Anglo American says it has launched Australia’s first electronic tablet device certified for use in underground coal mines at its Moranbah North mine, in the Bowen Basin of Queensland.
The introduction of these tables represents a major step forward in the company’s aims to digitise its operations, according to Tyler Mitchelson, CEO of Anglo American’s Australian business.
He added that digitisation was a key part of the company’s FutureSmart Mining™ approach, which applies innovative thinking and technological advances to address mining’s major challenges.
While standard tablets have been used underground at many mines around the world for at least a few years, it is the presence of potential explosive gas mixtures in some underground operational environments – coal, in particular – that inhibits any device being taken below ground that does not meeting ‘intrinsically safe’ regulatory approval. This is due to the potential risk of ignition from energy sources within such devices (eg standard tablets and smart phones).
Mitchelson said: “Following the successful launch at Moranbah North mine, we are now moving towards rapid deployment across all our underground sites including our newly-approved Aquila mine, which will be developed as one of the most technologically advanced underground mines in the world.
“The tablets capture and share real time production, safety and environmental monitoring information with operators, ensuring critical information is readily available to key personnel and removing the need for paper records.”
They also provide direct access to the company’s Safety Health Management System and can be used as a portable video communication device (via Skype) to instantly access personnel working at the surface level, according to Mitchelson. “This will accelerate trouble-shooting and can also be used as a live video link in case of emergencies.”
He added: “Any delays or challenges can be reported and addressed on-the-spot to reduce lost production time, instead of relying on traditional communication methods such as phone calls, underground travel or hard copy reports being submitted and reviewed at the end of a 12-hour shift.”
The tablets are already enabling improved communication and information sharing underground, Mitchelson said. This should ultimately lead to safer, more productive mining, he added.
The introduction of underground tablets followed significant work towards automating longwall operations and digitising the company’s mines, according to Mitchelson, with Anglo American recently completing its first pilot longwall shear from an above-ground remote operating centre at the Grosvenor mine.
The device was developed in collaboration with product manufacturer, Bartec, and tested to achieve certification with the Queensland Government’s Safety in Mines Testing and Research Station, the company said.
Executive Head of Underground Operations in Australia, Glen Britton, said implementation of the tablets followed a successful pilot earlier this year at Moranbah North mine, which was already receiving positive feedback from operators.
“Each week at Moranbah North mine, around 400 statutory reports and 2,500 maintenance work orders are generated. The team there aims to be paperless within two years, and the introduction of these tablets will enable us to remove underground paperwork and transition to electronic storage of statutory and production reports,” Britton said.
“Over the last five years, we have invested considerable resources in the development of this technology, to ensure the product was fit-for-purpose. We sought out a manufacturing partner to help create a new technical solution for managing our data, undertook an extensive certification process and improved underground Wi-Fi capabilities at the mine.”