By automating the various tasks involved in mining, from the detection of minerals and other materials to excavation, mining robots can revolutionize the mining industry.
As a result, the use of mining robots is helping mining companies to increase their productivity and profitability.
The mica that is used in glittery eyeshadow shades and coal that is used to create energy and bring electricity to a house are all dug out from mines. Mining is a dangerous and complicated job. Every day, lives are put at risk to mine useful raw materials from the ground. According to a report from Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), 27 miners died in 2018, which was the second-lowest death count in an academic year. The death counts are further decreasing with the use of mining robots that are replacing humans in the dangerous process of excavation. AI-enabled mining robots, with the use of machine learning algorithms, can detect harmful gases in the mines and alert miners to take precautions. From helping in excavation, extraction, and transportation of minerals to controlling and monitoring mines, mining robots are revolutionizing the mining industry.
How Mining Robots are Transforming the Mining Industry
It hasn’t been long since robots arrived on the mining sites to work alongside humans above and below the surface. Mining robots can take over hazardous jobs and humans can operate these robots to complete tasks without the need to risk their lives by going to the site. The mining industry is embracing automated mining robots with both hands because of the impact their use cases can provide.
In all types of underground mining, the material mined is transported from where it is mined to the surface above. Currently, the material is moved with the help of either conveyor, haulage vehicles, or hoisted bins operated by humans. Manually driving the vehicles and transporting the extracted materials to the surface or the underground loading points can be tedious and hazardous tasks. The mediums or the vehicles used for transporting minerals can be automated just like the AI-enabled self-driving cars. Two obvious motivations for automating the transporting vehicles are improved efficiency and safety. While transporting extracted minerals, the laborers are at risk of rockfall, and the risk can be eliminated with automated transport vehicles. Automated vehicles will reduce the labor cost and will work round the clock, thereby increasing productivity and efficiency.
The automated vehicles can easily maneuver underground and use GPS systems for navigation. For instance, one of the largest mining firms from Australia uses over 80 three-story automated trucks to transport the minerals. The firm is further looking to develop automated trains to carry the excavated minerals to hundreds of miles on tracks.
Drilling and Explosive Placement
Drilling is the first task to be done in the process of mining. The extraction of minerals is only possible after drilling into mines. To dig into mine, to create a tunnel for transporting the material from the mined area to surface, every task of mining requires drilling. The process of drilling is automated now. Semi-automated drilling machines are available that can drill rings of holes with a little supervision over periods of time. Drilling requires planting explosives to break apart rocks. The automated drill machines can bore into the earth to a depth of several meters. The automated machines use GPS systems for obstacle detection and automated drilling into the ground.
Mining robots can provide assistant in placing the explosive required to drill a place. Currently, explosives, detonators, and primers are manually placed and connected through wires to initiate the explosion. Automated drill machines are capable of loading the explosive ingredients into the ground holes for rock breaking and digging deep into the ground.
Secondary Rock Breaking
Another area where AI-robots can be used in the mining industry is for breaking the rocks for the second time. After placing explosives for drilling and for breaking the rock for the first time, some huge boulders are created that are hard to handle. The large boulders might jam the area of mining. For accurate rock breaking, the quantity of explosives used and the area to apply them are planned to optimize the use of explosion. AI-enabled mining robots, with the help of algorithms, can quickly plan the ideal amount of explosives required for accurate fragmentation of rocks. Rock crusher mining robots can crush the huge boulders into small rocks that can be handled by the haulage vehicles. The haulage vehicles can then carry the crushed rocks to the ground surface to clear the road in the mines.
Metalliferous Roadway Development
Underground metalliferous mines use roadways to access the minerals inside and other facilities like transportation. There are different types of roadways like declines, inclines, drifts, drives, and crosscuts. The steps to develop roadways include map geology and marking the space for an explosion, drill blasting holes, removing blasted rocks, and then freeing up space for vehicles and other machines to operate. Mining robots can survey the mining area to find the best place to drill. The robots can then place the explosives and remove the unwanted and unstable rocks in the way to make roadways in mines.
While making roadways for transportation, mining robots can also detect the conditions in the mines and the presence of harmful gases, if any. By sending the alert about the air and condition of the mine, mining robots can help miners and leaders to take any necessary precautions to prevent unwanted incidents.
Explore Flooded and Abandoned Mines
Some mines get abandoned after extraction of minerals and get filled with water. AI systems can locate mines that are either flooded or abandoned due to some reasons. The reason for reopening abandoned mines can be the excavation of minerals that were not useful in the past but can be useful in the present day. For instance, the demand for rare earth elements, which is a set of 15 to 17 elements, has skyrocketed in the past few years. The reason for increased demand is the rare earth elements’ use in modern-day technologies. For example, rare earth elements are used in smartphones, hard-drives, and LED TVs, among others. Mining robots can reopen the abandoned mines at a rapid pace. Mining robots provide flexibility to install IoT infrastructure in abandoned mines. Robots can access narrow surface areas that could not be accessed by humans and place IoT devices for constant monitoring of the mine. By implementing AI algorithms on the data collected by IoT devices, miners can predict the energy and other resources required to extract the mineral from the mine.
Manually determining which abandoned and flooded mine would contain rare earth and other valuable minerals is a challenging task. It can be risky for human divers to navigate through the mine and determine the presence of any useful mineral. Visibility in the flooded mines is also very low, which makes it even more difficult for human divers to navigate. Mining robots can dive into mines to detect useful minerals without putting human lives at risk.
The vision of how AI can revolutionize the mining industry is becoming a reality with the implementation of mining robots. Mining robots have been recently adopted in the mining industry and much development has been achieved in mining robots to make the mining process simple and efficient. However, much still remains to be done. The robots cannot yet operate on a fully automated basis, and they work hand in hand with humans. Eventually, with advancements in technology, mining companies might someday see completely automated mining machines that can reduce the risk and burden on human miners.