The digital mine: autonomous fleets and “zero entry mining”

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The digital mine: autonomous fleets and “zero entry mining”

Using technology for mining operations is nothing new – it’s been done for decades, if not centuries. Over the past few years, leading mines are undergoing digital transformation with cutting edge technological advances. 

But how is your mine keeping up with the adoption of the digital mine. Are you struggling to see the benefits or are there other barriers to entry?  

Following our involvement in the Future of Mining conference earlier this year, we wanted to talk more about the impact and benefits of the digital mine and how connectivity plays such an important role in that. We believe we can help mining businesses reach their goals more easily, particularly when it comes to digital innovation.  

For the first in this series, we are going to take a look at the increasing use of autonomous fleets, in particular, through zero entry mining. 

You may already be familiar with zero entry mining, and if so, do you know about its multiple benefits?  


What is zero entry mining, and how does it work?

In summary, we know zero entry mining relies entirely on machine operation on site and removes the need for human entry into the mine.  

Robotics are becoming more affordable, and the mining resources industry is one place that is benefiting by the bucket load. Depending on the mine, vehicles and machines can be operated either remotely from a computer by another person or completely autonomously through Artificial Intelligence (AI). This type of machine operation relies heavily on having a reliable mine site connection.  

From a mining drill providing ore for electric trains to carry it out to the surface, to dump trucks following a prescribed path to the processing facility, all can be controlled with pre-set instructions to receive a load at point A and to dump it at point B, for example.”  

Even with robust plans and serious investment in mining safety, and in spite of years of best practice knowledge now up the sleeves of mining operations, the very nature of mining means it cannot be completely accident proof. But that is where the use of machines in place of humans has strong potential and very worthwhile benefits for mining businesses. 


Reaping the benefits of autonomous fleets

1. Safer, healthier mining 

Whether all mining machines are remote-controlled or fully autonomous, their key characteristic of zero entry mining is the fact that no people are working inside the mine. Does this make it controversial? Well, it depends on the level of machine autonomy, but often it can enable operators to just spend more time outside the mine, as opposed to being out of a job altogether.  

The hazardous nature of mining ore means that where you might not have been able to mine some sites at all due to the risk to human life, with the adoption of robotics you now can. As such, digital alternatives can enable more mining opportunities. 

And ultimately, the risk of staff sustaining severe (and potentially life-threatening) injuries reduces with autonomous fleets, and the overall safety of a mining site is equally improved.  

Of course, there are also other health advantages to removing people from the mining site, which has become highly relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic, where mines had to continue to operate despite ongoing social distancing restrictions.


2. Increased productivity, staff retention and project success 

The ability to run things by remote control can benefit staff’s health, as this approach accommodates more ergonomic operational positions that cause less physiological stress and impact. 

Aurecon have talked about the copious benefits to be found in autonomous mining, “Adopting semi- or fully-autonomous mining automation can provide golden opportunities for miners to become more efficient, boost production and cut costs while making the work environment safer.”

In addition to your mine’s safety, zero entry mining also increases its overall productivity level. After implementing autonomous fleets, some mines have seen their productivity levels increase by 30%. A reliable connection by satellite or other means is key in seeing improvements like this.  

One example is the ability to operate multiple loaders from the surface, which increases productivity and your overall production. And sensors on machines means that maintenance can be managed with more predictability  

“More and better digital sensors that can be read and analysed remotely allow for less reliance on prescriptive (time-based) maintenance.”  

Even when firing times happen underground, production can still carry on as normal. As with this Western Australian mine at Silver Lake Resources’ Rothsay gold project.


3. Reduces operational cost 

Productivity is one way a mining project can improve cost effectiveness. But there are several other ways that autonomous fleet/ zero entry mining technology can influence reduction in running costs. 

For example, sudden acceleration and abrupt steering for your vehicles is decreased (or even ceases) when running vehicles autonomously, which in turn, can extend the lifespan of tyres.   

Lowering the frequency of replacing parts, can significantly improve running costs. Aside from this increased tyre longevity, zero entry mining can help machines run more consistently. 

Consistent running leads to less wear and tear, which in turn means lower maintenance costs.


4. Lowers your mine’s environmental impact 

There is another compelling reason zero entry mining is becoming a popular option – and that is due to its low impact on the environment.  

It provides the opportunity to make angles in open pits steeper and ramps narrower, meaning you can eliminate unnecessary impact on the land. 

“For mining projects looking to really increase your green credentials, a satellite connection is a winning choice.” Adrian Green, Sales Manager, Orion.  

Not only are satellite solutions flexible and reliable, ensuring you have a connection even when there is unexpected downtime, but it also saves you from digging up the earth for cables and putting giant towers in the ground. 

And of course, not only is satellite connection better for the environment, but in planning your zero-entry mine or planning ways to adopt digital transformation in your mining projects, it’s absolutely essential to choose a network connection and provider that can support your project needs.  

Orion have unrivalled expertise in mining and critical remote connectivity. As an infrastructure owner and operator, we offer flexibility and scalability that most other providers cannot. 

Find out more about how you can get connectivity for your mining operations that will help pave the way to digitally transform your mine. Contact us today.



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