Making mines safer and more productive has long been the strategic intention of mine automation, and surface drill rigs are now part of this technological evolution.


According to Kabelo Nkoana, Business Line Manager for Automation and Digitisation at Sandvik Southern Africa, AutoMine® is available for Sandvik i-Series models in the company’s intelligent range of down-the-hole top hammer and rotary blast hole drill rigs. Mining customers in southern Africa have been embracing the functionality, and reporting positive results.


“Sandvik AutoMine® system essentially replicates the machine control system to enable remote automation over the mine’s Wi-Fi network,” he says. “There is an awareness that safety could be compromised when rigs are operating close to a highwall, or when there are unstable geological conditions on the bench. Automating a drill rig in these conditions is an important contributor to safety.”


Sandvik’s i-Series machines come standard with features such as the onboard data collection unit technology for engine operation and other major components. Various operational and machine health data from the sensors are collected in the OEM’s Knowledge Box, and transmitted to cloud storage for analysis and real time reporting to support informed and accurate decision making. This creates the foundation for the automation process, which also enhances reliability and performance.


Nkoana explains that the machines’ extensive sensing capability – where it is picking up valuable data about its working environment – allows it to operate autonomously within its design limits.


“This means that it will respond quickly to changes in its drilling conditions – in the properties of the rock it is drilling, for instance,” he says. “By not exceeding its limitations, its operating behaviour will extend the life of consumables and components, generally leading to a lower total operational cost.”


Having been in operation for over two decades, Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions’ AutoMine® system today plays an integral role in making mining safer and more efficient. It is installed in more than 100 mines worldwide, with a positive impact on safety. The automated equipment operating AutoMine® system has logged more than five million Lost-Time-Injury-Free (LTIF) hours.


The company is also incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) into its next generation AutoMine® system solutions, with the launch of its concept loader and underground drill. These innovations make use of perception-sensing technologies to detect obstacles, and can make decisions about its movements when there is a person or other manual equpment in their proximity.


Nkoana highlights that mines in southern Africa are gradually moving toward ‘smart mining’ through digital monitoring and control, as well as automation. The process, however, needs to be well planned and gradual – with all stakeholders buying into the successful implementation of the concept.


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