Top 10 mining innovations
Mining is crucial to retrieving the ores and minerals that keep important industries running smoothly, but retrieving those products isn't always simple or straightforward. Mining innovations do more than increase efficiency; they also protect workers and ensure consistent yield that supports further mining explorations. Here are 10 of 2017's best offerings for the future of the mining industry.
10 | Centralized Site Automation
Much like urban planning, a mining site requires intelligent movement of workers, equipment, and excavated materials to maximize efficiency while cutting down on waste. Until now, that endeavor usually resembled a cobbled-together series of systems and several individuals at the controls of each. Full site automation is closer than ever before, incorporating other innovations mentioned above, such as heavy rail transport and tunnel boring. When algorithms can be immediately implemented across all aspects of a job site, costs are driven down to levels that maximize profitable enterprise without sacrificing worker comfort or safety - and that's potentially the best mining innovation in the industry in 2017 and beyond.
9 | Improvements in Miner Safety Gear
In addition to overall site safety, modern approaches to mining worker safety also take into account the quality of each job day and the impact of repetitive stress injuries. SmartCap, a sensor-rigged PPE helmet, continually monitors common signs of fatigue and measures alertness to cut down on distraction-related incidents. Centennial Coal has also introduced a special mining-specific boot this year, offering the sole stability, ankle support and waterproof design needed to protect worker's overall health while on the job.
8 | Equipment Powered with Alternative Energy
As the Copper NuWave™ demonstrates, energy conservation and successful mining operations are not necessarily mutually exclusive. South African mining group Harmony Gold has embraced solar for direct power, and is piloting a program to use mining land for biocrops that will later produce natural gas, another form of alternative energy, to further power their machinery. This cyclical system helps to not only drive down operational costs, but minimize environmental impact company-wide.
7 | Three-Dimensional Mapping Tech
As important as on-site technologies are, entering mining efforts with a plan in hand minimizes issues and maximizes targeting for rich ore and lucrative veins. 3-D mapping helps the entirety of the mining team - from administrators to miners - get on the same page instantly. By highlighting the most promising areas for excavation before the machinery is ever powered up, resources are intelligently used to zero in on the best mining areas in the least amount of time.
6 | The Use of X-Ray Diffraction
Diffraction technology, much like the Copper NuWave™, helps identify the amount of useful resources in a given piece of ore, cutting down on wasted hunting by targeting rich materials. Well-known diamond mining group ALROSA is already using diffraction in its mining sites, with others looking to broaden their use of the technology in 2017. With so much of a site's success riding on spending minimal effort and time for maximum yield, technologies that make that process easier are transforming mining from the (literal) ground up.
5 | Rail System Automation
Once again, Rio Tinto is leading the charge with reinventing the mining site as we know it, but make no mistake, they're definitely not the only ones looking into automated heavy rail systems. Offering busy mining groups the ability to quickly and safely move ore from excavation to processing and beyond, automating trolleys and rail systems on-site is a smart move that makes efficiency not just possible, but the norm.
4 | Excavator Redesigns
Hydraulics are leading the way in excavator reinvention, with big names like Hitachi committing R&D resources into optimizing the balance between energy consumption and peak task performance. Doosan and Volvo have also tossed their hats into the proverbial ring, furthering previous designs that used unique features like independent tracked wheel controls for unprecedented control through obstacle-littered sites and heavy site traffic.
3 | Mining Simulators
An excellent tool for trailing new mining professionals in situations that are difficult to commit to paper, mining simulators are also invaluable for contingency and emergency training. They can also be easily used to determine worthwhile candidates during the hiring process, and to judge reaction times and accuracy for existing mine employees. 2017's versions offer incredibly lifelike projected, 360-style visuals that are as close to the "real thing" as possible without actually going underground.
2 | Eco-Friendlier Ore Consumption
Energy and water are two of the biggest demands required of ore processing, but new processes are gradually changing that. Rio Tinto is using a new method, called Copper NuWave™, in Utah at its Kennecott Copper mine. The process uses microwaves to determine the copper content of ore, allowing them to quickly determine rich ore and discard worthless ore, cutting back on the resources wasted on fruitless searches.
1 | Tunnel Borer Automation
While tunnel boring itself is a concept that's familiar to the industry, automating the process increases several beneficial verticals: precision, particularly in areas where excavation poses stability risks, miner safety, and that all-important efficiency metric, speed. While the world isn't quite ready for a push-button solution to tunnel creation, automated borers are getting the possibility closer than ever before. In fact, global mining group Rio Tinto and the Centre of Excellence in Mining Innovation (CEMI) have already teamed up to put this innovation to good use: visit the Northparkes Mine in Australia and you might just catch a glimpse of a borer in action.