October 09, 2023

Automation in the mining industry

Robotics and remote sensing have made a drastic difference in the Australian mining industry. Over the past few decades, drilling and haulage have been automated to a large degree onsite which has improved safety and productivity. Longwall coal mining, which is one of the most productive methods of coal mining, has historically been dangerous to workers due to potential dust inhalation, gas exposure and the risk of mine collapses. Automation of longwall mining physically removes mineworkers from these hazards. Additionally, robots are increasingly being used to inspect mines as they are able to navigate flooded passageways and other hazardous environments underground. Automation also allows for mine sites that are difficult to access or consistently staff due to location or seasonal weather variations to be worked by robots which are controlled remotely.

Haulage operations are also now being handled by teleoperation with automated trucks and trains further reducing the risk to operators. These haulers come equipped with proximity sensors to ensure that the risk to anyone onsite is reduced. Even when the ores reach port, automation is being used to facilitate the shipping of this material. In 2002, the Port of Brisbane (Australia’s 3rd largest port) became the first automated port in the world. As part of the automation upgrade, 14 automated stacking cranes were installed which increased the annual capacity from 600,000 TEU (Twenty-foot Equivalent Units) to 900,000 TEU. Automation has the potential to reduce the risk of accidents and to improve safety during haulage and freight operations. As of 2022, 63 container ports worldwide have become either fully or semi automated.

Water in the mining industry

The mining industry uses water for a wide variety of applications including mineral processing (including purification), transportation of ores, dust suppression and the dewatering of mines. Mine sites often produce their own process water and dispose of their wastewater on site (into the environment). As with other industries, mining operations will source water from surface water or groundwater sources and utilise a range of technologies, such as membrane filtration, disinfection and chemical treatment, to achieve the required water quality.

The Western Australian mining sector uses between 810 – 940 GL/year. Given the importance of water to the mining sector, and the importance of the raw products provided by mining to so many other industries (including the construction of renewable energy systems), it is essential that water treatment automation keeps pace with mining automation.

Remote water monitoring

Technological advancements in water treatment and remote sensing have enabled operators to control and optimise water treatment systems without being physically present. Pumps, valves and emergency stops can all be controlled or triggered with commands from control centres a world away. All that is required is sufficient network connectivity where the water treatment asset is located to ensure that it can be remotely accessed.

Remote sensing allows for tank levels, pressures, flows, temperatures, salinity levels, suspended solid concentrations, pH,  and dissolved gas levels can all be monitored and logged allowing for trends to be tracked over time. By combining these values with software algorithms, alerts can be triggered whenever an issue arises with the water treatment system allowing operators to quickly return the system to operation. Long term data logging can also be used as a predictive tool to spot problems before they become expensive or too catastrophic to repair. Remote control also reduces the need to have trained operators on site with the water treatment asset. Instead trained engineers can be responsible for a range of different assets simultaneously.

Remote monitoring of water assets in the mining industry

By combining the remote monitoring and control of water treatment assets with automated onsite operations, the mining sector will be able to further increase productivity and share expertise across their network. This will reduce the risk of accidents while also improving operations. The technology being used to remotely operate and maintain water treatment systems is becoming increasingly sophisticated and bespoke to different industries.

To find out more about the range of remote monitoring options that Moerk Water offers, contact us today