Tag Archives: University of Queensland

Plotlogic’s precision mining pursuit bolstered with new investor funds

Plotlogic’s mission to deliver precision mining across the world has been given a boost with A$7.5 million ($5.5 million) of funding from international investors.

Plotlogic’s primary focus is on providing accurate real-time orebody knowledge to enable greater operational efficiency and resource utilisation. Its OreSense® technology has demonstrated its ability to improve health and safety, enhance overall mining operations and deliver tangible productivity gains, according to the company.

Andrew Job, former mining manager and company Founder, recently completed his PhD in artificial intelligence-based sensing at University of Queensland, and has said “Plotlogic’s technology is an exciting development in resource knowledge and forms an important part of our growth as we digitally transform our mining businesses”.

Plotlogic’s most recent international deployment of its OreSense system was to an Anglo American project in South Africa. This comes on top of deployments at BHP and South32’s operations.

The company says it continues to increase its global footprint with imminent deployments to South America, North America, Asia and Russia.

Precision mining with the help of technologies like OreSense have the potential to increase worldwide industry value by $370 billion/y, according to Plotlogic, while reducing carbon emissions and improving the sustainability of mines over their life cycle.

To support commercial expansion, Plotlogic’s team has grown substantially, with the team currently sitting at 30 people, up from only six a year ago. It also has plans to double in size before the end of this year.

BMA, Whitehaven pour funds into research on human aspects of mine automation

Researchers from The University of Queensland’s Sustainable Minerals Institute (SMI) have secured funding from the mining industry to undertake research that aims to ensure increased system automation is accompanied by improvements to safety and health.

The funding will support several projects as part of the Human Aspects of Mining Automation research program developed by SMI’s Minerals Industry Safety and Health Centre and involve researchers from across UQ.

BHP Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA) is contributing A$300,000 ($218.653) and Whitehaven Coal, as part of an enforceable undertaking, is contributing A$225,000 to a multi-year collaborative research consortium initially focused on four priority human aspects of automation topics: risk analysis; human-centred design; training; and health.

UQ Human Aspects of Automation Program Leader Professor, Robin Burgess-Limerick, said the funding would ensure automation would improve safety as well as productivity.

“Australia is at the forefront in the automation of mining equipment, with approximately 40% of all automated fleet installations globally,” Professor Burgess-Limerick said.

“It’s likely that automation will be a net benefit for safety and health because people are being removed from hazardous areas, however, to ensure that is the case, systems need to be designed with people’s capabilities and limitations in mind.”

BMA Head of Production, Frans Knox, said that the research would help BMA further build upon its current health and safety processes.

“Our workforce is fundamental to mine automation and their safety remains our number one priority,” Knox said. “This includes their health – both mental and physical – so it is critical that we invest in understanding how our workforce can interact with these new systems in the safest and healthiest way.”

Autonomous haulage is in use at BMA’s Goonyella Riverside mine and will soon be introduced at Daunia.

“We are seeing some early positive signs from our Goonyella Riverside operation, who are at the beginning of their automation journey,” Knox said. “Their performance to date continues to build further confidence in the safety case for autonomous haulage.”

UQ-led geotechnical project targets open pit mine of the future roadmap

A A$4-million ($2.8 million) cash injection from industry has marked the beginning of the next phase of research for a large-scale geotechnical project headed up by University of Queensland (UQ) experts.

Professor David Williams (right) and Dr Mehdi Serati (left) have managed the Large Open Pit Project (LOP) from UQ’s civil engineering home base, since 2017, and they recently secured the management of further funding to begin phase three of the project, which will run until 2022.

“The LOP links innovative mining geomechanics and geotechnical engineering research with best practice in open-pit mining,” Professor Williams said. “Australia is a leader in open-pit mining, driven by a forward-thinking industry.

“The LOP has provided a focus for research for the past 15 years and, since 2017, allowed us to collaborate and advance the safety and risk components of open-pit mines.

“The project also ensures that the industry can maintain its immensely valuable contribution to the Australian economy into the future, with mining generating around A$250 billion annually and employing about 15% of the Australian workforce.”

The primary focus for researchers during this three-year term will be to create a roadmap for ‘The Open Pit of the Future’.

Together with international industry partners and research colleagues, the team will bring together cutting-edge knowledge around large open-pit design, operation and closure, supporting future trends, including the interaction with underground mines, and deeper and even more technology-driven unmanned and automated operations.

Dr Serati said the team aimed to produce a new generation of pit slope design guidelines that incorporated everything from the fundamentals of slope design and rock mass characterisation, through to 3D geotechnical modelling, slope monitoring techniques, controlled blasting and open-pit closure.

“In open-pit mining, the design of the slopes is one of the major challenges at every stage of planning, through operation to closure, and requires specialised knowledge of the geology and material geotechnical parameters, which is often complex,” Dr Serati said. “Good open-pit design also requires an understanding of the practical aspects of design implementation, so we need to work collaboratively to cover all of these elements and produce industry-wide best practice guidelines.

“Australia has some of the largest open-pit mines in the world, which are reaching ever greater depths, and the LOP Guidelines are vital in ensuring coverage of all of the important design aspects.”

The LOP is recognised as the premier international research and technology transfer body representing the technical disciplines contributing to large open pits and supporting future trends, UQ says. The LOP fosters close collaboration between industry and researchers, which is essential to meeting industry’s need to continuously innovate.

“A key aim of the LOP is to ensure that the mining industry is a safe, prosperous and environmentally friendly contributor to society,” UQ said.

The industry sponsors for LOP III (third phase) include Anglo American, AngloGold Ashanti, BHP, Debswana, Fortescue Metals Group, McArthur River Mining, Newcrest Mining, Rio Tinto and Vale, with other companies being encouraged to join.

UQ’s JKMRC and JKTech strengthen consulting and research functions

The University of Queensland’s Julius Kruttschnitt Mineral Research Centre (JKMRC) and UQ Holding’s technology transfer company, JKTech, have decided to integrate their activities under one management structure.

JKMRC is one of six research centres within the University of Queensland’s Sustainable Minerals Institute (SMI), and its Director Professor, Neville Plint, has been appointed Managing Director of JKTech in addition to his SMI role.

Chair of the JKTech Board, Dr Kelly, said the unified management structure would strengthen the ability to develop solutions across the mining value chain.

“The link between research and consulting is very important and this integration will ensure our clients are receiving the benefits of new research, expertise in technology-based consulting, laboratory services, software, specialist equipment, and professional development,” he said.

Professor Plint said the move would consolidate and strengthen the consulting and research functions of both organisations and enhance the testing and product delivery to clients.

“SMI’s goal is to provide solutions to the challenges facing our research and industry partners in the resources sector,” he said.

“Bringing together the teams in JKTech and JKMRC helps us drive innovation and continue to provide mining and metallurgy research and consulting services worldwide.”

JKMRC was established at The University of Queensland in 1970 and is an internationally recognised minerals and mining research centre with strong industry partners and a successful PhD student program. In 2000, it became part of UQ’s newly established Sustainable Minerals Institute.

JKTech opened in 1986 as the commercial division of JKMRC. It became an incorporated company in 2001, wholly owned by UQ Holdings Pty Ltd.

The teams in both organisations have maintained a close working relationship over the years, but this announcement sees a return to a single management structure while preserving JKTech’s corporate and technical identity, the organisations said.

“This year is the 50th anniversary of JKMRC, and we see this strategic integration as a way of further strengthening the position of both JKMRC and JKTech as we look forward to the next 50 years,” Dr Kelly said.

Under the new structure, Professor Neville Plint is Managing Director of JKTech and Director of SMI, supported by a management team comprising Professor Rick Valenta (Acting Director, JKMRC), Paul Napier (Chief Financial Officer, JKTech), Bevin Wong (Operations Manager, JKTech) and Associate Professor Marcin Ziemski, who is taking on the role of Commercial Lead working across JKTech and JKMRC.

Plotlogic raises profile and funds with BHP Iron Ore contract

Australia-based Plotlogic and its artificial intelligence-based ore-characterisation technology has won admirers from both venture capital funds and the world’s biggest miner by market capitalisation.

The company announced this week that four of the world’s top artificial intelligence (AI) focused venture capital funds – Baidu Ventures, DCVC, 8VC, and Grids Capital – had invested in an over-subscribed angel round of funding for the company.

On top of this, Plotlogic confirmed it had signed its first contract to embed OreSense, its new AI ore characterisation technology, into an iron ore mine site of BHP’s in the Pilbara of Western Australia. This technology uses hyperspectral analysis and AI to optimise ore recovery on mine sites.

Plotlogic’s vision is to enable autonomous mining operations using precise grade control with its new AI ore-characterisation technology, bringing technology that can “see and grade ore” to optimise operations and maximise yield, it said.

“Plotlogic uses AI, computer vision and spectral analysis in real time to optimise the recovery of ore from mine sites,” the company said. “Accurate ore intelligence enables precision mining that lowers operating costs, minimises energy consumption and reduces operational uncertainty.”

Precision mining with the help of technologies like OreSense have the potential to increase worldwide industry value by $370 billion/y, according to Plotlogic, while reducing carbon emissions and improving the sustainability of mines over their life cycle.

Founder and CEO, Andrew Job, said: “The mining industry is years behind other industries in utilising big data and AI: as a result, there is a lack of fast and accurate orebody knowledge that ultimately restricts yield. With our technology we can grade every tonne of ore accurately, before it even leaves the ground – driving efficiency, sustainability, and profitability. Plotlogic can optimise the mining process from pit-to-port with pinpoint precision.”

The team behind the technology, in addition to mining engineer Job, include Dr Richard Murphy, one of the world’s leading experts in hyperspectral geology, and Dr Michael Edgar, an experienced physicist and expert in optical sensors with experience spanning NASA and CalTech. Plotlogic has more than doubled its workforce since the start of the year, plans to double again before the end of the year, and once again next year, the company said.

Plotlogic said research collaborations with the University of Queensland’s Smart Machines Group and the Mineral Research Institute of Western Australia aided its quick establishment as a leader in real time high precision ore mapping and modelling.

Job said successful field trials with BHP’s iron ore and coal divisions, AngloGold Ashanti and Citic Pacific Mining over the past three years had provided valuable learnings that improved the technology and value proposition of OreSense across the iron ore, gold and coal sectors.

“Our technology has been purpose designed and built from the ground to best meet industry requirements,” he said.

On the BHP Iron Ore contract, Job said: “The opportunity to partner with the world’s biggest mining company is instrumental to our collaborative approach in the development and implementation of new technology for the mining industry.”

JKMRC researchers tackle SAG mill fill productivity challenge with new ‘soft sensor’

Researchers from the Sustainable Minerals Institute’s Julius Kruttschnitt Mineral Research Centre (JKMRC) say they are developing a soft sensor to overcome previously-accepted performance challenges facing SAG mills.

SAG mills are a key asset for mineral processing operations as one of the critical stages of extracting mineral out of ore, and their continued stable operation is central to productivity, the JKMRC says.

However, the performance of a SAG mill changes rapidly in response to conditions such as feed size and hardness, as well as longer-term variability due to liner wear – something no instrumentation can directly observe, according to the research centre.

The new Mill Filling Prediction (MFP) tool is a soft sensor (a mathematical model that act as a sensor) to provide information about the mill’s contents and enable it to be controlled closer to its maximum capacity, it says. The MFP tool is developed by Dr Marko Hilden (pictured with Mohsen Yahyaei here), a Senior Researcher at JKMRC, who transformed and updated models that have been developed by various researchers at JKMRC and developed new models to suit the new application.

Associate Professor, Mohsen Yahyaei, who is JKMRC’s Advanced Process Prediction and Control (APPCo) Group Leader, said the MFP tool includes mathematical models that predict the wear condition of the mill, the level of mill filling, the filling of the steel grinding media and particle trajectory.

“The models capture data from commonly installed sensors around SAG mills, which allows the model to run in real time, giving the operator instant feedback on the critical conditions that affect mill performance,” he said.

“The MFPT is already being implemented at a number of industrial sites, and they are starting to see multiple benefits in the control of the grinding circuit.”

In the mining sector, most energy is used during mineral processing, with comminution – which includes grinding – accounting for 70% of total energy usage in some sub-sectors, according to the JKMRC.

Associate Professor Yahyaei said precisely predicting mill filling can increase operators’ confidence in running the mill at a higher average filling and power draw, thereby increasing overall equipment effectiveness and throughput.

“The operator can be alerted when undesirable conditions such as slurry pooling are imminent, reducing the risk of the mill being overloaded,” he said.

“Estimation and display of steel ball level reduces the need to perform regular manual measurements which require stopping and sometimes entering the mill, and, therefore, reduces the impact on production and personnel health and safety.

“And warnings, when shell impacts are likely, can help the operators select operating conditions that avoid excessive liner wear and grinding media consumption.”

JKMRC’s APPCo Group aims to transform unit process modelling and simulation by moving from steady-state models to techniques that make greater use of data generated on-site and sensor technologies in combination with advanced process control, computational analytics and modelling techniques, according to the JKMRC.

Mining-focused consortium delves into mine closure ‘transition’

The University of Queensland’s Sustainable Minerals Institute (SMI) has published the first six project reports of the Social Aspects of Mine Closure Research Consortium.

Researchers at SMI’s Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining (CSRM) led the mine closure-related projects, which, they say, examined Indigenous employment opportunities, public participation and government engagement processes, integrating social aspects into industry partners’ closure planning, governance and regulation and mining as a temporary land use.

“The consortium is a multi-party, industry-university research collaboration established to conduct research that challenges accepted industry norms and practices and demands new approaches that place people at the centre of mine closure,” SMI said.

CSRM Director Professor, Deanna Kemp, said publishing the reports contributed significantly to the mine closure literature and provided stakeholders with the latest information.

“In the consortium’s first year of operation, we focused on establishing data and knowledge to inform subsequent research. This strategy is evident in the diversity of projects undertaken,” she said.

“A core theme has been around ‘transition’; that is, viewing closure not merely as an end-point of mining, but as a transition to a post-mining future in which social change continues long after a mine ceases to be productive.”

She said the consortium was now developing its 2020 research plan, “which will build on this solid foundation and deliver on our consortium partners’ priorities”.

Major mining companies such as Anglo American, BHP, MMG, Newcrest, Newmont, OceanaGold and Rio Tinto are consortium members, with the work sitting under the SMI’s Transforming the Mine Life Cycle strategic research program as one of three research themes (transitioning through closure).

Under the ‘Indigenous groups, land rehabilitation and mine closure: exploring the Australian terrain’ project, two challenging areas at the interface of mining and Indigenous communities in Australia are being addressed.

This includes, one, the persistent lack of direct employment of Indigenous landowners on mines operating on their land; and, two, increasing expectations that mining companies engage local communities in closure planning and closure criteria setting as a prerequisite for relinquishment.

“The approach taken seeks to build on one of the greatest assets Indigenous people possess; their attachment to and knowledge of their land,” the SMI said.

In the ‘Integrated mine closure planning: A rapid scan of innovations in corporate practice’ project, the study aims to identify novel approaches used by consortium member companies to integrate social dimensions into closure planning.

Identifying these approaches promotes knowledge exchange between the companies and provides direction for future research and innovation for mine closure performance, according to the SMI.

“We found that the companies are at various stages of integrating environmental, social and economic factors into planning (at all stages of the mine lifecycle),” it said.

The ‘Participatory processes, mine closure and social transitions’ project examines the fact that, in closure planning, the focus of public participation is on identifying and managing the changes brought about by closure.

The project will ask: “What participatory processes contribute to a smooth transition to a post-mining future? How can public participation contribute to a positive socio-economic legacy of mining?”

Undertaken as part of the Social Aspects of Mine Closure Research Consortium, this project will address these questions.

The SMI said: “Researchers found few studies documenting the specific application of participatory processes to mine closure. Even fewer provide analysis to glean broader insights beyond time- and context-specific details.”

This project was designed as an exploratory, desktop study to ascertain what is known and documented about participation in mine closure. It is intended to provide an overview of key principles and to function as a repository of case studies to support future research, according to the consortium members.

The ‘Government engagement: insights from three Australian states’ project sought to establish current state priorities for socially responsible mine closure and smooth regional post-mining transitions in the Australia state jurisdictions of New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia.

It concentrated on priorities that are not yet evident in legislation and cultivating state authorities’ interest in the work of the consortium, according to the SMI.

“The project aimed to: better understand current and emerging expectations and role of Australian governments in ensuring attention to social aspects of closure; identify government strategies for improving the ‘afterlife’ for mining communities and regions; articulate regulator roles in protecting the public good and ensuring a positive socio-economic legacy of mining; facilitate two-way communication between the consortium and governments and identifying ways for government departments to connect to the consortium’s work.”

The project, ‘Mining as a temporary land use: industry-led transitions and repurposing’, showed that post-mining land use and associated economies have become a priority issue in mine lifecycle planning.
This scoping project starts from the position that reconceptualising mine ‘closure’ may enhance the industry’s contribution to sustainable development, the SMI said. It reframes mining as a “temporary land use”.

“The primary focus of this research is on identifying examples of post-mining repurposing of land and related economic transitions that are being led by industry,” the SMI said. “Transitions led by state or other actors (eg civil society groups) provide additional inspiration for industry-led opportunities. Our findings provide an initial repository of cases that different parties can refer to in making decisions about post-mining futures.”

Lastly, the ‘Social aspects of mine closure: governance & regulation’ project extends previous CSRM work on closure regulation and closure bonds.

The project partners reviewed mining regulations across 10 jurisdictions around the world, with the objective being to build a knowledge base of how regulators are approaching social aspects of closure. This involved collating, organising, and characterising over 40 acts, regulations, and policy documents.

“We found that no jurisdiction had passed regulation specific to social aspects of closure and all tended to focus on biophysical aspects of closure,” the SMI said. “Social aspects of mining received attention in relation to approvals, but not generally for closure.”

The evidence gathered in this project can be mobilised to support subsequent work, according to the partners, who suggested a collaboration between industry, government, and other stakeholders to develop model regulations that account for a variety of perspectives and reflect realistic operational parameters.

You can find out more about the projects by clicking here.

University establishes GHG framework to help miners with climate change challenge

University of Queensland researchers say they have developed a framework that aims to reduce the mining industry’s impact on climate change by accounting for sources and sinks of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The proposed framework, published in Nature Geoscience, will allow the mining industry to better monitor, gather and assess emissions data, identify measurement gaps and evaluate and apply mitigation strategies, according to the researchers.

UQ Sustainable Minerals Institute (SMI) Researcher and Lead Author, Dr Mehdi Azadi, said primary mineral and metal production accounted for about 10% of the world’s energy-related GHG emissions in 2018.

He said the framework addressed climate change related issues by identifying major mitigation pathways.

“Rising standards of living have led to increasing demand for mining activities to provide the minerals and metals required by many technologies,” Dr Azadi said. “While the mining sector contributes to global emissions, it is also increased affected by climate change.

“Our framework examines the sources of GHG emissions across the mining supply chain – from mining, ore processing, transportation, to waste management – and identifies ways to improve mitigation strategies.

“Fugitive emissions reduction, resource efficiency, energy usage, and biological solutions are the four major pathways we have identified as major opportunities for GHG mitigation in mining. These pathways will allow policymakers and miners to create flexible plans for addressing GHG emissions by taking into account operational requirements and external factors.”

He said the framework was flexible enough to be tailored to a specific commodity, mining operation, climate or country.

“Using this framework, we hope to collaborate with governments, the mining industry and research institutions to create guidelines or toolboxes for certain commodities, climates, countries and operations,” Dr Azadi said.

“Our framework will help the industry reduce its carbon footprint and provide financial benefits by lowering energy consumption across the supply chain, while also decreasing the adverse environmental impacts caused by mining operations.”

For green technologies to be effectively implemented, Dr Azadi said it was essential the mining industry accurately and transparently accounted for GHG emissions.

“But this isn’t just about reducing mining’s effect on climate change, it is also about reducing climate change’s effect on mining; the industry needs accurate data to reduce its carbon footprint and improve risk management.”

The article is co-authored by SMI Associate Professor, Mansour Edraki, UQ and University of Delaware Professor, Saleem H Ali, and University of Technology Sydney’s Dr Stephen Northey.

Professor Ali said carbon accounting in mining was increasingly important because minerals for clean energy infrastructure are being widely explored.

“Understanding the full carbon budget of extraction is important in considering a range of potential supply sources and processing technologies,” he said.

SMI Director, Professor Neville Plint, said the framework reflects the institute’s commitment to working with the minerals industry to implement sustainable changes.

“An important part of improving mining’s role in sustainable a sustainable world is working with industry to develop and implement solutions that are practical and effective – this framework is a great example of that,” Professor Plint said.

Mining3 makes emulsion breakthrough on alternative explosives project

In November, Mining3 says it achieved a significant milestone with the successful detonation of a world first hydrogen peroxide-based emulsion explosive as part of its alternative explosives project.

Using proprietary formulations, a series of trial blasts confirmed its ability to detonate, and provided early steps into the characterisation of this improved product, Mining3 said. “The new formulation is a major achievement in superseding water-gel/hydrogel formulations and a crucial advancement in product stability and sleep-time,” the company said.

Mining3 and the School of Mechanical and Mining Engineering at the University of Queensland are testing alternative explosive formulations, which eliminate the nitrogen component and replace it with hydrogen peroxide as the main oxidising agent. By removing the nitrogen component of the explosive formulation, it eliminates any NOx fumes generated after blasting, the partners said.

Back in January, Mining3 reported that detonation performance tests, conducted in December 2018 using new materials in the formula – physical sensitisation materials based on glass and polystyrene materials – had delivered improved explosive performance, reliability and product stability.

In its latest report, Mining3 reported on its emulsion developments: “Gums and emulsifiers, are the binding agents in water-gel and emulsions, respectively. Importantly, gums have a low-level organic contamination which leads to hydrogen peroxide degradation and limited current water-gel technology for manufacture-and-immediate-detonation applications.

“With synthetically produced emulsifiers, the material can be inert-to-hydrogen peroxide, lengthening the product stability to a significant period and enabling broader applications in the mining industry.”

Considerable effort has been invested in the pursuit of compatible emulsifiers, Mining3 said, and, with recent successes in detonation trials, it has made the past year of research “worthwhile”.

It continued: “Not only do we have a formulation with advanced oxidiser/fuel intimacy but also considerable advances in stability. Manufacture techniques have also maintained the ambient temperature methodology that gives the hydrogen peroxide-based explosives technology a distinct advantage in production cost.”

Over five days at RUREX, Australia’s only professional independent detonation testing range, upwards of 60 detonation tests were fired. Several other formulations were tested that will advance in the technology pipeline, but it is the confirmation of emulsion tests that was the most immediate success, according to Mining3.

This research has been supported by ACARP from its inception and transfer of this technology to the industry is eagerly anticipated, Mining3 added.

Dr Andrew Kettle, Senior Experimental Scientist and Project Executor, said: “These blasts have confirmed that we are pursuing the right pathway forward. We have invigorated enthusiasm going forward to further characterise the new emulsions in preparation for mine site trials in 2020. We are indebted, of course, to the ongoing support of ACARP and RUREX, and the vision of Mining3.”

Community engagement and automation on the AIMEX agenda

Day one of AIMEX 2019 in Sydney, Australia, was as varied as mining events come. Against an exhibition backdrop that organisers say included more than 500 suppliers, leaders in the industry took to the conference stage to debate some of the industry hottest topics.

The morning sessions started off with discussions on the relationship between the mining sector and local stakeholders, an area of dialogue that becomes more dynamic with every mining, extraction or water use permit issued in Australia.

Stephen Galilee, Chief Executive Officer of the New South Wales (NSW) Minerals Council, was the first speaker to confront the topic and was, rightly, keen to talk up some of the success stories that the state had seen in the recent past.

He said the NSW Minerals Council addressed local community’s priorities through its Upper Hunter Mining Dialogue project, which he believes is one of the world’s best engagement community practices.

A panel, chaired by Austmine CEO Christine Gibbs-Stewart, followed shortly after Galilee and expanded on this line of discussion, with Mark Jacobs, Executive General Manager – Environment & Community, Yancoal Australia, and Ngaire Baker, External Relations Manager of Mach Energy, providing specific examples of how their companies have developed a working relationship with not just the communities surrounding their mines, but also interested parties within the states in which they operate.

Jacobs said the digital age and transparency of reporting has brought miners a lot closer to the communities that surround them than, say, 20 years ago, but he admitted Yancoal Australia and his peers in Australia needed to do more to rebuild the trust that was lost in previous decades. He added that local media played a strong role in this quest.

Baker, meanwhile, recalled several anecdotes about how Mach Energy was building strong community relationships by effectively communicating how the mining company was going about its business of starting up the Mount Pleasant thermal coal mine in the Hunter Valley, explaining what effects this might have on local businesses, as well as inviting them to the operation to gain a better understanding of the mine.

Jacobs and Baker made compelling points, but Anna Littleboy, Programme Leader – Mine Lifecycles, Sustainable Minerals Institute, University of Queensland, made it clear the success of a mine or project was contingent on not only winning over the local community.

“I’m not sure the image of the industry is made or broken at the community level,” she said.

The Adani Carmichael coal project, in the Bowen Basin of Queensland, is a case in point, where local stakeholders have made it clear they would like the thermal coal development to go ahead, but issues on a national and international level have made it increasingly difficult to proceed. This is despite the company recently receiving a significant permit to proceed with construction.

Before the panel discussion ended, the speakers talked about what impact technology may have on local communities, with Gibbs-Stewart questioning what mine site communities could look like in an autonomous future where people no longer operated the machines.

The panellists said these communities could potentially become technology hubs servicing such operations, but Jacobs remarked that local and state governments needed to ensure the infrastructure was in place to allow such a transition to take place.

The next few conference sessions picked up the automation ball and ran with it.

Craig Hurkett, Managing Director, Enterprise Improvement Solutions, explored the challenges and opportunities that came with delivering autonomous vehicle maintenance. His talk touched on just how expensive the current fleet of autonomous machines were to keep running at full tilt.

Robin Burgess-Limerick, Professorial Research Fellow at the University of Queensland, took a different angle in his presentation: ‘Human-systems integration for the safe introduction of automation to mines and quarries’.

He made it clear that automation would change the established safety systems in place at both open-pit and underground mines. He also touched on some accidents that had occurred both above and below ground when autonomous equipment came into contact with either personnel or manned vehicles, but then countered this with details of a past paper he had co-authored on operations at the Northparkes underground mine in New South Wales where the use of autonomous vehicles had seen significant safety improvements as well as a 23% productivity boost compared with previous manual mode.

Factoring this in, he said mining companies and equipment manufacturers needed to ensure that autonomous equipment was designed for the specific operation it was going into and that manual overrides were not used as a workaround to improve productivity – which in the underground US coal mine example he gave resulted in a fatality.

It was then the turn of Dr Joe Cronin, Co-Founder, Australian Droid + Robot, on stage. Cronin, who has helped design autonomous underground systems at both Northparkes and the Syama underground mine (Mali), was positive automation was coming to mining at a pace that would catch many industry participants off guard; meaning they needed to invest to facilitate this change now.

His talk, ‘Using Telepresence technologies for the safe deployment of wireless mesh networks and underground inspection robots in mines’, focused on the improved communications infrastructure in mines and ability for robots and drones to travel into increasingly difficult areas of a mine. This, he said, would see risky tasks currently carried out by people, in the future, taken on by these machines.

Personnel would no longer need to travel underground to carry out sampling in active stopes, with these robust and agile robots able to give them the information they needed through payloads that could carry out 3D scans, take high resolution photos, sense dangerous gases and interpret potential rock falls.

This would not only increase safety underground, it would also allow autonomous operations to run 24/7, according to Cronin, with these robots working unimpeded alongside autonomous equipment.

Reflecting on the proliferation of drones in the open-pit mining space, Cronin estimated that in five years’ time, every underground mine would be using robots or drones to inspect hazardous areas of their mines.