The latest project in progress at the Finsch site is the automation of loaders, which will be implemented before the end of the year.
Sandvik Mining Construction GM, George Annandale tells Mining Weekly that, to date, no significant problems with regard to the new development have been experienced.
He adds that it is just the next phase of the automated system and that the interface between the automated truck and automated loader have been tested extensively at the test mine in Finland over the last three years.
Annandale explains that within a mechanised operating system, damage costs usually contribute 10% to 30% of total maintenance costs. The automated system reduces this and subsequently downtime is reduced substantially, with damage costs being virtually nonexistent.
The automation system has also been implemented in Chile at Codelco.
The automated underground loaders have been implemented on two of the copper corpor-ation’s mines.
Further, Sandvik is in talks with various companies globally which are interested in the system and more automated systems are to be implemented at two large mines in South Africa, says Annandale.
He notes that a more localised system, the automated system, has been developed out of this autonomous system.
This new system will be implemented at a mine in Komatipoort as soon as they have submitted their specifications.
Annandale explains that all Sandvik’s trucks are built automation-ready if specified by the client.
The optimine system also derives its tech- nology from the auto-nomous system and does not intend to remove operators from machines but rather to enable accurate monitoring of the machine condition and position for planning and control purposes.
The system will make a significant contribution to mine safety in the near future, says Annandale.
Mine loaders have to enter dangerous draw points in block cave mines and, therefore, ground falls are always a threat, though with the new autonomous systems the operator is removed from the dangerous environment.
Another feature is that the area in which auto-nomous trucks are run can easily be isolated so that, if a pedestrian should enter the designated area, the whole system would cut out.
Machines are preprogrammed to function within their design parameters, which results in reduced operating costs.
Operational efficiency is another benefit, as the machines are not subjected to operator abuse and are set to run at optimum levels indefinitely.
Subsequently, this results in a decrease in mining accidents and less damage done to machines as well as a lower risk of injury.
He explains that suboperating systems of the optimine system can now be applied to monitor machine positioning without the human element.
This increases the mine’s ability to manage its entire fleet. Though, Annandale says a pilot project is under way to implement the optimine system on a mine’s entire fleet, without removing the human element.
It is expected that four mines will be fully operated by the system within two years.
The design standards on these systems and the communication backbone on which they operate comply with the highest European standards, says Annandale.
He notes that, owing to South Africa’s mining methods and historical factors, all underground haulage was conducted only by means of rail and, in later years, by means of conveyors, whereas in Australia, he adds, the trend is more towards truck transport as trucks offer more flexibility as far as capital, maintenance and management are concerned.
In South Africa, the means of underground transport will more than likely experience a shift from being rail bound to becoming truck bound, says Annandale.
He adds that at least three underground nar-row-reef mines in South Africa are presently running on underground truck transport and at least another two are in the process of implementing it.
Alternative underground transport systems should be considered, says Annandale, as rail-bound transport systems have always been costly to maintain.
He says that, owing to the frequency of underground railway accidents, new codes of practice came into effect, which makes it even more expensive to maintain and install underground railway systems.
Another factor is the limited skills available to operate underground railway systems. The most viable alternatives to rail-bound haulage are conveyors and trucks, says Annandale.
Sandvik recently released a 60-t truck to mines in Australia and Canada.
A new addition to its trucking range, the 60-t truck has been designed to deliver the same turning radius as the 50-t trucks.
The flexible truck has been designed with six wheels and three axles.
With both the rear and the front wheels being able to steer, a very short turning radius is possible.
For the last seven years, Sandvik has been at the forefront of developing new mining tech- nology and it aims to stay at the forefront of technology, says Annandale.