Tag Archives: automation

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.

Orica’s wireless blasting tech overcomes magnetite challenges at LKAB Kiruna

A four-year collaboration between Orica and LKAB has resulted in the first production blasts using wireless initiation technology at the Kiruna iron ore mine in northern Sweden.

These blasts – charged in the middle of May and blasted in early June – are going some way to support LKAB’s safety, productivity and long-term automation objectives, according to Abhisek Roy, EMEA Head of Marketing for Orica.

It has involved an extensive amount of work to get to this blasting milestone, according to Ingemar Haslinger, Technical Services Lead Europe at Orica.

He explained: “It all started in 2018 when LKAB showed interest in our new WebGen™ wireless technology. They could see the benefits in both safety and productivity with the new way of producing the ore.”

This saw Orica go to site at the Kiruna mine in March 2018 to begin with a signal survey, testing if the company could obtain a good signal between the antenna and the in-hole receivers.

WebGen provides for groups of in-hole primers to be wirelessly initiated by a firing command that communicates through rock, water and air. This removes constraints often imposed by the requirement of a physical connection to each primer in a blast. The wireless blasting system not only improves safety – by removing people from harm’s way – but improves productivity – by removing the constraints imposed by wired connections.

It is, therefore, considered, a critical pre-cursor to automating the charging process.

To this point, WebGen has fired over 100,000 units in over 3,000 blasts globally across customer sites, Orica says.

At Kiruna, however, the process from testing to technology on-boarding was less than straightforward.

“In the area of the mine where the signal survey was completed in 2018, it was discovered that the signal could not penetrate the magnetite ore at all,” Haslinger said. “This was the first time we had encountered this and was a setback for Orica and LKAB.”

At that time, Orica did not have the localised field equipment or advanced diagnostic tools to diagnose the antenna issue, making it difficult to ascertain the root cause.

“We had to go back to our global WebGen specialists and try to understand why this was happening, which we were successfully able to do,” Haslinger said.

After dedicated work from the global team, Orica went back to Kiruna in September 2020, looking to replicate the signal survey from 2018 and use its advanced diagnostic tools to measure the antenna performance and output.

“We also had the opportunity to test the signal behaviour in the holes, as well as measure the rock properties around the antenna and the in-hole receivers,” Haslinger added.

The survey proved successful, explaining why the signal could not go through the orebody. This allowed the global WebGen team to start developing solutions to overcome the signal problem, which it was able to do in short order.

In December 2020, the Orica team was back at the underground iron ore mine to test the new solution.

“The first trials with the new solution showed positive results and the global team continued to develop that further,” Haslinger said. “In May 2021, we tried the solution in many different conditions and applications to be sure that it would work in the mine. These trials gave us a lot more knowledge about the environment and how the new solution worked.

“In 2022, we were ready to test the system in active mine operations and it has been an extensive amount of work to get us to that point.”

Development of the WebGen wireless underground blasting technology is ongoing at the Kiruna mine

Michal Gryienko, Engineer at LKAB in Kiruna, said the first two production rings were charged using WebGen in the middle of May before blasting occurred in early June. This is one of the benefits of the system, with the wireless primers able to sit dormant in the blasting profile for around 30 days prior to blast initiation.

“The results look good so far,” Gryienko said. “In total, we will blast five production rings, and the final three are planned to be blasted in September.”

Among the benefits Gryienko highlighted were the reduction in risk associated with hole priming and the possibility of detonating more blast holes due to the ability overcome damaged or unstable blasting applications.

Orica’s Roy said the collaboration between the two companies has been “fantastic”.

“Despite the challenges around transmission of signal across the magnetite orebody that is a prerequisite for a successful wireless initiation, both companies have worked as partners for the last four years, finding practical and creative solutions,” he said.

“This hopefully is the start of a long-term sustainable wireless blasting solution that supports LKAB’s safety and productivity objectives and long-term automation goals.”

WesTrac holds Cat D10T2 dozer handover ceremony with a difference

An equipment handover ceremony of a Cat® D10T2 dozer at WesTrac’s South Guildford facility, in Western Australia, this week held special meaning for the stakeholders involved, the Cat dealer says.

Indigenous contracting business Civil Road & Rail SX5, part of the broader SX5 Group of companies, will use the new dozer for mine rehabilitation services at Rio Tinto’s mine sites in the Pilbara.

According to SX5 Directors, Ralph Keller and Cherie Keller, and Co-Director and Eastern Guruma Senior Elder, Kenzie Smith, the act of rehabilitating the land has grown in significance over recent years.

“We’re making things green again, making Country feel better,” Ralph Keller said. “In repairing Country, we’re helping repair the trust and relationships with the region’s Traditional Owners.”

As well as being among the Traditional Owners of the land, Smith’s family have a long history of helping modern enterprises use and rehabilitate the land. The family once helped break horses and muster cattle on the stations in the region and was permitted to gather any stock left behind to sell themselves. SX5 was the brand applied to those stray cattle before they were taken to market. That set the family on an entrepreneurial path that resulted in Smith helping to establish and run SX5’s contracting business, according to WesTrac.

WesTrac General Manager, Cameron Callaway, said miners, as well as their suppliers and service providers, understand the vital importance of engaging with the Traditional Owners on whose country they operate to ensure continual improvement in environmental, social and governance outcomes.

“The world needs miners to supply the mineral resources required for a more sustainable future, and that means we need to support sustainable mining initiatives,” Callaway said. “Drawing on the knowledge of Traditional Owners and the expertise of knowledgeable, experienced Indigenous organisations such as SX5 is a key aspect of that, and it’s especially rewarding for WesTrac to be involved in projects such as this.”

The Cat D10T2, itself, comes with onboard technologies to drive greater efficiency, productivity and fuel economy, as well as improved operator safety and comfort. It is also equipped with the building blocks to enable remote and semi-autonomous operations.

Ralph Keller says technology has been key to SX5’s success, and support from Indigenous Business Australia (IBA) has made it possible for the group to continue to purchase equipment with the latest machine control technologies.

“What makes us different is that SX5 continues to reinvent itself every day,” he said. “It’s all about technology. That’s how you achieve excellence and how you mitigate risk.”

IBA, a commercially-focused Federal Government organisation, supports First Nations businesses with cashflow and performance bond guarantees to enable business growth.

Kirsty Moore, IBA’s Chief Executive Officer, says: “Putting the regeneration of Country back in the hands of First Nations companies like SX5 is smart business and we’re so glad to support their efforts.

“IBA provides leasing opportunities to First Nations businesses so they can acquire critical capital equipment without tying up large amounts of cash that is needed to cover the operating costs of the business. The new equipment has stepped up the production and quality of work that the business has been able to achieve by using equipment that is purpose-built for the task.

“SX5 is a great example of a First Nations business transforming its opportunities to work with big business – all while restoring Country and being trained in new technology.”

Martin Roedhammer, Rio Tinto Manager Rehabilitation and Closure, said: “We work hard to leave a lasting, positive legacy everywhere we work. As part of this, we strive to generate opportunities for businesses to be part of our supply chain and deliver local economic benefits.

“Rio Tinto has worked with SX5 for more than seven years to support and develop the group’s capacity and understanding of our requirements and facilitate introductions across our Pilbara operations.

“A credit to SX5 is the business’ ability to think of ways to increase efficiency and get the best quality outcomes, trialling the use of chains to improve final surface finishes and modifying equipment to achieve improved vegetation establishment.

“We look forward to a continued successful relationship with SX5 and witnessing them grow even more in the future.”

Newcrest grads underline automation possibilities with SmartHog development

The use of an all-terrain unmanned ground vehicle, incorporation of military spec hardware and sensors, a bank of lead/acid batteries, and the ingenuity of three mechatronics graduates have brought Newcrest Mining closer to its goal of automating the PC1 extraction level at its Cadia East gold-copper underground mine in New South Wales, Australia.

The company has progressively been rolling out automation-focused technologies at this mine steered by its Mining Innovation and Automation (MIA) Team.

Last year, this team, with the help of Epiroc, successfully implemented the first semi-autonomous integrated production level at the mine, with, at the time, an autonomous Scooptram ST18 capable of full 24/7 production across seven drives of a whole panel cave at the operation.

It is a slightly smaller machine that is helping the company progress from the automation of production and support equipment at the mine to autonomously completing a range of inspection tasks on the fully-autonomous PC1 extraction level.

The seeds for the SmartHog vehicle – a WartHog all-terrain unmanned ground vehicle with ‘smarts’ – were sewn back in early 2021, when Cadia’s first mechatronics graduate arrived to join the MIA team.

“A challenge was set to build an automated underground inspection robot utilising a WartHog chassis,” Aaron Brannigan, Cadia General Manager, told IM, explaining that the challenge provided a hands-on task for the graduate that would result in a solution that was beneficial in realising the team’s key focus of improving safety through technology and innovation.

The new graduate began to design this robot with the WartHog chassis as the base and, over time, was joined by two more mechatronics graduates – one with a dual computer science degree – where the conceptual work behind the robot really started to accelerate.

In early 2022, the three started to build the robot from a range of hardware, all based on military specifications to withstand the underground environment.

Brannigan explained: “To achieve this, the graduates made every cable themselves, crimped every connector, assembled all the components and sensors and wrote the software code for various aspects of the sensor outputs.”

Since the inspection robot was designed to replicate tasks typically performed by people on the level, it had to be fitted with a range of sensors including LiDAR, Radar, a PTZ camera, stereoscopic camera, LED spotlights and a weather station for wet bulb temperatures and measuring wind velocity for ventilation purposes, the company explained. Powered by a bank of lead/acid batteries, the SmartHog was commissioned on surface and, in June 2022, completed trials underground, including being ‘checked in’ to the autonomous system.

“With some further testing and improvements, the SmartHog will soon live permanently underground in the autonomous zone and will be able to complete a range of inspection tasks,” Brannigan said. “This moves us closer to our goal of automation at the extraction level and is a key focus of improving operational safety and sustainability through technology.”

IM put some questions to Brannigan to find out more.

IM: How are you leveraging technology from the automotive sector in the SmartHog? What kind of adaptations are required for this to work underground?

AB: The SmartHog utilises automotive industry radars as a way of localising its position underground. LiDAR is vulnerable to interference from dust and moisture in the air, whereas radar can ‘see’ through these, allowing the SmartHog to continue to navigate and know its position underground when these are present. We believe the use of radar in this context is industry-leading and our intent with this is twofold: first, it demonstrates the advantages and reduced downtime of radar over LiDAR and, second, it encourages original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to move from LiDAR to radar for their autonomous equipment so they can take advantage of the benefits it offers.

IM: What existing underground communications infrastructure is in place at PC1 to help facilitate the real-time transmission of data from the SmartHog?

AB: Our underground PC1 level has Wi-Fi throughout which forms the basis of the autonomous system, and this is connected to the surface via fibre optic cables.

IM: How are you using the new data you are collecting with the SmartHog at Cadia? What tasks is it allowing you to do that you couldn’t previously carry out (or conducted differently)?

AB: The primary purpose of the SmartHog is to undertake a range of tasks that a person has usually performed in the past, improving both safety and efficiency. One example is geotechnical inspections of draw points and extraction drives. In the past when it was necessary for a Geotechnical Technician to undertake an inspection, the autonomous level would need to be deactivated and the autonomous equipment removed to ensure there was no risk of vehicle on person interaction. This is a time-consuming process and means production is stopped for the duration, not to mention the potential risk to the person entering the level on foot.

With the various sensors fitted to the SmartHog, it can scan and photograph the draw point (using the conventional digital camera and stereoscopic camera) and send this information to the surface where a Geotechnical Engineer can review it, all while autonomous loading operations continue.

As the SmartHog is ‘checked in’ to the autonomous system and is ‘seen’ by the other equipment, it can operate independently but also become part of the autonomous traffic management system. Should the Geotechnical Engineer require further information about the draw point, the SmartHog can return and drive up to the limit of the draw point and capture further data from the range of sensors.

IM: Are there other projects outside of the PC1 where you could use the SmartHog?

AB: We anticipate in the future that each panel cave could have their own SmartHog, so that a range of tasks can be completed as previously outlined.

IM: Are there plans to make more SmartHogs? Could they be adapted to carry out other tasks?

AB: The way we have developed the first SmartHog may look very different to how any future SmartHogs may look. The value the graduates gained from solving a current problem using a hands-on approach is priceless and helps demonstrate the value of the graduate program. We believe the graduate program at Newcrest is industry-leading given the types of challenges our graduates can address and solve using the skills recently acquired at university on real-world challenges.

Given the SmartHog is battery powered, as battery technology improves, the next generation of SmartHogs will be able to carry lighter and higher capacity batteries allowing for larger payloads and longer run times. This could allow the inclusion of other sensors and different types of cameras, such as infrared and thermal, which are traditionally heavy items and would limit the range of the current battery performance. The options available are endless once battery technology improves to the point where runtimes are increased and recharge times are reduced. This is not far off given the speed at which battery technology and design is improving.

Gekko Systems improves carbon sampling accuracy, safety at Cowal gold mine

The technical team at Gekko Systems has released further data that, it says, supports the benefits of new technology that optimises carbon management systems in gold processing facilities.

Optimising carbon management in the carbon-in-leach (CIL) circuit reduces gold solution losses and improves gold circuit recovery. This is essential for sites needing to offset higher inflationary costs with improved revenue, Gekko says.

The case study, released today, reviews operational performance of Gekko’s Carbon Scout at Evolution’s Cowal Gold Operation in New South Wales, Australia.

The Carbon Scout is a self-contained, ground-level sampling system that measures carbon concentration, as well as pH, DO and, more recently, has an option to measure gold loading on carbon using XRF technology on an hourly basis. Optimising the Carbon Scout for site conditions allows for more accurate, reliable and repeatable measurement of the carbon inventory of the CIL
circuit, Gekko says. Automating data collection and process actions such as carbon transfer, meanwhile, reduces operator risk exposure and person-hours (previously dedicated to the manual data collection tasks).

Installation of the Carbon Scout at Cowal commenced in February 2019, with the Gekko Systems Digital Services and Technical team providing ongoing support – both onsite and remotely – in the initial months of the system’s operation to ensure maximum availability was achieved and Evolution Mining was receiving the full benefit of the Carbon Scout.

After a few months of integration with the SCADA system, the Carbon Scout was able to use the data and analysis to facilitate automated transfer of the carbon inventory within the circuit to maintain pre-determined concentrations, according to Gekko.

The Carbon Scout at Cowal has successfully reduced operator exposure to slurry containing hazardous materials including cyanide and improved sample authenticity by collecting a more representative and repeatable sample, Gekko said in the case study.

The other critical success achieved by the Carbon Scout is its ability to take a larger CIL tank sample that is more representative. This is achieved by the Carbon Scout drawing from deeper within the tank, where more superior slurry-carbon mixing occurs, and a larger sample of up to 20 litres is taken, which is 10-20 times the typical manual sample size. Additionally, the sample is extracted from a consistent point each time the Carbon Scout cycle samples from that tank.

Gekko concluded: “Optimising the Carbon Scout for site conditions allows for more accurate, reliable and repeatable measurement of the carbon inventory of the CIL circuit. Utilising these measurements and integrating with a plant’s SCADA system, the automatic control of carbon concentrations through the CIL circuit can be achieved. Automating data collection and process actions such as carbon transfer reduces operator risk exposure and man hours previously dedicated to the manual data collection tasks.

“The improvement derived from the utilisation of the Carbon Scout should lead to increases in circuit recovery by reducing soluble gold losses.”

The Carbon Scout was originally the brainchild of Curtin University’s Gold Processing team, led by Dr Teresa McGrath and Bill Staunton. Curtin University selected Gekko Systems as its commercialisation partner.

Staunton noted that “real-time data collection instrumentation and related analysis is essential to the future of the gold processing industry”.

Gekko Systems’ Technical Director, Sandy Gray, said: “The increasing installation base of the Carbon Scout globally is providing a fantastic baseline of evidence that supports the benefits of quality data collection and automation.”

FLSmidth to highlight full flowsheet expertise with ShalkiyaZinc project delivery

FLSmidth has signed a contract, valued at around DKK950 million ($130 million), to supply a range of mineral processing equipment to ShalkiyaZinc, the operator of a zinc-lead mine in the Kyzylorda Region of Kazakhstan.

The equipment will transform the plant into a world-class facility that efficiently separates minerals with a minimised environmental impact, the OEM says.

Under the agreement, FLSmidth will supply two underground crushing stations with a materials handling system to the process plant; a full package of comminution and separation equipment, including SAG and ball mills, mill circuit pumps and cyclones; the zinc-lead concentrate flotation and regrinding circuit, including nextSTEP, VXP vertical mills, concentrate thickeners and Pneumapress filters; and reagents preparation and dosing area. Full plant automation is also included, as well as installation and commissioning supervision services.

The new concentrator will be supported from FLSmidth’s new in-country service Supercentre in Karaganda, Kazakhstan.

The equipment delivery is to be completed during 2024, with commissioning to start before the end of that year.

Mikko Keto, Group CEO at FLSmidth, said: “We are excited to receive this first order from ShalkiyaZinc, which highlights our full flowsheet expertise. The wide range of equipment included in the order will help ShalkiyaZinc save on both capital expenditure and operating expenditure; our new nextSTEP flotation technology will improve the quality of the concentrates, the SAG mill will provide more flexibility, while the automation and digital solutions will further enable water and energy savings alongside safer operations.

“We look forward to making this a success on so many levels.”

Assel Rakhimova, Chief Project Director of Tau-Ken Samruk, which owns ShalkiyaZinc, said: “After testing and basic design work executed by FLSmidth, we are pleased to enter this new phase of collaboration with the procurement of critical technologies to improve the productivity and sustainability of our plant. We believe in successful execution and look forward to receiving the ordered equipment according to the schedule for installation and to continue working with FLSmidth on commissioning services and spare parts.”