Editorial Feature

Robots Used in Mining

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The advancement of robotics and the large-scale use of these devices have increased the need for computer simulation of robots. To this end, researchers are also designing new robots, conducting task planning of existing robots, cycle time estimation and performance evaluation.

In terms of the application of robotics within the mining industry, both underground and opencast mining require this technology. Robots can perform a wide variety of mining-related tasks, such as laying explosives, moving underground after mining to stabilize a mine roof or mining in places where it is not possible for humans to work or even to survive.

Robotic Technology in Mines

In addition to some of the aforementioned tasks performed by robots at the mine site, these devices are particularly useful in their ability to significantly reduce the chances of accidents occurring on site. Currently, some common applications of robotic technology within the mining industry include:

  • Robotic devices for drilling and bolting mine roofs for improved stability
  • Underground mine navigation or mapping
  • Machinery automation (e.g., automated load-haul-dump trucks)
  • Position estimation
  • Evaluation of mine-specific issues.

The Rescue Robot

In 2008, Pilania and Chakravarty developed a Visual Sensor to be incorporated into the Semi-Autonomous Mine navigation system, which is an ideal system for both opencast and underground mining projects. The design of this early system has set the stage for semi-automatic mining robots used during rescue operations after a mining disaster has occurred. The Visual Sensor of this system provides one way communication of video and data obtained by the robot to the controller.

University of Nevada’s Surface Mining Robot

In 2006, the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) Newmont Mining Corporation and the BobCat company, an Ingersoll Rand business, developed a novel human-robot control architecture for surface mining operations in which synchronous movement of a number of machine links is required. The main concept behind this new robot-human control interaction is to offer real time support by automatically coordinating the machine joints motion.

The machine kinematics is transformed by this new control architecture to the most suitable one for a specific task and the machine’s control computer is trained to operate a synchronous movement pattern.

The Groundhog Robot

The Groundhog robot, which was originally developed in 2010 by graduate students in Carnegie Mellon’s mobile robot development class, includes a cart that is provided with four two-dimensional (2D) laser range finders. These finders provide data about the cross section of the mine ahead of the vehicle, as well as information on the ceiling and ground structure. The robot is provided with two 2D laser range finders; one forward-facing for 2D mapping and the other facing the ceiling for 3D mapping. It will be more beneficial if the robots are provided with inertial sensors or odometers to determine vehicle location relative to their entry.

The Robotic Idler Predict

The Robotic Idler Predict is a six-axis robot manipulator from MAR is mounted on a moving track. The robot manipulator of this system is equipped with sensors and is capable of automatically positioning the sensing arms at specific locations of a conveyor.

The Robotic Idler Predict monitors conveyor idler rollers to determine signs of roller failure. Thermal imaging data obtained from each idler to this robot is taken and presented to the operating system for analysis. The system will trigger an alarm to warn operators if there are any signs of impending roller failure. Data collected by Predict can also be utilized for the identification of conveyor idlers that require immediate replacement, or as part of future maintenance plans.

Mining Robots – Products in Market

Robotic Conveyor Contaminant Removal System from Machinery Automation and Robotics (MAR)

The contaminant removal system from MAR can operate while the conveyor is online. The MAR allows for collection of tramp metals. The advantages of this system include:

  • Improved conveyor up-time
  • Online contaminant removal
  • Risk of belt damage
  • Customized removal method that will suit mine site requirements
  • Elimination of workplace health and safety issues.

ZeroG from Equipois

The ZeroG from Equipois is an extension of one’s body that enables the operator to maneuver heavy parts and tools as if it had no weight. A zeroG system comprises of:

  • Payload angular freedom of motion using the gimbal system.
  • Components to attach a wide range of industrial tools and payload.
  • ZeroG arm to help with payload manipulation.

ZeroG robotic arm for grinding, sanding and drilling by Equipois

AutoMine System from Sandvik

The AutoMine system from Sandvik is a complete solution for enhancing the safety and efficiency of underground mining operations. The Automine is an open and versatile system that can used for the distinct requirements of each underground mining operation. The system can be combined with SCADA and production planning systems for better integration with the processes and system for the control of underground mining operations.

Advantages associated with the use of the AutoMine system include:

  • High safety and enhanced working conditions for personnel.
  • Improved utilization by enabling continuous operation during shift changes.
  • Greater productivity as a result of real-time monitoring and control of production hauling and lauding processes.
  • Enhanced draw control through precise execution of the production plan and collecting production data.
  • Reduced maintenance costs through smooth operation of equipment and reduced damage
  • Lower operation costs through reduced operating labor.

Rio Tinto’s Automatic Drilling System (ADS)

Since its initial introduction into the market in 2008, Rio Tinto has now expanded the deployment of their highly successful automatic drilling systems (ADS). Rio Tinto’s ADS was the first in its class to provide operators with the ability to control drill rigs through the use of a single console at a remote location. Furthermore, Rio’s ADS is especially impressive due to the fact that the distance between the operator and the system does not compromise the precision or equipment utilization during its operation. Rio Tinto prides itself on maintaining a highly integrated system comprised of autonomous trains, trucks and drills, each of which have demonstrated their own meticulous operability and uniquely flexibile characteristics.

Sources and Further Reading

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