As precious resources become ever more difficult to access at depth, Anglo American is exploring technologies such as automation and robotics to transform hard rock mining. “Through FutureSmart Mining™, our innovation-led approach to sustainable mining, we are applying innovative thinking, enabling technologies and collaborative partnerships to make mining safer and more economic. Platinum mining operations are at depth and involve physical labour and heavy equipment. Relative to open cut mining, lost time injury frequency rates (LTIFR) tend to be higher, and the technical demands are also high. We are collaborating with key mining machinery and technology manufacturers (OEMs) on a number of automated and continuous mining vehicles designed to create far greater rock stability and less variance in the quality of the ore we extract – cutting rock at more than 150 MPa.”
With Sandvik, Anglo is collaborating on a flexible haulage system. One of the crucial components of moving from batch to continuous hard rock mining is the mechanisation of the transport of the hard rock cuttings from the back end of the RMDS to the mine’s fixed conveyor system. The Sandvik PM100F, a Continuous Haulage system (CHS) is a remote-controlled device that does just that. Current equipment in use, either shuttle cars or LHD fleets, are limited in capacity and do not allow for an efficient mining method. The Sandvik PM100F is based on a closed-belt system which is mounted on several traction modules. The traction modules will allow the conveyor belt to be mobile. The closed conveyor belt can transport the material around small vertical as well as horizontal turning radii.
The Sandvik PM100F has just completed Proof of Concept testing at the Twickenham platinum mine in South Africa, having successfully demonstrated improved rates of throughput (100 t/h) and ability to navigate intricate 90-degree bends underground and slopes up to 15 degrees. It is now being prepared for production trials behind the Rapid Mine Development system (RMDS).
Also in development with Sandvik, and another in a suite of continuous mining vehicles currently underground at Twickenham, is the Sandvik MN200 Reef Miner. This remotely operated machine incorporates cutting, materials handling and roof bolting and is designed for mining narrow mineral reefs in hard rock. It is up to three times faster than conventional drill & blast methods and, of course, also removes our people from harm’s way. Anlgo is optimising it specifically for platinum mining.
“Taken together, the safety, efficiency and productivity gains from a continuous mining process in hard rock are potentially significant and could put underground mining on a more even footing with open pits. Applicable to underground diamond as well as platinum mining, they are also vital to the future of underground mining, making it possible to create a safer environment, while mining lower grade ores and complex mineralogy, at lower cost.”