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Underground

Longwall Automation: 10 Years On

Underground » Mining Technology and Production

Published: June 19Project Number: C27055

Get ReportAuthor: Jonathon Ralston, Craig James, Chad Hargrave, Mark Dunn and David Hainsworth | CSIRO

This report describes the outcomes of a strategic review of current Australian longwall automation practice, capability and requirements, providing the longwall community with an updated assessment of current and emerging industry priorities to help inform ongoing automation development and deployment. The introduction of LASC longwall automation over a decade ago provided the industry with step-change improvements that led to ongoing significant safety, productivity and efficiency benefits. The interest now is to identify what the next generation of innovation needs to be to respond to new challenges and demands facing the underground industry.

Core to this review was obtaining up-to-date insights regarding the longwall automation landscape. The process involved an analysis of relevant literature as well as engaging with the underground mining community. A series of industry focussed workshops and interviews were held with over 70 stakeholders representing longwall interests from mine sites, OEMs and system integrators, R&D providers and technology specialists at national and international level.  This report captures a range of technical, process, business, and cultural aspects identified through the engagement process

The consistent message expressed by the industry is the need for remote longwall operations, that is, non-line-of-sight management of an automated longwall at a supervisory-level, with high-integrity automation and integrated information systems seen as the enabling solution. The present goal is to “operate only in automation, intervene only in exception”. Personnel on the face only during maintenance, exception handling and statutory inspections.

Unanimously, the drivers for developing remote longwall operations were:

  • Safety - ensuring zero exposure of personnel to dust, gas and environment;
  • Productivity - achieving high operational consistency at process capacity;
  • Profitability - delivering a high-quality product by maintaining the seam target.

In terms of specific longwall systems, the top three priorities identified by industry stakeholders for research and development were:

  • Horizon control - Precision arm control, seam tracking, ahead-of-panel imaging
  • Maingate management - Creep, gate-end alignment, belt alignment, structure movement
  • Exception handling - Picks and sprays, coal clearance, bretby management.

A roadmap has been developed to help inform critical developments over the near, mid and long term. The opportunity now is to translate these recommendations into meaningful effort to deliver next step-change for longwalls through new remote operation capability.

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