The CSIRO has signed an agreement with Joy Australasia to commercialise the underground longwall automation system, known as LASC (Longwall Automation Steering Committee) technology.
Chief of CSIRO Exploration and Mining Dr Mike McWilliams, signed a worldwide non-exclusive licence with the managing director of Joy Australasia, Mark Finlay, at the Queensland Centre for Advanced Technologies.
In underground longwall coal mining, a large rail-mounted shearing machine with rotating cutting heads removes a large ‘slice’ of coal as the shearer is driven back and forth across the coal face. Space for the shearer to operate is provided by a system of powered roof supports that temporarily hold up the roof while the coal is being extracted.
This form of underground coal mining accounts for about 90% of underground coal production in Australia, which is more than 70 million tonnes a year. With funding from the Australian Coal Association Research Program (ACARP), CSIRO has developed new technologies to locate and guide coal cutting equipment in longwall mines.
According to senior principal research engineer with the CSIRO Dr David Hainsworth, the technology, which has been patented by the CSIRO, is a novel concept that measures the three-dimensional position of the longwall shearer using inertial navigation techniques.
“Once the three-dimensional position of the shearer in the longwall has been measured, users are able to gain accurate automatic face alignment,” Hainsworth told Australian Mining.
“The goal was to provide automated systems that would improve productivity and move people away from a hazardous working environment.
“If you can move people even 50m away from where the action is, you can improve safety by distancing them from the mechanical and hydraulic energy and a dusty environment.”
Pre-commercial prototypes of the technology have been operating at three Australian mines.
“One of our test sites published production improvement figures of 130 tonnes per hour sustained over a month of production,” Hainsworth said.
The principal components of the LASC automation system include face alignment, horizon control, communications and operator interface, and information systems.
Joy Australasia is the first company to sign the non-exclusive license for CSIRO’s technology.
“It will enhance our existing longwall mining solutions and contribute towards optimising longwall equipment performance in changing seam conditions,” Joy Australasia’s managing director Mark Finlay said.
“This technology supports the industry vision of improved safety, productivity and reliability at the lowest cost per tonne.”
Non-exclusive licence agreements with other Australian and overseas longwall equipment manufacturers are expected to follow shortly.
“The non-exclusive licences will lift the game for the entire industry so that all manufacturers can provide a better product for their customers,” Hainsworth said.
“Equipment manufacturers can use the technology as a base for improving their own technology.”
“If they can identify an area that needs improving, they are well within their rights, on a proprietary level, to enhance the technology as they see fit.”