Safety is the primary concern for every mining operation, and accounting for all personnel on a mine site at any given moment can be a challenge. Nowhere is that more true than in longwall coal mining operations. Technologies are changing the way mines are facing those challenges by accounting for everyone who works in and around the face of the mine. Camera systems monitor the working face — locating personnel in remote locations — and provide a real-time look at the progress of the operation. Mines are also using Radio-frequency identification (RFID) tagging systems to identify general location and information of tagged workers at the face. These technologies work with the longwall system to tell it how to react to tagged personnel on site based on job roles and ensure workers are a safe distance away before advancing the coal face.
Technology is also the reason many mines are able to enhance safety and increase production at the same time. Semi-autonomous and tele-remote technologies enable the operation of load-haul-dump (LHD) mining equipment without human operators on the machines. This type of technology has made its home in underground mines all over the world, keeping miners out of hazardous environments. But safety isn't the only benefit to using these technologies in underground applications. Mining companies are experiencing a number of added benefits from autonomous LHD systems; including increased productivity, higher equipment utilization and less machine damage. Some mines are even experiencing speed-efficiency increases, which lead to shorter cycle times and production increases of up to 25 percent using autonomous technologies. Overall, autonomous technologies are allowing mines to increase production while keeping their operators out of harm’s way — and that alone gives mine operation managers peace of mind for planning the future of their operation.
Automation is one way for mines to improve safety and productivity, but equipment availability is also key in every underground mining application — no matter what the hazards may be. Unplanned downtime can slow down or stop any operation, and equipment monitoring technology is helping operations track the health of their equipment. Proactive equipment management allows mine operators to review fault codes, track maintenance records and plan scheduled maintenance. In room & pillar operations, for example, this could mean the difference between a continuous miner in full production and a complete shutdown. Every application is unique, but machine-monitoring technologies are allowing operations to manage people, equipment and service like never before.
One of the technologies leading the way is Cat® MineStar™. With a comprehensive package of capability sets covering everything from fleet management to total automation, MineStar is helping underground mines improve safety, availability and production all over the world.
MineStar Detect is making longwall operations safer by tracking personnel on the face, automatically preventing shield moves that would place people in danger. With customizable profiles for every tag, Detect allows mine sites to create a custom solution that keeps operators in the right place for maximum safety on the face.
The Command capability set allows for partially or fully autonomous loading and hauling operations underground, which leads to improvements in both safety and productivity. Command allows operators to control machines remotely from a safe area; or it can run a machine with total autonomy for precise, consistent cycles and increased productivity.
Meanwhile, the Health capability set keeps machines up and running for as long as possible. By tracking component health, equipment status and maintenance schedules, Health helps maintenance teams analyze and solve potential problems quickly for maximum availability. Downtime is lost productivity, and Health can help keep that downtime to a minimum.
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