The potash industry has seen numerous near misses and, unfortunately, some serious injuries and fatalities when operators are working on an active mining face in recent years. That’s one of the reasons potash mining major Nutrien says that potash operators across Saskatchewan are implementing tele-remote technology – an innovative solution to help improve operational and safety processes in underground mining.
In a recent online article it says staff members from Nutrien’s extensive network of six potash mines have been working together on developing the technology and recently Nutrien’s Lanigan’s potash site used this technology to successfully mine a production wing without a single person entering the area, enabling a step change in the stress relief mining process. After over 50 years of mining at Nutrien, it is the first time a wing has been cut with no people present.
“Collaboration between the sites has been instrumental in Nutrien’s success when developing and implementing tele-remote/automation technology across the potash business unit,” says Owen Gunther, Automation Project Lead, Lanigan. This collaboration has allowed us to develop at a strong pace and replicate proven solutions.”
The success of this project started with Nutrien’s Culture of Care where everyone is empowered to lead, collaborate, challenge and trust. “This vision enabled Nutrien to succeed by focusing on the following three pillars: People, Process and Technology. Through extensive collaboration between sites, Nutrien developed technology that enabled them to change the way they operate. Countless hours were spent ensuring that the process uses the technology in the safest and most efficient manner possible. Nutrien worked with the people directly impacted by the change in process and technology by guaranteeing that the technology provides the people with the appropriate tools to perform their jobs safely and efficiently in this new way of operating.”
It says there was constant collaboration and commitment between each of the potash sites, strong alignment from the front line to senior leadership, engineering, operations, Next Generation Potash, IT teams and cross-network collaboration among autonomous mining operations teams. By coupling these three pillars together and investing in a dedicated site team to support the three pillars, the Nutrien potash team was positioned for success.
Through a combination of radar, LiDAR, advanced sensing systems and cutting-edge AI powered technologies, the tele-remote technology allows operators to operate the borer miner machines from a remote location, removing the operators from the active mining area and allowing changes to the way Nutrien can structure its operating strategies.
It says safety risks to the operators are significantly reduced, including the exposure to back, sidewall and roof hazards, trip hazards and equipment hazards. Using this technology has several benefits to the operator by reducing noise exposure, improving air quality, ergonomics and other working conditions for the operators.
Operational processes were also positively impacted, and productivity increased, due to the fact the equipment can operate seamlessly through breaks and shift changes through the new operating strategies. Nutrien says there were challenges to implementing the tele-remote technology, but the team was able to successfully overcome them by using the following key technologies:
- Ventilation technology that enables Nutrien to continuously mine without personnel having to be in the active mining area and hang traditional line brattice ventilation.
- A complete re-think on borer trip conditions enabled remote exception handling and alarm acknowledgement to eliminate the need for operations to enter the hazardous location to resolve fault condition.
- Remote stand-alone hydraulic system to disconnect the borer from support equipment and enable it to drop power and remotely back out separately.
- Camera technology that prevails against high levels of airborne dust and provides operators with a high-definition experience.
- Radar technology provides the operator with a real-time three-dimensional view of the borer and support equipment which complements the camera technology when dust levels are high.
- Advanced instrumentation allows the operators to have real-time accurate mining machine metrics. This improves the tele-remote operating experience by providing the operator with information that enables them to operate with higher degrees of accuracy.
“This achievement illustrates Nutrien’s dedication to its Culture of Care and also demonstrates that Nutrien’s potash business unit can safely and effectively mine any pass in a stress relief mining environment without requiring people to be at the active face,” Trevor Berg, Senior Vice President, Potash Operations. “This advancement significantly improves the safety of the operators by reducing exposures, while increasing overall productivity. This is a safety success story where we have truly changed the way we operate mining equipment.”