The road ahead for longwall automation

YEARS of hard work bringing longwall automation to commercialisation has come to fruition with many major outcomes of the ACARP-funded project being achieved. But the story does not end there, with CSIRO researchers now immersing themselves in further work on commercialisation, prototype testing and new technology development over the next few years.
The road ahead for longwall automation The road ahead for longwall automation The road ahead for longwall automation The road ahead for longwall automation The road ahead for longwall automation

Beltana longwall. Image courtesy of the NSW Department of Primary Industries.

Angie Tomlinson

Success has already been found with the Longwall Automation Steering Committee (LASC) automation systems at Xstrata's Beltana and BMA's Broadmeadow longwall mines thoroughly testing the systems and now using them full-time.

Now CSIRO plans to work closely with the major longwall original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to ensure the LASC technology is introduced to the market as efficiently as possible and to make certain the system immediately delivers its full potential to the market.

The commercial rollout of the system has found success already with Vale's new Carborough Downs mine ordering a longwall system from Inbye Mining Systems which includes LASC technology.

“The face equipment supply for the Carborough Downs longwall, as with many current longwall tenders, will be LASC-compliant,” said CSIRO's Exploration and Mining principal research engineer David Reid.

“Carborough Downs will be one of the sites where we will be working with the equipment suppliers to achieve best practice rollout of LASC technology over the next two years."

CSIRO plans to support its OEM partners for about three years, after which Reid says the equipment manufacturers will be well placed to take the technologies forward and tailor them to their individual product offerings.

To further improve the technology, CSIRO will conduct ongoing field trial work with the creep/retreat and horizon control components of the LASC technology so it can be rolled out on a commercial basis within the next 12 months.

Horizon control sensors, such as marker band detection and thermal infra-red sensing prototypes, will be developed and tested by CSIRO over the next two years.

The research team will also test prototypes of more general sensors for face monitoring, including shield convergence, void detection and collision avoidance.

“These sensors will facilitate the next phase of longwall automation which will concentrate on managing exception conditions. This will enable serious consideration of the possibility of the removal of people from the most hazardous face areas," Reid said.

CSIRO will also continue with new technology developments in the areas of subsurface radar, optimised inertial navigation and machine localisation, which will all have direct linkage into longwall and other mine automation systems.

For inertial navigation, CSIRO plans to optimise the high-end navigation technology for underground mining applications.

The team is also moving ahead with new and exciting radar technologies for subsurface sensing, machine localisation and motion measurement.

Not limiting itself to the longwall, CSIRO is currently discussing potential inputs to continuous miner navigation and control technology development projects.

So with a clear plan of what lies ahead, what have the automation researchers already achieved?

LASC automation systems have been installed at Beltana and Broadmeadow mines and in part at Grasstree. The systems are now used on a 24/7 basis and have provided production benefits to the mines.

The LASC Information System (LIS) has been updated and successfully implemented at the Beltana and Broadmeadow mines. The LIS enables 3D visualisation of the longwall environment and equipment to be remotely accessed in real time from the minesite’s local area network (LAN) or via a secure VPN connection on the internet.

The Shearer Position Measurement System (SPMS) has been upgraded to a modular commercial production standard hardware solution.

To address horizon control issues CSIRO has developed a compact hardware solution for visual face monitoring, an approved enclosure for a thermal infra-red camera, and software for providing horizon control through faulted conditions has been delivered. The incorporation of the LASC Cut Model information into OEM horizon control algorithms has been benchmarked and underground tested.

In new technology developments a prototype system for shield convergence monitoring has been produced and studies to identify techniques for coal flow optimisation and void monitoring have been carried out.

With the main structure now laid, it is now up to CSIRO and OEMs to add the finishing touches and for industry to embrace the technology.

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