In an underground mine, accurate spatial measurement is key to maximizing efficiency. Total stations are commonly used to map out and topo mine surfaces as well as to stake out reference lines and grades before drilling and blasting occurs. However, the amount of information that can be quickly captured with these instruments is limited. Comparing the alignment and grades of the wall, back and faces of underground mines can be a time-consuming and labor-intensive process that can add days or even weeks to production schedules. If errors are not caught early in the process, getting back on track is costly.
Mining Measurement Innovations
Confined spaces often make it difficult to maneuver and carry all the technologies and tools in a miner’s tool box. Additionally, large mines that are operating multiple drill rigs need to keep moving and relying on surveying information. Every minute of downtime incurred while waiting for specialty instruments with highly trained operators reduces profitability.
To solve these challenges, mining personnel are turning to technology innovations. For example, new instruments like the Leica Nova MS50 MultiStation, highlighted in the video above, provide high accuracy and extreme versatility in a single, compact, rugged instrument. This miner’s instrument is easy to use and cost-effective to implement across a mining operation. With just one tool, operators can select the appropriate measurement technology for the corresponding measurement or stakeout task. The instrument makes sure that these complex 3D datasets are referenced together in an organized manner. Simple field workflows streamline the rapid data capture process (1,000 points per second) and make it easier for 3D datasets with digital images to be shared across the mining operation so that critical decisions can be made faster and with better information, helping to create a safer environment. In addition to these advanced capabilities, it can also be used as a traditional surveying instrument.
Above ground, mines are investigating solutions such as unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), which can generate high-resolution digital orthophotos and precise 3D surface models. These new tools can be used to calculate stockpile inventories and other surveying tasks while creating a safer and more productive workplace. Multicopter UAS can also hover over or near specific locations within a mine, which makes them especially useful for real time inspections of the highwall, conveyor belts, drainage canals, dragline booms, and many other safety-related applications.
In Canada, Special Flight Operation Certificates are already making UAS mining applications a reality. In the U.S., companies and organizations are preparing for full FAA approval of UAS in national airspace, which is expected in 2015, by acquiring systems so they can learn as much as possible about the technology and position themselves as market leaders. Additionally, universities and public agencies with Certificates of Authorization or Waiver from the FAA are investigating a host of practical applications.
Tough Times Require Smart Decisions
These and other innovations promise to increase underground mining efficiency, safety and productivity in the coming months and years.
What recent technology innovations do you see having the biggest impact on underground mining? Share your comments below.