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MICO jump on the automation train

Mount Isa Copper Operations (MICO) have brought Sandvik’s Automine® system online to deliver major safety, efficiency and productivity improvements to the operations.

Automine® is a system that allows underground mining equipment to be operated remotely from the surface, or in underground safe work areas.

Mount Isa Mines Production Superintendent, Gary Ferguson, says it eliminates the need for our employees to be operating from tele-remote cabins within the orebody or exposed to high-risk areas while operating the loaders through the previous line of sight method.

“In the safety of a remote control room, our operators are able to simultaneously monitor and control up to three active loaders at once from each operating station,” Gary says.

Alex Scrivener, Loader Operator, monitors an underground Sandvik loader from the safety of a remote control room on the surface.
David Kalbfell, Loader Operator, monitors a Sandvik loader from the safety of an underground safe work area office.

“Loaders move material from open stopes, and often this can be a high-risk task due to the potential for uncontrolled movement of ore inside the stope and the hot and dusty conditions underground.”

“Automine® allows us to continue mucking these stopes without exposing our employees to dangerous areas by sending the loader into the area without a manual operator and, instead, operating it from the surface,” Gary says.

Mount Isa Mines Production Engineer, Adam Zanardo, who has played a significant role in implementing Automine® at MICO, says automating the loaders provides a great platform to increase production and improve efficiency as it provides the ability to operate over shift change times.

“Previously, the loaders were not operational during shift change over times as they required an operator to be based in the orebody, operating from a satellite tele-remote cabin, which meant we were losing several hours of production each day,” Adam says.

Left to right: James Postle - Lead Automation Advisor, Adam Zanardo - Production Engineer and Mark Brezac - Production Supervisor have played a large role in bringing Automine® online at MICO.

“With Automine®, operators can log on at one of our control rooms or safe work areas and begin controlling a loader within minutes.”

“We have been able to achieve an extra two hours of production each shift change over.”

Adam says the project will see a total of six loaders fitted with the system, five of which will be Sandvik LH517i loaders and one LH514 loader.

“The loaders have a payload of 14 tonnes per bucket, so we are looking forward to seeing the overall production improvements MICO can achieve with this,” Adam says.

Lead Automation Advisor, James Postle, who was also involved in the Automine® project at George Fisher Mine last year, transferred to MICO and brought with him a key skill set that has been instrumental to the success of the project implementation at MICO.

The project will see six loaders fitted with the system, five of which will be Sandvik LH517i loaders and one LH514 loader.
Automine® delivers major safety, efficiency and productivity improvements to the business.

James says the George Fisher Automation Centre has been used to train MICO operators, working alongside experienced George Fisher personnel. This has been a great example of one of Queensland Metals’ key objectives through the transferability of labour, and sharing knowledge and skillsets.

“The system also plays a large role in reducing damage to our equipment and infrastructure underground,” James says.

“A key feature is the auto tramming which scans the environment and automatically steers the loader on a pre-determined route.”

On the surface, operators can see exactly where the loader is headed using the onboard cameras and, when needed, are able to prompt the loaders direction.

James Postle, Lead Automation Advisor, monitors an underground loader at George Fisher Mine while it navigates to an open stope.

Combined with the predictive wall avoidance feature, Automine® reduces collisions between the loader and underground walls, minimising the need for repairs and downtime.

“It allows our operators to load the bucket at the draw point, and then command the loader to automatically travel to a pre-determined dump point without any further input from the operator,” James says.

“In areas that lead directly to an ore pass, the loader will complete the dumping process automatically, and will then return back to the original point for the operator to take command for the loading cycle.”

“This new strategy utilising automation will enable us to stay competitive in a continuously evolving industry and allow us to remain in a safer, stronger and more sustainable position going forward,” James says.