JAN-FEB 2018

Best of Germany 2014 - Mining Equipment and Mining Technology

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VDMA 12 VDMA MINING SUPPLEMENT • 2018 When one thinks of Industry 4.0 applications, underground mining would not be the first image that comes to mind. The harsh environ- ment and extreme conditions run juxtaposed to modern factories, but it is one of the areas that could benefit quite a bit from its use. Most mines are looking toward process automation to withdraw miners from the active face area and improve operations. For these autonomous systems to achieve their potential, massive amounts of data need to be transmitted, interpreted and acted upon in real time. And, a few mines are already taking advantage of this concept using German equipment and technology. German manufacturers are also using the principles of Industry 4.0 and continuous improvement programs to build the best equip- ment. Consider a deep mine that must hoist ore 2 kilometers to the surface or support tons of rock safely, the equipment and the supporting infrastructure must be built to withstand the massive forces it will encounter. Despite their size, the tolerances for these rather large pieces of the kit are extremely tight. The digital transformation will play a vital role in underground mining operations. Smart underground mining systems will har- ness new technologies for connecting miners with machines and machines with other machines in mining systems. These systems will allow miners to operate the machines in safe, less dusty envi- ronment. In addition to improving safety, mining companies will see greater production and lower costs per ton of rock moved. The Manless Face The vision of unmanned longwall faces, where miners monitor oper- ations from a control room in a safe location, is now an attainable goal. In addition to removing miners out of aqharm's way, it also represents a cost-efficient method for increasing production and improving operational flexibility. Dr. Fiona Mavroudis with Eickhoff Bergbautechnik GmbH, Bo- chum, Germany, views the longwall shearer loader as the key in- telligent, collaborative element. "Nowadays, shearers are equipped with numerous sensors that redundantly perform different tasks and should pursue different operating principles," Mavroudis said. "The shearer communicates continuously with the roof supports and the conveyor. Information such as conveyor loading status, shearer position, active identification of hazards, and other operating and process data can be exchanged and relayed to the operator station and to the surface control room in real time." Modern shearers also have additional sensors designed to improve the precision of the coal-cutting operation and determine the geological boundaries, such as the coal-rock interface. As the shearer passes by, the roof supports (or shields) are au- tomatically reset and the armored face conveyor (AFC) is advanced. "If the system observes any irregularities, such as a shield set too low, the system assesses the situation and appropriate measures are taken," Mavroudis said. "Video systems allow miners to monitor the conditions on the face and this requires powerful and reliable communication systems. The technology used in the mining industry today meets all established industrial standards. It is designed for redundancy, can be power-cable connected or may even be based on DSL, fiber-optic cable or WLAN." In July 2015, the Siberian coal operator (SUEK) commissioned a new longwall face with a seam thickness of 1.7 m. This face was then used as a test bed for newly developed remote-control and au- tomation elements that for the first time took the industry close to the vision of the "manless coal face," Mavroudis explained. "The overall planning and practical implementation work needed to de- liver this project was carried out jointly by German companies, in- cluding Eickhoff as the shearer manufacturer." This face and other SUEK faces have set world production records. Video cameras mounted on the shields and the shearer creat- ed a longwall-face monitoring system and allowed the operator to follow the trajectory of the cutting machine, Mavroudis explained. "Rapid data links were used so that all the data needed for the con- trol of the shearer and face installation can be exchanged between the face components and the gate-end stations," Mavroudis said. "The entire coal-cutting process can be observed and controlled from the remote-control panel in the headgate." The system uses additional interfaces to ensure data are relayed to the surface control room for display purposes. Miners obtain in- formation on the face equipment and coal-cutting operation that is accurate to the second. "The introduction of this system has led to a new stage of technology in longwall mining," Mavroudis said. "These features were also systematically introduced with the development of the new Eickhoff SL300L thin-seam shearer and the technology was subsequently improved and refined during initial operational trials." More recently, a coal operator in Australia implemented the next stage in the evolution of longwall mining: the overall communica- tion and cross-linking of sensors, machines and systems. Process data are exchanged and sent to the surface. Sensors for relative and absolute position and navigation provide a detailed description of the face profile. "Working in conjunction with highly complex control algorithms, the coal-cutting process can be controlled to millimeter accuracy," Mavroudis said. Collaborative sensor systems operating beyond the boundaries of the machine provide environment perception and detection, and support the autonomous regime as it copes with dynamic geological Smart Underground Mining Traditional equipment suppliers gravitate toward system engineers The shearer is the central element on the longwall face.

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