Tag Archives: automation

OZ Minerals’ West Musgrave copper-nickel plan receives board approval

The OZ Minerals Board has greenlit the build of the West Musgrave copper-nickel project in Western Australia, paving the way for the development of a remote asset using dry grinding technology, autonomous haulage and a significant volume of renewable power.

West Musgrave is set to become OZ Minerals’ fourth operating asset when it starts producing concentrate in the second half of 2025, in the process becoming the company’s cleanest and greenest mine with plans to reach net zero Scope 1 emissions by 2038.

The feasibility study the board signed off on details a 13.5 Mt/y operation with average production of circa-28,000 t/y of nickel and circa-35,000 t/y of copper over a 24-year operating life. Coming with a A$1.7 billion ($1.1 billion) direct initial capital expenditure bill, West Musgrave could provide cash flow generation of circa-A$1.9 billion during the first five years of production based on OZ Minerals’ projections.

One of the interesting additions to the process flowsheet – which has been mentioned in previous economic studies – is the use of LOESCHE’s Vertical Roller Mill (VRM) technology.

Two VRMs will operate in parallel after the primary and secondary crushing circuit at West Musgrave, with OZ Minerals noting benefits in reducing power consumption by around 20%, supporting higher flotation recovery and the operational flexibility to be ramped up and down. The latter is particularly important given OZ Minerals plans to make West Musgrave one of the largest fully off-grid, hybrid renewable powered mines in the world with an initial circa-80% renewable penetration rate, powered off wind and solar energy with a battery energy storage system in tow.

Dr Thomas Loesche, Managing Shareholder and owner of LOESCHE, said: “As a mining engineer with a degree in mineral processing, it has always been a vision of mine to develop dry-comminution technologies that enable better sorting efficiencies, reduced power and consumables. We are very pleased to be involved in such an important project. OZ Minerals is breaking new ground and proving that sustainability does not stand in the way of project development, but rather makes such projects possible.”

The application of the VRM technology has been peer reviewed for the project by independent experts and has been de-risked through pilot test work campaigns, OZ Minerals added.

Further upstream of the VRMs, OZ Minerals has stated plans to operate the mining fleet remotely from day one at West Musgrave, with the acquisition of an autonomous haulage system-enabled fleet on a leasing basis in the feasibility study outline.

OZ Minerals did not include details of the size of truck involved in the latest study, but the prefeasibility study originally released in 2020 highlighted the use of up to 25 220-t payload haul trucks.

There is also potential for these haul trucks to be electric in the future, with OZ Minerals saying its pathway is aligned with the potential transition to an electric haulage fleet at the first engine change out.

While OZ Minerals says it has the capacity to fully fund West Musgrave with a new A$1.2 billion syndicated facility supported by key relationship banks awaiting final binding agreements, it said potential strategic partnership in the project via a minority interest was being explored.

The next steps for the project involves award of contracts with major partners – it has already signed up GR Engineering to build the process plant; increasing the capacity of its camp to around 250 beds by early 2023; mobilisation of equipment to commence earthworks; finalise the power purchasing agreement and Living Hub – the latter of which has 350 permanent ensuite rooms; and increasing its owner team resources in line with the plan, including operational-readiness personnel.

Caterpillar surpasses 5 billion tonnes of material autonomously hauled

Roughly nine months after reaching the 4-billion-tonne (4.4-billion-ton) autonomously hauled milestone, trucks equipped with Cat® MineStar™ Command for hauling have now moved over 5 billion tonnes (5.5 billion tons), the OEM says.

Cat autonomous trucks are on pace to eclipse previous record totals of materials hauled in a calendar year, projected to be more than 1.4 billion tonnes (1.57 billion tons) in 2022.

Currently, more than 550 mining trucks are equipped with Command for hauling, operating across three continents. Over the last nine years, trucks equipped with Command for hauling have journeyed nearly the average distance between the Earth and Mars with zero loss-time injuries, according to the mining OEM.

Denise Johnson, Group President of Caterpillar Resource Industries, said: “In 2013, we placed our first fleets of autonomous trucks in Western Australia at FMG Solomon and BHP Jimblebar. Since that time, trucks using Command for hauling have safely travelled nearly 200 million km, more than twice the experience in autonomous operations of any automobile manufacturer. Caterpillar has grown the number of autonomous trucks in operation by 40% in the past two years.

“We believe that automation is one of many keys to implement technology that unlocks the value miners need when it comes to the energy transition toward more sustainable operations.”

One of the company’s recent contract wins on the automation front relates to BHP’s majority-owned Escondida mine, in Chile.

Marc Cameron, Vice President of Caterpillar Resource Industries, said of this agreement: “The new Cat 798 AC electric drive trucks replacing BHP’s entire haul truck fleet at the Escondida mine will feature technologies that advance the site’s key initiatives, including autonomy and decarbonisation. The agreement allows Escondida…to accelerate the implementation of its autonomy plans by transitioning the fleet with autonomous haulage system (AHS) technology.”

Caterpillar has enabled 13 customers at 23 different locations to succeed with full site autonomous haulage solutions. Starting with iron ore at Solomon (Fortescue Metals Group) and Jimblebar (BHP), its solutions now manage oil sands, copper, gold, coal, lithium and phosphate. Spanning the 190- to 370-t class sizes, the Cat 789D, 793D, 793F, 797F, and electric drive 794 AC and 798 AC mining trucks are capable of fully autonomous operation. Retrofit kits allow miners to expand Command for hauling to existing Cat mining trucks.

Since 2019, Caterpillar says it has won eight of nine greenfield autonomy sites on offer.

Sean McGinnis, Vice President and General Manager for Cat Mining, said: “In 2023, we will expand Command for hauling to the 139-t truck class at ioneer Ltd’s Rhyolite Ridge lithium-boron mine. This is the first greenfield project in North America to use an AHS. We are now seeing a shift toward autonomy requested on new Cat trucks. Whereas large mines with fleet sizes of more than 70 trucks were the early adopters of the technology, we are seeing economic viability for autonomy at smaller mines with a fleet of less than 15 trucks.”

Caterpillar says it continuously monitors the industry for opportunities to broaden the use of automation to help drive safety and efficiency.

Beyond expansion of Command for hauling to the Cat 785 for ioneer, Caterpillar sees potential for Cat autonomy in quarry and aggregates. Additionally, Caterpillar’s AHS technology has been deployed on the Cat 789D autonomous water truck (AWT) operating at Rio Tinto’s Gudai-Darri mine in Australia, the world’s first AWT, for automated watering of haul roads.

Caravel Minerals takes HPGR use forward to DFS

Caravel Minerals has issued a prefeasibility study update on its namesake project in Western Australia, which, among other things, outlines opportunities to incorporate high pressure grinding rolls (HPGRs) and coarse particle flotation (CPF).

The company only issued the original prefeasibility study in July of this year. This outlined a dual train plant and infrastructure build costing some A$1.2 billion ($806 million), with parallel development of two 13.9 Mt/y capacity trains for a total throughput capacity of 27.8 Mt/y.

Over an initial 28-year mine life, annual production was expected to come in around 62,000 t of copper in concentrate in this study.

The company said at this point that optimisation studies by Ausenco were already in progress for a single train circa-27 Mt/y design, with the pending results expected to show substantial reductions in capital expenditure and operating costs.

That study has now come out, with the company saying the single train design and the adoption of HGPR and CPF are forecast to reduce processing cash unit costs by up to A$1.23/t of ore and reduce capital costs by around A$100 million.

What’s more, the company is also anticipating reductions in both power demand and water consumption with the use of these new technologies.

After seeing such results, Caravel says it will take forward HPGR use over SAG mills in its definitive feasibility study.

It also said the inclusion of CPF in the process flowsheet had the potential to reduce capital and operating costs when compared with the original prefeasibility study flowsheet.

The original Caravel PFS mentioned the potential use of diesel-electric autonomous haulage trucks with electric trolley assist and electric power for drills and face shovels. Mining operation opportunities also included the use of shovel-grade sensors, with the company saying XRF-based bucket sampling was under consideration.

Zinnwald striving for battery-electric circularity with lithium project development

The development of the integrated Zinnwald lithium project in Germany could see the incorporation of a battery-electric fleet of LHDs and the return of metal production to a region of saxony with mining history dating back to the Middle Ages.

The London-listed owner of the project, Zinnwald Lithium Plc, has just released a preliminary economic study on its namesake project focused on supplying battery-grade lithium hydroxide to the European battery sector.

As with any responsible battery metal project being developed today, the project’s ‘green credentials’ are being considered even at this early stage.

Zinnwald Lithium has been keen to flag these, mentioning the project is located close to the German chemical industry, a fact that should enable it to draw on a well trained and experienced workforce with well-developed infrastructure, plus reduce the ‘carbon footprint’ of the final end-use product.

This focus will see all aspects of the project – from mining through to production of the end product – located near to the deposit itself.

Zinnwald Lithium also said the project has the potential to be a low- or ‘zero-waste’ project, as the vast majority of both its mined product and co-products have their own large-scale end-markets.

This could see it produce not only battery-grade lithium hydroxide monohydrate products, but sulphate of potash (SOP) for the fertiliser market and precipitated calcium carbonate (PCC) – the latter being a key filling material in the paper manufacturing process.

The project now includes an underground mine with a nominal output of approximately 880,000 t/y of ore at an estimated 3,004 ppm Li and 75,000 t/y of barren rock. Processing, including mechanical separation, lithium activation and lithium fabrication, will be carried out at an industrial facility near the village of Bärenstein, near the existing underground mine access and an existing site for tailings deposition with significant remaining capacity.

With a 7-km partly-existing network of underground drives and adits from the ‘Zinnerz Altenberg’ tin mine, which closed in 1991, already mapped out, the bulk of ore haulage is expected to be via either conveyor or rail

The nominal output capacity of the project is targeted at circa-12,000 t/y LiOH with circa-56,900 t/y of SOP, 16,000 t/y of PCC, circa-75,000 t/y of granite and 100,000 t/y of sand as by-products.

The company is looking to complete the ‘circularity’ dynamic in its fleet and equipment selection, according to CEO, Anton Du Plessis, who mentioned that electric LHDs could be used to load and haul ore to an ore pass in the envisaged operation.

He said the cost estimates to use such equipment – which are factored into the project’s $336.5 million initial construction capital expenditure bill – have come from Epiroc, which has a variety of battery-operated mobile equipment.

“The base case is battery-operated loaders,” he told IM. “The final selection will be based on an optimisation study where, in particular, partly trolley-fed haulage systems will be investigated.”

Forms of automation are also being studied, Du Plessis said, with the caveat that “only select technologies we consider proven” will be evaluated.

Zinnwald Lithium is also looking at electric options for long-hole drilling underground, with both battery-based units and cabled versions under consideration and requiring firming up in the optimisation study.

With a 7-km partly-existing network of underground drives and adits from the ‘Zinnerz Altenberg’ tin mine, which closed in 1991, already mapped out, the bulk of ore haulage is expected to be via either conveyor or rail. The former, of course, will be powered by electricity, but the company is also considering potential battery-electric options for the latter, according to Du Plessis.

The company is blessed with existing infrastructure at the mine, which should help it in advancing the project at the pace its potential end-use manufacturing suppliers would like. It is already evaluating options for the construction stage – with an engineering, procurement and construction management contract the most likely option – and it has plans to conclude a feasibility study by the end of next year.

Du Plessis said while most of the fixed assets have been removed or were deemed outdated a long time ago from the former operating underground mine, other infrastructure was in good shape.

“The excavations, main level, underground workshop, ventilation shafts and, particularly, 2020 refurbished access tunnel provide a very good starting point for our project,” he said. “The access tunnel was originally constructed for dewatering the old mine and, therefore, the mine and the tunnel have been maintained very well.”

The company is now shifting to the bankable feasibility study and currently selecting partners for the project.

With what it calls a “simple, five-stage processing” route confirmed by test work for the extracted material at Zinnwald, the company is looking to select OEMs with the optimal concept for the project, Du Plessis said.

“In the PEA, mineral processing equipment cost is based on Metso Outotec estimates, pyrometallurgy is based on Cemtec technology, and hydrometallurgy is based on various providers’ technology,” he clarified.

WesTrac receives funding boost for autonomous technology training centre

Leading Caterpillar® dealer WesTrac has welcomed a A$1 million ($678,616) State Government investment to expand the range of training services offered at its automation-focused WesTrac Technology Training Centre in Collie, in Western Australia’s South West.

The funding, announced on September 5 under the McGowan Government’s Collie Futures Industry Development Fund, will help WesTrac to build new training facilities and offer a broader range of courses at the training centre, which is one of only two in the world and the only such training centre outside the US.

The centre opened back in August 2020, with the State Government contributed A$2.7 million through the Collie Futures Fund towards the project.

WesTrac CEO, Jarvas Croome (pictured speaking in the centre), said one of the key focuses of the expanded offering would be providing apprenticeship pathways, and other resources and construction industry skills development opportunities, to local students.

“Since launching in 2020, the WesTrac Technology Training Centre has delivered autonomous operations training courses to more than 450 people,” Croome said.

“To date, that has predominantly involved people working in the resources industry and needing to upskill, however we have also run a pilot program in partnership with the not-for-profit Motivation Foundation, which supports young people to earn qualifications and secure full-time employment.”

The Motivation Foundation aims to educate and develop life and employability skills for school students enrolled in Year 11, 12 or equivalents from diverse backgrounds.

Croome said the expansion of the WesTrac Technology Training Centre would provide enhanced facilities and training opportunities to allow the partnership to expand and continue into the future.

Announcing the funding in Collie, WA Premier, Mark McGowan, said it continued to assist Collie to build on its rich history as an industrial hub, while setting up the town for the long-term by diversifying the economy and creating jobs.

“The WesTrac Technology Training Centre is part of Collie’s future, putting the south west town on the map as a national centre of excellence for autonomous equipment training – with ongoing benefits to Western Australia industry and the community,” he said.

Among the new facilities, WesTrac plans to establish virtual reality training, along with theory rooms, reception, administration and a multipurpose room. New plant and machinery will be purchased and communications infrastructure will be enhanced.

Croome said while training was not a massive revenue generator for WesTrac, it was an important part of building a long-term, sustainable future for mining and construction industries in Western Australia.

“As a key global centre for mining, it makes sense to continue growing our training capability in WA,” he said. “We are not only providing opportunities for people in the South West and around the state, but, now with COVID-related travel restrictions lifting, we’re starting to welcome trainees from interstate and overseas.

“The benefits for Collie and the wider region are immense. As well as directly employing eight people on site responsible for delivering training to up to 30 students per day, the centre utilises local service providers as much as possible including for accommodation, cleaning, catering, fuel and office supplies.

“More importantly, with hundreds of trainees coming to Collie for multi-day courses each year, there’s a considerable cash injection into the local economy.”

Thiess, WesTrac and Cat collaborate on ‘world-first’ autonomous drilling feat

In what WesTrac says is a world-first for autonomous drilling, mining services provider Thiess has successfully rolled out a system that involves three Cat® drill rigs being remotely operated by a single operator.

The solution is part of an ongoing program, also involving original equipment manufacturer Caterpillar® and specialist Cat equipment and service provider WesTrac, to ultimately achieve full autonomy. The current solution involves a single operator, working from a remote on-site operating centre, issuing commands to the three drill rigs simultaneously to instruct them to commence single-row autonomous drilling.

Apart from the operator instructing the rigs to move to the next row and commence drilling according to the pre-defined pattern, all operations are carried out using Cat autonomous technology. Ultimately, the program will see drill rigs completing entire drill patterns across multiple rows in fully autonomous mode.

Since the program went live earlier this year at a project in New South Wales, Australia, Thiess has reported a 20% improvement in drilling performance, including increased rig utilisation with operating times above 20 hours per drill per day, according to WesTrac. Accuracy has also improved with no re-drilling required since the solution was rolled out.

According to WesTrac Project Manager, Joanne Henry, the project involved an iterative rollout and collaborative approach between Thiess, WesTrac and Caterpillar that included phased development and implementation of various new technologies.

“As the OEM, Caterpillar, developed the drills and the technology layer to a certain point, but, as a development partner, Thiess drove a lot of the requirements for ongoing improvements and there’s been constant collaboration throughout the project,” Henry said.

The phased approach allowed Thiess to progressively upskill workers, verify the technology in stages and move smoothly towards the desired final outcome, WesTrac says.

Starting with a single drill rig and staged implementation of technology, Thiess progressed from manual operation to Operator Mission Assist (OMA) functionality that still involved an operator being stationed in the cab but introduced a range of automated functions. This allowed operators to build their understanding of new functions before the next stage – removing them from the cab and locating them in the remote operating station – was implemented.

Following successful evaluation of the single rig operating in autonomous mode, a second rig – albeit a different size to the first – was fitted with the same autonomous operating technology and Thiess operators were able to simultaneously control both rigs. A third rig was fitted out with the technology earlier this year, enabling Thiess to have three rigs working in unison. This has seen one multi-pass MD6250 rig and two single-pass MD6310s operated simulataneously from a single remote operator station.

According to Thiess, there were multiple benefits in relocating operators from the cab to the remote station. The obvious one was reduced risk by taking those operators “out of the line of fire”, however improved fatigue management also occurred as operators were freer to take short breaks and move around without impacting drill operations.

“Thiess also realised a higher level of engagement because team members had the opportunity to upskill,” Henry said.

“That has the potential not only to drive retention of existing staff, but to attract younger generations who see the appeal of working with world-leading technology.”

Another beneficial outcome derived from the collaborative approach was the development of new strata visualisation software that allows operators to see a 3D view of each hole profile they have drilled.

“That’s another piece of technology that in itself could revolutionise the way drilling operations are carried out,” Henry said.

“But, more importantly, it is a powerful addition to the overall solution that’s enabling Thiess to realise significant people, technology and process benefits.”

Thiess Head of Asset Management & Autonomy, Matt Petty, said: “We’ve been on our autonomous drilling journey since 2019, when we mobilised our first Caterpillar MD-series drill, equipped with OMA technology, moving through to ‘single-row’, with the goal of full pattern, multi-pass autonomous drilling using multiple drills at a time with one controller.

“Our close collaboration and a controlled, phased rollout of the technology with operational insight has meant piloting, implementation and refinement of the technology has been safe, efficient and successful.

“We’re now looking to expand our application of autonomous drill technology, ultimately graduating to off-site remote operating centres, from which controllers can operate multiple drills across multiple projects.”

South32 making engineering and design headway at Hermosa project

A stellar set of annual financial results has provided the ideal backdrop for South32 to update shareholders on its rapidly progressing Hermosa project in Arizona, USA.

Released late last month, the company’s 2022 financial year results showed off record earnings of $2.6 billion, record free cash flow from operations of $2.6 billion and record return on invested capital of 30.1%.

With group copper-equivalent production expected to increase by 14% in the next financial year, South32 looked to be well leveraged to in-demand metal markets at the right time.

The company has progressively been repositioning its portfolio toward metals critical for a low-carbon future, having already established a pipeline of high-quality development options. One of these high-quality development options is Hermosa.

Hermosa, which the company acquired outright back in 2018 as part of a takeover of Arizona Mining, is key to the company’s critical metals pursuit, having exposure to base and battery metals that are expected to grow in demand – both domestically in the US and internationally.

It is being designed as South32’s first ‘next generation mine’, according to Hermosa President, Pat Risner, with a series of technical reports highlighting its use of automation and technology to minimise its impact on the environment and target a carbon-neutral mining scenario in support of the group’s goal of achieving net zero operational greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

These same reports also highlighted the potential to develop a sustainable, low-cost operation producing zinc, lead and silver from the Taylor deposit, with the bonus of possible battery-grade manganese output for rapidly growing domestic markets from the Clark deposit.

In the latest results, the company said it was devoting $290 million of growth capital expenditure in the 2023 financial year to progressing Hermosa as it invests in infrastructure to support critical path dewatering and progress study work for the Taylor Deposit. This is ahead of a planned final investment decision expected in mid-2023, which should coincide with the feasibility study.

South32 is devoting $290 million of growth capital expenditure in the 2023 financial year to progress Hermosa

Some $110 million of this was assigned to construction of a second water treatment plant (WTP2) to support orebody dewatering at the asset, alongside dewatering wells, piping systems and dewatering power infrastructure.

An additional $95 million was slated for engineering and initial construction ahead of shaft sinking at the operation, plus work to support power infrastructure and road construction.

The remaining amount was expected to support work across the broader Hermosa project, including Clark study costs and the Taylor feasibility study.

All signs from these results are that the company is laying the groundwork to develop this project ahead of that mid-2023 deadline.

In another sign of progress, South32 recently signed a “limited notice to proceed” for shaft engineering and design at Hermosa with contractor Redpath, Risner confirmed, adding that the award represented a positive step forward for the project.

“We look forward to continuing our engagement with local communities and all of our stakeholders as we make further progress with the project,” he said.

Redpath will no doubt be evaluating the technical studies that have been signed off to this point and informing future reports.

The PFS design for Taylor is a dual shaft mine which prioritises early access to higher grade mineralisation, supporting zinc-equivalent average grades of approximately 12% in the first five years of the mine plan. The proposed mining method, longhole open stoping, is similar to that used at Cannington, in Australia, and maximises productivity and enables a single stage ramp-up to the miner’s preferred development scenario of up to 4.3 Mt/y.

Yet, the Clark deposit opportunity – which has become even more tantalising with the US Government invoking the Defense Production Act and supporting the production of critical metals including manganese – could see the plan change.

The company says it may accelerate the prefeasibility study for the Clark deposit, which is spatially linked to the Taylor deposit. A scoping study has previously confirmed the potential for a separate, integrated underground mining operation producing battery-grade manganese, as well as zinc and silver from the deposit.

South32 previously said Clark has the potential to underpin a second development stage at Hermosa, with future studies to consider the opportunity to integrate its development with Taylor, potentially unlocking further operating and capital efficiencies.

With a PFS selection study expected later this year, investors and interested parties will soon know the role Clark could play in the wider Hermosa project.

What is easy to gauge already is that Hermosa is progressing on a track that many other development projects in in-demand sectors have gone down.

Anglo American’s longwall automation milestone recognised in awards ceremony

Anglo American’s innovation-led approach to sustainable mining, FutureSmart Mining™, and a willingness to collaborate with industry parties, has enabled it to achieve a major milestone in longwall operation: 100% machine automation.

This work was recently recognised at the Queensland Mining Awards where team members received the METS Ignited Collaboration Award.

Billed as delivering a significant step change in the safety and efficiency of underground mining, the ability to remove people from hazardous situations at the face and, instead, relocate them to a purpose-built Remote Operations Centre (ROC), has enabled the company to deliver a breakthrough in performance being recognised across the underground coal mining industry.

Anglo American says the development of industry-first systems and technology for this project were completed through working collaboratively with partners including Restech, Aurecon, Komatsu, Eickhoff, Marco and GTick systems.

The miner achieved its first longwall shear fully controlled from surface in late 2018 at its Grosvenor mine in Queensland, Australia, with this milestone achieved on its Komatsu Mining longwall equipment.

Yet, it was the Moranbah North mine that became the first of the company’s three operating longwalls to achieve the 100% automation mark (pictured above).

This mine uses SL 900 shearers from Eickhoff, with a team of operational and engineering experts monitoring the longwall mining process from start to finish. These operators, located in the ROC above-ground, are able to analyse the data and drive safer operations, better decisions and achieve mining excellence, the company says.

Head of Transformation for Anglo American’s Steelmaking Coal business in Australia, Dan Reynolds, said Moranbah North has now become Australia’s most capable remotely-operated underground steelmaking coal mine, with the company’s other mines – Grosvenor and the recently-commissioned Aquila – following close behind.

“All three underground mines are now fully remote-capable, allowing operators to work from state-of-the-art ROCs on the surface of the mine,” he said.

Aquila, Anglo American’s most recently commissioned mine, is also remote-capable, allowing workers to work from a Remote Operations Centre above ground

Step change

The key drivers behind automating longwall operations were to improve safety by reducing personnel exposure to underground hazards; reduce operational variability, to deliver more stable operations and improve efficiency; and improve sustainability of operations, through ensuring automation resilience in various operating conditions.

Much of the technology required to achieve these improvements did not yet exist when Anglo American was considering such a move, and previous industry attempts at achieving sustainable autonomous and remote operations had fallen down, Anglo American said, due to:

  • Enablers not being defined to the level required;
  • Key operational systems being unavailable;
  • OEM operating logic not providing the required operational solutions;
  • The technology enablers not being available; and/or
  • The workforce not being suitably prepared.

Anglo American saw collaboration as a key tool able to overcome these issues, recognising that significant leaps forward in technology were required, including the development of various automation-enabling applications.

“Working with operational teams, the Underground Technology and Automation team developed a leading practice target operating model for integrated remote operations and automation and technology enablers after extensive workforce collaboration,” Reynolds said.

Anglo American says its Steelmaking Coal business has delivered a breakthrough performance in the development and implementation of autonomous longwall technology and remote operations for the underground coal mining industry

“It was identified early in the project that a step change in the supply of systems and technology would be required to achieve project goals. This was reached through working with the OEM and third-party technology providers, which ensured the technology and the software systems provided the solutions that met our mining requirements.”

This work required the team to work collaboratively across its underground operations and corporate partners to develop a series of industry-first safety and production systems that were required to “unlock” autonomous longwall operations, the company said.

The list of innovative, industry-leading processes and systems that the partners have developed, include:

  • A longwall remote operations framework
  • Autonomous shearer:
    • Auto duck – system solution
    • Auto gate road entry – system solution
    • Anglo Seam Steering – system/technology solution
  • Integrated remote powered roof support (PRS) control:
    • Integrated face controller – system/technology solution
    • Remote strata control – system solution
    • Enhanced logic solutions – system solutions
  • A Remote Operating Centre longwall system manager:
    • Integrated central interface solution for longwall remote management comprising:
      • Auto gate road entry
      • Anglo Seam Steering
      • Auto alerts
      • ROC reporting
      • Auto blockage detection
      • Longwall positional control
      • Creep management.

The high levels of collaboration between internal teams and third-party providers enabled these systems to be developed, according to Anglo American.

“The outcomes of this work are significant,” Reynolds said. “It is delivering a significant step change in the safety, stability and sustainability of underground mining.”

The company shed a bit more light on these innovations – many of which have been spoken of by suppliers and mining companies as the missing pieces of the fully-autonomous longwall mining puzzle – in its Queensland Mining Awards application.

“Auto duck”, for instance, allows the shearer to automatically cut under roof supports in challenging strata conditions.

“Auto gate road entry” involves the longwall shearer becoming more “intelligent”, using existing data from scanned files, PRS height data or manual measurements to determine the next cut height for the gate road.

“Seam steering” identifies whether the longwall is in or out of the coal seam by automatically detecting the tonstein band position. This, Anglo American says, is a valuable stratigraphic measure.

“Blockage detection” is conducted using eight cameras across the longwall face, which automatically detect if a face blockage is seen, alerting a ROC operator as necessary.

Similarly, “longwall alerting” sees a ROC operator alerted of potential events or issues. “Tailgate lag control” automatically identifies if the tailgate drive is lagging the face line, while “strata management logic” enables automation of shields.

The company says its Steelmaking Coal business has delivered a breakthrough performance in the development and implementation of autonomous longwall technology and remote operations for the underground coal mining industry.

RCT to automate Komatsu WX07s for WestAuz Mining at Norseman project

RCT says it has been selected as the preferred automation partner of Kalgoorlie-based contract mining company WestAuz Mining.

Westauz Mining is an underground mining specialist planning to equip two of its Komatsu WX07 7-t-payload LHDs with RCT’s Digital Automation solution.

These loaders will be deployed at the Norseman Project, a gold mine site located in the Goldfields – Esperance region of Western Australia.

Norseman is 50%-owned by ASX-listed Pantoro Ltd (Tulla Resources owns the remaining 50%), which said earlier this month at the Diggers and Dealers conference, in Kalgoorlie, that mining – both open-pit and underground – had commenced ahead of first gold this quarter.

Pantoro has focused initial project planning on six initial mining areas containing multiple deposits amenable to both open-pit and underground mining. A Phase One definitive feasibility study was completed in October 2020 detailing an initial seven-year mine plan with a centralised processing facility and combination of open-pit and underground mining producing approximately 108,000 oz/y.

RCT said of the agreement: “RCT is thrilled to collaborate with Westauz Mining to maximise remote production with the deployment RCT’s latest innovative digital technology. Machine installations are currently in progress, and it won’t be long until they are operating on site.”

Mineral Resources kicks off work at ‘dust free’ iron ore project in the Pilbara

Mineral Resources has commenced early works at its Onslow Iron project in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, a project that, according to Chris Ellison, will be “dust-free from pit-to-port”.

The early works at Onslow, formerly known as the Ashburton project, will support first ore on ship around December 2023, MinRes says.

Onslow Iron will unlock stranded deposits that would otherwise remain undeveloped in the West Pilbara region, using MinRes’ innovative and proprietary equipment designed to process and move bulk commodities at lower costs and with a reduced environmental footprint, the company said.

Following receipt of preliminary approvals, project preparations are on track and early construction activities including bulk earthworks have commenced at the Port of Ashburton, south of Onslow. At the nearby Truck Maintenance Facility, installation of the temporary construction village is underway, with first buildings to be installed from early September.

Mine development activities have also progressed at the Ken’s Bore Deposit, east of Onslow, with construction of the A320-capacity airport and the installation of two camps to support drilling and early construction works.

Recruitment for the construction phase of Onslow Iron is also well underway alongside a continued focus on community and stakeholder consultation.

In line with the project schedule, long-lead items have been ordered including the first transhippers, which will be used to load capesize vessels that will be anchored offshore from the Port of Ashburton. Each transhipper has a 20,000-t capacity, is fully enclosed to avoid dust pollution and has a significantly lower environmental footprint when compared with the major dredging activities that would be required to construct deepwater berths at the port, according to the company.

Onslow Iron will be one of the largest iron ore developments undertaken in Western Australia, delivering substantial benefits to the state including thousands of construction and operational jobs, billions of dollars of direct local investment through capital expenditure and billions of dollars of state and commonwealth royalties over the life of the project, it added.

Mineral Resources Managing Director, Chris Ellison, said: “Onslow Iron will be transformational, not just for MinRes but for the State of Western Australia. This project will be the cornerstone of our iron ore strategy to deliver low-cost, long-life operations with project economics that are compelling through commodity price cycles.

“We’re looking forward to delivering thousands of jobs for Western Australians and investing billions in the economy.

“Importantly, our innovations will drive lower emissions across the project. Onslow Iron has been designed with a low environmental footprint and will be dust-free from pit-to-port.

“We’re also setting a new FIFO standard with our industry first, resort-style accommodation to ensure the physical and mental safety of our people and to encourage more women, and couples, to live on site.

“It’s in our DNA to aim higher, push the boundaries and forge new paths, which is why Onslow Iron really represents a new paradigm for mining in Western Australia.”

On top of the dust-free innovation and FIFO aims, MinRes has mooted it will run autonomous road trains between the pit and the port at Onslow Iron.