Balancing productivity with safety
The demand for Australia's natural resources continues to grow. Coal mining comprises approximately 24 per cent of employment and 27 per cent of total revenue for the mining industry. While it is an important industry for Australia's gross domestic product, it can also be a hazardous workplace. The mining industry continues to improve conditions for mine workers, striving for zero harm, however innovation in processes and technologies are still needed.
Longwall mining accounts for around 90 per cent of Australia's underground coal production. Traditionally a mechanical shearer cuts along the coal seam beneath a roof supported by hydraulic jacks, exposing miners to multiple risks on a daily basis. Increasing health, safety and productivity around the longwall mining process has been a long term industry goal.
Despite significant progress many challenges remain, including the development of sensors and automation technologies to replace miners operating in hazardous conditions below ground.
Safer more productive systems
CSIRO in partnership with the coal industry developed an underground automation system that isolates people from mining hazards while improving productivity.
The system uses specialised remote guidance technology to continuously steer the longwall equipment by plotting its position in three dimensions, removing personnel directly from hazards and thereby increasing the safety of the process.
Previous systems required that mining operations be stopped to correct the positioning. The real-time progress of the longwall can also be monitored via the internet from anywhere in the world, leading to further gains in efficiency.
Improved safety and efficiency
This new automated process has provided positive economic and social impacts for the coal mining industry and its employees, including:
- improved safety conditions for longwall mining equipment operators
- uptake into more than half of Australia's underground longwall coal operations
- increased productivity that is delivering an economic benefit upwards of up to 10 per cent
- commercialisation and licences for the automation technology for five global companies.