Converting manufacturing’s automation technology for the mining sector

It seems today’s game is all about adaptation, taking readily available technology and finding new ways to implement it or industries to use it.

Although this is not an old idea, finding new markets for products and creating economies of scale has been around since what seems to be the dawn of business.

And it makes perfect sense.

In today’s market place finding operational efficiencies is more important than ever.

Many mine sites around Australia are working on implementing automated machinery and processes on site, something that has been taking place for years in manufacturing.

Richard Mathews, chief executive of enterprise software company RPM, explained that although the mining industry has been “slow in comparison to other industries there is a big drive now” to integrate and simplify the software and automation solutions used.

“There’s a significant drive because everyone understands it’s all about driving the costs down,” he said.

Machinery Automation and Robotics [MAR] solutions engineer Mark Lix agreed, he told Australian Mining he is witnessing a shift to a focus on efficiency, and although it is not at the same level as manufacturing it is well on its way.

Recognising this new priority MAR has launched its new MARbot robotic idler prediction systems which is able to automatically forecast when an idler will fail, using a combination of technologies including thermal sensing.

The MARbot purports to keep conveyors running and improve safety by removing operators from a risky task.

The non intrusive inspection process reduces downtime as all inspections can occur while the conveyor is fully functioning.

The robotic solution can also be remotely controlled, taking the operator away from the danger zone.

The IP rated MARbot is an all weather solution with an estimated fifteen year lifespan, it also comes with a 24 hour on site support service.

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According to the ABS, the mining industry’s share of total Australian industry output has grown from about 4.5 per cent in the 2004 financial year to more than 10 per cent in the 2012 financial year.

Compare this growth to manufacturing and its magnitude becomes even clearer.

Manufacturing has fallen from about the 12 per cent mark to below 8 per cent.

In the mid 90s manufacturing was Australia’s largest component in terms of total industry output at around 15 per cent.

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Meanwhile mining’s share of business investment has also increased from less than 13 per cent to more than 40 per cent over the same eight year period.

To put this in context, when manufacturing held the title of Australia’s largest share of business investment, the sector peaked at just over 20 per cent.

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So adapting automation technology to fit the mining sector is a smart business move for a company that in the past would’ve significantly serviced manufacturing.

Earlier this year Deloitte released a report naming the top ten trends for mining in 2013, coming in at number ten was “implementing new technology”.

More mining companies are choosing to reduce operational costs and increase efficiency through significant technology investments.

Implementing remote monitoring and control capabilities through programmable logic controllers (PLCs) enables miners to automate industrial processes like blasting, drilling, and transportation and inturn can improve mine site safety and accelerate production rates.

Adopting technology from industries like advanced manufacturing is also proving to be successful for many miners.

Advanced manufacturing systems are improving engine and machinery design through the use of more complex parts and materials like composites and titanium alloys which are both stronger and lighter.

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