It’s a simple question, and yet ultimately complicated. Like any other industry, there is an eventual need for evolution – however, as mining is so specialized, have the forces of change which have disrupted so many other industries, touched our own?
Mining is certainly evolving. Innovation, improvement and shifting expectations are driving the evolution. And while DMC’s core focus is on excellence in operations and safety, we are working to be part of this change. Over our 40 years in business, we have observed trends toward increased automation, mechanization, the changing role of mine workers, improved safety standards and accessing deeper orebodies.
These trends stem from positive developments in the industry. For example, safety statistics that would have been acceptable 30 years ago are now considered unthinkable, which has created a push for evolution towards different methodologies and safer working practices. Technological advancements have made increased automation and mechanization more feasible. As well, the industry has invested in developing its abilities for deep mining.
Removing mining personnel from the face of advance is a process that has been ongoing for many years, and is evolving the role of the miner. Once workers would be equipped with handheld tools and sent to work on the face, but now these roles are becoming more technical as more and more mechanized equipment is implemented.
Our work with the Shaft Boring Roadheader is evidence of this. Shaft sinking typically uses conventional methods of drilling and blasting, but with new methods such as the SBR, all personnel work above the face of advance and stay out of harm’s way. As any work face can be unpredictable, this trend echoes another: improving workplace safety.
With the changing role of the miner and improved technology, mechanizing the process of excavation is an obvious area of improvement. Our hands-on experience with SBR technology is one example of modern mechanization of mining processes. Mechanized excavation has many advantages over drill and blast methods, mainly by being safer, causing less disturbance to surrounding formations, enabling continuous advances and keeping personnel away from the working face. Far from being unique to shaft sinking, mechanized excavation processes are also being explored for lateral development.
The trend of automating processes and applying data to optimize them has not passed by the mining sector. Automation and data technology are being implemented in both big and small ways. One major change is in ventilation, one of the most critical aspects of any underground mining operation. There is a growing trend towards the automatic monitoring of air quality, monitoring, which used to be done by workers going down into the mine to evaluate conditions firsthand. Automated sensor networks will ensure the process is a lot safer, and also give mine operators much better, timely and more centralized visibility.
In search of profitable orebodies, mining has looked deeper than ever before, which brings with it a number of challenges that are driving evolution. The deeper a mine goes, the more important temperature management and ventilation become. Optimized ventilation in particular is highly important because air density increases with depth, meaning that airflow is lost due to density, and excess heat is generated as efficiency is lost. This creates an incentive for maximizing the potential of ventilation by improved means.
One of the biggest positive changes is the transition from diesel to electric vehicle fleets in super deep mines. With the costs and challenges of ventilation, internal combustion engines are less viable. Electric vehicles don’t create emissions and don’t require oxygen to run, which greatly lessens the demands made on ventilation systems. In many cases, electric vehicles are also more powerful than diesel equipment and generate less heat – and with the increased importance of heat management in deep mining, less heat is crucial to ensuring workable conditions.
All industries need to evolve, and the mining industry is no different. We believe our industry is full of innovative ideas and continual improvement, and at DMC we seek out processes and new technologies that will improve efficiencies, safety and overall profitability for our client projects.
The business of mining is growing in complexity and demanding more complex methodologies, approaches and equipment. The same revolutions in information technology that are changing life aboveground have many applications beneath the surface as well. Being part of the evolution by helping develop the SBR is a role we’re very proud to play, and we look forward to seeing how these trends evolve.