Recent announcements by suppliers providing equipment remote-control solutions for mining applications highlight industry concerns about worker safety and productivity, particularly those operating dozers and loaders to carry out often hazardous tasks such as stockpile reclamation or leach-pad maintenance, highwall toe operations, handling hazardous material and working on unstable surfaces. Coupled with the safety concerns posed by these types of jobs is an interest in providing personnel a comfortable environment that removes much of the environmental discomfort—noise, extreme heat or cold, and dust—that can adversely affect worker performance. In a number of cases, technology companies have collaborated to develop innovative, integrated systems that meet customers’ specific needs.
For instance, Immersive Technologies has delivered an advanced underground loader simulator system to a mining operation in Kazakhstan, integrated with an RCT ControlMaster CM2000D line-of-sight remote-control system. The equipment will be used to train miners in the safe operation of loaders in both manual and remote-control modes.
|At Codelco’s Andina operations, RCT’s ATX2200 teleremote-controlled system and Muirhead Speed limiter were paired with geofencing functionality and collision avoidance/ object avoidance systems for installation on a Komatsu WD600 wheel dozer.|
Immersive is a leading provider of simulator-based systems and training support for operator instruction, and Australia-based RCT is an international supplier of customized mine vehicle control and guidance systems and also provides skills training programs for its ControlMaster smart automation and control products. Immersive and RCT claim a combined industry experience level totaling more than 50 years.
According to the two companies, the zinc-mining customer in Kazakhstan conducts remote and teleremote mining as well as manual loading across several sites. In this environment, good training is essential to a miner’s performance, helping to initiate new operators, improve existing miners’ skills and track skill degradation over time. Because simulator-trained operators are consistently monitored, coached supervised, and assessed on correct operating techniques, they gain a better understanding and knowledge of real-mine machine operation.
Past remote training was only possible with a machine that otherwise would have been assigned to production. The new approach shortens training time, negates the risk and cost of machine or mine damage during training, and speeds the introduction of new operators at mines.
In this instance, Immersive and RCT worked together to combine their technology and expertise, interfacing a remote control to an advanced training simulator. In another recent project, RCT collaborated with a major copper producer and another technology company to bring a customized solution to help the customer—Chile’s Codelco—create a safer environment for employees and considerably reduce equipment shutdown time due to extreme weather.
Like many mine sites situated in geographically harsh and climate sensitive landscapes, Codelco’s Andina site in Chile is faced with a myriad of challenges—poor visibility; high altitude (4 km above sea level); large cliff faces; steep drops; -25°C winter weather; slippery, icy surfaces; and blizzards that can close down the mine until it is safe for employees to return.
Codelco’s risk assessment determined that either autonomous or teleremote-controlled mining was the best option to overcome these difficulties. In the first phase of a two-phase project, engineers from RCT and Hexagon Mining conducted extensive research to establish an approach that would suit Codelco’s needs. RCT’s ATX2200 teleremote-controlled system and Muirhead Speed limiter were paired with Hexagon’s geofencing functionality and collision avoidance/object avoidance systems for installation on a Komatsu WD600 wheel dozer. With the dozer now capable of being operated from a safe location in a stationary, insulated cabin on site, RCT further customized the installation by including a portable remote-control unit to enable dozer operation in a line-of-sight situation when the network is down.
Successful completion of the first phase of this project prompted Codelco to give approval to RCT to deliver Stage 2, targeted for completion in October or November.
Cat Remote System Goes Commercial
Caterpillar announced in August that its line-of-sight Remote Operator Station is commercially available now, and a teleremote system will be available later this year. Building on these technologies, Caterpillar also said it is working with select mining customers to develop and field test a semiautonomous dozing system, which enables one operator to manage multiple dozers simultaneously.
The new Remote Operator Station for Dozing, part of Cat MineStar Command for dozing, provides a safe, comfortable environment removed from the active dozing area. The station itself is modeled on the actual cab of the machine, with all ergonomic controls, alarms and features operating as they do in the dozer. The system can be equipped for line-of-sight operation or for teleremote operation with the addition of video feeds from the site and optional video and audio feeds from the dozer. The design of the Remote Operator Station allows it to be configured for easy transport in a truck or trailer.
The Remote Operator Station is available for the D10T, D10T2, D11T and D11T CD. The system, said Cat, allows switching control quickly and easily from one dozer to another, which enables one operator to control multiple dozers when the work does not require simultaneous operation.
Cat pointed out that remote operator stations can also make shift changes as simple and fast as one operator taking another’s place in the seat, reducing machine downtime and improving productivity. Remote operation also enables a dozer to continue production immediately after blasting operations, rather than waiting for the air to clear.