damage the equipment,” says Siggelkow. “The design lasts longer and requires less maintenance. It will be the company's first fully autonomous vehicle.”
Hard-Line is now working on a further upgrade to Teleop called AutoX. “This will be essentially the holy grail of remote systems that will clear the path for a human-free mine,” says Siggelkow. “We are already developing the technology to make this a possibility but mine operators will have to be willing to make complete changes to their operations.”