Defeating the time thief

BLASTING is one of the biggest time thieves in underground mining. An Australian gold mine has turned to automation to get around this.

Technology-agnostic automation is the way forward for Granny Smith.

Technology-agnostic automation is the way forward for Granny Smith.

When an underground mine blasts much of the workings have to be evacuated until the fumes from the blast have been cleared.

At Gold Fields' Granny Smith underground gold mine in Western Australia's Eastern Goldfields mine it loses four hours of production in a 24-hour period due to blasts.

Automation of key mining equipment is the way the mine plans to get around that problem as part of an ongoing mine modernisation program it began in 2018.

Granny Smith mine manager Michael Place said the first phase of that program was aimed at ensuring cost-efficiency, productivity and a safer environment by integrating data-driven solutions.

"Integrating technology into the mine allows us to look at options to reduce the inactive time," Place said.

"We can increase efficiency through autonomous equipment, remote operations and digital solutions.

"The expected outcome is a 5-15% increase in productivity."

However, this is not about going to any one equipment provider and asking for a solution.

Place believes operators need to combine technology from different vendors to solve their problems because there is no one size fits all remedy.

He said that meant miners had to apply a technology-agnostic approach when it came to implementing new technology.

It is using Mobilaris Situational Awareness as its number one source of information and is integrating it with fleet management, inventory systems and the daily shift scheduler.

Place believes that digital investment will pay off within a year.

"The location data will synchronise with daily schedules to ensure real time data is captured from the time jobs are planned and executed," he said.

"We are looking at efficiency improvements but we are currently introducing this technology to maintain our production profile with the increasing depth and costs."

Besides efficiency gains, environmental benefits are expected too.

"Moving into a more digital world is going to make sure that we are sustainable long-term," Place said.

"For instance, we can maintain our profile during expansion and follow up on our environmental footprint."

Maintaining the mine's productivity profile as the mine became more complex proved a challenge.

In 2019 a group from Granny Smith, including general manager Andrew Bywater, visited Swedish mining company Boliden to study the use of the Mobilaris product suite.

The focus was on Mobilaris Onboard and Mobilaris Situational Awareness, which were being used in the Kristineberg mine.

Mobilaris Onboard, working as a car navigator underground, creates traffic awareness and a safe, effective traffic flow.

Based on real-time data Mobilaris Situational Awareness enables transparency and awareness.

The information makes it possible to control the operations and people, letting people act quickly on what is happening and make smart decisions faster.

"Gold Fields has what we call study tours to learn about new technologies available on the market," Place said.

"Mobilaris Onboard already existed in some mines before Granny Smith so we took the time trying to understand as much as possible about the product and how we could adopt it."

At Boliden the visitors learned the sharing of data and positions through Mobilaris in real time had led to an increase in safety and efficiency.

Gold Fields has implemented both Mobilaris Onboard along with Mobilaris Situational Awareness at Granny Smith.

Mobilaris Mining & Civil Engineering sales director Pascal Hansson said having a close relationship with its customers was a key part of developing its products.

"All our solutions are tested in Boliden's and other companies' underground mines," he said.

"This gives us the confidence to deliver what we promise to our customers."

Place said the technology improvements would also make the operations safer.

He said tablets had been installed in all the mine's heavy vehicles.

"With Onboard's traffic awareness feature we can minimise the vehicle-to-vehicle interaction and the vehicle-personnel interaction," Place said.

"The application also tells us where to find the three nearest refuge chambers to our location so if there's an emergency we can get the quickest path to safety."

A growing series of reports, each focused on a key discussion point for the mining sector, brought to you by the Mining Monthly Intelligence team.

A growing series of reports, each focused on a key discussion point for the mining sector, brought to you by the Mining Monthly Intelligence team.


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