The automated longwall technology can increase productivity by up to 10%, and also improve safety by reducing hands-on interaction with machinery in hazardous areas.
A global equipment manufacturer has now taken the technology to the US and the same company is evaluating the technology for other international markets.
The CSIRO technology improved the shearing machine, used in longwall production, which accounts for 90% of Australia’s underground coal production.
The machine has large revolving cutting drums which are driven across the coal seam. With each pass coal is shaved from the face, put onto the conveyor system and transported to the surface.
Configuration of the machine is critical to its performance and in the past the machinery had to be stopped and adjusted manually.
Now the machine requires no hands-on input, reducing the risk of underground accidents.
The automated technology was originally patented by the CSIRO in the late 1990s.
With GPS technology useless underground, the CSIRO adopted inertial navigation systems developed years before GPS navigation.
Communication is fundamental for automated functions, so the CSIRO developed a communication system based on the commercial implementation of its own WiFi Ethernet, to ensure accuracy and efficiency of the machinery.
In order to make it commercially viable, in Australia and overseas, the CSIRO developed an open communication protocol to enable all the elements involved in automation to communicate with each other no matter who manufactured it.
The CSIRO has offered technical assistance to each manufacturer during the early period of production, in the hope that they recognise the benefits in terms of development cost-cutting and ongoing support during the international teething period.