Tag Archives: longwall

CSIRO maps out laser scanning solution for underground coal mines

New real-time underground 3D mapping technology developed by CSIRO can be used to locate, steer and navigate equipment and vehicles in volatile, methane-rich underground environments, according to Australia’s national science agency.

ExScan technology, being trialled by Glencore, as well as five other mining companies, has a laser scanner and associated software capable of generating real time 3D maps of tunnels, walls and cavities underground where global positioning system (GPS) cannot penetrate. These maps can be used for locating, steering and navigating equipment and vehicles.

Arguably, the real innovation in CSIRO’s new underground mapping technology is not the smart laser-based scanner, but the container in which it sits, CSIRO said.

“The enclosure has been certified to International Electrotechnical Commission ‘Ex d’ standards for use in volatile, methane-rich underground environments such as coal mines,” the agency said.

“That means it has been designed to prevent the electronic equipment it houses sparking an explosion.”

CSIRO Electronic Engineer and ExScan Project Lead, Peter Reid, said: “Nothing can go underground in a coal mine unless it’s certified to be in that environment. You can’t even take an aluminium can; it’s a potential spark hazard if it gets crushed by a vehicle. So getting electronics down there is a tricky process.”

The problem is that explosive gases such as methane penetrate equipment and any failure of electronics that causes a spark could lead to a fiery disaster.

The solution outlined in the Ex d regulation is not to contain explosions, but to prevent them from happening in the first place. That’s achieved by designing the container to ensure any spark would have to travel such a long way to encounter sufficient gas to trigger an explosion and, by that time, it will have cooled below the ignition point, CSIRO said.

Looking to longwalls

Many members of CSIRO’s ExScan development team spent years working with industry on the Australian Coal Association Research Program-funded project that developed the successful LASC longwall automation system.

A major driver behind automating coal mining is to remove people from the dusty, hazardous environment near the coal face, but even the LASC automated equipment occasionally needed hands on human measurement to guide it through trickier parts of the coal seams.

The idea behind ExScan was to provide images that could be used to make those measurements automatically, CSIRO said.

“This technology provides us with information that cameras on their own can’t,” Reid said. “It allows us to measure in 3D anything we see, as if we were there.”

The LASC ExScan is a 3D scanner, housed in an explosion-proof casing, that can map tunnels, voids and cavities in real-time underground.

What emerged looks a little like a 25 cm-high version of Star Wars character R2-D2 – with a steel base into which a polycarbonate dome screws, CSIRO said. The laser sits under the transparent dome and scans through it. To get outside into a volume of gas, any spark generated would have to work its way through a narrow sawtooth path formed by the screw thread and, in doing so, would lose most of its energy.

Should the scanner malfunction or the container become scratched or damaged, it can be swapped over in a matter of minutes, because the dome just screws off, CSIRO explained.

The team invested a lot of time in computer modelling to come up with a dome that was just right for injection moulding. That makes the ExScan devices relatively inexpensive to manufacture, according to CSIRO.

“In fact, they are affordable enough for a line of 40 or 50 to sit behind the mining equipment along a longwall face of between 400 and 500 m in length, providing real time updates of the condition of the wall,” it said. “At 10 metres apart, the devices are close enough to allow redundancy – their scans overlap, which means that if one fails, its absence can be covered by others on either side to ensure overall reliability.”

Removing people from the coal face

According to Glencore Technology Superintendent at Oaky North mine, in central Queensland, Lauris Hemmings, the images they generate can be used to determine and sort out coal flow blockages on the conveyor system under the shearing equipment and to help align and steer the shearers themselves.

“It’s a fantastic tool,” Hemmings said, “an ever-evolving piece of equipment that takes risk management to even higher levels.”

The mine is already hoping ExScan can be used to navigate the higher risk areas of the mine, taking employees away from the coal face.

But the applications are broader. The scanners can be mounted in any orientation – even upside down – and on moving machinery and vehicles. This means they can be used to map whole mines, and potentially for vehicle navigation, CSIRO said.

The containers themselves can be employed for other electronic purposes, such as housing camera systems, and are already being marketed separately by Eaton Industries.

In addition to Glencore, the LASC ExScan system is being trialled by five other Australian mining companies, as well as by companies overseas.

“The Chinese coal industry has become so interested that it has invested the resources for a couple of engineers to develop skills to deal with the large amount of data generated by the scanners,” CSIRO said. “The feedback from all this activity is allowing the CSIRO team to develop new features for the scanner.”

CSIRO is now determining next steps to commercialise the ExScan system.

FAMUR to deliver longwall system to Indonesia’s PT Gerbang Daya Mandiri

FAMUR SA and PT Gerbang Daya Mandiri have, on November 8, signed a contract worth more than €10 million ($11 million) that will see the Poland-based manufacturer deliver a longwall system and complementary equipment to the Indonesian company’s new underground mine.

The contract builds on FAMUR Group’s 2019-2023 strategy to expand globally.

FAMUR is set to deliver a longwall shearer, powered roof support, scraper conveyor and electrical equipment, transport equipment and auxiliary equipment to Indonesia, with the order being implemented in stages and the final delivery date to be within ten-and-a-half months of the contract’s effective date.

Mirosław Bendzera, President of FAMUR SA, said: “Cooperation with PT Gerbang Daya Mandiri in Indonesia is another extremely important contract, fitting into the business objectives set out in the FAMUR strategy for 2019-2023.

“We welcome the fact that Polish technical knowledge may contribute to the increase in the efficiency of coal extraction in another country, while increasing the safety of mine employees. The choice of our offering is also the best evidence that the FAMUR Group effectively has used many years of experience on the global market and unique knowhow to build the ‘Made in Poland’ brand in the world.”

According to Mitsui Matsushima Holdings Co, which has a 30% stake in PT Gerbang Daya Mandiri, the longwall coal mine is expected to reach commercial production in 2021 before hitting capacity of 1 Mt/y of coal in 2023.

The FAMUR Group works with the customers in over 40 countries on five continents and the share of exports in its revenue is around 33%. Recently, the company has secured significant contracts in Kazakhstan and China, but it plans to expand sales to such markets as Australia, USA and Canada in the immediate future.

New longwall launched at Mechel’s Sibirginskaya coal mine

Mechel PAO says its Southern Kuzbass Coal Company unit has launched a new longwall at the Sibirginskaya underground coal mine, in Russia.

The new longwall 3-1-11 is located 450 m underground at Sibirginskaya, is 220 m long, has an average seam height of 4 m and an extraction panel of 750 m. Investment in the project totalled over 838 million rubles ($12.9 million), Mechel said.

The longwall is equipped with a cutter-loader, a belt car and crusher, drag bar conveyor, a 400- and a 1,500-m belt conveyors, and a 130-section powered support system, according to Mechel To ensure high production efficiency and labour safety, the mine also acquired a mobile vacuum air pump degasser, it said.

The longwall launch follows the startup of another new longwall at the VI Lenina underground mine in August.

“The longwall 3-1-11 with estimated coking coal reserves of 3.5 Mt is equipped with the newest mining machines acquired as part of Mechel’s investment program. Its planned monthly output is 90,000 t,” Mechel Mining Management OOO’s Chief Executive Officer, Igor Khafizov, said.

BMA Saraji team awarded for mobile equipment transport solution

Josh Leppard, an Overburden Supervisor at BHP Mitsubishi Alliance’s Saraji mine, has won plaudits for an alternative mobile equipment transport solution he and his team came up with at the Queensland coal mine.

Leppard was recently named the 2019 Innovation Award winner at the 2019 Queensland Mining Industry Safety and Health Conference for his and the team’s Synthetic Lightweight Couplings (SLC) development.

SLC is a clever alternative to the ~110 kg combined weight of a pull ring and metal shackles routinely used to pull mobile equipment across the mining industry, according to BMA.

Leppard, who worked on the project for the past six months, is a competitive sailor on his days off and used his knowledge of the marine industry to develop a practical solution to engineer out a manual handling risk, the company said.

“Being a yacht racer for many years, we moved away from using metal shackles four or five years ago and now only use synthetic couplings that are made specifically for marine purposes,” he said.

“These couplings are lightweight but provide exceptional strength as you would expect to be needed on offshore race yachts.”

Leppard and the team worked with the marine coupling manufacturer in New Zealand to “super-size” the technology to suit the mining industry and created Saraji’s ‘soft couplings’, BMA said.

The soft couplings weigh around 8 kg and are made of Dyneema, one of the world’s strongest and most reliable fibres available, BMA said. It is then braided with Technora, which gives it high heat and chemical resistance as well as protecting against chafe – the same product used for bullet proof vests and firefighting clothing.

“We hope that by creating the ‘soft couplings’ we’ll not only reduce the risks associated with heavy lifting and manual handling, but also remove the physical barriers that may prevent some men and women from completing the task,” Leppard said.

“I’m really proud that we were able to deliver this for not only Saraji and BMA, but also for the industry. By presenting at the Queensland Mining Industry Safety and Health Conference and now overseas in a few months, I hope that I’ll be able to share our learnings with others and make our industry safer.”

The team worked with independent testers to verify and strength test the shackles so they could be used on site. Saraji is now in the process of getting soft recovery shackles and soft recovery couplings certified so they can be used in lifting operations which will substitute the existing heavy weight lifting shackles. The team is also working though and obtaining a ‘FRAS’ rating so they can be used underground for longwall moves.

Cat to showcase latest longwall offering at Katowice fair

Caterpillar says it will present a number of new longwall mining products and solutions at the International Trade Fair for Mining, Power Generation and Metallurgy, on September 10-13, in Katowice, Poland.

Together with the regional Cat® dealer, Bergerat Monnoyeur, Caterpillar will showcase its latest technologies at its booth.

The Caterpillar exhibit will feature digital presentations of new longwall machines, technologies and servicesall designed to make longwall mining safer, more efficient and more productive, it said. A highlight will be the virtual reality experience, which enables customers to experience newly developed virtual reality service tools for Cat longwall systems.

Similar technology is used for the new Cat Virtual Reality Training & Simulation system. “Real-time and realistic interactive 3D visualisations of real operations with Cat Virtual Reality Services offer opportunities to help trainees and operators understand the complex mechanics and operations ofa complete longwall system, where so many pieces of equipment are interrelated,” Cat said.

Digital presentations will also demonstrate Cat shearer automationusing technology for face alignment, horizon control and extraction control. Also, the latest version of Cat longwall machine monitoring, Cat MineStar Health for Longwall, will be shown. “Health for Longwall is a cost-effective and user-friendly data visualisation and reporting tool. It empowers managers to efficiently view, manage and use machine data to make informed maintenance decisions that will help maximise the availability of longwall equipment,” the company said.

Caterpillar designs and manufactures complete longwall systems customized to optimise performance in specific applications. The Katowice exhibit presentations will feature new longwall components, such as the Cat EL1000 Shearer, designed for low- to mid-seam heights. This latest addition to the successful range of Cat shearers covers seam heights from 1.6-3.2.6 m (63-126 in).

The recently introduced Cat PF HD Line Pan for armoured face conveyors is especially designed for heavy-duty longwall applications with demanding conditions, Cat said. “The new pan is the most robust and reliable Cat line pan, lasting up to two times the life of corresponding PF5 and PF6 pans.”

The exhibit will also preview the Cat HTD4100 High Torque Drive System for longwall armoured face conveyors. “The drive enables a higher level of automation for enhanced speed and torque control and real-time monitoring, and its modular design simplifies installation and maintenance. The converter-controlled torque motor offers fast response and precise control to reduce conveyor chain wear and failures.”

Caterpillar will also preview its next generation roof support control, PMC-R 2.0, which is the successor to the Cat PMC-R control unit. “The new roof support control unit is designed to meet the automation needs of modern, high-performance longwall operations. Advanced microcontroller technology with increased computing power and enhanced communication capabilities offers improved functionality to control roof supports in a self-advancing longwall system. The new controller also features enhanced serviceability.”

The company continued: “Caterpillar and Cat dealers have created a one-of-a-kind, on-site support network for delivering expert service, integrated solutions, after-sales support, fast and efficient parts fulfilment, world-class remanufacturing services and more. Services now include Caterpillar Accredited Rebuilds (CAR) for longwall roof supports. The CAR program offers a like-new roof support with a new machine warranty and a new serial number, all at a fraction of the cost of a comparable new roof support.”

At Katowice Mining Fair, Caterpillar and Cat dealers will also show their commitment to work alongside customers to improve performance across the operation, leveraging every longwall system component, tool and technology to help improve safety, efficiency and productivity, the company said. 

Anglo American takes to tablets at Australia UG coal mines

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.”

Anglo approves development of ‘technologically advanced’ Aquila coal mine

Anglo American has approved the development of the Aquila project, in central Queensland’s Bowen Basin, which will become one of the most “technologically advanced underground mines in the world”, according to the company’s Tyler Mitchelson.

With an expected capital cost of $226 million (Anglo American share), development work is expected to begin in September 2019, with first longwall production of premium quality hard coking coal in early 2022, the company said.

Aquila is an underground hard coking coal project, near Middlemount, which will extend the life of Anglo’s existing Capcoal underground operations by six years, to 2028, and continue to optimise the Capcoal complex, it says. The complex consists of the Capcoal open-pit mine, underground Grasstree operations and associated infrastructure, and is a joint venture between Anglo American (70%) and Mitsui & Co (30%).

Mitchelson, CEO of Anglo American’s Metallurgical Coal business, said Aquila was an important growth project for the business, and would provide ongoing employment opportunities for the company’s Grasstree workforce as the mine reaches its end of life.

“The Aquila project is a key part of our long-term business strategy, as we continue to optimise existing capacity in our operations,” Mitchelson said.

The mine will have a total average annual saleable production of around 5 Mt of premium quality hard coking coal, according to Mitchelson.

Aquila will also continue to adopt Anglo American’s FutureSmart Mining™ program, which applies innovative thinking and technological advances to address mining’s major operational and sustainability challenges, the company said.

Mitchelson said: “Anglo American has been at the forefront of embracing innovation to drive the next level of mine safety and performance, and our Aquila mine will be developed as one of the most technologically advanced underground mines in the world.”

One of the initiatives the company is working on as part of this is remote operation of the longwall; a process the company has trialled at some of its other Bowen Basin coal mines. The company’s “Australian-first intrinsically safe underground electronic tablets”, are also set to be a feature of the mine, according to Mitchelson.

He concluded: “The accelerating pace of technological innovation, particularly in the digitalisation, automation and artificial intelligence areas, are opening up opportunities for the mining sector to be safer, more productive and sustainable. As the largest underground coal miner in Australia, we are leveraging the innovative work already under way at our existing mine sites and scaling the development of new technologies in our operations.”

Battling convergence events at BHP’s Broadmeadow coal mine

Following a number of “severe convergence events” after employing the top coal caving method at the Broadmeadow coal mine in Queensland, Australia, in 2010, BHP and SCT Operations Pty have put in place a geotechnical monitoring programme to mitigate these issues during the operation of the latest longwall mine.

In a paper titled, Management of Initial Convergence Events at Broadmeadow Mine, R Coutts, K Mills, D Lynch and M Martin; BHP, Moranbah, Queensland, Australia and SCT Operations Pty Ltd, Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia, will discuss these practices at the SME Annual Conference & Expo on Monday.

“The mine introduced a top coal caving (TCC) longwall (LW) face in 2010, but since then experienced a series of severe convergence events soon after starting each panel,” the authors said in a presentation abstract. “During LW8, LW9 and LW10, weighting events occurred at 60-70 m retreat resulting in equipment damage and the longwall almost becoming iron bound.”

The authors said considerable effort was required in LW10 to regain sufficient clearance for operations to resume, with LW11 characterised to have a similar risk of a weighting event to LW10.

The authors said: “This presentation documents the learnings from a geotechnical monitoring programme undertaken during LW11 and details the operational methods used to mitigate these initial convergence events. It also comments on the significance of the top coal caving technique to the convergence events.”

BHP commented in its recently released half-year results to end-December, that coal volumes were up compared with the same period a year ago; a period when Broadmeadow’s output was affected by roof conditions.

Broadmeadow is owned by the BHP Mitsubishi Alliance joint venture, which owned 50:50 by BHP and Mitsubishi.

When the top coal caving method was initially employed at Broadmeadow it was the company’s first mine in Queensland to use it. Employing this method was expected to lift recoveries from around 60% to 90% in the Goonyella Middle Seam and increase production rates, it said in a 2013 briefing.