A Western Australian technology company is developing products and solutions to reduce the hazardous risk associated with this industry. Remote Control Technologies (RCT) develops systems that assist in improving safety and better working conditions for machine operators. The company claims to be “the largest supplier to underground mines for remote control systems for heavy Long Haul Dump machines.”
One of the largest requirements of underground mining is for good experienced operators for these machines. There are really four ways of operating an underground LHD. These are, according to RCT:
- “Operating manually with the operator still in the machine (usually only done were the underground drive is safe)
- Operating by ControlMaster LOS which is Remote Control line of site (operator is away from the machine but can visually see it and operate, this method is seldom used in Australia now)
- Operating by ControlMaster Teleremote (which is where the operator is sitting in a control station underground operating machine by Remote control but using vision provided by cameras on the machine and carefully steers the large machine through the drives via the footage from the cameras displayed on two monitors)
- Operating using the newly developed ControlMaster Guidance system which is similar to Teleremote except it is easier for the operator. All of these machine operational functions have their place but as technology evolves so does the easier way to operate for the operator.
The new guidance system helps reduce mine wall contact with the large machine working under remote control and does so without any need for expensive underground mine infrastructure. Where mine equipment is being teleoperated, ControlMaster Guidance is a simple add-on technology likely to allow equipment to be operated at its designed speed, safely and productively, without fear of extensive damage.
“For many mines and equipment operators the technology is a step in making a gradual entry into automated operation of the machine with the measurable outcome being that we minimise damage through collision with walls which can occur for a number of reasons – boredom, fatigue, response times etc. They are all factors in people just driving machines back and forth on teleremote. This technology just removes those things out of the equation. This has been widely accepted by operators as when they operate the machines on ContolMaster Guidance their fatigue is significantly reduced as the system assists in avoiding the walls and keeping the machine in the centre path.
“By far the safest way to operate underground is by operating teleremote and by Guidance from a control station which could be a very robust control station or a Light commercial vehicle such as a Toyota Troopie.
“But now to help improve the overall working conditions of the miners, technology is again assisting in this with taking the operators out of the hazardous underground environment.” RCT has been working with one of Australia’s leading mining companies to provide its first teleremote surface control station.
The mine wanted to move from underground teleremote control stations to above ground, as it removes the majority of operator risk and improves productivity.
The Mining company’s Electrical Technical Officer, said the project offered a number of potential benefits in terms of safety and production.
“Safety benefits from this project are reduced exposure to underground hazards such as DPM (diesel particulate matter), dust, noise, reduces light vehicles underground, less human intervention, remove the risk, remove the danger for teleremote operators and provide a better working environment for them.
“There are also expected production benefits such as immediate shift change over ‘hot seat’, no lost time during shift change travelling to and from underground and in some cases no need for the teleremote loader to be shut down during firing times dependent upon the location of the machine and firing.
“The system connects to a fibre optic cable which then runs to the surface and connects to the Teleremote Surface Fiber Optic Control Station.” Underground safety systems ensure no one can enter the area where the remote controlled machine is operating.
RCT goes on to ex[plain: “The above ground Teleremote Control Station operates exactly how it does underground, in fact the operators remark that it’s like operating the Tele Loader from the Tele PC or underground control station except you are more than 2 km away from it, on the surface.”