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  25-28 August 2013, Hyatt Regency Mission Bay Spa & Marina, San Diego, California, USA
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PLENARY LECTURES
John_Meech John A. Meech, P.Eng., Ph.D.

Professor of Mining Engineering and Director of CERM3 (The Centre for Environmental Research in Minerals, Metals, and Materials), The University of British Columbia, CANADA

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ABSTRACT: Automated Systems - a Component of Sustainable Mining

Applications of automation in mining has lagged behind other industrial sectors because of the inherent uncertainties in our industry together with the extreme environmental changes that take place within the atmosphere, hydrosphere, and lithosphere that impact on the control of mining processes. Despite these complexities, development of automated systems to perform each batch stage in a mine has accelerated significantly over the past three decades. Creating an automated system begins with sensors and instrumentation. With the advent of wireless mine communication systems, data from these devices can be gathered, transmitted, and stored in real-time at bandwidths that could only be imagined over a quarter century ago. From 1983 to 2013, widely-available computer hardware speeds, memory, and storage capacities have each increased by over a million times. At the same time, software tools have evolved that mimic human-thinking so much that complex models can now analyze data in real-time enabling process control feedback and tighter system integration.

In all cases, automation replaces humans with computer systems. Despite this being a negative effect to some people, in reality, no one can or should deny that automation is a "sustainable technology". As humans are no longer required to carry out mundane and dangerous work, we move up the ladder of knowledge skills to supervise ever increasingly complex computerized machine systems. The main motivations for mine automation are to create a safer workplace and to protect the environment. Of course, justification generally demands a fundamental increase in profit. These goals are achieved from the removal of humans from positions of danger; from significant increases in production and/or productivity; from decreases in unit energy consumption and Greenhouse Gas emissions; from decreases in consumables such as tires and other spare parts; and from much more accurate and predictable operations.

This paper will provide a perspective on how automation has entered the field of mining (drilling, blasting, loading and hauling) over the past two decades. It will discuss some of the pitfalls and successes of this transformation and suggest how mines of the future will be redesigned around automated systems from start-up to closure.

Keywords: telerobotics, autonomous robots, open pit mining, underground mining


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