The future of mining and metal extraction is clearly underground for a number of compelling reasons. First of all, the possibility of finding significant amounts of metals and minerals close to the surface is becoming increasingly rare. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, underground mines have been proven to leave a significantly lower environmental footprint. That doesn’t mean that traditional surface mining operations will cease right away, but the trend towards underground mining is both clear and inevitable.
1. Why do we mine underground?
The goal of underground mining technology is to help companies bridge the current digital divide between surface mines and underground mines. This is done by using both the Internet and the latest analytic technology to monitor and provide insights on underground operations, including people, machines and the environment. The aim is to create a safe working environment that leads to significantly better productivity and operational efficiencies for companies engaged in underground mining.
2. What is found underground?
Any mineral deposit or significant ore body that lies a considerable distance below the surface starts to prohibit the effective and efficient use of surface mining operations. There is too much earth and waste that has to be removed to just get at the deposit to make it economically worthwhile. That makes the consideration of underground mining a viable alternative, even though the unit costs might be a little higher at the outset. Those costs include the fact that underground mining equipment must be smaller to work in tighter conditions and thereby increase the cost versus above ground mining operations.
Underground mining is changing to adapt to modern times and is finding ways and technologies to streamline costs and reduce inefficiencies in their operations. Underground mining is not as labour intensive as it once was, and it is also much safer than it ever has been in the past. Technology improvements is part of that as well mandatory training and the development of tripartite mechanisms and the development of better underground mining training standards.
3. How can we use mining technology?
Underground mining technologies are also playing a significant role in improving performance and processes. This is allowing mining operators to realize higher productivity and lower operating costs. Each new underground mining technology that is introduced must also necessitate the proper management of change strategies. These change strategies can help identify and eliminate hazards, enhance equipment performance and improve the bottom line.
On the other hand, introducing new underground mining technology without effect management of this change can introduce new hazards into the underground mining work place. There are some possible trade-offs between productivity and occupational risks that need to be properly managed. If new underground mining technology is introduced, the company and the sector need to evaluate and understand the implications of changes on health and safety, and implement adequate mitigation strategies.
4. What are the recent technological advances?
There are many benefits accruing directly from the adoption of new technologies. They can help make the underground mining environment safer and more productive. New technologies are coming on stream that include tier 4 engines that reduce emissions, on-demand systems that will improve air quality, fire suppression systems to reduce risks associated with fires in ultra-deep mining situations or fires that occur as a result of new technology.
There are also new technologies for mobile equipment position and location monitoring devices to facilitate traffic control and prevent vehicular collisions, as well as proximity detection devices and cameras on equipment to reduce risks associated with mobile and other equipment.
Safety must come first in underground mining and underground mining technologies are helping to develop early detection of hazards, proximity warning and collision avoidance, better safety for lone workers and improved evacuation and rescue systems.