Features, OEMS, Technology

A robotic revolution

Dredge robotics

Dredge Robotics’ liner-safe dredging robots are proving to be a game-changer in the mining industry. Australian Mining explores the technology in more detail.

Mining companies need to complete regular dredging to remove sediment and vegetation from their lined ponds, a practice which, up until the emergence of Dredge Robotics, has posed challenges in both efficiency and safety.

Dredge Robotics has developed patented robotic technology that can safely dredge ponds without damaging the liner – an important protective layer that prevents water and toxins from seeping into the soil.

Other dredging practices involve tracked machinery or traditional floating barges, which can place liner integrity at risk and is widely acknowledged as unsuitable for lined pond dredging.

The liner-safe robots – capable of operating on high density polyethylene, linear low-density polyethylene, and polyvinyl chloride liners – can return a lined pond to its original state, while the pond remains in full service, and also complete additional tasks such as removing settled mud, reeds and bulrushes.

According to Dredge Robotics chief executive officer Antony Old, a key advantage of the liner-safe robot is improving health and safety outcomes, which is a critical area of focus for all major mining companies.

“After clearly demonstrating the safety advantages of this technology, we are pleased to now be regularly delivering this service to most major mining companies in Australia on an ongoing basis,” he told Australian Mining.

“In other dredging processes, you typically have a person on a barge, a person in an excavator or people in the pond digging with equipment. You’re exposing your staff to whatever’s in the pond, but with the robotic dredging system, those risks are totally eliminated.”

Old said the liner-safe robot can dredge “corrosive and toxic liquids” and can operate at the extremes of the pH scale, a technology made possible by Dredge Robotics’ targeted research and development (R&D) efforts.

“Assets that were previously difficult to clean due to access challenges, deep water, turbidity constraints, obstacles in the asset, or concerns around impact to liners or clay bases, can now be cleaned safely and cost effectively while they remain in service,” Old said.

“The technology is highly scalable, tackling anything from very small assets up to large wastewater lagoons or tailings dams. Robots can also be deployed into confined spaces through tight hatches or doorways and even navigate around internal walls and obstacles.”

According to Old, the speed of the liner-safe robot is typically equal to or better than other dredging options, due in part to the sophisticated sonar arrays and obstacle modelling capabilities of the equipment.

The robots can be fitted with an array of tooling, which can be adapted to different environments, enabling the sludge to be removed efficiently from the asset.

“The sludge can then either go back into the process of the mine, into another pond, or into a geobag, which filters the water out of the sludge, leaving dewatered material which can then be efficiently removed from site,” Old said.

Many miners have implemented or are considering the potential of tailings reprocessing at their sites, where sludge is reprocessed to recover profitable ore and create a more environmentally friendly operation. Liner-safe robots have already been proven in several case studies as a cost-positive solution for tailings reprocessing applications.

According to Old, the liner-safe robots offer a solution that many mining operations never thought possible, with operators instead typically opting for time-intensive and costly exercises such as completely relining their ponds every time they become an environmental hazard.

In a mining industry that’s more environmentally conscious than ever, and with mining companies putting more and more processes in place to ensure they abide by their environmental, social and governance obligations, Dredge Robotics’ liner-safe robots have an important role to play.

And what starts with dredging lined ponds can extend to cleaning process tanks and cooling towers.

“We have also developed a specialised robot that we can drop into a process tank and remove all accumulated sediment,” Old said. “As long as the tank doesn’t have an agitator, we can complete the cleaning process while the tank is in full operation.”

As a rapidly developing technology company with an impressive R&D division, Dredge Robotics looks set to continue delivering the mining industry world-first robotic solutions for water management and setting new standards for best practice in this field.

This feature appeared in the March 2024 issue of Australian Mining.

Send this to a friend