Underground Automation: Improving Safety



Underground mines are challenging and dangerous environments. Miners face a lack of fresh air, poor ventilation, dangerous gases and potential cave-ins as they work to access the precious ore beneath the surface. Automation helps address those challenges.

Mining companies work diligently to ensure the safety of these workers. They install state-of-the-art ventilation systems, purchase the safest equipment available and meet a multitude of government regulations designed to keep workers as safe as possible in these challenging conditions. But despite these efforts, dangers still exist.

The best way to protect underground workers is to remove them from the environment altogether, and new technologies - including automation - are making that possible. They allow equipment operators to work from a safe and ergonomic work station far from the machine — either on the surface or underground — without sacrificing machine productivity.

Operators load and dump material via remote control. A combination of on-board computers, cameras, lasers and operator station software enables systems to autonomously steer the machine during hauling. Ergonomic controls allow operation of the machine using familiar components, reducing training time to get accustomed to new equipment, while also providing a safe, comfortable environment for the operator.

Productivity improvements are also common with autonomous operation. Machines are more productive, with improved accuracy of tunnel navigation and reduced downtime due to damage from contact with drive walls. And mines that incorporate automation are more productive with fewer people underground. There’s no need for workers to evacuate for blasting or travel long distances to and from the surface.

Automation technologies are helping to remove some of the challenges associated with working in underground mines. Are you using autonomous or semi-autonomous mining equipment in your mine? Do you have examples of how the equipment has protected workers or aided in their productivity? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter.



Fatigue can be caused by long working hours, low lighting, repetitive duties, shift schedules and solitary work environments—all things that can be present in any underground mining operation. Studies have shown that more than 40 percent of employees who work non-daytime hours report nodding off several times per week—or even per shift.

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