Australasian Mining Review

Australasian Mining Review Summer 2011

Australasian Mining Review

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Page 69 of 151

The future of automation technologies in the Australian resources industry impact automation will have on their businesses. T The report is part of a Skills Formation Strategy funded by the Queensland Department of Education and Training. The research was conducted by the Mining Industry Skills Centre, in partnership with the Cooperative Research Centre for Mining (CRC Mining). An excerpt of the report is printed here with permission of the Mining Industry Skills Centre. Australia’s resource industry is being transformed by the increasing use of automation technologies. At one end of the scale, this revolution is happening organically and unassumingly, leveraging off-the-shelf technologies to incrementally improve the control of various mining processes in line with best industrial practice. At the other end are some strikingly bold initiatives currently in progress to implement fully autonomous mines. Between these extremes is a spectrum of innovation that stands to profoundly change the industry over the next 15 years. The rise of automation in the Australian resources industry will cause a major skills shortage in the next decade unless it invests in specialist training, a new industry report has revealed. The resource industry is on an inescapable and unstoppable march towards autonomy. The forces driving this change act at several levels within the resource companies, and are so pervasive across the industry that they will persist under all economic outlooks. The mix of skills and knowledge required to support automation in the resource industry is distinctive and is not catered to by an existing training program. There is already a skills gap associated with automation that will widen with time. A systematic training framework is required to bridge this gap. Rio Tinto is currently implementing automation on a scale not too far from this at West Angeles iron ore mine in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. This mine operates a fleet of autonomous haul-trucks and blast-hole drills. Driverless trains transport ore some 300 kilometres to port. The control of mine operations is gradually being transferred to an operating centre 1300 kilometres away in Perth. he report, titled Automation for Success, warns that the resources industry is “on an inescapable and unstoppable march towards automation” and that many organisations are not prepared for the On less ambitious scales, the equipment manufacturers are actively developing and deploying operator-assist technologies that are tangible stepping-stones towards full automation. A major manufacturer of mining excavators is currently field trialling a technology at two Queensland mines that stops their equipment self- colliding (having two independently manoeuvred parts collide with each other) reducing one of the major sources of machine damage. The truck manufacturers are experimenting with driver assist technologies to better position trucks in preparation for loading. Most drill manufacturers are currently developing automated blast-hole drills. Additionally, a number of third party suppliers are developing technologies that enhance situational awareness to improve mining safety. Much of this development is taking place in Australia through partnerships between the established research organisations and the mining equipment manufacturers. The whole enterprise is surrounded by a healthy community of small to medium enterprises developing and providing supporting technologies and services. Shadowing this very visible emergence of new and exciting automation technology is the pervading influence that flexible programmable logic controllers (PLCs) are having on the industry as replacements for relays, timers, counters, and sequencers and as enabling tools for improved process control. Their capabilities make them attractive to adopt, and once installed, their flexibility leads to an organic growth of automation capability as they are reprogrammed to improve the control of processes across the full spectrum of industry activity. Although usually not part of a systematic automation strategy, the diffusion of automation related technologies at the site level through a range of small- scale incremental initiatives decidedly affects requirements on the sustainable skills base at mine sites. The rapid pace of technological change in the resource industry brings a significant challenge. The industry needs to ensure that its workforce has the skills and knowledge to support these new technologies. The Mining Industry Skills Centre is in the process of implementing an Automation Skills Formation Strategy (ASFS) to address future skill

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