Thursday, May 23, 2019

Mining Technologies For the Mines of the Future

From Nanalyze:
They say that if aliens ever stop by long enough to express a real interest in what we’re getting up to, they might find a few things to be puzzling. For example, why do we spend billions of dollars finding gold, digging it up, then putting it all in a heavily guarded place to make sure nobody can access it? It’s a good question. Gold is just one of many commodities that we dig out of the ground for any reason that results in a profit being made. According to a report by PWC, the top-40 mining companies in the world account for almost 50% of global production for key commodities such as iron ore, copper, manganese, cobalt, and platinum group metals. Combined market cap for all 40 of these companies sits at around $926 billion – about the same size as Amazon.

In a recent article, we looked at how How Rio Tinto Uses Technology For Ethical Mining in an attempt to appeal to the tattooed Millennial who majored in gender studies and now works as a Starbucks barista while complaining about how evil capitalism is and demanding that their 401K investments reflect their “values.” While the merits of ESG investing can be debated, mining is one industry where technology can do a lot to minimize the damage we inflict on the planet – and her people – while conducting the dangerous activities that entail mining. We traveled to one of the biggest silver mining operations in the United States – Lucky Friday Mine – to learn more about mining technologies.

We quickly learned that mining companies don’t care for people coming around asking questions, and that the mountain biking trails in the Silver Valley are dope. We also learned that mining can be divided into two broad categories – surface mining and underground mining.
Autonomous Mining Trucks
Surface mining is when contact with the Earth’s surface is always maintained during the operation. We recently wrote about a company called RS Metrics that uses satellite images of surface mining activities to predict the prices of metals. If you were to observe these pictures over time, you would see lots of large dump trucks going to location A to load materials and location B to offload materials. These mundane activities should be very easy to automate, and a Japanese industrial equipment maker, Komatsu (6301:JP), has been doing this for over ten years. An excellent article by Equipment World talks about how Komatsu’s Autonomous Haulage System (AHS) is a fleet of self-driving mining trucks with capacities between 200 and 400 tons which operate at mines in three locations around the globe in four mining applications: oil sands, copper, iron, and coal.
The Komatsu Autonomous Haulage System
Source: Equipment World
“The system manages 130 mining trucks globally for three different customers: Suncor Energy, Codelco and RioTinto,” says the article which states that Komatsu worked on AHS for 26 years until they finally deployed the first instance in 2016. The system allows manned and autonomous drivers to operate simultaneously, something that’s made possible by some sophisticated mine management software.

A Fleet Management System
Click for company websiteTim Cook of Apple recently talked about how he acquires a company about every several weeks, something that gets largely overlooked. It’s not uncommon for large companies to regularly acquire additional technologies, and Komatsu is no exception. In 2003, a company called Modular Mining was fully acquired by Komatsu which is coincidentally the same year they began developing AHS.

There’s an acronym software developers use – GIGO – which stands for Garbage In, Garbage Out. In order to automate mining equipment, you first need to make sure you’ve optimized the manual process first. That’s what Modular did with their DISPATCH Fleet Management System which helps mining operations become more efficient. In one example, a Russian mining company was able to improve communications between the crushers and the dump trucks such that idle time decreased by 80%.
Truck idle time reduction
Source: Modular Mining
That’s just one example of how the movement of trucks within a mine and the interactions between various types of mining equipment can be optimized, something that’s an important prerequisite to mining autonomy. Reducing idle time reduces fuel consumption, but what about reducing it even further? Some bright minds over at Queensland University published a paper on how we might use artificial intelligence to reduce fuel consumption in mining trucks, which isn’t a bad idea. Then a Slovakian company decides to best that by developing fully electric haul trucks that claim the lowest cost-per-ton in the industry....MORE
See also:
You Want Autonomous Vehicles? The Mining Industry Is Already Going to Level 5

Rio Tinto's Australian Autonomous Train Is Being Called The "World's Largest Robot" (RIO)

But what about the asteroids"

A compilation image of mining equipment in space
Artist's depiction, not actual asteroid mining