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Automating bolt and mesh handling

AUTOMATED bolt and roof mesh manipulators, an integral part of automating continuous miners and lifting roadway development rates, is moving closer to reality under research and development by the University of Wollongong.

Angie Tomlinson
Automating bolt and mesh handling

University researchers have been charged with developing commercially successful bolt and roof mesh manipulators under Australian Coal Association Research Program funding.

The project is fraught with the challenges of developing a system that fits on an already crowded continuous miner and within the confines of a roadway environment, that is permissible underground and is adaptable to different machine configurations.

Lead university researcher Stephen van Duin is nearing the end of the preliminary laboratory stages of the project, but has a long road ahead to bring the technology to commercial reality.

Part of the larger CM2010 project, one component of van Duin’s work is the bolt manipulator, designed to be used with a one-step self-drilling rock bolt. The SDRB has been created to reduce the number of operations required in a roof and rib support drilling cycle.

Van Duin said the bolt manipulator was pneumatically controlled, designed to repeatedly take a bolt presented from the rear of the continuous miner and place it into any of the drilling rigs on one half of the miner using an automated programmed cycle. This includes the attachment of ancillary items, such as washers and plates.

A mirrored system is used on the other side of the miner.

“The physical dimensions of the manipulator have been designed to take as little room as possible in the event it is required to be folded away for personnel to access the miner platform for normal manual operation,” he said.

“This may occur in a small amount of challenging roof conditions such as intersections and alike.”

Van Duin said there were three major challenges in the design of the bolt manipulator, including adding bolt-on machinery within the restricted confinement of the underground roadway dimensions, and the already limited real estate on a continuous miner.

There is also a large variation in the set-up of continuous miners from site to site, and limited availability of approved electromechanical devices for underground explosion-proof use.

So far the prototype has been tested in the laboratory, showing cycle times at least equal to manual human operation using a one-step bolt.

“The biggest advantages come with repeatability of the cycle coupled with safety improvements for operators since they are isolated from the danger associated with the immediate face area,” van Duin said.

The next step for the bolt manipulator to be commercialised is to demonstrate it operates as an integrated system with the bolting rigs, mesh manipulator and other continuous miner operations.

Once proven, the system will be demonstrated underground at a working mine before it is commercialised by all the groups involved in the project, including OEMs of the continuous miner platforms.

Hand in hand with the bolt manipulator, van Duin has also been developing the roof mesh manipulator, set to offer the same advantages.

Like the bolter, the biggest challenge of the roof manipulator was the physical real estate on the miner and making sure the mechanical equipment fitted within the median roof height of most Australian underground coal mines.

“Also, when meeting the industry’s goal of 10 metres per operating hour, the large quantity supply of consumable materials to the rear of the continuous miner become a significant issue,” he said.

“Loading and storage of rib mesh onboard the miner has been a major design challenge.”

The mesh manipulator is designed to retrieve single sheets of rib and roof mesh from the rear of the continuous miner, and rotate or transfer them in front of the drill rigs before drilling and fixing.

“These operations need to work together due to limited room on the continuous minor and because bolting and meshing operations are interactive and dependent on each other.”

Physical testing of the roof mesh manipulator has begun in the laboratory to establish optimum cycle times, robustness of system control and its ability to work as an integrated system with both the bolt manipulation and the drill rig cycles.

Van Duin said the rib mesh manipulator was being designed for manufacture and assembly for laboratory testing early next year.

Both manipulators have been designed using a retrofit approach to existing continuous miner platforms.

“The fundamental principles of the automated mesh and bolt manipulators can be applied to all manufacturers of continuous miners with some modification to machine layout,” he said.

“However, current laboratory systems have been tailored to a select frame for future underground testing purposes.”

The preliminary stage of the project is expected to be completed by April 2010.

Van Duin said further ACARP funding had been requested to extend the project for another two years for a complete set of underground trials.

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