Underground coal mining security improves with 3D laser-scanning expertise

With a click on of a mouse, Michael Condie is calmly slicing large slabs of earth with monumental equipment no less than 300 meters underground from the place he sits.

Due to latest advances in expertise, this contemporary longwall mining scene is a far cry from the underground coal mining imagery of the previous, when staff emerged from the literal coal face, coated in mud.

“These guys are principally producing coal all the way in which from the floor,” Mr Condie stated.

Working because the automation coordinator at Glencore’s Oaky Creek mine in central Queensland, Mr Condie stated remotely mining the longwall had all the time been the aim of the underground mine, which produces metallurgical coal for export, to make metal.

A man in a high-vis yellow shirt looking at the camera next to a wall of computer screens clicking a mouse.
Michael Condie says the expertise is making underground longwall coal mining safer.(ABC Capricornia: Katrina Beavan)

The system is designed to take away extra miners away from high-risk conditions, working subsequent to heavy equipment, a 16-kilometer-underground drive from the workplace controls.

“We have nonetheless obtained a small crew of individuals underground, however they’re away from the hazardous areas of the machines,” Mr Condie stated.

The corporate now mines like this, with a click on of a button, because of CSIRO 3D laser-scanning expertise referred to as ExScan, which it first began creating in 2017, funded by the Australian Coal Business’s Analysis Program (ACARP).

“[It gives] operators a view of what is underground, with out truly having to be there,” stated Mark Dunn, principal analysis engineer with the CSIRO’s mining applied sciences group.

“[From] a display, sitting in a remote-control workplace, you possibly can truly get the identical info as when you had been standing there subsequent to that equipment in a deep-underground setting,” Dr Dunn stated.

A man in a high-vis shirt sitting down in front of a wall of computers, looking at them
From the floor, workers management 3D-scanning gear.(ABC Capricornia: Katrina Beavan)

World-first expertise expands

First trialled on the mine north of Blackwater in central Queensland in 2019, the expertise is now in use in no less than 10 mines throughout Australia and several other abroad, together with the US.

The advances in expertise, permitting for nearly absolutely automated mining, is one thing automation engineer Duane Witkowski couldn’t have imagined 20 years in the past when he first began out within the business.

“There wasn’t the expertise accessible to have the ability to do these capabilities that we at present have,” he stated.

“[But] I believe it is like something … it is only a given operate of the place the world’s going.”

A man in yellow high-vis looking at the camera
Automation engineer Duane Witkowski says mining has modified loads in 20 years.(ABC Capricornia: Katrina Beavan)

Dr Dunn stated the necessity for security was an enormous driver general within the CSIRO’s mining analysis and advances.

“Our large dream over the subsequent few years is to make sure that there aren’t any operators working underground in these darkish and dynamic environments,” he stated.

“Getting the instruments and the utilities out into the business and out commercialized by means of third events is totally very important to enhance the security.”

Dr Mark Dunn sits in a darkened room in front of a virtual reality screen showing an underground coal mine.
Mark Dunn says the ExScan expertise could be tailored to be used in different industries. (Equipped: CSIRO)

In keeping with Assets Security and Well being Queensland, within the 5 years to June 2022, there have been 356 critical incidents in Queensland’s coal mines (each floor and underground).

Ten folks misplaced their lives.

A “critical incident” means an individual needed to be admitted to hospital for therapy of the damage, or they died.

Not only for mining

Dr Dunn stated the expertise was additionally being trialled at open-cut mines and within the civil engineering business area, notably with tunneling.

“There are limitations on the place coal mining could also be sooner or later, however there’s all the time going to be a necessity for distant operation techniques,” he stated.

“Having any sensors or applied sciences that may help people with the ability to management gear that’s in a doubtlessly harmful setting is all the time going to be of worth.

“The appliance might be much less vital, it is extra about offering that human interface to the machines.

“For instance, in agriculture, there are doubtlessly explosive environments… this kind of expertise might completely be used as effectively.”