There seems to be an endless stream of articles from around the world claiming that robots will be taking over mining jobs within years. As I have already addressed in a previous post, this “new” technology, that is being reported was first introduced here in Australia more than a decade ago, in some cases two decades ago. This hasn’t stopped the negative view of “mining jobs only being for a few more years” spreading amongst the Australian public.
Currently in most states the rules say that a piece of remote-controlled or self-driving equipment like an underground loader can only be operated in an area that has been excluded from the rest of the mine. This area must be free of people, this is done with both lasers barriers (that turn the machine off when broken) and bund walls of rock in most mines. Why are the rules so strict? In Western Australia in 1996 there was a 5 week period in which 4 remote control bogger (loader) operators were killed, the mines department suspended all remote operations for 6 weeks.
I remember it well, as I was on the bogger back then and having had one of these machine go rogue on me in a drive one-night shift. I was keen to see what new rules would be, remote cuties were reviewed and reinforced but the big thing was the exclusion zone. The operator now had to be more than 5metres away from where the machine was being operated and could go no closer. This soon led to lasers barriers, that would shut the booger down when the laser was broken. That means if someone enters the area the machine will stop, it is this standard that has been carried through to today’s tele-remote loaders. That all machines must stop once a person enters the exclusion zone.
Yes, the machines can drive themselves around today, but it has to be on a level that has been excluded from the rest of the mine. Trying to run a mine that excludes the main decline so that autonomous trucks can be used to pull the ore out, is laughable to those in the industry that run these mines. Every time a geo, surveyor, service crew, shift boss, charge up or fitter entered the decline all the trucks would have to stop. How many loads are you going to get out? Not a lot and mining is all about making the most amount of money in the shortest time possible.
Having to stop, every time a person enters the exclusion zone, is the reason I believe that on Rio’s recent autonomous test mine only operated to 80% of human output. In the business article, it said the difference was due to a large amount of down time. This is the problem and reason that humans aren’t going to be replaced anytime soon. It looks like Rio had experienced this problem of people entering the exclusion zone, this would mean that all machines would have to stop. Killing production.
This is why I say to all new people looking to start a mining career, there are lots of jobs out there and they aren’t going to be replaced any time soon. Anyone from the media that is reading this, I am more than happy to go through the issues in more detail. Anyone wanting to start a Hardrock mining career check out my two packages “Do it yourself” for $270 or “Workready” for $520. Good luck to all those looking for work.