For folk outside the mining industry, “automation”, more often than not, brings to mind a picture of Henry Ford’s assembly line, the word has various forms – controlling factories, vehicles, communications, appliances, and different kinds of systems.
But when it comes to mining, the applications of automation in mining are many – from mapping mines, managing fleet, ensuring worksite safety and so on.
So how is automation in mining helping the industry?
Better product quality
A well-controlled method of manufacture leads to more control over the outcome, and you can work consistently towards creating a better product. Automated processes won’t fall outside acceptable norms any more than those controlled by people would. Additionally, better control ensures lower costs and higher productivity.
Technologies, like software created for mine planning, can be used to simulate a mine environment accurately, including the ventilators and the water ducts, and use it to predict and monitor dangerous situations and avoid any losses of life.
A consistently good production process ensures the creation of a consistently good product. Statistical process control, an idea that was developed in the 1920s and honed over time, states that when you have a tightly controlled process with set parameters, it is easier to see variations from these parameters and figure out their causes. Automation helps in adhering to stricter norms and protocols, assuring consistently better products.
Labor is one of the major expenses in the mining industry. On one hand, it costs to pay the laborers, while on the other hand, some of the money is lost to human errors. So, if your manual operator’s effectiveness is anywhere between 50% and 70%, the use of technology could increase the same to the 90% range! This translates to an increase in equipment productivity from 20% to 40%!
Increase in deposit yield
Deposit yield is the mantra by which all mining companies operate. Automated systems can help you out by detecting mine sites with small quantities of minerals, thereby exponentially increasing the number of sites that mining companies have available for them. For example, coal mining is limited to seams that are at least 1.13 meters in diameter. If they were to be any smaller, the challenges that are inherent to mining seams would outweigh any benefits the mine might provide. However, if you have automated technologies, there wouldn’t be as much trouble with such small sites.
The process of mining minerals has many parts and requires numerous operators. Automation can help you organise the whole process – from integrate operations and reducing unnecessary expenditures, to prevent waste and model outcomes before attempting them.
Right now, automation in mining is here to stay. The question, however, is what forms will it take and its impact on the mining industry. Companies that adopt automation early will not only increase their bottom lines substantially, but will also improve their processes and have an advantage over those who take too long to think things over.