On the back of a drop in commodity prices and rising overheads, reducing operational costs is a key focus of the mining sector. According to a CSIRO report, this means the industry is need of creative solutions.
So let’s take a look at some of the considerations and challenges of designing mining tech products.
Complexity of mining operations
The technical and bureaucratic complexities of mining operations are considerable. A typical mining company will have several divisions: logistics, mechanical, operations, engineering, and projects. Each division will play a role in the development of a new device.
Then there are national and state-ordained standards related to mining equipment, covering everything from the type of cabling used to making sure remote control devices do not interfere with critical safety systems.
Many mining companies develop their own pathways for approving new devices. This means a design company must have the experience to understand the process and identify the key stakeholders and approval-makers. A successful design firm must know the right questions to ask those key personal who are part of the design process.
After a design is completed, there must be approvals given for testing. Shutting down an operation to install or test a new device is costly. A design that does not follow requirements and fails in the field will need re-testing, meaning more down time for the mining operation.
The mining environment
Understanding the red tape and stakeholder requirements is one aspect of designing mining tech products. The other is the harshness of the physical environment. Australia’s mines are often in remote desert locations, and the heat and dust add to device specifications.
New technology has to be able to operate in this kind of environment. If the technology incorporates sensors that transmit data remotely, these need to be able to relay data from deep underground, in conditions that would defeat a less robust design.
Device case study – the Smart-Idler
One example of the sort of technology referenced by the CSIRO report is the Smart-Idler, developed by our start-up OEM tech company Vayeron.
One of the most commonly reported sources of potential ignition associated with fixed plant in underground coal mines is the frictional overheating of conveyor belt bearings and rollers. Smart-Idler provides autonomous, real-time monitoring of roller bearings and shell, predicting failure before a fault can bring the conveyor to a standstill.
Rollers in underground coal mines must minimise the risk of initiating coal dust or explosive gas fires due to friction, static electrical discharge and over-heating. Smart-Idler’s sensor also needed to suit the harsh environment. The need for potentially hazardous batteries was eliminated through the device’s use of the rollers’ rotational energy as a power source.